“Ni***s want my old sh*t? Buy my old albums.”
That line may be the most lasting of Jay Z’s post-retirement career. Yes, American Gangster was sustained greatness but it was as a whole, with high points like any album but mostly seen as a collective instead of a group of separate songs.
But that line on 2009’s “On to the Next One” stands out in all it’s irony above most everything else he’s done since he came back with the 45 jersey on. Not because of its potency, but because of the acknowledgement of the public reaction to Jay’s work in the third act of his career. Now into his 40s, he went from gaudy to godly, casting a presence meant to hang above the entire rap game as a deity bigger than all around him.
On “Drug Dealers Anonymous,” like American Gangster before it, Jay did dig back into his past and fans everywhere fawned over vintage Shawn Cater, the hustler. It was the most revered Jay Z verse since, well, since the last time he mined nuggets from his past on Jeezy’s “Seen It All” back in 2014. Here he was neither gaudy, nor godly. He was the “Teflon Don” figure of old and that is the Jay Z we’ve always wanted.
What all this means is it’s time for Jay Z to face the music and realize that yes, we want his old sh*t and it’d probably be best for him to make a bunch of that. On the “All the Way Up (Remix),” he sounded like he was rapping for fun, playfully going off beat and coming back on at a whim but rarely saying anything of note. It was practice but, when you’re Jay Z we don’t care to see you working on your left in the gym. Fans only want windmill dunks and game-winners.
On “Drug Dealers Anonymous,” he meant business, hardly wasting a syllable, taking bated breaths to catch his composure before continuing with the bragging and recollecting. The verse was half trip down memory lane and half basking in the glow of his success those memories created. It was impeccable, just like American Gangster, and the reason isn’t the content. It was because Hov was inspired. These stories are real, and that’s significant because — be it PTSD, survivor’s remorse or whatever other affliction — it’s clear both in his vocal inflection and the attention to detail in the lyrics that he doesn’t want to miss a beat. It’s like a veteran telling old war stories: he doesn’t really want to tell them but, if he’s going to tell those stories, he better get them right.
It’s understandable that Jay is rarely inspired these days. Life is a grand. He’s married to a queen, he has the young child he’d dreamed of for years and he’s practically a billionaire. He’s given us 20 years of raps full of street tales, hustler’s boasts, fears and opulence. The thought of recording music probably doesn’t interest him as much as it does us. Memphis Bleek said as much months ago during an appearance on The Breakfast Club.