Jay-Z's 'The Black Album' at 20: Reflecting on the Retirement That Wasn't

Where were you when this album dropped?

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Roc-A-Fella Records

Radio cackling. This is a public service announcement, sponsored by Just Blaze and the good folks of Roc-A-Fella Records. Allow us to re-introduce Jay-Z's The Black Album on its 20th anniversary. The legendary record, considered by some to be his GOAT, was released on this day twenty years ago through Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam Recordings. The Black Album is also known as "The Retirement Album," because at the time of its release Jay-Z had announced that he was going to be retiring from the music industry, and for all intents and purposes, he seemed to be very serious about that decision. The album featured many classic tracks that have gone on to become some of Jay-Z's signature anthems like "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "Encore," and "99 Problems." On it's 20th anniversary, we're literally going to be rewinding back to 2003 in celebration of this masterpiece, and we're going to break it down into sections.

If you weren't there, this allow you to get a glimpse of what that era was like. And if you were there, perhaps this will give you a little blast from the past. Let's rewind shall we?

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The retirement announcement

The recording and release of the album

The success of 'The Black Album'

The initial reviews

The legendary Madison Square Garden concerts

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Getty Images

Madison Square Garden has been the place of many revolutionary and legendary concerts, and this included Jay-Z's 'Farewell' concert at Madison Square Garden, which was also documented in Fade to Black. According to XXL, the concert featured then-girlfriend and eventual wife Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliot, Beanie Siegel, Ghostface Killah, Foxy Brown, and Memphis Bleek. The show took place on November 25th, 2003, and featured a 32-song setlist, the debut of "Public Service Announcement," and was billed as being his final show.

The all-black Reebok S. Carter

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Getty Images

Finding a good quality picture by 2023 standards of the Reebok S. Carter is borderline impossible, but the all-black version that was meant specifically for The Black Album era was by extension a larger part of the 2003 multi-year endorsement deal Jay-Z signed with the company. That said, we think we found a current eBay listing of the shoe in question, which you can check out here. You can read more about how the Jay-Z and Reebok deal came to be here.

What about 'The Black Book' memoir?

As mentioned earlier, this era was supposed to be accompanied with a memoir from Jay-Z called The Black Book, which never arrived. According to a piece from Hampton University, Jay worked with journalist Dream Hampton for about two years on the project, but pulled the book after its completion due to being uncomfortable. The article cites an interview with the Daily News where he apparently stated "I know that people really want to know about me and I thought it was okay, but as I got closer and closer I said ‘what am I doing?"

Who knows—perhaps we'll get that memoir one day because if you've ever listened to a Jay-Z interview, then you already know the man is quite interesting.

The 2004 BET Awards

So you're listening to The Black Album today right? It's only right.

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