February 19, 2004

The Repeat Button

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Jigga-man. Hova. Jay-Z. Shawn Carter is a man of many names, faces, and apparently, clothes. On “Change Clothes” one of the first hit singles from his retirement-announcing release, The Black Album, Jay-Z recounts his journey from obscurity and poverty to fame and fortune. With The Neptunes taking over the mixer, “Change Clothes” presents Jay-Z’s typical, thick production tempered by the minimalist aesthetic popularized by Chad and Pharrell. As a result, the song derives its hook from a momentary absence of sound, a well-engineered syncopated rest between keyboard chords and bass hits. The essence of this song is the rags-to-riches tale so deeply ingrained in the American myth. It is the undying belief in class mobility — that through thrift, hard-work, skill, or just plain dumb luck, we can all strike it rich.

As Jay-Z rhymes from the height of his success, “You know I stay fresh to death, boy from the projects/ And I’m-a take you to the top of the globe, so let’s go,” he reminds us of just how far he’s come. He no longer needs to be a hustler or present the gangsta’ character of someone like 50 Cent. It’s almost as if Jay-Z has harnessed his “inner thug” and replaced it with inner chi: “Gotta keep it peace like a Buddhist

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