Jay-Z's Vol. 1 vs Vol. 2: Album Discussion

By True God & Nick Dormus

For many, Jay-Z stands as the best rapper of all time, or at least one of the best. His career is solidified, with a discography that rests well within the upper echelon of hip hop, but there is one debate that exists within his catalog that we are here to debate today. The first two editions of the Volume album series are often considered the two best and sit high on the list of Jay's best albums (depending on who you ask). For years, there have been people who consider Vol. 1 the best album of the Volume series, while a significant amount of people are partial to Vol. 2, which makes sense given the fact that it is the highest selling album from Jigga. Today, Nick and I decided to sit down and discuss those two albums at length to determine which is better. Do we reach a true conclusion? Of course not, but if you are uncertain which album you prefer or might like better, allow us to help point you in the right (or wrong) direction. Let's start with Nick and his argument for Vol. 2 being better.

*The Case For Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life by @_Nickdormus

-When it comes to Jay Z’s catalog, I can debate all day. The man has solidified himself as a God MC and his music allows you to think outside of the box. Today, I have a take that may blow people's minds. Throughout Jay’s Volume series, some people favor the In My Lifetime album due to his gritty lyrics about the streets. But if you ask me, Volume 2 is the overall better body of work. 

Be nice to me, because I was born the year Vol. 2 dropped. But as an avid hip hop head, I definitely went back and did my homework. I can’t explain to people what times were like when both albums came out. But I can certainly tell you my feelings on both when I first listened to them. 

Volume 1 is a much hungrier Jay. Coming off his first album, you can tell he still raps with a chip on his shoulder. He comes into the album with something to prove with "A Million And One Questions/Rhyme No More". But going towards "The City is Mine" and "I Know What Girls Like", I sort of lose interest. There’s a few flaws in certain spots with Volume 1 to me. It felt like Jay was trying to chase a feeling that I didn’t prefer. 

As far as the beginning of Volume 2, the intro starts out with a gritty Memphis Bleek setting the tone of the album. Anytime you play Volume 2, it is important that you start it out with this song. Then you have to transition into Hard Knock Life (which was my introduction to Jay-Z). The album’s first few songs set a certain tone to where the album goes, compared to Vol. 1 where I feel it is all over the place. 

Also, whenever I go back and play Vol. 1, there’s only a maximum of five songs. On Vol. 2, I like to revisit at total of eight or nine songs. I’ll admit, Vol. 1 tends to have a more gritty feeling to some degree. But Vol. 2 has the whole package of what Jay really is, in my opinion. In conclusion, I’m always the one to debate Jay Z albums. So if you ask me, Volume 2 Hard Knock Life is a better body of work than Volume 1 In My Lifetime. 

*The Case For Vol. 1 In My Lifetime by True God

-So, first things first. I actually like Hard Knock Life. While Vol. 2 is not my favorite currently, it did help solidify my appreciation for Jay as an artist and rapper at a time where I was almost old enough to truly understand what he was saying, the album didn't age very well to me. Now, I can appreciate the commercial play that Jay attempted to make here, as they were much better attempts than his two ill fated attempts on Vol. 1, but the reality is, this album doesn't have those substantial songs that truly stand out, at least on the top 10 Jay songs list. For some of you, that might sound blasphemous, as the title track is a huge single in Jay's career, but in terms of his actual greatest songs, the only song I could HONESTLY put close to it off Vol. 2 is "A Week Ago". It felt like a more in depth Jay providing us with the introspection that made his first two albums special. Whereas songs like "Nigga What, Nigga Who" and "Money, Cash, Hoes" were solid and very good singles, I wouldn't put them in the same boat as a "Where I'm From" or "Imaginary Player". There's levels to music and Jay went to a higher level on those particular tracks.

Now, for every positive, there's a negative, and while I won't tear down Nick's personal music opinion, I felt that Vol. 2 had more negatives than Vol. 1 honestly. However, there is one huge negative on Vol. 1 that is so bad, I think it makes everyone knock the album down a few notches as a result. That one dastardly negative is none other than "I Know What Girls Like". Yes, it is a horrible song and the worst Jay-Z song known to man (besides Ghetto Techno), but it doesn't take the album down enough to put Vol. 2 over it. Even the often criticized "Sunshine" with Foxy Brown and Babyface isn't nearly as bad as people say. It could be better, sure, but it is an entertaining song, to an extent at least. Still, while there is likely no song on Vol. 2 that could be as bad as "I Know What Girls Like", the lack of true hunger on Vol. 2 is what really makes that album fall short of that true classic status. The album flows very well, but it has no true standout songs. For Vol. 1, standout songs are plentiful, and showcase a hungrier Jay with even better production. A big gripe that I have with Vol. 2 is the production. Swizz and his production didn't do much for me, and the same could be said for most of the tracks on the album.

Now, comparison and negatives aside, let's take a look at what makes Vol. 1 the better album. For one, the structure. There is a solid bit of cohesiveness on Vol. 1 that lacks on Vol. 2, and we know cohesiveness is a big part of making albums. The production doesn't disappoint for the most part, as production on tracks like "A Million And One Questions/Rhyme No More", "Imaginary Player", "You Must Love Me", "Where I'm From", "Streets Is Watching", "Who U Wit II", "Lucky Me", and "Real Niggaz" feature lush sounds that accompany Jay's voice perfectly. Lyrically, this is one of the best showings we've seen from Jay as well, with this album being slightly below Reasonable Doubt (his best album) in the lyrics department. The verses he provides on "You Must Love Me", "Where I'm From", "Imaginary Player", "Lucky Me", and "A Million And One Questions/Rhyme No More" are so heavily packed with gems that they pretty much rest much higher than ANY verses on Vol. 2 OR Vol. 3 to be honest. Now, I like both Vol. 2 and Vol. 3, but is there any verse on those albums that can rival Jay's output on "Where I'm From" or "Imaginary Player" honestly? I don't think so.

While Vol. 1 slipped, it remains a very great solid body of work and it is a more well put together album than Vol. 2, which sometimes feels like a mixtape of tracks than an actual album. The sequencing, the sounds, the lack of personal depth in the music, and the production leave a bit to be desired, but it holds a high place due to sales. Take away the sales, and every single time, I'm choosing Vol. 1 without a doubt. In terms of the albums that aged the best, I will always lean towards Vol. 1 for everything that it does as a project over 90% of Jay's albums. Simply put, Vol. 1, In My Lifetime is a near classic album that helped set the path for the rest of Jay's career. Not to mention, "The City Is Mine" isn't nearly as bad as people have tried to make it out to be. Still, if you haven't heard either album in a little while, revisit them both and tell us what you think. Which album do you prefer?



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