The Underrated: Jay-Z's Vol. 3.... Life and Times of S. Carter & The Dynasty

By @TrueGodImmortal

Jay-Z is one of the greatest rappers of all time. He is known to most as Hov, and known as one of the holders of a top tier catalog in hip hop history. While his albums such as Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, and Black Album are seen as classics or his monumental releases, he has some great albums that tend to go slept on. Today, I wanted to talk about the two dope releases he put out before he created his classic The Blueprint, the 1999 triple platinum album "Vol. 3.... Life and Times of S. Carter", and the 2000 triple platinum release "The Dynasty: Roc La Familia". These are two of my personal favorite albums from Jay, and I think they deserve some more recognition. Let's get into it.

*Vol. 3: Life and Times of S. Carter 

1. Hova Song (Intro)
2. So Ghetto 
3. Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)
4. Dopeman
5. Things That U Do
6. It's Hot (Some Like It Hot)
7. Snoopy Track 
8. S. Carter
9. Pop 4 Roc
10. Watch Me 
11. Big Pimpin
12. There's Been A Murder 
13. Come And Get Me
14. NYMP 
15. Hova Song (Outro)

In 1999, there was no rapper as big or as important as Jay-Z. One could argue that DMX was, but it was just a different level for Jay. He embarked on the infamous Hard Knock Life tour, sold 6 million records of his Vol. 2 album, and garnered hit after hit from the album. You'd think Jay take a year or two to let the Vol. 2 success carry over, but Jay was in dominance and work mode. He had released an album every year up until this point, and as 1999 came to a close, he would prepare yet another release, just 14 months or so after Hard Knock Life. The Vol. series is what I feel is the most slept on part of Jay's catalog, as he locked in for three different styles on each album. Vol. 1 was a combination of personal moments and shiny suit wisdom, while Vol. 2 was a perfect blend of excess, street anthems, and hits. With Vol. 3, Jay got a bit darker, which was met with some reserve from fans and leads people to rank it among his worst, and while it isn't in the same classic vein as The Blueprint or Reasonable Doubt, it is nowhere near the level of quality as a Blueprint 3, Kingdom Come, MCHG, or Blueprint 2 for that matter. Vol. 3 almost feels like a rejection of the newfound and success Jigga had just received in a way. How? Well let's examine.

The album starts off with the epic "Hova Song (Intro)", which he supplies the right amount of aplomb and slick lyricism to introduce us to this new listening experience. Check how he seamlessly coasts over the production and sets the tone:

"Rappers with no relation/
There's "Seven Degrees of Separation"/
And I'm Kevin Bacon/
This is the murderer's version/
Jigga the shit, even when he rhyme in third person/
Hova the God, I should be rapping with a turban/
Haters can't disturb him/
Waiters can't serve him/
Mike Jordan of rap - outside J working/
Now watch how quickly I drop 50/
I don't like playing, niggas can't stick me/
Niggas can not jam me, niggas can't get me/
Slimmy at the Rucker wanna leave and spend with me/
I consistently take em out the park like Ken Griffey/"

Do you believe? It's Hova the God. That's the way you start off an album, and once again, you can feel the pull between Jay the street MC and the new pop star, as he sets up an anthem in "So Ghetto", a blatantly defiant middle finger to pop star fame in many ways. Jay paints a picture that nothing has really changed (yet), and the hook helps drive it home as well, as Jay explains that "he's so gutter, ghetto girls fall in love with me", and gives us three of his most raw verses ever. It's a perfect beginning, but Jay loses a step with "Do It Again" somewhat. I liked the song when it came out, and both Jay and Beanie Sigel craft dope verses, I just find the production to be a bit stale, and the song itself doesn't hold up well years later, unlike a majority of the rest of this album. The song is a bit catchy however and was a big single off this album, but for me, this is a song I tend to skip when I revisit this album.

When we arrive at the nearly cinematic "Dopeman", Jay is in Reasonable Doubt mode, painting a vivid picture of him being on trial for being the dopest MC, which if we remember correctly, was the basis of Reasonable Doubt. Jay was the best MC without a Reasonable Doubt, and on Vol. 3, he was now being sent to trial for being the "dope man", providing our ears with nothing but crack music. It's one of the best songs on the album, and just as Jay picks up steam, he slows a bit with the unnecessary Mariah Carey assisted "Things That U Do", which is nothing more than Jay getting a favor returned by Mariah for a hook. The song itself is a weak spot on the album, though Jay is always lyrically sound, this one just falls short. I enjoyed the next track "It's Hot", as Jay fires shots off and talks shit, but the most infamous part of this song is his response diss to 50 Cent. Timbaland provides the beat, and Jay loads and aims:

