Lil’ Wayne likes to refer to himself as the “Best Rapper Alive.”
Well, as far as I’m concerned, as long as there is still air in the lungs of Shawn Corey Carter, that title belongs to artist we all know as Jay-Z.
What makes him more than eligible to claim this title is his endless catalogue of hit records, laced with the lyrical intelligence that few have managed to reach over the last 13-plus years.
What also sets Jay apart from the rest of the pack is his ability to influence the culture of hip-hop with one line.
Not one song. One line.
“We don’t drive X5’s we give ‘em to baby mamas”
Dudes really traded in their X5’s for another SUV when Jay dropped that line. When my uncle first bought an X5, I ridiculed him mercilessly for weeks about it. (I then realized he was driving an X5 and I was riding the No. 5 train everywhere. I was like 21, leave me alone).
“I don’t wear jerseys I’m 30-plus/ I wear a crisp pair of jeans n—a button up.”
A lot of dudes switched their wardrobe up real quick, including my boy Dorian, who must have had $10,000 worth of throwback jerseys in his closet. 2003 was the year collared shirts and Air Force Ones (neat and clean AF1’s) became the norm in NYC.
“This ain’t Diesel n—a this is Evisu”
“Iceberg sweats/I-B on the Elastic!”
“What’s the difference between a 4.0 and a 4.6? Thirty to forty grand cocksucker beat it!”
In all of those lines, one would say that Mr. Carter wasn’t proactive as much as he was reactive. That is, the lines above were merely observations about the trends he was/was no longer following, slid discreetly into a verse, and that was that. Whether hip-hop culture chose to move in the direction or not was fine by him, either way.
The problem was, it did.
And he noticed.
Fast forward to this past Friday night and the release of D.O.A. (Death of Autotune) on Hot 97 FM in New York. At face value, it seems as if Jay-Z was sick and tired of watching artists base their whole careers and all of their “hit records” on a machine that distorted their voices, and sought to do something about it.
Sure, the song got everyone on the East Coast (read: Greater New York) hyped to holy hell. (I couldn’t walk through Harlem for more than three blocks without hearing it blasting from a car or from someone’s house this weekend.)
At the same time, how this song is received may very well alter the legacy of Jay-Z.
Now, one can argue that this is the first time that Jay has purposely tried to influence the culture of hip-hop in his music, and not just with one line, but an entire song.
If the song becomes a hit, and AT (Autotune) songs lose airplay faster than Milli Vanilli after the lip-sync scandal, then the hip-hop world will continue to spin on its axis.
What if Ron Browz drops another AT hit that rocks the clubs all summer? (The guy is a talented beatmaker, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.)
What if some Dirty South rappers get together and make a posse cut diss record toward Jay…completely in AT?
What if the kids and young adults (25 and under) don’t even bother syncing D.O.A. into their iPods, choosing to follow DJ Webstar & Jim Jones instead?
If this happens, Jay’s influence on hip-hop culture can be severely weakened.
Five, ten years from now, when they look back at the history of this culture, will Jay-Z be seen as the absolute GOAT? Or will he be viewed as someone who was really good but ended up being some over-the-hill guy who didn’t know when to bow out?
As blasphemous as this can sound to some, remember that it’s that same 25-and-under age group that drives this hip-hop car, for the most part.
And an 18-year-old kid today (June 8, 2009), when Reasonable Doubt dropped, was all of FIVE years old.
Besides, Jay-Z already dropped what had the chance to be a culture-altering line not even two years ago, remember?
“I don’t wear skinny jeans ’cause my knots don’t fit.”
That same kid probably brushed that comment away, put on his skinny jeans and ice creams and started practicing his Get Lite in the mirror.
– William H. Strafe