Finding The GOAT Album: Jay Z’s The Black Album vs. T.I.’s King. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
The 2000s in Hip-Hop aren’t the same if you take away Jay Z’s Black Album or T.I.’s King. Both statement albums, one was a grand curtain call after reaching the highest plateau, and the other was an undisputed reach for the championship belt. Each of these efforts are draped in platinum, and carry #1 jackets—signifying two block boys turned moguls. For two MCs with rich discographies, these are hallmark albums. For two would-be collaborators with a lot of similarities (just look at the artwork of these two releases), The Black Album seemingly made King possible. In turn, T.I.’s resonant narrative kept Jay’s subsequent return to form highly in vogue. Here, it is just album versus album, in one that brings some of the magic of the mid-2000s back to scope vividly (click one then click “vote”).
The Black Album by Jay-Z
In 2003, Jay Z solely occupied the pole position in Hip-Hop. The Marcy Projects native had perceptively defeated Nas in the MC battle of the 2000s. He had climbed the charts, repeatedly, and laced the walls of Roc-A-Fella Records with his own platinum and gold plaques in less than a decade. Like Eminem, The Notorious B.I.G., and Run-D.M.C. before him, Jay finally had the critics, the charts, and the hearts of the masses—all at once. Following the groundswell of The Blueprint and the quick-strike sequels, Jay wanted a statement LP. The Black Album was a truly “grand closing” of the book in Shawn Carter’s illustrious 15-year Rap career, or so Heads seemingly believed at the time. What has made The Black Album so exceptional was its detailed planning and execution. By 2003, past Jay collaborators Master P and Too Short had pump-faked retirement. In both cases, the artists not only revoked their vows, their exit music lacked gravitas—making their returns a bit blushed. In Jay’s case, however, this statement album not only amplified the attention to his lyrics (what other major album had its own accapella edition?) and music, it set the new standard for LP anticipation-and-delivery in the digital era.
The Black Album was blueprinted as the ideal farewell for Jay. Stripped of rapping or singing guests, the album unflinchingly made Hova its focal point. In tow, the MC sought out key producers from his past, and a few wish-list studio mates to deliver his magnum opus. In turn, he seemingly addressed all the things that made his career work—almost as a revue. Songs like early released “What More Can I Say?” showed that Jay felt he had fully manifested his artistic trajectory and narrative. The display was exceptional, and every bar seemed to be worthy of extensive analysis. On “Moment Of Clarity,” Jay’s openness and intimacy reached new plateaus. Shawn Carter was suddenly profound, and lucidly justifying his own legacy (and thug) through candid commentary, over-top Eminem production. For many though, deep cuts like “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)” packed his eighth album’s greatest charms. On a 170-second dust-covered Just Blaze sample chop, Jay grandstanded—his flow, his status, his swagger, and his ability to make purebred Hip-Hop from the owners box. “99 Problems” did the same, as Jay sought out Rick Rubin’s proper return to Rap. A grown man with the woman of his dreams, an uber-talented team around him, and the most in-tact legacy of an active MC, Jay used every minute of The Black Album differently than past albums. The 9th Wonder-produced “Threat” brought Jay back to wolf mode, while DJ Quik-laced “Justify My Thug” rolled out Jay’s man-code. The album was not PG-13, but balanced the antics of a former street hustler with major aspirations in the years ahead. He walked the line, and compromised none of his past or his future. The Black Album brilliantly basked in its own hype. Jay Z left the stage, and flicked off the switch—but the lighters of hungry fans illuminated the legacy he had built in real-time.
Album Number: 8 (solo)
Released: November 14, 2003
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, February 2004; certified platinum, February 2004; certified 2x platinum, February 2004)
Song Guests: Pharrell,
Song Producers: Just Blaze, Kanye West, The Neptunes (Pharrell & Chad Hugo), Timbaland, Eminem, DJ Quik, 9th Wonder, Eminem, Rick Rubin, Joe “3H” Weinberger, Aqua, The Buchanans (Wiz Buchanan & Dre Vega), Luis Resto
King by T.I.
The hierarchy of Hip-Hop had changed extensively by early 2006. Two of the genre’s biggest stars (Eminem, Jay Z) were on hiatus. In turn, others, like the perennially platinum T.I., jockeyed for position. King was a statement album, starting with its title. Fresh off of besting Lil Flip over the “King Of The South” title, Clifford Harris wanted to own the title for the rest of Rap. With longtime battery-mate DJ Toomp at his side, Tip made “What You Know?” a trunk-rattling takeover campaign. While he could rap skillfully, T.I. thrived with his sincerity, and ability to spit street game on an incredible selection of beats. Whereas past albums tapped into actively trending styles, King pivoted to a sound, style, and substance that the P$C front man could exclusively provide. In one fell swoop, T.I. emerged as the poster-child of Trap, and one of Rap’s elite voices.
King was gifted at providing club-friendly Trap. Songs like “Top Back,” “You Know Who,” and “Front Back” were posturing numbers that had grabbing music, and chippy lyrics. While T.I. rapped as a gun-totin’ “rubberband man” who still liked throwing hands, he also demonstrated his maturity. “Live In The Sky” was the breakthrough in a tragic series of songs that Tip would make to mourn loved ones. “Goodlife” mapped out the Grand Hustle CEO’s plans, turning poverty into positives. As with collaborating with Common, King showed T.I.’s range and accessibility. T.I.’s gifts played well with Just Blaze sounds, just as well as those from The Neptunes, Mannie Fresh, or longtime collaborator Swizz Beatz. Incredibly cohesive, King stepped forward at a time when A-list albums typically had weak suites or missing links. T.I.’s fourth solo LP registered high on the charts, and in the opinions of those who heard it. The Grand Hustle/Atlantic LP ranks high in the mid-2000s, and of the best examples of Southern Gangsta Rap with a message. Label woes, beefs, and incarcerations could not hold T.I. back. Once an artist signed to Arista, during the booming days of the Dirty South, T.I. gave every artist in Hip-Hop a major run for their money in King, and did so as a young star, with a context for the historical line he was towing (UGK, Mannie Fresh, Geto Boys). As a new class of guys such as Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Rick Ross, and Young Buck lined up, T.I. positioned himself as the amicable figurehead—a king amongst kings.
Album Number: 4 (solo)
Released: March 28, 2006
Label: Grand Hustle/Atlantic Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, April 2006; certified platinum, April 2006)
Song Guests: UGK (Bun B & Pimp C), Common, Pharrell, B.G., Just Blaze, Young Buck, DJ Drama, Young Dro, Governor, Mike Epps, Jeezy, Jamie Foxx, Malieka, Travis Barker, Geoff Countryman, Dawaun Parker, Shorty B
Song Producers: Just Blaze, DJ Toomp, The Neptunes (Pharrell & Chad Hugo), Khao, Mannie Fresh, Nick Fury, Tony Galvin, Travis Barker, Lil’ Mack, Swizz Beatz, Kannon “Caviar” Cross, Dayna D’Mystro Staggs
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums