"This here is the victory lap," raps Hov midway through The Black Album, his supposed career-capper (for this stage, anyway), and if nothing here immediately dazzles us to the core the way the best of his past singles have done, overall this is probably the most consistent front-to-back listen of all his albums. One of the nicest things about the Black Album is the brevity. As tight as the best of his recent output has been over the last couple of years – from singles, to album tracks, to guest spots – Jay-Z's simply been TOO productive, which has diluted the overall power of his presence. That issue is addressed right off the bat here – with a very manageable 14 tracks, no guest rhymers, and a consistent overall sound and mood thanks in part to strong production by Kanye West, 9th Wonder, Neptune
s, Timbaland, Eminem (who's baroque synth productions are getting dangerously close to going stale, but it fits Jay-Z's dramatic finale theme very well), Rick Rubin and DJ Quik. It's a wildly disparate cast behind the boards, but this thing flows incredibly well thanks to Jay-Z's predetermined mission to make a great album, not just a hot record. We may still have to lean towards Blueprint as his late masterpiece, but this is way up there. "December 4th", "What More Can I Say?", "Encore", "Change Clothes", "Dirt Off Your Shoulder", "Threat", "Moment Of Clarity", "99 Problems", "Justify My Thug", "Lucifer", "Allure", "My First Song", and a couple of brief interludes.