New Music

Jay-Z

The Black Album

Def Jam

Jay-Z is Michelangelo’s David. And Borges’ Funes. His Jaromir Hladik. Jay is tortured because it’s lonely at the top, but conscious that he can go no further, climb no higher, get no better. Meanwhile, we’re forced to adjust our standards, reconciling Jay-Z’s raps with “real” poetry—which presumably reach a level of emotion and enlightenment that hip-hop could never approach. He’s just talking about himself the whole time, isn’t he? About how great he is, how successful his career’s been? That’s bad, right? That’s shallow?

Nope—it’s absolutely wonderful. The fact that his subject matter hasn’t changed over nine albums makes it only more impressive that his self-obsession can remain so engaging. Lyrically, Jay has never been stronger, his rhyme schemes weaving and his wit razor sharp. Production, meanwhile, is also excellent. Even the weaker beats simply let Hova annihilate them as he exhibits his mastery of cadence, tone, flow, and inflection—things we’ve been taking for granted because he’s had them down for so long.

It’s triumphant even if this isn’t his last album, because he’s done the stunt right. There are no guest appearances, no battles—just solemn, celebratory autobiography and anthemic bangers. For that reason, The Black Album is, above all else, elegant. It’s a major achievement for Jay-Z, who has notoriously struggled with focus on previous outings. Mr. Rob may have been right on his intro to Vol. 3, when he said that five, ten years from now, we’re gonna wish there was an American commission. Five, ten years from now, we’re gonna miss Jay-Z. —Leon Neyfakh

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog

Come Poop With Me

Warner Bros.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Come Poop With Me, the debut album from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, is a great record—for me to poop on!

It’s not that creator Robert Smigel misleads his audience: There’s no bait-and-switch in this supersized Alpo can. Anyone who has seen the canine puppet rant and rave on NBC along with Conan O’Brien ’85 knows exactly what the album entails. True to form, it’s a lewd, juvenile hour of gruff-voiced comedic diatribes, almost exclusively on the subject of sexual relations between man’s best friends. Sometimes Triumph sings, sometimes he makes prank calls and sometimes he just shouts at his audience in a dim-lit nightclub. In Come Poop With Me, we get to hear the Don Rickles of the kennel set do it all.

The problem, of course, is that the humor in a five-minute late-night broadcast quickly wears thin when stretched over an LP. By the second song, Triumph’s raunchy misogyny (is that even the right word for a dog?) seems a little stale. The endlessly-repeated play on the word “bitch”€is not, in the end, as brilliant as Smigel thinks.

Yet Poop is not without its high points. The gratuitous celebrity slander of “I Keed” and Adam Sandler’s falsetto cameo on “30 Seconds of Magic” inspire legitimate laughs, even if they’re hardly high-brow. Less than offensive to the jaded college ear,€Triumph sounds more like a foul-mouthed resident of a retirement home than anything else. Diehard fans are the only listeners who should bother fetching this schtick.

—Simon W. Vozick-Levinson