For arguably one of the most eagerly anticipated hip-hop releases of all time, Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come opens in an incredibly low key manner. While The Prelude is lyrically spot on, the beat is unsuited to being the track that confirms what we all knew anyway – that the Jigga man’s retirement was an impossible farce.
However the Just Blaze produced Oh My God thumps the album into action and demonstrates exactly why Jay-Z has maintained mainstream longevity. With lyrics like “lunch with Mandela/ dinner with Cavalli” Sean Carter shows no shame in stating where the hip-hop game has taken him. The bravado continues with the album’s title track which opens with the words “I don’t know what life would be in H-I-P H-O-P without your boy H-O-V/ not only NYC/ I’m hip-hop’s saviour.”
It’s an intelligent premise, with the album title being a direct reference to a DC Comics series about Superman coming out of retirement to save the world. The notion continues with lead single Show Me What You Got’s retro feel, declaring a state of emergency. But it’s the variety and experimentation that Jay-Z offers which has contributed to his success.
Stepping out of his safety zone, with Lost One, featuring a brilliant vocal contribution from Chrisette Michele, Jay raps about the realities of balances between work and play with the album’s recurring theme – the perils of fame. Telling us that “I don’t even know how it came to this/ Except that fame is the worst drug known to man/ It’s stronger than heroin” he fires a warning shot to anyone enticed by the Hollywood lifestyle.
There’s more in the same vein with Hollywood featuring partner in crime Beyoncé. Despite the poignancy of the imagery evoked this one’s all a little bit too contrived, clichéd and poppy. Although the irony of this will (probably) have been deliberate, it’s a far cry from the soulful Do U Wanna Ride featuring John Legend on a Kanye West production.
Undoubtedly it’s hard hip-hop beats that have maintained this particular success story and Kingdom Come is at its strongest where Jay-Z spits in an unabashed and pseudo-venomous way. Trouble unites two hip-hop heavyweights with Dr Dre‘s trademark thumping bass lines matching the lyrics sending out a warning to those pining for the hip-hop crown. Dig A Hole continues the arrogance, but it’s an arrogance earned through success.
There’s even room for a frankly weird collaboration with Coldplay‘s Chris Martin on Beach Chair. The cross-genre mess somehow works to create an emotive and crashing conclusion to Kingdom Come. The album doesn’t reach the heights of the seminal Black Album but is an exciting opener to a hectic schedule for Def Jam, and their CEO has proven once more than he is as unrelenting and long-lasting as they come.