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Get used to the new Jay-Z

OPINION

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Jay-Z (Getty Images )
July 09, 2013|By Ernest Wilkins, @ernestwilkins | For RedEye

I have never seen someone like Jay-Z before. My guess is, neither have you.

We've reached an unprecedented level with Mr. Carter. Jay undeniably has conquered the following areas: rap music, pop music, outshining artists on songs he's featured on, discovering new acts, concept albums, that whole "power couple" thing ... you get the idea.

So why are respected critics such as Marlow Stern of The Daily Beast and Chris Richards of the Washington Post (not to mention loads of people with Twitter accounts) acting like his 12th studio album, "Magna Carta Holy Grail," is a snobby piece of disrespect toward his fanbase?

Let's be frank: The elephant in the room is that Americans aren't used to seeing rich black people doing rich white people activities.

With "MCHG," which officially dropped Tuesday, Hov has put us on notice that he exists in the same space as "legend" acts such as The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, wherein he can make a record that isn't particularly interesting but has the weight to drive national conversation.

The guy is a legendary act. Yet there are a lot of non-casual Jay-Z fans who resent that it appears that after "The Black Album" he made a conscious decision that he would rather hobnob with corny executive overlords. The same guy who used to love apple pies from McDonald's now bounces beginner-level art historian rhetoric over thumping beats.

Maybe critics are uncomfortable with the idea that rappers can make it. Others might be pondering the idea that being rich doesn't necessarily make you more interesting. If you belong to the latter group, let me assure you: Rich people aren't that exciting. They buy art. They hang out at Wimbledon. They pay way too much for seafood. They raise their families. They hang out with people like Gwyneth Paltrow. They lose touch.

On "MCHG," Jay-Z makes too many references to Basquiat/Art Basel/MOMA/Met Ball, like that one friend who spends half the conversation trying to impress you. But Jay then drops one of the most revealing songs he's ever done, "Jay Z Blue," in which he focuses on being a dad and addresses the lack of father figures in the black community. This versatility shows he's one of the few artists who has navigated the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Jay-Z has built himself an empire, but he still has an eye on the culture that elevated him. That's a weird dynamic to process. On the same album, the guy makes Miley Cyrus references and alludes to his rumored dalliance with Foxy Brown. Witnessing the contrast of someone who can code-switch like that is a lot to digest, like finding out that your lame uncle used to play with Isaac Hayes.

It's time to ask: What are we looking for? Do we want Jay-Z to make songs with a flavor-of-the-month blog sensation? Do we want him rhyming about flipping a kilo before he takes Blue Ivy to day care? Are we mad that he isn't rapping with the same almost-megalomaniacal need to prove himself that Kanye West does?

What happens when you accomplish the goal of making money, marry the woman of your dreams, have a kid and you're just sitting in the house watching TV? What's wrong with the concept of being rich not being enough to be fufilled?

I'm not sure what the answers are, but we need to quit squabbling about what Jay-Z's wealth means to his music and get back to great rap and witnessing a dynasty like we've never seen before.

Ernest Wilkins is Chicago's wingman.

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