Saturday, December 4, 2010

December 4: Jay-Z, "The Takeover"

Artist: Jay-Z
Song: "The Takeover"
Album: The Blueprint
Year: 2001

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As hip-hop music began to take hold as the dominant sound in popular music during the mid and late 1990's, one can easily see how the genre slowly lost focus from its original intent.  Artists seemed to become more concerned with image and how fast they could rhyme or how vulgar they could be, instead of paying attention to lyrical content and the true "craft" of rapping.  This trend continues to this day, but thankfully, there are a handful of emcees that refuse to "dumb down" the art, instead showing why "real" hip-hop will always rise above others.  Standing as what one can see as the "savior" of hip-hop in modern times, there are few emcees in history that bring a similar performance energy or tone as one finds in the music of Brooklyn, New York's Jay-Z.  Epitomizing "cool," his rhymes never sound forced, and his lyrics are always original and powerful.  While he has had a number of hit records and singles during his career, one cannot argue the sheer perfection that he achieved with his 2001 release, The Blueprint.  Every track on the album has its own style, yet taken as a complete piece of work, few albums from any point in hip-hop history can compare even in the least.  Though the album boasted some of his most memorable singles, to experience the true lyrical punch and stunning skill that "is" Jay-Z, one need look no further than his 2001 song, "The Takeover."

The moment "The Takeover" begins, Jay-Z sets the bar for performance extremely high as he treads on what many see as "hallowed" grounds, sampling one of the most iconic moments in all of music history.  Lifting the bassline, along with Jim Morrison's unforgettable yell from the song "Five To One," Jay-Z not only proves his deep knowledge of all forms of music, but it also gives "The Takeover" a feel like no other hip-hop song.  The songs' producer, a then unknown artist by the name of Kanye West, goes further with the composition of the song, as he loops part of David Bowie's, "Fame," which adds a fantastic level of depth to the bassline.  The final piece of the musical backing is a slightly more subtle use of KRS-ONE's iconic, "Sound Of Da Police," and the combined track remains today one of the most hard hitting and original ever recorded.  "The Takeover" further sets itself apart as it does not follow the rather annoying trend of the time which called for the bass on the song to be such that it blurred the rest of the music.  Each sample has its own space on the song, and this enables the overall sound to become larger than the sum of its parts.  Furthermore, once one hears the complete song, it is easy to see that not only were these songs selected for their musical merits, but the song titles themselves perfectly echo the overall spirit of the rhymes from Jay-Z.

Leaving his exceptional skills in terms of making hit songs elsewhere, Jay-Z uses "The Takeover" to prove that at the end of the day, he was perhaps the most capable artist on the planet when it came down to the original roots of hip-hop music.  Bringing his measured, clear tone, "The Takeover" stands today as one of the most brutal and brilliant "dis" tracks ever recorded.  One of the keys to Jay-Z's power on record is the fact that his rhyming never sounds forced, and it is this natural sound that automatically gives him far more "street cred" and authenticity than a majority of his peers.  While he had already released a number of singles that dominated the pop charts, on "The Takeover," Jay-Z settles two of his biggest "beefs," as he destroys both Nas and Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) simultaneously.  Rarely resorting to "easy" attacks such as swearing or insulting their families, Jay-Z goes after them line after line, slamming their personal history, as well as their lackluster efforts in the hip-hop arena.  Whether he is calling out Nas', " hot album every ten year average..." or Prodigy for their inability to ever follow their legendary "Shook Ones Part II," Jay-Z manages to decimate the pair with every line, taking far more of his attack to Nas.  Though Nas would respond in song, the fact of the matter is, "The Takeover" packs a lyrical punch from which one simply cannot recover.

Though "The Takeover" was certainly not recorded for commercial success, it became a hit within the hip-hop community.  Those who understood the aim and aggression behind the song could do nothing but stand in awe of its power, and the idea and sound were even reused in 2004, as Mos Def released a song attacking the hip-hop industry in general called, "The Rape Over."  Even the talentless, pretty-boy band Fall Out Boy reference the song, as on their 2007 album features a track called, "The Take Over, The Breaks Over."  Furthermore, the fact that "The Takeover" still hits as hard today as it did upon first release serves as a testament to what an extraordinary song the team of Jay-Z and Kanye West created.  The fact that they used three of the most well-known songs ever recorded, yet manage to do justice to them all makes the song even more unique, as in most cases, when one uses such "sacred" music, it ends up coming off as disrespectful to the original performers.  Though there was not much of a question by the time "The Takeover" was released, it was the sound and music found on the track that solidified Jay-Z's place as the "King" of New York City hip-hop, and it can also be seen as a "warning" to any other emcees that might have wanted to test Jay-Z's "rap battle" talents.  From his strong, clear lyrical pummeling of his targets, to the perfectly orchestrated musical backing, there are very few, if any tracks in hip-hop history that bring a similar mood and sound to that which one finds on Jay-Z's 2001 classic, "The Takeover."

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