"Go against Jigga, yo' ass is dense/
I'm about a dollar, what the fuck is 50 Cents?/
Hot shit, kick a nigga, turn these mics out/
My jewelry so bright you can turn these lights out/"

After taking his shot, we go to one of my favorite tracks on the album, the knocking "Snoopy Track", which I have no idea why the title is what it is, but I love this song. Juvenile provides the amazing hook, and Jay just coasts over yet another solid Timbaland beat. Admittedly, I wasn't a huge fan of the next two tracks, as the production on "S. Carter" and "Pop 4 Roc" both feel a bit bland, but I do think Jay goes in lyrically on "S. Carter" without a doubt. I just wish the production was slightly stronger and the hook there wasn't as corny as it is now. There aren't many weak spots on the album, but my biggest gripe with this project has always been some of the production, and this is where it shows up and sticks out the most, at the halfway point. Once again though, lyrically Jay does not disappoint.

He picks up the pace and floats over the West Coast inspired dark track "Watch Me", as Dr. Dre assists him. Jay lyrically lays his game down and switches flows throughout the song and the album in general so effortlessly. If anything, this is the album where we learned the range of Jay as a MC. He didn't have to he stuck in the street lane, with a slower, more in your face flow, and he didn't have to be the fast flow rapper, or the laid back pop star, he could be all that and then more. The style of production in the album switches and the way he coasts over this West Coast like production with Dre only furthers the point of his versatility and range as a MC.

As if that wasn't to show his range, Jay teams up with UGK to bring the biggest and yet unlikely single for the album, "Big Pimpin". When this song dropped, I was instantly a fan, and it just flows so smoothly and entices you to rap along to it. Both Bun B and Jay employ a rapid fire flow, and while young True loved their verses, there is absolutely nothing that compares to the legendary relaxed pimped out verse from Pimp C. This feels as if Pimp pulls up in his brand new car, hops out, drops his verse, grabs two women, and departs. Just like that. It embodies the entire feel of the song, and it flows perfectly. Here's the entire verse:

"Uhh.. smokin out, pouring up/ Keeping lean up in my cup/
All my car got leather and wood, in my hood we call it buck/
Everybody wanna ball/
Holla at broads at the mall/
If he up, watch him fall/
Nigga I can't fuck witch'all/
If I wasn't rappin baby/
I would still be ridin Mercedes/
Chroming, shining, sipping daily/ 
No rest until whitey pay me/
Uhhh, now what y'all know bout them Texas boys/
Coming down in candied toys/ Smoking weed and talking noise/"

Nothing but fire. As we move on in the album, the rest of the songs take a much darker feel. The final tracks "There's Been A Murder", "NYMP", "Come And Get Me", and of course the outro all see Jay in his most focused place on the entire album, executing with lyrical precision, slicing through the production, and I truly feel like this was the perfect way to end the album. Four bangers in succession, but my favorite of those four would have to be the defiant "Come And Get Me". Jay is always at his best when he's giving a middle finger to the competition and the world over. Before the beat switches up, Jay sits on his throne, loads up yet again, and shoots with flawless aim. Check it out:

"I remove your roof nigga let the sun shine in/
Thirty-eight waist, enough to put one nine in/
Really a thirty-six, without the gun I'm thin/
But when the gat is tucked/
I'm fat as fuck/
Ignorant bastard, I'm takin it back to day one/
No kids, but trust me I know how to raise a gun/
For niggas that think I spend my days in the sun/
Well here's the shock of your life/The glock, not the mic/
Homie I'm not into hype, trust me, I'm still street/
You still fuckin up then trust me I still creep/
Yeah I know the platinum chain be lookin real sweet/
But reach and I bury niggas sixty feet deep/"

This is Jay at his most aggressive, and his most street in many ways, and to hear that on the end of this album drives home the message that he wanted to go a different direction from Vol. 1 and 2. Vol. 3 is a much more rugged album, with a small amount of gloss and shine, but with the price of fame comes a level of anger behind it, and I felt like this was Jay's response. Jay is a methodical and strategic artist. It's one of the reasons he's one of my favorites of all time. He displays his best attributes here on Vol. 3, and executed a solid 8 out of 10 album, one that is probably middle of the road in his catalog, but is entirely slept on as an album. Rampant bootlegging and the Un situation aside, this album's legacy should be much more revered, as it was one of our final looks into the more tortured street mind of Shawn Carter, and one of his last remnants of Jigga, in all honesty. Vol. 3 isn't a classic, no, but it is a damn good album. It should definitely be remembered and loved as such. Now, onto yet another Jay-Z album that's totally slept on as well, shall we??

*The Dynasty: Roc La Familia

1. Intro 
2. Change The Game 
3. I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me)
4. Streets Is Talking
5. This Can't Be Life
6. Get Ya Mind Right Mami
7. Stick 2 The Script
8. You, Me, Him, and Her
9. Guilty Until Proven Innocent
10. Parking Lot Pimpin
11. Holla 
12. 1-900-Hustler
13. The R.O.C.
14. Soon You'll Understand 
15. Squeeze 1st
16. Where Have You Been

When Jay-Z entered the year 2000, he had the no. 1 album, one of the best crews in rap, two multiplatinum albums, and huge success. He wanted to set his crew up for more success, so they set out to record a compilation album to release later that year. However, you can't deny inspiration or good marketing, so as the release date drew near in October 2000, the compilation would turn into a Jay-Z album that would also feature the rest of the team. There's some songs that Jay doesn't even appear on, but he's on a mostly all of them, and only misses 2 on the entire album.

This is a Jay-Z album and a damn good one at that. When people reflect on the Blueprint and The Black Album, I think this album could hold up to those in terms of lyricism, as Jay was in his absolute prime during 1999-2001. There's no better evidence of him being in his prime than on the actual intro to this album. The production provided by Just Blaze is completely beautiful, as the sample sets up Jay to drop what is likely a top 2 intro in his catalog and some of his best lyrics period. Take a look:

"No father figure/
You gotta pardon a nigga/
But I'm starvin my niggas/
And the weight loss in my figure/
Is starting to darken my heart, Bout to get to my liver/
Watch it my niggas/
I'm tryin to be calm but I'm gon' get richer/
Through any means, with that thing that Malcolm palmed in the picture/
Never read the Qu'ran or Islamic scriptures/
Only psalms I read was on the arms of my niggas/
Tattooed so I carry on like I'm non-religious/
Clap whoever stand between Shawn and figures/
Niggas say it's the dawn/Don, but I'm superstitious/
Shit is as dark as it's been, nothing is going as you predicted/
I move with biscuits/
Stop the harder niggas acting too suspicious/
This is, food for thought, you do the dishes/"

That's opening brilliance for you. Hands down. Jay crafts one of my favorite intros in hip hop ever, and then leads us right into a very West Coast bouncy track with Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel on "Change The Game". While "Change The Game" is a solid track, and the back and forth between the three MCs is dope, the song that really kicks off this album energy wise, is the Neptunes produced and Pharrell featured hit single "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me)". The song is a huge commercial hit, but Jay drops some dope lines that are easily infectious, and no I'm not talking the first verse that quotes Biggie, but the beginning of the second verse is smoothest part of the song:

"Yeah, save the narrative/
You savin it for marriage/
Let's keep it real ma, you saving it for karats/
You wanna see how far I'ma go/
How, much I'ma spend but you already know/
Zip, zero/ 
Stingy with dinero/
Might buy you Crist', but that about it/
Might light your wrist, but that about it/"

Jay coasts over the spacey Neptunes production to make one of the biggest anthems of his career. He then teams up with Beans for a street anthem, the aptly titled "Streets Is Talking", which is the sequel so to speak of "Streets Is Watching", but this admittedly pales in comparison to the original, though both Jay and Beans spit dope verses. Beans is really the lowkey MVP of this album, and his verse here is one of the  strongest on the whole project. Check the precision:

"The streets is not only watchin but they talkin now?/
Shit they got me circlin the block before I'm parkin now/
Don't get it twisted, I ain't bitchin, I'm just cautious now/
So, under the park, the extra cartridge now/
Hit his click Sig' up you fell at it you're dense/
I get word to the street like Bell Atlantic and Sprint/
I feel the vibes/ 
And I hear the rumors
But fuck it, I'm still alive/
And I'm still Ju'maa I know, 'stafAllah, niggas wanna press me, put my back to the wall/
But pressure bust pipes I know, I spat it to y'all/
To know me is to love me, you see me, can't be me, hate this/
Fuck you I got guns like Neo in Matrix/
Cross the Family, think Mac's sweet like Karo/
Or soft like Play-Doh/
Get knocked off like Fredo/
They find you with a hole in your dome/
I roll with niggas that'll follow you and go to your home/
Thought you ball, but nigga you fall to my defense catch you while you reaching/
Clip you, then I cross you, then I'm leaving/
Apply full court pressure/
like four-four....get you out of here, pull pressure/
To the trigger, bullets fly in threes/
You forever rest under bullshit, dirt, lies, and leaves/
I do bullshit, dirt, tell lies then leave/
Look in my eyes, realize it's Beans/
Niggas wanna despise the team/Till I play head coach and straight up, divide they team/
Trade they man for some pies and a couple of things/
Til the bullet.. ah, motherfuckers!!"

