by Omar Mazariego

When the Mike Jordan of Rap came back to the game, everyone asked the same question: Will it be the ’97 Mike Jordan or the ’01 Mike? Well, ladies and gentlemen, from what I can gather you can dust off your Jordan XVII’s because those are the ones that best seem to fit this MJ of rap comeback. And trust you me, writing that last sentence hurt me just as much as when I heard that Ciara was allegedly a hermaphrodite. (Thank God she isn’t!)

Anyway, listening to this album was like watching the Giants/Bears game last Sunday. It got off to a good start and there was a glimmer of hope, but halfway through the consistency was gone and all we were left with were a bunch of fumbles and interceptions.

Like I said, the album started off hard. Though Jay said some gangsta sh*t on the Just Blaze produce “Oh My God,” his flow and low-toned voice just didn’t allow him to capitalize on the hyperactive melody that Mr. Blaze crafted for his comeback album. Jay did manage to nail the mood and flow on Just’s second offering, “Kingdom Come” which was very reminiscent of an pre-Beyonce/Jay.

And Jay did manage to breathe life into what seems to be one of Kanye’s B-list beats on “Do U Wanna Ride.” Here Jay takes us on the trip that is his life while John Legend mans the chorus. While the song is an interestingly crafted tune, it isn’t the hood banger that he and Kanye have been known to create when they fuse their talents together.

And of course it wouldn’t be a current hip-hop album without a Neptunes track. “Anything” is just what you’d expect from a Neptunes produced track: an uptempo club banger with Jay using three different flows to break down three different verses. While this is the first time we’ve heard a Jay and Usher song, I’m sure it’s not one that true Jay fans are going to be enjoying on first listen. Same goes for “Hollywood” where we find Jay’s main squeeze Beyonce singing the hook while Jay explains the ups and downs of being himself. Is it me or will we never get a Jay and B collabo like “Dangerously In Love” ever again. After that, everything they do just pales in comparison. Sorta like Meth and Mary’s collabos after “You’re All I Need.”

But of course the big talk of the album were the rumored Jay and Dr. Dre songs. Well, they’re here and I must say that it lived up to expectations the same way Hideki Irabu lived up to his when he became a Yankee in 1998. Sure the first song, “Lost Ones,” was hot to death. It was as personal as we’ve ever heard Jay. He spoke his feelings about Beyonce, the death of his nephew and of course his estranged business partner, Dame Dash. Over a mellow beat and piano keys, Jay spit, “I heard muthaf*ckas saying they made Hov/ made Hov say ok, well, make another Hov/[they] wasn’t playing they day role/so we parted ways like Ben and J. Lo/shoulda been did it, but I been in a daze though/I put friends over business at the end of the day though…”

“Minority Report” was hot on a different level. While it might sound like your average Dr. Dre beat and your everyday Jigga flow, it was dope how Jay made the Katrina situation into a heartfelt song that we all can relate too. At the end of the day we’re all victims of society one way or another. He even used news audio to give the song more depth. That was dope.

Then on other Dre tracks like “30 Something” we have Hova telling us that 30 is the new 20 (so does that make 20 the new 10?). Sure the beat wasn’t all that and the flow was nothing short of lazy, but Jay did say some real things about the difference between yesterdays and today’s generation like “I’m from the era where [people] don’t snitch/you’re from the era where snitching is the sh*t/I’m afraid of the future/you respect the one who got shot, I respect the shooter/they go to parties to ice grill/I go to parties to party with nice girls…” Now that’s real.

But when it was all said and done, I must say that I felt the same way Geraldo felt when he open Al Capone’s secret hideout. Yeah man, like that. That being said I give this album 3.5 Gangstas.

Lyrically Jay is still as nasty as can be. Even on the Chris Martin produced “Beach Chair,” Jay is incredibly creative on a non-hip-hop beat. But if this album demonstrated anything it’s that his flow and emotional grasp on a song has faded along with the Dynasty that was once the Roc. And to be quite honest, it seems like the only producer that brought his A-game to the table was none other than Just Blaze; Kanye, The Neptunes and Dr. Dre all seemed to have given Jay leftover beats. I don’t know if Jay chose those beats because he thought they were hot or because there were the hottest ones he heard from them. Either way it wasn’t a good look. And while I’m 100 percent sure that the departure of Dame Dash had absolutely nothing to do with Hov’s album being soft, I’m also 100 percent convinced that being in love and not being in the hood or around trueblue hood folk such as myself is responsible for Jay’s musical erosion.

Hopefully for Jay this is the #45 Jordan return where his first couple of months were very shaky and the next year returned to his prominence and took home the title. Because if this is Jay’s Wizards return, then God help hip-hop.