After recording with underground legends such as the Jaz, Original Flavor, Mic Geronimo and Big Daddy Kane, rapper Jay-Z got his big break with the Foxy Brown duet "Ain't No Nigga" on the "Nutty Professor" soundtrack. This radio and club hit set the stage for the Brooklyn rapper's debut album, 1996's "Reasonable Doubt." Rife with vivid images detailing the saga of a highbrow criminal, the collection was embraced by a New York audience thirsty for its own version of gangster hip-hop.
Jay-Z's biggest asset is his ability to relay the most intricate nuances of life--especially a life saturated with drugs, guns and disposable women. He seemingly reinvented these topics on last year's "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1" and the soundtrack for this year's "Streets Is Watching," a direct-to-video movie in which Jay-Z was the star.
"Vol. 2--A Hard Knock Life," which entered the national sales chart this week at No. 1, reconfirms Jay-Z's status as a superior wordsmith. Following the current rap record trend of featuring a multitude of guest stars, 13 of the 14 tracks feature at least one other voice. Still, Jay-Z emerges as the hero of this hard-hitting, lyrically intense opus.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).