Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Jay-Z: The Black Album [Roc-A-Fella, 2003]
History has vindicated this album. On a meticulously hyped valedictory no one believed would be his actual farewell, the fanfares, ovations, maternal reminiscences, and vamp-till-ready shout-outs were overblown at best. But on an album where the biggest rapper of all time announces that he's the biggest rapper of all time, they're prophetic. Bitch about Kingdom Come and American Gangster if you must, but not The Blueprint 3 or Watch the Throne, and not his label presidency, amassed fortune, or close personal relationship with Warren Buffett. He's got a right to celebrate his autobiography in rhyme because he's on track to become a personage who dwarfs any mere rapper, and not only can he hire the best help dark green can buy, he can make it sing. Tracks four through nine enlist Kanye West, the Neptunes, Timbaland, 9th Wonder, Eminem, and Rick Rubin. Each one sounds different, each one means different, and each one kills. I'm also touched when "Justify My Thug" tag-teams Madonna and Run-D.M.C. Hova if you hear me. A