It reads more like a list of Billboard top sellers or a guest list of some resplendent celebrity party than a collaboration. Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Nas, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell Williams, and Timbaland could have comprised all the eye-popping features on Jay-Z's looming Magna Carta Holy Grail. Instead, they appear on one mammoth of a song in "BBC."
The lyrics were leaked Saturday and the hype began building immediately. A handful of the biggest superstars in music have the potential to create a cross-genre masterpiece. They also have the potential to flop hard.
"BBC" sounds like a mainstream hip-hop fan's dream come true, but a song as encompassing as this one runs the problem of trying to do too much and be as big as advertised. In attempting to live up to the buzz, "BBC" could see these talented artists playing caricature versions of themselves, with every verse nothing more than an exaggerated accentuation of what makes each one so popular. In other words, mixing the formula for hits of seven multiplatinum superstars doesn't create one mega-hit; it creates one mega-disappointment.
The song will of course be anchored by Hov, who's been inconsistent if not uninspired with everything he's released since American Gangster. If Jay-Z's rhymes are tight, his flow isn't forced to keep up with the pace of today's radio, and subject matter goes beyond "a kajillion dollars is nothing to me," then the track becomes rather auspicious. But if Jay gathered the other six together for another trite session of boasting about bankrolls, then "BBC" is nothing more than a shallow glimpse into a Forbes list party. This is Jay's caricature, and he needs to shake it to make "BBC" original.
Nas, meanwhile, needs to keep the intensity high despite the unfamiliar faces. The only other pure emcee on the song, Nasty Nas finds himself in strange territory with Beyonce and Justin Timberlake. The Queensbridge native is praised for his sociopolitical commentary and fiercely honest rhymes, but the producers on this list (Swizz Beatz is particularly worrisome) dabble more in radio smashes than celebrated street anthems. For Nas to keep the song's artistry in check, he needs to deliver a verse in line with his acclaimed Life is Good LP. If he falls in line with whatever pop is put out by the others, his appearance will be expendable.
Timberlake and Beyonce are charged with embellishing the song, not powering it. For "BBC" to really be special, it has to take hip-hop to a new experimental level, not use pop as a forum for more hip-hop. The uber-talented JT should add an element of classiness and smoothness without making it another "Suit and Tie;" Beyonce can deliver a sprawling hook or a powerful bridge and keep it from turning into some behemoth of an R&B hit. The caricatures of these two are belting songsters who define how men and women exude confidence, and too much confidence only plays in more to the pitfall of Jay-Z songs.
The three producers, simply put, need to try not to try too hard. Swizz Beatz is fond of ad-libbing nonsense in numbingly-repetitive choruses; Timbaland has a penchant for half-autotuned sing-raps; Pharrell can out-funk just about everyone these days. This is Jay-Z's song, which has a chance to catapult to hip-hop heaven with features from three of the genre's most revered stars. If three radio-friendly producers jump in and become the platinum plaque caricatures of themselves, "BBC" will look gimmicky at best.
Simply put, these seven need to be hungry and selfless. Anyone trying to outshine or take over "BBC" will come off as the surface-level version we're accustomed to on the radio. If everyone finds a niche and is intent on making something original, not something magnifying what's already there, then "BBC" is something worth leaking about.