Jay-Z Deep Into Songwriting For Upcoming Life And Times

Rapper's follow-up to smash Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life part of Def Jam's release rush.

NEW YORK — Rapper Jay-Z has recorded more than a dozen songs for the follow-up to last year's hugely successful Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life and is shooting to have the album ready for a post-Christmas release, he said.

"I have 16 songs for the new album, which will feature 12 songs," Jay-Z (born Shawn Carter) said backstage at the Metropolitan Opera House on Thursday after winning an MTV Video Music Award for Best Rap Video. He said he would probably write 10 more songs before selecting which tracks will go on the album.

The Life and Times of Shawn Carter Vol. 3 will be the title of the new album, he said. Def Jam Recordings, which distributes releases on Jay-Z's label, Roc-a-Fella Records, has the album scheduled for Dec. 28.

Jay-Z began writing songs for the album around the time that he, DMX, Method Man and Redman ended the 52-date "Hard Knock Life" tour in May, said Damon Dash, his business partner and the CEO of Roc-a-Fella.

The fans who attended those tour stops found Jay-Z riding the success of Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life (RealAudio excerpt of title track). The album, released in September 1998, became the first hip-hop album to top the Billboard 200 albums chart for five consecutive weeks and is certified four-times platinum. The album's single "Can I Get A ..." was a top-40 hit for several months.

Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life — Jay-Z's second album — also was a critical success, as reviewers praised its combination of braggadocio, as on "Money Ain't a Thang" (RealAudio excerpt); complex rhyming, as on "Nigga What, Nigga Who"; and the street imagery of drug dealing and hustling.

The latter quality has kept Jay-Z popular with fans of underground hip-hop,

according to an employee at Fat Beats, New York's leading hip-hop record

store. The employee, who give his name only as Spike, called Jay-Z "one

of the few MCs that can do it both ways" — make commercial music

while keeping the lyrics focused on the streets of Brooklyn.

The store's customers, though, are questioning the rushed release of The Life and Times of Shawn Carter Vol. 3, Spike said.

"Everyone is shocked that he's actually doing it," he said. "It's an all-of-a-sudden thing."

The release date is part of an ambitious late-1999 Def Jam schedule. The company is advertising forthcoming releases by its five highest-profile rap artists, including veteran LL Cool J (Nov. 23), recent partners-in-rhyme Method Man (Dec. 7) and Redman (Dec. 14), and the Yonkers-bred DMX (Dec. 21). None of the albums has a title yet, according to a Def Jam spokesperson.

Kevin Liles, president of Def Jam, said Friday that the label set a similar schedule last December — issuing albums by Method Man, Redman, DMX and DJ Clue — with glowing results. The releases created $90 million in revenue for the company that month, he said.

DMX's Flesh of My Flesh — Blood of My Blood, released in December 1998, sold 670,227 its first week, knocking Garth Brooks' Double Live from the top of the Billboard 200.

"A lot of people said you can't put an album out right around Christmas," Liles said. "We did it, and the DMX album scanned more than 600,000 the first week. The money is there."

Liles said he feels young people view a record by Jay-Z or by other high-profile rappers the same way they do video games or the latest Air Jordan sneakers — those albums are "part of the culture," he said.

"Hip-hop is so powerful now, it's not about beating this other rapper's album. It's about beating a new pair of tennis shoes," he said.

(Staff Writer Brian Hiatt contributed to this story.)