Last night, after checking in with the Yankees, who got spanked again by KC, I watched the Jay-Z documentary, Fade to Black. I'll do my best not to just quote Jay lyrics for the rest of this post, but it's a tall order.
Fade to Black follows Hova as he creates his supposed final opus, The Black Album, and performs his soldout farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. Really, the doc is a concert film, although his performance is intercut with conversations with his buddies and mostly, creating songs.
Selling out Madison Square Garden is piddling to acts like U2, but for a solo rap artist, it's huge. What's truly astounding about the film is the audience at the concert - as the Times review elaborated: "When he gives just a few notes of a song he is about to play, the audience breaks into an a cappella completion of that anthem." They literally know every word of every song, which, quite frankly, is more impressive that knowing all the words to a rock song because so many of Jay's tunes are quick and dense. And when Jay puts on a Tupac song as a tribute, the crowd busts out with all the lyrics to that one too.
What I truly enjoyed about the movie were the scenes of Jigga creating the album. At one point, he hits a wall and goes to visit Timbaland. As Timbaland plays some different tracks for Jay to use, his face lights up as the backing for what will eventually be "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" comes on. He pops into the recording booth and just starts to riff what will become a song on the album. As Timbaland quips, the man has an unbelievable number of verses floating around his hed at any given time.
Another highlight - Jay's trip to create one of his best songs on any of his albums, "99 Problems," at the great Rick Rubin's house. "Rick is not normal. But I love him," Jay remarks. Rick is indeed quirky, but he brings out the best in Hova. Rick puts together the track, Jay goes in and just starts spitting out this fantastic rhyme: "I've got two choices y'all, pull over the car or, bounce on the devil, put the pedal to floor.... so I pull over to the side of the road, I heard 'Son, do you know what I'm stopping you for?' Cause I'm young and I'm black, and my hat's real low? Do I look like a mind reader, sir, I don't know, am I under arrest or should I guess some more?" As Rick puts it, Jay never writes anything down. He hears the track, starts mumbling, and that's what comes out.
I personally think that you will not enjoy this if you don't like Jay-Z's music - you can't go into this expecting some deep insight into the man. Indeed, the weakest parts of the film are when he is narrating. But when he's "doing his Rain Man" thing, as he puts it, it's impressive to watch. And his relationship with the audience at MSG is as personal as any I've seen. Reviews here.