Jay-Z had quite a bar to clear with Kingdom Come, a bar he himself set with albums including Reasonable Doubt, Blueprint and Black Album. Some might say that fans expected too much from this set, but it was Jay-Z himself who orchestrated the hype machine by "retiring" and then feeding the streets a verse here and there alluding to his lyrical genius. The question remains, does Jay-Z live up to expectations? I offer an interesting answer for those listening to the album for the first time: Not yet, but he will.
Kingdom Come is an album whose quality cannot be fully understood on the first listen, or the second, or maybe even the first 10. But eventually, it'll seep into your brain. You'll notice that the more you listen, the more the subtle nuance, the little lyrical jabs, the understated but ultimately intricate flow will come into relief. I jumped on the leak (though, I've now purchased the special edition of the album) and have been listening to the album pretty much nonstop (cleansing my palette with Doctor's Advocate and Hell Hath No Fury every now and again) for over a week now. At first I definitely thought it was trash, epitomized by "Hollywood."
But then I really started to listen to the words. I heard his regret for not doing more for his community after Katrina on Minority Report ("Sure I ponyed up a mil', but I didn't give my time/So in reality I didn't give dime or a damn"). On Dig a Hole I heard him rap about the frustrating position he's in when it comes to beef ("It's hard to do when you've got nothing to prove/ Everybody knows you're better, you're in a lose-lose/ Cause even when you win ultimately you lose/ Real brothas like `Hov' why you talkin' to dude?'"). On I Made It, Jay thanks his mother for facilitating his growth in the absence of a father ("Didn't have a man in the house, so you made one/ That's why I act like your husband and I'm only your son"). On Lost Ones (leaked earlier this year) we hear one of the most personal Jay tracks ever recorded, to the point where he alludes to his rocky relationship with Beyonce, something he's normally very guarded about, "Breath mami, it's deserved/ You've been put on this earth to be all you can be, like the reserves/ But me, my time in this army is served/ So I hafta allow she, her time to serve/ The time's now for her, in time she'll mature/ And maybe we can be we again, like we were." I heard the superhero themes on Kingdom Come ("Take off the blazer, loosen up the tie/ Step inside the booth, Superman is alive"). And I even began to appreciate the meaning behind the words (over a disgusting beat) on Hollywood. Not to mention a touching song to his imprisoned cousin on Do You Wanna Ride, and my personal favorite track, Beach Chair, which speaks for itself.
In short, I honestly believe that Kingdom Come is a little above us when we first listen to it. It needs to be heard, and heard again. Is that the way entertaining music is supposed to work? No! But that's the way art works. There's no Big Pimpin' here, there's no I Just Wanna Love You, or Girls, Girls, Girls. This is above the commercial single, which is why I don't know how big a success it will be when it comes to airplay. This is art, this is complicated, try to understand the artist's strokes and you'll find a pretty awesome experience. This is Jay-Z's most complicated work and I think it will ultimately be appreciated years down the road, as a great deal of art is.