Jay-Z, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000-) (2000)
Jay-Z’s fifth album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000-) arrived in stores less than a year after its triple-platinum predecessor Vol. 3…Life and Times of Shawn Carter was released. On his latest, however, he brings along Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Amil, and DJ Clue for the ride, and they appear beside him on nearly every track. Even the album’s first single, “I Just Wanna Love You (Give It To Me),” which finds the Neptunes recycling a beat they first used on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Recognize” to good effect, has Beanie Sigel repeating a Rick James-inspired refrain on the hook. True to its name, Roc La Familia, in between the requisite odes to partying (“Parking Lot Pimpin’”), and macking on hoes (“Get Your Mind Right” with Snoop Dogg, “1-800-Hustler”), is preoccupied with the concept of family. There is the presence of Jay-Z’s label mates, who he considers his “Roc La Familia.” He also mentions his absentee father in several songs, culminating in the haunting “Where Have You Been.” Over a sample of Camilo Sesto looped by T.T., Beanie Sigel raps, “You gave us life like fruit from a plant/But we didn’t eat right from the foods from them stamps,” his voice lowered to a sob. It’s a perfect moment, one dispelled by an ill-timed chorus by L. Dionne. The track, along with “Soon You’ll Understand,” illustrates a recurring problem in Jay-Z’s music. For all his attempts at crafting raps unadulterated by commercial instincts (he gets the formula right on “This Can’t Be Life”), he can’t help but water down his efforts with a nod towards the R&B crowd, or some other constituency he fears he’ll lose for being too different, too complex. Though clearly an uneven effort, Roc La Familia is bolstered by the presence of several solid tracks, including “Change the Game,” “Get Your Mind Right,” and “Stick to the Script.” The music isn’t as flashy or accomplished as Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter, which easily qualifies as Jay-Z’s pop apotheosis. But his coalition of producers – which include Rick Rock, Just Blaze, and others – get the job done, laying down the requisite amount of club hoppers and brooding, malicious instrumentals. With Roc La Familia, Jay-Z proves himself to be the consummate hip-hop businessman, one who releases an album that encourages the sale of present and future products, both by he and his label mates, which in turn justifies his reputation as an craftsman. Years later, though, it’s clear that 1998’s Hard Knock Life is the peak of Jay-Z’s Dionysian “Life” era, not S. Carter…or Roc La Familia. Roc-A-Fella Records, with manufacturing by Island Def Jam and distribution by Universal.