Fade to Black

Jay-Z previews his latest opus, The Black Album

"If I release 'Song Cry,' I get 500 spins. If I put out 'Big Pimpin',' it's number one for 13 weeks" on popular New York station Hot 97, he says. Of course "Big Pimpin'" is a great pop song, while "Song Cry" is a mediocre love ballad. These are distinctions that Jay-Z doesn't know or at least pretends not to understand. For him, each record is a gift to the public and a means to make money.

It doesn't matter whether we like The Black Album. Jay-Z will still believe that he is the consummate rapper, with more hit records than the late Notorious B.I.G., more lyrical diversity than 2Pac, more musical consistency than Nas. Such conceit smacks of arrogance, but who can blame him? After all, Jay-Z is the artist, and we are the audience. Our acceptance or rejection of him doesn't change that.

"I don't know," he finally shrugs in response to the journalist's question. "I haven't figured out the world." The Black Albumis scheduled for release November 14.

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