Normally the title "Hits Collection..." or "Best Of..." was seen as a gravestone for a popular musician, a last dash at cash before you retired to your castle in upstate New York or vineyard in California. But in the case of once-retired hit maker/CEO/business mogul Jay-Z, and the touch of gold production team of N*E*R*D, it sounds more like just another calm before the storm.
First off if you are a serious Jay-Z or N*E*R*D fan then there is nothing new for you on these releases other than a trip down memory lane without sitting in a pile of your CDs and 12"s. But the twist here is that if you are a rock-solid Shawn Carter fan or actually bought the N*E*R*D's first album before Pharrel scrapped it and re-recorded the whole thing for a second release, then you might start questioning the use of the titles "Best Of.." and "Hits Collection".
Jay-Z is one of hip hop's most successful businessmen. He started Roc-A-Fella records and Rocawear Clothing, was CEO of Def Jam, is part owner of The New Jersey Nets and the 40/40 Club in NY, and (less business and more bragging rights) is married to Beyonce. On top of that he has had more #1 solo albums on America's Billboard than any artist ever including Elvis, a fact that explains why even hardcore fans are excited about the first retrospective of this man's 11 album musical career. The title states that this is "Volume One" which should help calm the feedback on the track selection, considering that of the 14 songs represented, six were recorded post-retirement and only two were released before 2000, leaving Reasonable Doubt and its 1997 follow-up, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 totally absent from the mix. Jay-Z completists can only hope that these albums will be represented on a "Volume 2" along with cuts like "Change Clothes" and "Excuse Me Miss", both of which charted on Billboard and are considered fan favorites. But that being said, what you do get is a walk through the front door of Jay-Z's career featuring some of the songs that made him the man he is today, including "Empire State of Mind" w/Alicia Keys which besides being an anthem was also his first #1 hit. Also included are the club bangers, "Big Pimpin", "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and the crushing Rick Rubin produced rock/rap cut "99 Problems" that taught all inner city kids their rights for being searched by the police. Rihanna & Kanye stop by on "Run This Town" which if you own a radio, you have heard, and the aforementioned Beyonce is here as well on "03 Bonnie & Clyde", a testament to their private yet powerhouse partnership. Sprinkle with a little "Encore" , dash in a little "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and you have a collection worthy of sitting in your CD player on 'random' mode at your next party.
The same can be said for the most part about The Best of N*E*R*D CD. It has the jams you know and have danced embarrassingly to in your living room like "Rock Star" and "Truth or Dare" w/Kelis & Pusha T, alongside some of the smoother almost firelight cuts like "Fly or Die" and "Provider", where Pharrel lets his voice take center stage over N*E*R*D production. But it is that exact production which is strangely absent from this disc and could have easily filled a second CD in the package. No doubt you might need "Rock Star" to get the party started, but to keep it going you may be looking for the N*E*R*D/Neptune's productions of The Clipse, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Ludacris, Madonna, Snoop Dogg or even Jay-Z, but sadly they are nowhere to be found on this disc. Almost opposite of the Jay-Z disc, this "Best Of..." features only material from the first two albums, leaving the last two N*E*R*D releases out in the cold, seemingly replaced by two remixes at the end of the disc by Sander Kleinenberg and Justice. Still, with a few tracks that have that dance floor swagger, this CD along with the Jay-Z disc would be the perfect soundtrack to any respectable social gathering at your house.....just make sure the kiddies are in bed because Jay-Z speaks from the street and N*E*R*D garner an R-rating most of the time which will make it "that kinda party."