Jay-Z’s followers got at least one treat from the Magna Carta Holy Grail rapper’s surprise Twitter conversation yesterday. With Hova’s blessing, producers Just Blaze and Young Guru liberated the previously unreleased, “original” version of “Dead Presidents III,” a track with a crucial history for Jay-Z. Still, while the ruminative, string- and keys-enshrouded song is a refreshing palate cleanser after Jay’s latest album, in that he impresses us with his rhymes rather than his possessions, it’s ultimately just that: a piece of history.
The original “Dead Presidents” was a non-album single that helped launch Jay-Z’s career, built around a sample from Nas that recurs here, along with the basic instrumental framework. In 2010’s masterful not-quite-memoir Decoded, Jay reflects on trying to convince Hot 97 to play the record, though the flip side, “Ain’t No Nigga,” turned out to be the bigger commercial hit. A revised version titled “Dead Presidents 2” appeared on 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt.
The existence of a third “Dead Presidents” has been an open secret for years. The recent release shows us that it exists, but the verses have already been out there, and the exact timeline is unclear. “Dead Presidents III,” and the first verse on this track, initially appeared in partial form on DJ Green Lantern’s Presidential Invasion mixtape, which came out ahead of disappointing 2006 “post-retirement” album Kingdom Come. Now that we have the full version, it turns out the second verse has been released before, too: on “Moment of Clarity” from 2003’s The Black Album — though this version adds a 9/11 punchline that possibly explains why it took so long for this to see the light of day (“Till I flew into the building like / 100 Osamas said to do a few millions”). It’s history.
The rest of the Twitter confab was revealing mostly for how unrevealing it was. He (or a rep) addressed twerking, typing, “Miley is a GOD.” Answering a question from Aziz Ansari, he tweeted that his favorite 2013 pasta was “Linguine and clam, but, you knew that.” And so on.
In other MCHG-related tidbits making the rounds lately, Beyoncé is of course a major presence on the album, but intriguingly, she uses a pseudonym for some of her appearances. Sasha Fierce? Goodness, no. As Idolator points out, Bey is credited as Third Ward Trill, an apparent reference to her Houston roots and too-real use of slang. If Third Ward Trill is the same person who raps on chopped-and-screwed “Bow Down / I Been On” and the live version (though not the leaked studio version) of “Standing on the Sun,” well, we’d very much like to meet her again.