But overall, this album is just a little too safe to truly stand out. And even though it's full of great moments, there's no doubt that this album is Jay-Z at his best, and the reason why we've heard so much from him in the last decade.
The record's biggest flaw is that Jay-Z never moves out of first gear. He never really leaves his comfort zone, and therefore there's no growth. And no growth only means a lack of progression. By the mid-00s, he'd just gotten too comfortable to even try. So on this album he doesn't try. He just throws on the same old, same old, and it's a little sad to see him coasting on his laurels.
Jay-Z is a rapper who can go anywhere, and he knows that. But right now, he's just going to go to the same old places. Even though it's dated, it's still Jay-Z and you can't deny the talent in here.
Best of Both Worlds doesn't have the best songs, but it does have the best MC. Jay-Z's basic sound hasn't changed much over the last three years, but the way he fits words together has always been fascinating. He now raps with the conviction and self-consciousness of a real poet. And unlike anyone else, he makes every word his own, never hesitating to add adverbs or adjectives, or to let a line form around a rhyme that just fits so perfectly. And for the first time, he's gotten to the point where he can rhyme every word in a single verse.
The rest of the album is so over-produced that it gives the impression that the powers that be were trying to groom Jay-Z's image by giving him the big summer hit. But that's not the reason he was handpicked for this. This is an artist who was long past his peak, but whose combination of personality, charisma, and creativity would've made him a nice fit for the top of the hip-hop heap in 2004. But, instead, he's getting the second-best thing available. He's a nice guy, and he's a good rapper, but he's not the best of either. And that's why he comes off rather lame on By Any Means.
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