It’s tough to pinpoint when, or even whether, Jay Z fell off. Some would say he lost all his bricks in 2006, the year of Kingdom Come, an album so ill-advised that Hov admits it’s the barrel bottom of his discography. Or you could argue that Jay Z fell off in 2009, when he released “Death of Autotune,” a reactionary single that’s aged rather poorly, along with the rest of The Blueprint 3. Or maybe it was in 2013, when Jay Z released the 16-track Samsung advertisement known as Magna Carta … Holy Grail. Let’s at least agree that the release of Magna Carta in 2013 is when Jay Z became massively uncool, like U2. And then he bought a streaming service.
Last night, Pusha T released “Drug Dealers Anonymous,” a new single that features Jay Z. The song comes a week after Fat Joe and Remy Ma released an official remix of their hit single “All the Way Up,” also featuring Jay Z. Both songs were released as Tidal exclusives, and in both cases, Jay Z’s subpar rapping is a nostalgic sort of fan service; he recalls the 1980s on the former track and cribs from the late rapper Guru on the latter. Conveniently, these recent verses are also a dodge from a rapper who is under pressure to release some definitive musical response to his wife Beyoncé’s maybe-fictionalized marital scorn on her latest album, Lemonade. Apparently, that’ll have to wait until Jay Z gets these last few coke raps out of his system — not so much in demonstration of his skill and importance as a rapper, but rather as a reminder that he was once a great rapper. In 2016, any given Jay Z feature is effectively a callback.
In a post to the forums of the annotation website Genius, Pusha T wrote that “Drug Dealers Anonymous” is both a personal milestone and a treat “for the lyric-driven culture.” That phrasing interests me because it encapsulates what “Death of Auto-Tune” was all about: a shift from lyrical complexity to melodic innovation as the prevailing measure of genius. “Death of Auto-Tune” was a rejection of that shift. “Death of Auto-Tune” is, arguably, where Jay Z ended, with hip-hop continuing onward from there.
So here we have Pusha T and Jay Z, rapping from their matching rocking chairs as they reminisce about old cocaine and hitting all their usual notes. They’ve done it before, they’ll do it again — this is their ancient craft. Jay Z, now a connoisseur of fine art and decent beats, is still spinning yarns from ’88, which is preferable, I guess, to his rapping about corporate board meetings and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
For Genius, Pusha T paraphrased the email correspondence that inspired Jay Z to contribute a verse to his comrade’s lead single. “There’s nothing wrong with telling ghost stories. We need them,” Push told Hov. In addition to Jay’s verse, Pusha T and the song’s producer, DJ Dahi, added a sample of a rant in which the conservative political commentator Tomi Lahren, infuriated by the black power overtones of Beyoncé’s halftime performance at this year’s Super Bowl, disparages the singer’s husband for having sold crack cocaine in the 20th century. Note that Lahren wasn’t disgusted with the man who Jay Z is, but rather the man he used to be.