Jay Z’s The Black Album vs. Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP. 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” has considered more than 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you and your vote have decided the final 32 albums (including Wild Cards), the final rounds begin.
Within a four-year span, Jay Z and Eminem released two of the biggest Rap albums in history. These albums were mighty in their respective marketing hype, and both delivered with strong sales and critical acclaim. As Eminem was ramping up his career with his second major label album, the evolutionary Marshall Mathers LP, Jay Z was bringing the house—and the curtains (temporarily) down with The Black Album. Em’ would actually contribute guest production to the latter release, not the first or last of the pair’s work together. To many, these are two Hip-Hop giants’ finest hours. Both works feature the gravitas, dazzling flows, lucid thoughts, and beat selection that have made these careers iconic. As both albums have chiseled down the formidable competition thus far, which will win this epic showdown? 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 (Click one then click “vote”).
The Black Album by Jay-Z
- Second Round Winner (against Killer Mike’s The R.A.P. Album, 61% to 39%)
- First Round Winner (against T.I.’s King, 75% to 25%)
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
The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem
- Second Round Winner (against Nas’ Stillmatic, 68% to 32%)
- First Round Winner (against Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 70% to 30%)
Before the new millennium, Eminem rode a rocket-ship to the top of the charts and the elite class of MCs through The Slim Shady LP. The lyrically progressive album was big on pranks, sophomoric humor, and fork-tongued fun. Like its namesake, Slim Shady was as much shtick as it was incredible flows, and complex rhyme patterns. One year later, Eminem refined his approach. This album looked more inward at the man behind the act. The Marshall Mathers LP would still make a mockery out of popular culture, but in between the jagged lines revealed the profane and the profound alike. This is the album that proved Eminem had incredible staying power. Underneath the clown makeup was a creative genius, and a tormented soul—who wanted zero sympathy from anyone.
“The Way I Am” was Eminem’s essay to fame. Rather than accept the misunderstandings, Marshall nipped them right in the bud. The song was a piercingly honest attack at his media portrayal, and an assertion that Hip-Hop was not responsible for massacres like Columbine and the like. Em’ was tackling bigger issues rather than poking fun at pop tarts (which he still would do on “Real Slim Shady”). “Marshall Mathers” was a lucid commentary on the music stars and white MCs to whom Eminem was mistakenly compared. The scathing remarks were closer to the heart than past antics. Upsetting the status quo was still part of the Shady Records founder’s repertoire. “Criminal” exonerated Eminem’s freedom of speech, while the nimble lyricist deliberately crossed lines of all sorts, dragging his feet. However, Eminem’s point was that as much as he could (and would) make fun of you, he made even more fun of himself. Suddenly, Em’ transformed from Don Rickles to Lenny Bruce, with some insightful and derogatory thoughts of the world we all shared. “Stan” would be a masterpiece within M.M.L.P. Co-produced by 45 King (Eric B. & Rakim, Lakim Shabazz, Queen Latifah), the dramatic concept single would introduce the world to Dido. The song was another reaction to stardom and changing circumstance, as Eminem looked at his cult status differently with a big-reveal tale. Not only was the concept grabbing, Eminem wrote in the shoes of another person, and made it a captivating single. The record would blur the lines in Hip-Hop and Pop, singing and rapping—at a time when those walls towered. The third album from the D12 front man would provide his fullest, most compelling production. Eminem was no longer just hardcore Rap, and not simply a lyrical circus freak. Dr. Dre, the Bass Brothers, and 45 King treated these verses on a higher level. The Marshall Mathers LP would be a stone in the sand. Sixteen years later, its herculean legacy still has brawn.
Album Number: 3 (solo)
Released: May 23, 2000
Label: Shady/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1
Song Guests: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Xzibit, Sticky Fingaz, RBX, Dido, Bizarre, Dina Rae, D12 (Proof, Bizarre, Kuniva, Mr. Porter, & Swifty McVay), Steve Berman, Paul Rosenberg, Mike Elizondo, John Bigham, Camara Kambon, Tommy Coster
Song Producers: (self), Dr. Dre, Bass Bros. (Jeff Bass & Mark Bass), Mel-Man, 45 King
Related: Past “Finding The GOAT: Albums” Battles.