Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why I love Jay Z's “Unplugged" Album

The year was 2001, and hip hop songs like "Ugly" by Bubba Sparxxx and "Area Codes" by Ludacris and Nate Dogg were steaming up the charts. But there was one MC that didn't need synthesized beats or pre-played tracks to show that he was king of hip hop that year. Jay Z boldly did what only a few hip hop artists like LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest had done before: he appeared on MTV Unplugged.

In front of a live studio audience, Sean Carter, aka Jay Z, aka one of the most successful hip hop artists of all time, laid down a slew of tracks from his past few albums, including "Blueprint" and "Reasonable Doubt." He opens the show by saying, "Welcome to Jay Z's poetry reading."

If you think about it, his rhymes really do flow like elegant poems that symbolize stories about hustlin', women and living in the true heart of a city. As the chorus for Izzo (H.O.V.A) starts to heat up, Jay Z himself proudly welcomes The Roots as his back-up band. Now I don't know about you, but I think that Questlove from The Roots is one of the dopest drummers around, and he and the rest of the gang can make any concert experience seem like the hip hop Woodstock of our time, so I was very happy to see them join the best MC on stage.

The next song on the album is "Takeover," in which Jay spits lyrics like "the break's over." But his show is definitely not over as he goes into some of his most popular songs like "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "Jigga What, Jigga Who," where he splits the crowd into two sections that sing his chorus like a soulful church choir.

My personal favorites are the next 3 songs that Jay performs, "Big Pimpin," "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" and "Can I Get A..." because they showcase his versatility as a player, a poet and a powerful MC. "Big Pimpin" is one of those songs that gets you jumping no matter where you are because it's about something that we've all dreamed up doing: ruling the world.

Jay goes from ruling the world to demanding respect in "Heart of the City" as he's joined by Roots member Jaguar belting out the chorus. Jaguar's soulful voice and Jay's powerful lyrics proves that this was definitely the perfect song to put on the "American Gangster" soundtrack. Speaking of soundtracks, I remember when Rush Hour came out and I heard Jay's "Can I Get A..." on it. Although it's not one of his best works lyrically, it's one of the catchiest songs that he's done.

It’s always amazing to hear how Jay took a song made popular by a 70’s musical about an orphan named Annie and turned it into the hot hit “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem).” He performs this single with the lyrical flow that is unmatched by other rappers in the game. The next song is “Ain’t No Nigga,” which he originally sang with Foxy Brown, and although she doesn’t show up during the unplugged concert, Jay proves that he can still handle the mic in a rap duet.

Speaking of rap duets, we all know that Jay has had his share of singles with lovely ladies, such as with his real-life leading lady Beyonce in “03 Bonnie & Clyde” and most recently with Alicia Keys in “Empire State of Mind,” but no one can match the soulful sound of Mary J. Blige when she joins Jay on stage for “Can’t Knock the Hustle/Family Affair.” There’s just something magical about the Queen of R&B and the King of Hip Hop together on stage that makes this one of the best performances of the unplugged concert.

The last 3 songs Jay performs are “Song Cry,” “I Just Wanna Love U (Give it 2 Me)” and “Jigga that Nigga.” Although he can’t upstage Mary, my fellow VA native Pharrell Williams joins Jay on stage to belt the chorus for “I Just Wanna Love U” in the same high-pitched voice that has helped many musicians like Snoop and Clipse blow up the charts. It’s the perfect way to close out this legendary music event.

There’s no denying that Jay Z is one of the greatest rappers alive, and just like in his message for “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune),” you don’t need to overuse autotune to change your pitch or disguisue your voice for your fans. If Jay can spit it raw and live to his fans like he did for the MTV Unplugged event, and they still appreciate his rap skills and honesty, then there’s no denying that Jay will continue to tear it up for any recording or live event in the future.

And that is why I love this album.

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