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Jay-Z & Timbaland »

What do you get when you take the greatest living rapper and the greatest hip hip producer. You get one hot album. Sign the petition and lets make it happen.

by kenn on 11/08/2005 04:05:00 PM

Jay-Z pays tribute to his rap roots

Source: boston


On ''Moment of Clarity" Jay-Z rapped, ''Truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense, but I did five mil, I ain't been rhymin' like Common since."

Some interpreted the lyric, from 2003's ''The Black Album," as a diss against the Chicago rapper now simply known as Common, but the line was more revelatory than inflammatory. It's an admission by one of the most critically and commercially successful rappers in pop music history that he might have pursued a similar path of forward-thinking, socially conscious rap if only it was as financially rewarding as less-challenging mainstream hip-hop.

Such thoughts might have prompted Jay-Z, in his capacity now as the president and CEO of Def Jam Records, to sign the Roots, Philadelphia's great hip-hop band, to his new label spinoff, Def Jam Left. Long respected by critics and in alternative hip-hop circles, the Roots have been putting out solid albums since 1995's ''Do You Want More?!!!??!" yet have never achieved widespread success.

The Grammy-winning rap band's new affiliation with a Def Jam roster that already includes Kanye West, Juelz Santana, and Ludacris might heighten commercial expectations, yet that's not the aim of Def Jam Left. As Jay-Z told Billboard, the label is designed to be ''an artist-driven label with very low deals so people are not pressured by first-week SoundScan [sales], so we can build artists." (Jay-Z could not be reached for comment.)

When's the last time anyone in mainstream hip-hop spoke of the merits of creativity over commerce, and actually meant it? We may have snickered when Jay-Z claimed ''The Black Album" would be his last, but his signing of the Roots is giving serious hip-hop heads a reason to believe.

With Def Jam Left, and his inaugural signing of the Roots, Jay-Z has created a boutique label for rap artists with more on their minds than the run-of-the-mill topics stifling mainstream rap. For the most part, commercial hip-hop is where rock was in the early 1990s before Nirvana and its seminal 1991 album ''Nevermind" flushed away all that brain-dead hair-band nonsense. Jay-Z has been in the game long enough to know a change is long overdue.

With his multiple Grammy-winning debut ''The College Dropout" and this year's follow-up, ''Late Registration," West, a Jay-Z protege, proved there's an audience eager for something more than for mayhem and materialism. Ever the egotist, 50 Cent even takes partial credit for West's success.

''After 50 Cent, [hip-hop fans] was looking for something nonconfrontational, and they went after the first thing that came along," 50 told MTV shortly after West's ''Late Registration" was released in August. ''That was West, and his record took off."

Young Curtis Jackson isn't necessarily wrong, although West's breakthrough was more than just a reaction by those turned off by 50's trite thuggery. It was about the hip-hop universe expanding instead of retracting, which is what it's been doing for the past decade. It was about creating space for both West and 50, as once there were mainstream audiences for both N.W.A and A Tribe Called Quest.

Once his success made clear there's a market for various styles of rap, West formed GOOD Music, which stands for ''Getting Out Our Dreams," and signed Common. With West still in the everything's-golden stage of his career, his patronage of his fellow Chicagoan has given the rapper the biggest album of his career, this year's ''Be."

Likewise, the Roots' next album will likely receive more attention than anything the group's done, simply because it's now linked with Jay-Z and Def Jam. For years, the Roots have been hip-hop's go-to band, having backed Jay-Z on his stellar ''MTV Unplugged" outing, as well as Eminem's live performance of ''Lose Yourself" at the 2003 Grammys.

Now, the Roots will hopefully find the larger audience its always deserved. With the hip-hop nation scrutinizing Jay-Z's moves as a music executive as closely as they once dissected his rhymes, the Roots' next album, ''Game Theory," due sometime in 2006, will be an anticipated event. If the album does well -- and mind you, the expectations are far more modest than those that accompany most Def Jam releases -- this could help usher in a welcome era where hip-hop can again revel in the kind of diversity that marked its evolution from cult status to world dominance.

Creating Def Jam Left and signing the Roots is Jay-Z's boldest move since he assumed Def Jam's leadership. He may have abandoned his dreams of rhyming like Common, but in making a serious commitment to broadening the breadth of mainstream hip-hop, he shows he hasn't abandoned his common sense.

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