How Jay Z’s ‘The Dynasty: Roc La Familia’ Helped Solidify His Legacy in Hip-Hop
"Y’all n----s truly ain’t ready for this dynasty thing / Y’all thinking Blake Carrington, I’m thinking more like Ming,” Jay Z warns on "4 Da Fam," a single from former Roc-A-Fella Records artist Amil's debut album, All Money Is Equal. The verse may have been seen as just another witty rhyme from Hov, but it would serve as an omen for the Roc's franchise player.
For all of its lore as an institution of hip-hop, Roc-A-Fella Records was born out of necessity rather than the illusions of grandeur that are usually associated with the label's backstory. Yes, Jay was a street hustler, but he hadn't yet transformed into the savvy businessman that he is today. Expansion had been a focus on his scope, which he hinted on his classic debut album, Reasonable Doubt.
On "Coming of Age," Hov introduced fans to Memphis Bleek, a young spitfire from the Marcy Projects, whom he had taken under his wing. It's on that track that we hear the elder hustler grooming a young and exuberant prospect for the higher rungs of the rap game.
The song would foreshadow Jay's plans of presenting Bleek as a new and improved Jay Z, which would be unveiled on his Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life intro "Hand It Down." On it, Bleek opens with a bruising freestyle after all but having the baton passed to him. Along with Bleek, Hov went and scooped up additional talent to bolster his roster. He signed Amil, who was a member of female rap group Major Coins, and Philly rhymer Beanie Sigel.
While Amil would help Jay Z score his biggest hit to date ("Can I Get A...") and seemed to be the perfect feminine counterpart to the crew, it would be Beanie Sigel who would prove to be Roc-A-Fella's prized acquisition. "Meeting Jay was like meeting the perfect hustler,” Sigel said in a 2001 profile on Jay Z in the New Yorker. “It was like being a young kid on the block, when a dude drive up in a big Caddy and throw you the keys, like, ‘Park the car, shorty.’ It was like meeting that guy.”
The trio would take on the rap game for all it was worth during their reign, which brings us to Jay Z's fifth studio album, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, which was released on Oct. 31, 2000.
The album would be released while Jay Z was dealing with several legal issues involving his assault against rap mogul Lance "Un" Rivera at New York's Kit Kat club in December 1999. It would only be the first of what would be a tumultuous two years for the rapper.
While being arraigned for the initial Kit Kat club fiasco, Jay was hit with two additional assault charges stemming from alleged altercations in which the rapper had hit club patrons over the head with champagne bottles in separate instances. One was said to have happened just a week prior to the Rivera stabbing, while the other was alleged to have happened in 1998, at Manhattan nightspot Club Carbon.
These legal cases put a dark cloud over what was set up to be Jigga's biggest release. Situations like this could weigh on the mind of anyone and take them off their game, but instead, Jay took the intense media scrutiny and uncertainty and channeled it into what was his most ambitious album, The Dynasty.
To kick it off, Jay Z utilized The Dynasty "Intro" as a way to blow a little steam before delivering his potent banger and the LP's lead single, "Change the Game." Featuring Bleek and Sigel riding shotgun, Hov announces his impending takeover, spitting "It's only one Roc La Familia / Sigel locked Philly up, Brooklyn is me / Matter fact east coast, [who the] f--- took it from me" with the bravado of a seasoned crook.
Jay also takes the time to run down his impressive resume and set the tone for the entire album. He spits, "Fourth album, still Jay, still spitting that real s--- / Vol. 3, still sold more records than Will Smith / Can't call this a comeback, I run rap (f--- is y'all saying) / Five million, I done that and come back and do it again / Ex sinner, Grammy Award winner / Ballin' repeatedly, highlights on SportsCenter / Please repeat after me, it's only one rule / I will not lose."
One example of the Roc's infectious chemistry was displayed on the album standout, "You, Me, Him, and Her," on which Hov raps "Jigga Man, mo' betta, mo' chedda / Foes, knock the man off ya' Polo sweater / Roll wit' the R-O-C-A-Fella / Remember me, the teachers used to fail us," before letting his trio of proteges shine themselves.
On "Guilty Until Proven Innocent" featuring R. Kelly, Jay spills his thoughts involving his pending court cases for assault. Lyrics like, "Press tried to throw dirt on my name, disturbing my game / See 'em happy when they heard he was arraigned, glad he's indicted / Got big money, big lawyers divided / Just like Cochran, cocksuckers, you'll never see me boxed in / Y'all all know it, Jigga's a fighter / Plus I'm claustrophobic, back on the streets before you know it" speak to the backlash he endured at the hands of mainstream media, who painted him as a thug rapper. In the end, Jay makes it known where his loyalty lies and to whom his disdain is directed, minus the veil that cloaks many of his jabs.
Another standout from The Dynasty is "1-900-Hustler," a track that finds Jay Z, Bleek and Beans conducting a hotline for block boys in need of a little consulting in regards to their illegal activities.
"You find a chick, s---, you hole up in her crib and let her introduce you 'round town like her man / Shake hands, make friends like it's all innocent / Then before they look up, you selling the town cook up," raps Jay, before Memphis Bleek gives his own no-frills take on a separate situation. The song can also be credited as our first exposure to Sigel's State Property offshoot and features the voice of Young Chris, who plays one of the callers and a resounding verse from fellow Philly rapper Freeway.
The Dynasty also featured Jay offering glimpses into his life on such introspective tracks like "This Can't Be Life," which finds him recounting a former girlfriend's miscarriage and the uncertainty that surrounded his life prior to Reasonable Doubt. The song was also the beginning of Scarface's extended relationship with the Roc, particularly his kinship with Sigel. But perhaps what was Hov's most transparent moment comes on "Where Have You Been," where he and Sigel address their absentee fathers.
Sigel opens up first, rapping, "It's about time we have a father to son / Sit down, let me tell you bout your fatherless sons / How they grew to be men and father they sons / Fathered they daughters, n-----, you left a fatherless daughter / N----, I'll never follow ya orders" and shows a complete lack of respect while doing so.
Jay even goes as far to analyze the irony in his recent legal troubles with his father's disappearance. "I wanted to walk just like him, wanted to talk just like you / Often Momma said I looked too much and thought just like you / Wanted to drink Miller Nips and smoke Newports just like you / But you left me, now I'm going to court just like you," he delivers.
The Dynasty: Roc La Familia would be less successful than Jay's previous two albums and would never be confused with his past work, but was one of the more important releases of his career. Reasonable Doubt was the genesis, Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life was the breakthrough and The Blueprint and The Black Album may have immortalized him, but The Dynasty was the album that featured a fully bossed up Jay Z. He became more than just a rapper; he embodied the full-fledged rap mogul that we know and love today.
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