Jiggas comeback and Alice Smiths musical journey

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CD REVIEW

1847.jpgFor some hip-hop aficionados, hip-hop has just not been the same since the Jigga Man’s so-called retirement following 2003’s “Black Album.” However, his appearances on almost every major hip-hop release since then and the public make-up with former rival Nasty Nas seemed to foretell Jay-Z’s inevitable return to the forefront. And true to expectations, the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive” stepped back into the ring with his “comeback” release Kingdom Come.

So does his return to the spotlight deliver the knockout punches?

Well, in a lot of ways this album is essentially Jigga telling us about his new stage in life. It is very personal: Jay discusses the drama with former Roc-a-Fella pres Dame Dash and and his relationship with rhythm and blues singer Beyonce, and reflects on the current state of hip-hop.

An honorable mention would have to be the track “Minority Report,” produced by Dr. Dre and featuring Ne-Yo. In this song Jay openly discusses the repercussions of Hurricane Katrina without sounding contrived or saccharine. He focuses on those who were so callously ignored and left to fend for themselves. At the same time he’s also self-critical, telling how he gave money to help, but later felt that this was a mere bandage applied through the very same foundations and organizations who abandoned the people of the Gulf Coast in the first place. In many ways this is Jay’s most sincere effort to date. In fact, the whole album comes across as an introspective look at the American lifestyle from somebody who is the very personification of its rags-to-riches mythology.

While this album is respectable, it’s also highly inconsistent, with standout songs mired down by the inescapable filler found in much of today’s pop music. “Kingdom Come” never lives up to its grandiose title. Fans are sure to be somewhat disappointed with such a lackluster offering from one of rap’s most masterful (and boastful) talents.

Yet at the same time, Jay-Z accomplishes something you would not expect, a contemporary narrative exposing the complexities of the hip-hop world and its never-ending battle between the bling-bling hustler and the reflective poet — and everything that lies in between.

With all the hype around Corinne Bailey Rae, the rhythm and blues/soul scene has forgotten one of the most powerful new artists of today. Yes, Alice Smith is somebody you will find playing on the desperately hip’s Myspace page, but don’t let that fool you. She is all skill. A young woman from Washington, D.C., Smith made her way to New York City, went to Fordham University and later sang with local bands.

After doing that for a short time, Smith wanted to move on, feeling musically limited at the time. I am glad she did. With influences from everyone from Nina Simone to Barbara Streisand, Smith’s style is anything but limited. In her freshman album For Lovers, Dreamers and Me, Smith presents an album that is musically all over the place, creatively meshing rock, soul and blues together. The layers of different sounds remind me of Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” and maybe even, I dare say it, Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

You can really imagine the fun Smith had making this album. As the title states, she also made it for herself and challenges us to go on a musical journey with her. It is almost funny how many different styles she is playing with. “Know That I…” sounds exactly like a lighter version of Tenacious D’s “Wonder Boy.” Then there are times when I felt like I heard Maroon 5 melodies.

But the thing that really makes Smith stand out from the rest is her vocal range; she is able to sing in four octaves, which is conceptually hard to understand, but listening to her sing will bring light to any confusion. Check out tracks like the reggae-influenced “Do I,” which is a deeply soulful song with a basic base line and high stings.

Obviously, Smith has good taste in music and it is through this searching for different genres and styles that she has given birth to her own sound and put out one of the most respectable releases of this year.

abdul_hassan82 @ yahoo.com. The review of Jay-Z’s “Kingdom Come” is reprinted from Dynamic Magazine, a publication of the Young Communist League ().