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Fade to Black

Jay-Z hosts a listening party for his latest opus, The Black Album.

"If I release 'Song Cry,' I get 500 spins. If I put out 'Big Pimpin',' it's number one for thirteen weeks [on New York's Hot 97]," he says. Obviously, "Big Pimpin'" is a great pop song, while "Song Cry" is a mediocre love ballad. These are distinctions that Jay-Z doesn't make -- or at least pretends not to understand. For him, each record is a gift for the public to consume, a means for him to make money as an entertainer. But it doesn't matter whether we like The Black Albumor not. Jay-Z will still believe that he is the consummate rapper, with more hit records than the late Notorious B.I.G., more lyrical diversity than Tupac and more musical consistency than Nas.

Such a conceit smacks of arrogance, but who can blame him? After all, Jay-Z is the artist, and we are the audience. Our acceptance or rejection of him doesn't change that. "I don't know," he finally says with a shrug in response to the journalist's question. "I haven't figured out the world."

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