No matter how much we love an artist, there comes a point where we just want them to evolve. Eventually we get tired of Drake rapping about relationships. We start asking for Jim Carrey to do more than slapstick comedy, and we want LeBron James to do develop an outside shot and a post-up game. For years, fans demanded that Jay Z move beyond the countless tales of his pre-rap days as a New York City drug dealer. As Jay Z became more of a one-percenter and mainstream star, fans started to roll their eyes at the idea that “he’s still rapping about drugs” when it was clear that he wasn’t living that life anymore.
So Jay Z evolved. Sort of. Ever since he “retired” in 2003, he has dabbled in subject matter that more accurately reflects his life: his business ventures, his marriage, hanging out with the Obamas. And while this has been commendable, the inconvenient truth is that Jay Z is never better than when he just raps about selling drugs. That’s why, despite the fact Jay Z has had a less-than-stellar batting average with his verses in the last couple of years, I was excited when I heard he was going to be on a song called “Drug Dealers Anonymous” with fellow drug-rap aficionado Pusha T.
Forget last week’s Beyonce-baiting cameo; “Drug Dealers Anonymous” is the best verse he’s released in years. Easily. And there’s not a single moment that diverges from the premise we’ve heard from him for the last two decades: Selling drugs made me rich. This is prime Jay Z, loaded with paranoia, intrigue, big-balls money talk and bars like “14-year drug dealer and still counting / Who deserves the medal of freedom is my accountant / He been hula-hooping through loopholes, working around shit.” I know I’m listening to a dad who probably grabbed the “Damn Daniel” reference he uses at the end of the verse from an episode of Ellen, but the song nevertheless puts me in the world of a man who’s still dealing with dirty money and drug mules. This is Jay’s greatest trait, and he hasn’t lost a step.
Some people may roll their eyes at the idea of a near 50-year-old endorsement machine on the right side of the law rapping about drugs he sold 20 years ago, but Jay Z does it so well that it’s kind of silly to want him to do anything else. Sometimes we just want to see Gallagher smash the damn watermelons, no matter how many times we’ve seen it before.
Should our artists evolve? Yes, for the most part. But in Jay’s case, he’s so damn good that we’re robbing ourselves of greatness by asking him to change.