Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Tale of Two Administrations

I'll get right to the obvious when it comes to Jay Z's Kingdom Come ("Jordon, Wizards" etc.) and Diddy's Press Play ("Press Skip" etc.): Johnny Pate's the biggest winner of them all, with thousands (more) now rocking "Shaft in Africa" on their iTunes, in that way that I'm sure thousands rocked a rose in their lapel in Trudeau's prime. See - the Man (Men) work for the little people.

That said, the Jay Z administration's been taking a hit otherwise. Flickers were lighting as to the crummy job he's been doing o'er at Def Jam (Russell now everybody's favorite yoga Governor-General), only to be fanned into full-tilt flames with a relatively ho-hum comeback in Kingdom Come. It's true, what the people say: the Prez hasn't come back from the mountain high with anything remotely close to the Ten Commandments. It wasn't as though the Hova was the best of rappers, but he was one of the more charming ones, and if that strong asset's gone, as it largely is on Kingdom, then we've got problems in the polls.

It's not that Kingdom's a boring album, it's just that it's not interesting for the right reasons. It's a no-brainer by now that Jay Z should've spent more time working on a comeback that would've had everybody realizing how missed he was in the 'game' (is it still a game when you control the board?). That's not, however, the same as saying that Kingdom isn't without merit.

The thing that makes Kingdom interesting is precisely how lacklustre it is. This is the definitive statement of hip hop's two feet firmly planted in MOR. Kingdom is to Jay Z as Wings was to McCartney (no "Live and Let Die," though). For a genre that has been intimately connected to urban, and moreover, youth culture, it's fascinating to see its forerunners completely disconnected and, at times, scrambling as to what to do. Kingdom's largely a failure because it's utterly ridiculous for Jay to still pretend he's a rep of the streets - once you enter office, there's only so many of your old friends you take with you - and it only succeeds where Jay finally acknowledges it (see "Lost One")(that said, Jay Z - and Diddy - has got to stop rhyming "Life is but a dream." Seriously, that shit is for high school papers). Kingdom is interesting in that it shows Jay Z at his most conflicted, but it's a failure because it's unintentional.

Which is the reason why Diddy's Press Play is so much more enjoyable to listen to. It's like enjoying Jimmy Carter or Al Gore much more now than when they were in office. Sure, it helps that no one quite expects the same from Diddy as they do the Hov, but that doesn't quite explain why Play is so much more listenable. Diddy's always been about the bling, and he's always sounded more comfortable with it, perhaps because Diddy, unlike Jay Z, knows to revel in the inanity of it all. He makes no bones about the ghost-writing, and he's chosen to model the album after two other successful ones: the first half follows the same Jesus-myth as Jay Z's Black Album, and the second (and more interesting) half follows Andre 3000's A Love Below. He's not quite as successful as either: no one will ever quite believe that Diddy was ever of the streets, and no one will ever quite believe that Diddy is quite that sincere (though Kim Porter must be the most patient woman on Earth). It sure helps, then, that Diddy's got hotter beats, and that the second half shows that Diddy's got a great hand at producing RnB.

Thoughout Play, Diddy comes across as a ham, but a loveable ham, and that's what matters. It's a much more rounded picture that Diddy paints, and it's a bit more obvious that Diddy's not only more comfortable with the show, he understands it a bit more, too. If Jay Z's buddying it up with Chris Martin, Diddy's going after Bono. If Jay's gonna stay in office, he better ditch the grassroots and learn to love the spin as much as Diddy.

Note: Yammering aside, I'm gonna take a note from Jay Z and search for the beach chair. We're on "vacay" for a week

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