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Music reviews: New releases by Jay-Z and Vince Staples reaffirm dynamism of hip-hop

Hip-hop artists Jay-Z (above) and Vince Staples.
Hip-hop artists Jay-Z (above) and Vince Staples.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Hip-hop artists Jay-Z and Vince Staples (above).
Hip-hop artists Jay-Z and Vince Staples (above).PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC SINGAPORE

Rappers Jay-Z and Vince Staples eschew the genre's conventions to stunning effect

Less than a week after its release last Friday, rap mogul Jay-Z's 13th studio album, 4:44, has already generated much talk.

Central to the discussion is how humbled, apologetic and vulnerable he sounds on the tracks, a significant turnaround for a rapper and businessman whose discography has largely focused on braggadocio.

Yes, it is a new, more mature work from the 47-year-old New York native, one of the elder statesman of hip-hop.

Explosive revelations aside - he is sorry about cheating on his wife Beyonce, he reveals that his mother is a lesbian and he's got a beef with one-time close friend and music partner Kanye West - 4:44 is also one of his strongest works yet.

Unlike the array of star and up- and-coming producers who populate past albums, the artist, born Shawn Carter, banks on only one on this release, veteran producer No I.D., also known as "The Godfather of Chicago Hip-Hop".

Ditching club bangers, they opt instead for nuanced beats and choice samples ranging from the classics (Stevie Wonder's Love's In Need Of Love Today, used in Smile) to the surprising (The Alan Parsons Project's Don't Let It Show in Kill Jay Z).

  • HIP-HOP

  • 4:44

    Jay-Z

    Roc Nation

    4/5 stars

    HIP-HOP

    BIG FISH THEORY

    Vince Staples

    ARTium/ Blacksmith/ Def Jam

    4/5 stars

This is truly the new Jay-Z (note also how the hyphen is back in his monicker, a punctuation mark he dropped back in 2013).

On opening track Kill Jay Z (minus the hyphen), he seems keen to bury the street-hustling mentality and inflated ego that drove so many of his past songs in favour of his current status as a family man: "You had no father, you had the armour/But you got a daughter, gotta get softer/Die Jay Z, this ain't back in the days."

While 4:44 signals the rebirth of one of hip-hop's most successful artists, Big Fish Theory affirms rising Californian rapper Vince Staples as one of the genre's most incisive and forward-thinking acts.

The sophomore album by the 24-year-old sees him dip into a palette of progressive sounds that puts him miles ahead of his peers.

Ditching former collaborator No I.D. for upcoming electronic beatmaker Zack Sekoff, he turns in an album that stands out with its dance-centric vibes, experimenting with genres ranging from UK garage and Detroit techno and house.

Lyrically, his verses are piercing. Yeah Right, which features acclaimed guests such as rapper Kendrick Lamar and electronic producer Flume, has Staples questioning the tired cliches found in other rappers' boastful verses.

He goes introspective on Party People, ruminating on "false bravado, all masked by wealth" and how success in the music world is not always the end game.

The new releases by Jay-Z and Staples reaffirm the dynamic and progressive nature of hip-hop and how the future of the genre will be charted by those of its proponents who are most willing to embrace change and artistic growth.

JAY-Z'S ALBUM RELEASE BOOSTS DOWNLOADS OF TIDAL

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2017, with the headline 'Hip-hop's new directions'. Print Edition | Subscribe