Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Jay-Z: Vol. 3 . . . Life and Times of S. Carter [Roc-A-Fella, 1999]
Sean Carter isn't the first crime-linked hitmaker with a penchant for kicking broads out of bed at 6:15 in the morning. Frank Sinatra beat him to it. Right, Sinatra never boasted about his own callousness--not publicly, in song--and that's a big difference. Jay-Z has too many units tied up in playing the now-a-rapper-now-a-thug "reality" game with his customers, thugs and fantasists both, and only when he lets the token Amil talk back for a verse does he make room for female reality. But he goes for a rugged, expansive vigor, nailing both come-fly-with-me cosmopolitanism and the hunger for excitement that's turned gangster hangouts into musical hotbeds from Buenos Aires to Kansas City. You don't expect a song called "Big Pimpin' " to sound as if the tracks were recorded in Cairo. This one does. A