After putting out „Reasonable Doubt“, Jay-Z realised that he wasn’t fully satisfied with the way his music carreer was going. The album became a certified classic hip-hop album over the years, but at the time, even though the streets loved it the album received poor commercial success. This was the reason why Jay decided to take a different aproach for creating his sophomore album – „In My Lifetime Vol. 1“.
Jay wanted to make a blend of street/hustler songs and records with more mainstream/radio appeal. In his own words, he failed at doing this. He said that this album is „the one that got away“ and he felt like he missed the opportunity of having two classics in a row. Let’s just go through the tracklist and analyze the album.
The first track is “A Million And One Questions/Rhyme No More”, produced by DJ Premier. This is a perfect start for the album because it sounds like Jay is picking up right where he left off with previous album. New York sounding beat and strong lyrics are there. Make sure you check out this awesome remix that has a different beat and verse on second part of the song. The second song is „The City Is Mine“, which was also released as the third single with a video. This is when we realise that Jay is trying to fit into so called „jiggy“ era from late 90s. The beat is not bad, and neither are lyrics, but it features kind of „corny“ hook by Blackstreet. The hook is what mostly makes this song seem like a “reach” for radio play. Other than that, i think the song is good, no matter how non-typical it was for Jay at the time.
Track number three is forgetable „I Know What Girls Like“ which features Lil’ Kim and Puff Daddy. Jay-Z recruted Puffy and his production team The Hitmen to help him make a more mainstream album, but this song was a complete fail. It’s followed by „Imaginary Player“ and this is when the album starts to get a lot better. The track is one of classic examples of Jay putting fake flossing rappers to shame with laid back flow and delivery. He is effortlessly rapping as if he is laughing at all rappers who are bragging about money they don’t have. Next up is „Streets Is Watching“, produced by Ski, which may be the hardest track on the album. If not, these are definitely the hardest intro bars on any song ever: „Look, if I shoot you, I’m brainless, but if you shoot me, then you’re famous“. After this we get to hear „Friend Or Foe ’98“ which is a sequel to the same titled track from „Reasonable Doubt“, and it is again produced by DJ Premier. Track number seven is „Lucky Me“, one of the most underrated Jay’s songs of all time. It is and introspective and honest song about negative sides of fame and success. Ironically, the next track on the album is „(Always Be My) Sunshine“ which Jay made exactly for the reason to gain more success. It was the first single off the album and it had a typical Puff-Daddy-colorful-shiny-suit-era type of video. The problem wasn’t the song or video itself, it was the simply the fact that Jay wasn’t Puffy, or Mase or Will Smith. He was a hustler from Marcy Projects, a street dude who was making different type of music. Mase would’ve probably made “Sunshine” into a hit record because this sound and look would be accepted from his image. It’s funny how Biggie pulled it off with “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems”, but however, his Brooklyn homie Jay-Z couldn’t do it. It is almost unbelievable that Jay gave us this song and “Streets Is Watching” on the same album.
Track number nine is „Who You With II“. This was already released as a single with a video months before the album, as it also appeared on movie „Sprung“ soundtrack, but it just had a different third verse. Ski did a great job with the beat, so did Jay with his lyrics, and i feel like this should’ve been the most commercial sounding song that Jay would’ve allowed himself to make for this album. After this, there are tracks „Face Off“ with Sauce Money and „Real Niggaz“ with Too $hort . They don’t do anything for this album, i think that both collaborations could’ve been more impressive. I look at them like those lackluster tracks that most albums have. After these two we hear „Rap Game/Crack Game“ with a self-explanatory title. I don’t care how cliche it may be for rappers to compare rap businees and drug dealing, i love how Jay did it on this track. Next up is one of Jay’s best songs „Where I’m From“ with classic description of his hood. The only reason i said that „Streets Is Watching“ is MAYBE the hardest record on the album is because „Where I’m From“ is just as hard. After this we get to hear „You Must Love Me“ featuring Kelly Price, another classic introspective and honest song by Jay. He talks about very difficult and personal situations from his life that he never talked about. „Wishing On A Star“ is listed as a bonus track and it was also a single with a video. There are two versions with a different beat. This song also sounds like it was made to grab mainstream listeners, but it’s actually good, including the hook.
When i compare outstanding tracks with the weak ones, i can definitely tell why Jay feel like he messed up. It’s the contrast, he goes from classic moments to his worst ever. However, out of 14 tracks, i would only remove „I Know What Girls Like“, „Sunshine“, „Face Off“, and „Real Niggaz“. With that being said, this is 10 songs out of 14 and that is NOT a bad album for me. I honestly don’t understand how can anyone not feel this album with songs like „Lucky Me“, „You Must Love Me“, „Where I’m From“, „Streets Is Watching“, „A Million And One Questions“ or „Imaginary Player“…
People always pay more attention to what they don’t like and what bothers them, it’s in their nature. I honestly think that most people didn’t even give this album a chance because of bad mainstream singles. Don’t allow popular opinion to form your opinion. I get it, album may seem all over the place musically because Jay seemed desperate for radio play and he didn’t manage to create that proper mix of “street” and “commercial” like he did on his third album a year later. That’s why the album has its very low points and very high points. However, none of this should take away from you enjoying the majority of the album, since those are definitely some of the songs that could rival any other songs from Jay’s catalogue when it comes to picking his best work.