Give It to Him: Jay-Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia Turns 20

The Jigga Man’s 5th LP was the first time the newly minted superstar got to ride his own coattails

Jay-Z 2000 (Art: Ron Hart)

Until 2007’s openly retrospective American Gangster, intended posse album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia was the last time on record that Jay-Z could credibly pretend he still had a foot in the crack game.

He made the most of it, sneering “I’m not the snitch, I don’t go to the cops to get rich,” and most hilariously, bragging he’s got so much product in his car that “if the cops pulled us over, the dog’d get sick” on “Streets Is Talking.” But for the most part, The Dynasty was the first time the newly minted superstar got to ride his own coattails, or as he put it, “I paid my dues, I made the news.” His fifth album came right between his two masterpieces, 1999’s tuneful, gangstapolitan Vol. 3 and 2001’s soulful, world-conquering The Blueprint. It was a great listen in its own right, though this had a lot more to do with the sound and attitude rather than the content.

The Dynasty: Roc La Familia made the most of the sweeping cinema and off-the-wall sound effects of millennial rap production. This is where the Timbaland and Neptunes age met luxurious cruise control, where the Tunnel banger “Change the Game” made a single out of one palm-muted guitar chord, a sinister sub-bass line, pitched whistle effects and a march of a beat that paused for just one chorus. “This is food for thought, you do the dishes” was the literal mic drop moment of “Intro,” one of several moments that announced the sweeping cinematic arrival of Just Blaze. And Kanye West’s first major breakthrough was getting a beat onto “This Can’t Be Life,” a gorgeous Scarface weeper that set the stage for his bluesy 2002 comeback The Fix. The needlepoint detail of the interwoven samples (are those two notes an ominous marimba?) was an early glimpse at the man’s sheer sonic voraciousness.

Jay-Z The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam 2000

At its most substantive, The Dynasty set aside an appropriately lush emo production for each parent (“Soon You’ll Understand” for Ma, “Where Have You Been” for Pa), but this was deliciously inessential meat-and-potatoes swagger from a bunch of rich upstarts in their prime. “Parking Lot Pimpin’” is, make no mistake, a significant downgrade from “Big Pimpin’,” despite the anonymous chorus girls’ disturbingly singable hook and menacing sparseness of the beat. Likewise, no one wants to hear Snoop Dogg condescend with a chant of “Get Your Mind Right Mami” on the even grosser pimping anthem of the same name. 

It’s both a quality warm-up album and a masterpiece of coasting on a built fledging empire, every bit as lazy a posse album you’d expect and yet operating from such a high plane that it’s glorious nonetheless. Spinning their wheels, everyone here sounds good. No one wants to listen to an R. Kelly duet called “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” no matter how arresting (ha) its atonal, thwonging beat, complete with ref whistles. Even more hypnotic is the loop-abuse string snatch that saws through “You, Me, Him, and Her,” with the raspy, much-missed Amil and an on-fire Beanie Sigel.  All you need know of the exasperated, breathless Freeway is on the outstanding “1-900-Hustler” and his own sometimes similarly frenetic debut Philadelphia Freeway. There’s more than a couple tracks too many: “The R.O.C.,” “Squeeze 1st” and Memphis Bleek’s squelchy b-side “Holla” are perfectly listenable filler but add more running time than content.

 

VIDEO: Jay-Z “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)”

Somehow, its first week outsold OutKast’s StanKonia–released on the same day–but that’s the kind of power Jay-Z was commanding in 2000. (StanKonia eventually outsold it.) The only song Top 40 remembers is the cumbersome title “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” a typical and typically excellent slice of prime Neptunes descending-funk riffage, bass thwocks, and cheap bell simulacra counterpoints to Pharrell’s intentionally awful falsetto hook.

As with his previous chart onslaught, “Can I Get A…” the meaning is bounce. So it’s appropriate that a lyrically autopilot, musically explosive album of middling repute is best-remembered for a relatively abstract hook: “Give me that funk, that sweet, that nasty, that gushy stuff.” So it did.

 

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Ted Miller

Ted Miller is trying to collect the head of every Guns ‘n Roses’ guitarist for his rec room. He currently has three.

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