When Jay-Z announced that “The Black Album” would be his last he put self-imposed pressure on himself to deliver something over-the-top for his grand finale. I don’t know if it was the renewed sense of urgency or the rush of attempting the impossible, but it’s obvious the incentive worked. Hov delivered in spades, “The Black Album” was indeed a tour de force. It helped that Jay-Z was able to demand the best production work imaginable from the world’s most worthy producers. His assembled team of luminaries, including Kanye, Timbaland, The Neptunes, Just Blaze, and Rick Rubin, all contributed stellar tracks.
But Jay-Z never let you forget that he was the true star of the show. For the entire album, he was transcendent. His gifts for bedazzling word play, finger-on-the-pulse culture references and showmanship were all on display. Appropriately however, this was one of the few times where he decided to temper his legendary boasting to offer more introspection, reflecting on a career in the spotlight and offering pieces of himself to his adoring public for his swan song. It was like he channeled everything he’d learned about his craft into delivering his greatest performance during his final hour. From the back-and-forth with himself verses on “99 Problems”, to the frustrated musings on “What More Can I Say” to the sheer audacity of “Interlude”, never has Jay-Z’s star shined so brightly on the strength of such a magnificent display lyrical prowess. “The Black Album” is where Shawn Carter earned my vote as The Greatest Of All Time.