Things didn’t turn out exactly the way Jay-Z said they would in terms of the Black Album. Not only did he say that Black Album would drop with no promotion or artwork (which was kind of true) but it was also to be his final opus. When the album dropped in 2003 that “no promotion” talk went straight out the window as it dropped to heavy fanfare and sold 463,000 copies in its first week on the shelves. Anchored by the first single, the Buchanans produced “What More Can I Say”, which sampled Russell Crowe’s voice in Gladiator; the album was for all intents and purposes, an instant classic. This being Jay’s last album, there a few heavily circulated rumors such as that there would be a track each produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Premier. We didn’t get tracks from Jay or Primo but we did get some classic material. The album started off with “December 4th”, an epic sounding Just Blaze track with Jay-z’s mother opening it up and telling stories of his youth on the hook. It’s an insightful track as Jay takes us through his lifetime from birth to his days dealing coke. “Encore” finds Kanye West using lot of live instrumentation and Jay-Z making bold statements like, “Hearin’ me rap is like hearin’ G Rap in his prime.” Jay-Z also released a version of Encore with Linkin Park over their hit song Numb which in this writer’s humble opinion was just, if not more dope, than the original. “Change Clothes” was the top 10 hit for the album produced by the Neptunes and featuring Pharrell on the hook. This one was for the meat-packing district and all the scantily clad ladies in it as Jay name checked fashion designers and set the tone for a party. “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” was another standout track with its electronic vibe courtesy of super producer Timbaland. It set the stage perfectly for Jay to drop boastful lines like, “I drop that Black Album/ Then I back out/ As the best rapper alive/ Nigga ask about me.” The sleeper standout track on the album was “Threat” produced by 9th Wonder which found Jay in rare lyrical form bodying the track from start to finish with bars like, “When the gun it tucked, untucked/ Nigga, you di/ Like the nunchucks held by the Jet L-I/ I’m the one, thus meanin’ no one should try/ No 2, no 3, no 4, no 5/ Know why?” Wow, I don’t know if Jay has done it lyrically like that since. “99 Problems”, produced by the legendary Dej Jam founder Rick Rubin brought some rock and roll to the Black Album and found Jay doing some serious storytelling, reminiscing about a time when he almost ended up in irons. “Justify My Thug”, produced by DJ Quik was a slight misstep on the album. The beat and lyrics were cool, maybe just not together, it was slightly off and it’s hard to pinpoint why. Kanye West outdid himself on “Lucifer”. The track was hard as all hell and Jay-z reminisced about a fallen homey effortlessly while treating the fans to some lyrical acrobatics. “Allure”, another Neptunes track was a mellow beat and found Jay just telling stories of his days in the streets, solid track. It was slightly too reminiscent of December 4th. “My 1st Song”, produced by Aqua found Jay-Z taking us through his time in the game. We got some interesting gems here, a Biggie sample, and Jay spitting double time which is always dope. Save the best for last. “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)”, produced by Just Blaze is insanity. The way the beat hits is ridiculous and as soon as we hear, “Allow me to re-introduce myself”, we know exactly what’s coming. Just Blaze killed it with this. Jay murders it but Just Blaze did something special here. This is a once in a lifetime beat. With all that said The Black Album is hot from start to finish with very few flaws and thus is an MMD Certified Classic.