Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr “This is Roc la Familia/ It’s Young Hova, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, Amil-lion,” Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter announces in the opening seconds of 2000’s The Dynasty: Roc la Familia. The LP that follows is indeed a presentation of team Roc-A-Fella, the record label that Jay started with Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke in 1995. Previous works by Jay-Z had featured guest spots from members of the squad (see Vol. 3’s “Pop 4 Roc,” the “Money, Cash, Hoes” remix and the Memphis Bleek duets on Reasonable Doubt), but not to this extent. In fact, two of the songs here (“Holla,” “The R.O.C.”) don’t have Hov verses at all, a situation reflecting that the enterprise was initially planned as a posse album, not a solo release. Yet because of its inclusion in Jay-Z’s discography, The Dynasty (no, not Ming but Shawn’s) marks a welcome end to the series. Not that Volumes One, Two and Three had failed (they’re clearly classics, especially Vol. 3), but their titles and packaging suggested solemnity and grand artistic vision. This LP, his first non-volume since 1996, was a chance to take a loose, relaxed approach and cede some of the spotlight to the lyrical gifts of his fellow Roc-A-Fella signees. The final result ended up a deeply compelling and varied illustration of their talents, thrown into relief by the musical chops of some up-and-coming producers like The Neptunes, Kanye West, Bink and Just Blaze. Just Blaze and Beanie Sigel are the (non-Jay) standouts here. Sigel in particular is in peak form, dropping legendary verses on several tracks including “Streets is Talking.” “The streets is not only watching but they talking now?/ Shit, they got me circling the block before I’m parking now,” he spits over the shrieking strings of Just Blaze’s smash-hitter, a beat that builds and breaks momentum with a strobe light’s intensity. It’s an ode to caution that goes out to all the Agent Smiths (read: the techno-traitors, glitch-ridden snitches and strong-jawed enemies of success), which is why the stars align like green zeroes and ones when Sigel explains, “I got guns like Neo in Matrix.” The line draws attention to the slippage between reality and fantasy for a roster of rap magicians caught up in decidedly unmagical legal woes. The Dynasty came out on Halloween 2000, and Sigel’s contributions are central to its most haunting elements. His “Where Have You Been” bars—choked-back tears audible as he seethes with raw emotion over his relationship with the abusive father who abandoned his family—are the exact opposite of what Jay-Z describes on “Song Cry”: we can hear them coming down his eyes, loud and clear. The lyrics from Houston luminary Scarface on “This Can’t Be Life” also recount devastating trauma: “My homeboy Reek, he just lost one of his kids/ And when I heard that I just broke into tears,” he admits. The LP is rife with references to pain and violence, many of which open out with a quality that reveals generations of hard-knuckled hardship saturating the crew’s wealth and fame. These days, its reputation rests largely on two tracks: “Intro” and its most successful single, “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It to Me.” When Jay ranked his own albums a few years back, he made one note next to The Dynasty, unjustifiably placed four slots from the bottom: “Intro alone…” No doubt it still kicks: Just Blaze’s looping sample from the early moments of Kleeer’s “She Said She Loves Me” constructs a kind of quadratura space for reflection on intuition and the distance—vast in terms of privilege, miniscule in terms of fate—between a hungry young Shawn and Bill Cosby’s son, Ennis, murdered during an attempted robbery in the same year as Biggie’s death. “I Just Wanna Love U,” on the other hand, is the best imaginable party music (those bells though!) and a logical expansion of his work with Timbaland and The Hitmen. It undoubtedly cemented Jay-Z’s crossover capacity and immediately paved the way from a whole range of The Neptunes-produced radio hits to follow, like Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U,” Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body,” Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” and Jay-Z’s own “Excuse Me Miss” and “Change Clothes.” Unfortunately, neither the intro nor the high-charting single does any justice to the other components of Team Roc, and, by 2003, Sigel, Bleek and Amil had little to do with Jay’s solo work. The Dynasty marks the last time Jay-Z would tightly embrace his role as team player, team-up projects with Kanye, Beyoncé and Jay Electronica notwithstanding. (It’s tempting to redact the R. Kelly partnership, which commences inauspiciously on this LP with “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.” If only we could go back in time and replace Best of Both Worlds and Unfinished Business with two full-lengths by Beanie and Jay!) The album is the pivot point between Shawn Carter as rapper (with all the poetry and collaboration that entails) and Shawn Carter as diss-ready king of New York and big money businessman (the transition to “business, man” would have to wait just a few more years). There were profound relationships and glimpses of beauty lost in this shift, which is why it’s so meaningful to listen to these songs with fresh ears in 2020. They’ll never have the mythos of the tracks on a Screw tape or the potency of Dr. Dre’s 2001 (a Dream-Team, turn-of-millennium lineup if there ever was one), but they remain truly magnetic in the effortlessness of their lyricism (“Ex-sinner, Grammy Award winner/ Balling repeatedly, highlights on SportsCenter”) and allusions (“You wanna conversate with the writer of the Qur’an/ Or Old Testament? Don’t test him then”). Kanye’s planned Cruel series and other sets like A$AP Mob’s Cozy Tapes and Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers have done their best to follow suit, and we can all thank the hip-hop gods that marquee rappers still team up to show out. In this light, we can see The Dynasty: Roc la Familia as a tribute to combined action in music, multiplying outwards from era to era and street corner to street corner like so many loaves and fishes. An expansion such as this humbly offers an amendment to that fabled intro: it’s not about The Dynasty but boundless diffusion of dynasty, 2000 to infinity, worldwide.