The conventional wisdom is that one of the things that sets Jay-Z apart is that unlike most rappers, he’s never fallen off.
I was thinking last night, though, that that’s not entirely accurate. Everyone has their favorite Jay-Z album, but ‘In My Lifetime’ is just not up to par. If you like his later poppier stuff (as I emphatically do) you can say that ‘In My Lifetime’ was a necessary transition, but it’s not a great album. The production is weak, the rhymes are off– it just doesn’t work. And unlike ‘Hard Knock Life’ or ‘Blueprint 2′ (not without their crufty moments) ‘In My Lifetime’ only has a couple really good songs.
This isn’t to deny that Jay-Z has been remarkably consistent– he has. But there’s a point in everyone’s career where you think, ‘Teaming up with Puff worked really great for Biggie– why don’t I do that?’ It’s to Jay-Z’s credit that he realized it wasn’t really working, and he fixed it.
But no matter how you try to write it off, it’s still a failure. I guess the best way to think about ‘In My Lifetime’ is as a clear example of Jay-Z’s reach exceeding his grasp. In some way that only confirms his greatness.