It's been 10 weeks since Shawn Corey Carter aka Jay-Z (dash or dash-less)1 aka Jay HOVA aka Mr. Beyonce Knowles dropped his midlife crisis album on the world via a poorly-designed, personal data-logging app exclusive to Samsung's line of smartphones. It's been 56 years since Ayn Rand aka Paul Ryan Sex Object aka Noted Creator of Characters With "Angular" Faces aka Riff Rand Jody Highroller dropped Atlas Shrugged, a really adorable attempt at taking the Orwellian socialism out of sci-fi and replacing it with "Objectivism" aka "being a prick."
Jay was 43 at the time of his midlife (self-proclaimed) magnum opus; Ayn Rand was 42 at the time of hers. In an effort to deny the passing of time, both Rand and Jay spend considerable breath and effort talking about how cool sex is. "Part II (On the Run)," featuring Mr. Z's significant other Beyonce, seems to exist solely to remind everyone that Jay has a hot wife and that their sex life resides on a plane inaccessible and unimaginable to the rest of us. And then there are the much-ballyhooed "consensual rape" scenes that Rand wrote in her instantly identifiable leaden prose. It's like if 50 Shades of Grey were written by your Slovenian grandmother Oma. Like you went to the motherland and instead of Oma welcoming you with a hug and a hot plate of prleška tünka, she told you that all she wanted was a good, rough fucking from an angular-faced capitalist. And now that Monsanto controls a large percentage of Slovenian corn production and has fixed prices at unsustainably low levels Oma really is getting fucked, just not in the way she'd hoped.
But back to the works at hand, the main problem with each seems to be the astoundingly poor lyricism Rand and Jay settle for. I don't even know what to say about this, but just to take some samples from Atlas Shrugged:
I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
This boils down to a very simple "FUCK YOU, DAD, I DON'T NEED YOU! I'M RUNNING AWAY AND NEVER COMING BACK."
Against whom is any union organized?
This is a stupid question. I don't know why she would write this.
Actually I did kind of enjoy Atlas Shrugged because (if you can get past the atrocious writing) it is legitimately one of the funniest books I've ever read. The best scene, not to ruin it for you if you were ever planning on reading an 1100 page book written by what one can only assume was a pissed-off teenager, is when a train crash kills a bunch of nameless characters because the one guy doesn't believe in the free market hard enough. No really. That's her idea of a "serious critique" of government.
Jay, unfortunately, isn't nearly as funny. Most of his lyrics are sad attempts at showing the world that he's still very rich and still matters, the latter making for jarring, terrible rhymes:
Feelin' like a stranger in my own land/ Got me feeling like Brody in Homeland
GUYS! Jay-Z has premium cable and watches "edgy" shows about the American terrorism-industrial complex.
When I was talking Instagram/ Last thing you wanted was your picture snapped
Nope, the last thing I wanted was Jay rapping about Instagram. This is either the worst corporate plug ever paid for or the saddest thing Jay has ever done. Not to say that old rappers can't pull off this kind of name-drop; one of Nas's best lines off Life Is Good, his own midlife crisis album, goes
Said she don't know what got inside this child's mind, she planted/ A box of condoms on her dresser then she Instagrammed it
which is amazing in the context of the story he's running through in the song, 2 but more importantly isn't just name-dropping to reach for relevancy (like Jay does ALL OVER MCHG by throwing out "contemporary," very dead artists like Basquiat & Warhol. Good work, Jay).
They see I'm still putting work in/ Cause somewhere in America/ Miley Cyrus is still twerkin'
And the worst part about this whole situation is that it didn't have to be this way, Jay. You were the one. If you had just retired when you told the whole world you were retiring then you would still have a solid case for being a G.O.A.T. in the same league as Tupac and Biggie and Method Man and Rakim and Nas and Guru. Sure, we never would've gotten the American Gangster soundtrack, which would be a shame. Even worse, we never would've gotten Watch the Throne. I can't imagine a world in which I was never asked what 50 grand was to a motherfucker like you. But you would've retired with the Black Album—still the best thing you've done—and we would've avoided that terrible Lincoln Park mashup CD, Kingdom Come, Blueprint 3, and this most recent monstrosity. Your last song would've been My 1st Song, a perfect end to a near-flawless career post-Biggie.
On the other hand, fuck you Jay-Z. You turned Kanye from the sweet, wide-eyed college dropout rapping about his mom into the misogynistic, batshit insane fashionista he is today. You think 2003 Kanye would've married a girl famous only for making a sex tape with a washed-up pop singer? You think 2003 Kanye would've made a song called "I Am a God"? You think 2003 Kanye would be partnering with a fashion company to sell $120 white t-shirts? That's your fault, Jay. By continuing to call yourself the G.O.A.T. after your fake-retirement you unmoored the rest of us, especially Kanye. He was such a sweet kid, and he looked up to you. We all did. We wanted you to be the One, and you let us down. Before your "retirement" you gave us three of the best hip-hop albums ever, and five better than anything most rappers could ever dream of making. We're not mad at you. We're just disappointed.
And don't think I've forgotten about you, Ayn. Granted, you never were afforded the same kind of trust as Jay was—and let's be honest, you were always kind of terrible. While Mr. Z could, at least for the first few years of his career, legitimately call himself one of the greatest rappers alive, you, sadly, never could. Even if hip-hop had existed when you were alive I don't think you would've been much of a rapper. More to the point, you could never call yourself more than a competent writer with a dangerously inflated sense of self-importance. And I like to think you realized this in the last years of your life, after your husband died, when you finally (I hope) developed a smidgen of humility and self-consciousness. My only real evidence for this is that you went on Social Security and Medicare, those evil government welfare programs you were constantly railing against when you didn't need them.
You died sad and alone, because that's what happens when you live your entire life shitting on society and community and, like, other people as a concept. Not even you wanted to be a rugged, angular-faced individualist when you were truly abandoned, widowed, in your 70s, slowly fading from relevance. But don't worry, your ideas have spread and garnered supporters more zealous than you ever were, because that kind of conceited arrogance is appealing when you're sixteen and pissed off and think you have the answers to all the world's problems. And isn't that what you would've wanted? Because the ultimate lesson of your kind of egomaniacal capitalism is that everyone else is lazy and replaceable. You just never guessed that other people thought the same of you.
I don't know if there's anything substantive or meaningful or sincere to be skimmed from these sprawling, self-centered, poorly-written things. All I know is Ayn Rand was no John Galt, and Jay-Z is no G.O.A.T.
Insert joke about Jay removing all the Dashes in his life. If you don’t get that joke then you’re clearly not spending enough time on rap forums talking about record label beef from 2004.↩
Nas’s midlife-crisis album existing as one of the few real emotional masterpieces of the now undeniably aging rap vanguard from the Golden Age (c. 1992-1996, with 1993 as something of the high water mark— Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Midnight Marauders, Strictly 4 My Niggaz, Doggystyle, Organix, Jazzmatazz Vol. I, to name a few). In “Life Is Good” Nas talks through the messy, enormously public divorce he went through just a few years previously and coming to terms with being “not the greatest father figure” to his daughter. It’s the best writing he’s done since his debut album, Illmatic, two decades ago.↩