As the beat cuts off, Beans just keeps going. It is one of the best moments of Beans' career as he outshines Jay in just one verse, while Jay kills his three verses. Jay was dope in all his verses, but Beans just came in and owned that song. In a huge switch of vibe, the epic "This Can't Be Life" follows and the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes sample provided by Kanye just gives this track a truly somber feel. Jay kicks off the song with a heartbreaking verse about losing a child and the life he grew up around. Lyrically he's at his most poignant, check his verse:

"See I was -- born in sewage/
Born to make bomb music/
Flow tight like I was born Jewish/
Used the streets as a conduit/
I kept arms, 38 longs inside my mom's Buick/
At any given moment Shawn could lose it/
Be on the news, iron cuffs - arms through it/
Or stuffed with embalming fluid/
Shit, I'm goin through it/
Mom dukes too, Tears streamin down her pretty face, she got her palms to it/
My life is gettin too wild, I need to bring some sort kinda calm to it/
Bout to lose it/
Voices screamin "Don't do it!"/
It's like '93, '94, bout the year 
that Big and Mack dropped/
And "Illmatic" rocked/
Outta every rag drop/
And the West had it locked/
Everybody doin 'em, I'm still scratchin on the block/
like, damn I'ma be a failure/
Surrounded by thugs, drugs, and drug - Paraphernalia/
Cops courts, and their thoughts is to derail us/
Three time felons in shorts with jealous thoughts/
Tryin figure where your mail is, guesstimate/ 
The weight you sellin, So they can send shots straight/ to your melon, wait!/
It gets worse/
Baby momma water burst/
Baby came out stillborn/
Still I gotta move on/
Though my heart still torn/
Life gone from her womb/
Don't worry, if it was meant to be, it'll be -- soon/"

This is one of the best verses from Jay in his career. It's so reflective, yet so real and raw, and most importantly, full of emotion, a rarity to ever see in Jay. Beans and Scarface are both featured here and they both do their jobs on the song, painting two totally different personal pictures but each strike a nerve. Look at how Beans begins his verse:

"Second oldest born, from Michelle Brown, my mother/
Hell bound, grew with two sisters and one brother/
Pop wasn't around, so many stories that's another/
I'm thinking damn, how my older sister gon' make me tougher/
When steel sharpens steel/
I'ma keep it real/
I'm tired of trying to hide my pain behind the syrups and pills/
Dead to the world, stretched out like a corpse for real/
Y'all niggas thinkin what y'all reading in The Source is real/
What my life like, you looking at the source, it's real/
What your life like? Mine dog, of course it's real/"

That's one of the realest opening moments in a verse to me. He spoke directly to his own addictions, to the reality of his upbringing and provided emotional depth, while explaining to the people that what you see in the media has nothing to do with what the reality is. Face takes a different approach, as he speaks about someone close to him who loses a child. The pain in Face's voice seems to confirm the story that it happened literally as he showed up to do it. The entire verse from Face is just downright heart wrenching, take a look:

"Now as I walk into the studio, to do this with Jig'/
I got a phone call from one of my nigs/
Said my homeboy Reek, he just lost one of his kids/
And when I heard that I just broke into tears/
And see in the second hand, you don't really know how this is/
But when it hits that close to home you feel the pain at the crib/ 
So I called mine, and saddened my wife with the bad news/
Now we both depressed, counting our blessings cause Brad's two/
Praying for young souls to laugh at life through the stars/
Loving your kids just like you was ours/
And I'm hurting for you dog, but ain't nobody pain is like yours/
I just know that heaven'll open these doors/
And ain't no bright side to losin life, but you can view it like this/
God's got open hands homie, he in the midst/
Of good company, who loves all and hates not one/
And one day you gon' be wit your son/
I could've rapped about my hard times on this song/
But heaven knows, I woulda been wrong/"

Man. All three of those verses hit me hard and the emotional depth behind them is stifling. Jay lyrically wins this song, but when it comes to emotional, nothing can defeat what Beans and Face brought to the table. This is a perfect song.

