** 1/2 JAY-Z
"Vol. 3 . . . Life and Times
of S. Carter"
For a man who rode to commercial prominence with the help of up-tempo, dance-ready tracks, Jay-Z is sounding pretty laid-back. When you couple the much more relaxed musical approach on the Brooklyn rapper's fourth album with his conversational rapping style, you've got a mostly mellow effort that's more likely to have fans nodding their heads than going into a frenzy.
Timbaland, best known for his production work with Aaliyah and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, delivers the album's stronger beats on the distorted "Snoopy Track" and the colorful "Big Pimpin' ."
Like the subdued vibe of the production, Jay-Z seems overly relaxed on the album, content to revisit his ascent to stardom, his penchant for jewelry and his struggles as a poor child. While these are safe topics for rappers, in the past Jay-Z injected biting humor and spectacular wordplay into his dramatic tales. Neither are plentiful this time, leaving the album far short of the level of his Grammy-winning breakthrough, 1998's "Vol. 2 . . . Hard Knock Life." This album will appeal to core Jay-Z fans who have followed him since his landmark debut album, 1996's "Reasonable Doubt." Others, however, may wonder what all the hype is about.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.