Jay-Z – “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”

Released: 6.22.01

Peak: #8

Few pop stars grow more likeable with fame–typically their aggregation of arrogance undercuts their appeal. But arrogance was integral to Jay-Z’s appeal from the jump, and his aesthetic project has been to endear a wider audience to that ego, even as his noblesse distaste with drug-game grubbiness solidified his thug cred. And from its gracious intro forward, “Izzo” may be his most charming pop moment, a joyfully inclusive victory procession that invites us to share in its triumphant mood.

Any ghetto hard ass who samples Annie obviously has some designs on the broad beating heart of the mass public, but “Hard Knock Life” strained to oversell Jigga as street urchin. Kanye West’s Jackson 5 reworking, however, makes for a more organic ghetto anthem–“I Want You Back” summons, rather than fabricates, childhood memories, and so, with its “Double Dutch Bus” overtones, does Jay’s pig latin transliteration of his divine name. That beat kicks in, and next thing you’re reminiscing about cooling off under the spray of a fire hydrant and chilling on your neighbor’s stoop and a whole bunch of other shit you ain’t never actually done.

There’s plenty of credit to divide between Kanye and Jay, but props are also due the grand jury who’d evaluated the evidence that Jay stabbed record exec Lance “Un” Rivera. Their indictment interrupted Hova’s smooth club life routine of model-boinking and Kristal-swilling and may have pressured the MC to plead his case directly to the people. Suddenly, he was boasting, “I do this for my culture,” and collecting reparations for his people in the form of royalties. (Personally, I’m curious to see just how much the Roc paid out to the Cold Crush Brothers.)

Jay didn’t come naturally to the pop song as PR spin–all his “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” jabber with R. Kelly was sour and defensive. But “Izzo” mastered that maneuver. I’m unaware of a follow-up single addressing his subsequent plea of guilty to a misdemeanor charge (sentence: three years probation). All that remains in the public memory of that incident is Jay’s chorus: “Not guilty/ Y’all got to feel me.” Art may imitate life, after all, but that doesn’t mean it has to copy it down word for word.

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