The next track is the smooth, yet hilarious "Get Your Mind Right Mami", which shows Bleek step into his vibe, and he has a solid verse here, but Snoop really was unnecessary from a lyrical standpoint, though I know why he was on there. The Rick Rock production had a playa west coast vibe and who fits that better than Snoop? Following this track, we get the solid "Stick 2 The Script", where Beans and Jay once again go back and forth trading verses. I love revisiting the older Jay albums because of his focus and precision. He wanted to the best and it showed. The street persona was still alive and well within him and it was real. It didn't feel like it does now, with him clinging to new life via trap beats and forced bragging ("I Got The Keys"), or living off his old lifestyle completely, this was in the essence of who Jigga was, who Jay was. This album is honestly the final moment of that. Jay was in a period of growth and he would hint at the direction of The Blueprint more later on in this album, with "This Can't Be Life" being the start of it. However, before we get to the personal side of things, Jay and the squad bring us "You, Me, Him, Her", which is a solid posse track that features Beans, Bleek, and Amil (for like 15 seconds). Jay is my favorite on this track, but Beans and Bleek both bringing top notch verses. Take a look at how Jay ends his verse:

"Cat be him, El Cap-i-tan/
The fire I spit burn down Happyland/
Social Club/ 
We unapproachable thugs/
Gone postal/
Great aim, harm the arm, close to your toast, like a Don's supposed to/ 
Shawn... I thought I told you/
These ain't just vocals/
Don't make me take it to the old school/
I put holes through your hoes too/
Through your clothes to the foes to the nigga close to you/... fuck it.."

Jay was precise in his verses during this period and that was just an example. However, the only mishap in this album really to me is the next song, the Jay and R. Kelly track "Guilty Until Proven Innocent", which was a dope concept, and allowed Jay to address the arrest and charges after the Un situation, but the song itself isn't enjoyable. The beat is a bit bland and the song is just off, despite a catchy "Jigga, Kelly, not guilty" hook. Next up, is the smooth bounce of "Parking Lot Pimpin", as Jay once again gets that West Coast sound from Rick Rock. Beans, Jay, and Bleek talk their shit over the production and live up to the title of the song for sure. While I tend to skip over the Memphis Bleek solo track "Holla", I can't deny the greatness of the posse track "1-900-Hustler", where each MC answers a call on a hustler hotline to help budding hustlers move their product and set up shop. Jay kicks it off, Bleek follows up, Beans facilitates, and Freeway makes his first big Roc appearance with a show stealing verse. This song was definitely one of the best songs on the album and another show of the chemistry that the Roc had on tracks together.

The chemistry between the Roc remains in full force on "The R.O.C.", as Beans and Bleek go back and forth, and I think they work well on tracks together. Beans and Bleek have never made a weak track together. However, after the crew gets their time to shine, Jay strategically places two emotional type of songs near the end of the album, alluding to the possible direction he was going for The Blueprint next. First, there's the precursor to his classic Song Cry track off The Blueprint here, in "Soon You'll Understand". He spoke directly to women he was dealing with, and this was a side we hadn't seen of Jay since Vol. 1, but this was a new dimension. The cold hearted, disregarding side of Jay disappeared to show a more apologetic, regretful, and brutally honest Jay. It's poignant in many ways, with Jay even going as far to say he loves the girl, but wants her to leave so he doesn't hurt her. Some emotional depth there definitely.

Before we get to the final track of this album however, Jay creates one more anthem in "Squeeze 1st", which is of course inspired by an infamous Biggie line. Jay goes in on the verses, and I really enjoy the track, but the beat tends to get a little annoying at times. To close out this album however, Jay and Beans get very personal when speaking to their absent fathers on "Where Have You Been", and while Beans seems to be still very much in pain about it, Jay defiantly flips his father off in a way, saying that they didn't need him and that he was successful without him. It's a truly open look Into the soul of Jay and the things he's overcome to be where he is and it's a dope way to end the album.

The Dynasty is not a classic, but to be honest, I think it's very close. It's right up there just below the Black Album and Blueprint, sitting next to Vol. 1 and Vol. 3 in his catalog. If you haven't listened to it in a while, revisit it. It's worth the listen.

Two slept on albums by a top 5 MC of all time. If you haven't heard them or listened to them in a while, revisit them. Both are dope and reflective of the prime Jay, ready to take on all challengers and looking to claim the throne. This was the period that Jay became the best rapper in the world. Before The Blueprint cemented it at that moment, this was where the groundwork was laid. Hov did it for the 99 and the 2000. Holla (It felt weird writing that in 2016)!



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