ow. Looking back at my old reviews, I realized that I still haven’t reviewed one of the most talked about hip-hop albums of last year, Jay-Z’s magnum opus, The Blueprint. With the lack of albums to come out this year (the only one I’ve bought was the State Property Soundtrack), I figured I might as well go back and drop some knowledge about this album.
First things first, is Jay-Z a good MC? The best answer is that he can be, when he wants to. His wordplay is often superb, when he tries hard, and he’s one of the few MCs capable of dropping knowledge on a club track. Jay-Z’s last album, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia featured tracks like “This Can’t Be Life” and “Soon You’ll Understand”, some of the deepest songs in hip-hop ever. When is Jay-Z going to put out a whole album of these tracks? September 11, 2001, that’s when.
Okay, it’s true, not every of the tracks on the Blueprint is “Soon You’ll Understand” deep, but the concepts are here and in full effect. Look at Jay-Z’s last big hits: Can I Get A; Ain’t No Nigga; Big Pimpin’; Change the Game...these songs aren’t really ABOUT anything. Using his Big Daddy Kane influenced style, Jay-Z made them hot with rhymes and the money to pay for beats to liven them up. But the first single, the biggest hit of the year, Izzo (H.O.V.A.) runs a hidden message into a mainstream rap song, one of the first for Jay. The song itself is about Jay’s life as a crack dealer, and why you shouldn’t choose the same profession. Check the lyrics: “Hov' is back, life stories told through rap/Niggaz actin like I sold you crack/Like I told you sell drugs; no, Hov' did that/so hopefully you won't have to go through that/I was raised in the pro-jects, roaches and rats/Smokers out back, sellin they mama's sofa/Lookouts on the corner, focused on the ave/Ladies in the window, focused on the kinfolk/Me under a lamp post, why I got my hand closed?/Cracks in my palm, watchin the long arm of the law/So you know I seen it all before/I seen hoop dreams deflate like a true fiend's weight/To try and to fail, the two things I hate/Succeed in this rap game, the two things that's great” They rhyme well and it is a vivid description of Jay’s prior life, and feature some of the best lyrics in a commercial song lately (until Nas’ 'Got Yourself a Gun' blew this one out of the water, but since The Blueprint came out first, it’s not fair to compare).
The beats on The Blueprint are surprisingly soulful and sample-heavy, straying away from the keyboard influences of the Neptunes, Timbaland, and Swizz Beats that have been traditionally found on Jay-Z records. The only songs not featuring samples are the two worst songs, 'Hola Hovito' and 'Jigga that Nigga'. 'Hola Hovito' features a pretty decent beat by Timbaland, but the rhymes aren’t anything special. The song isn’t bad, but it is in comparision to the rest. Even worse is commercial-planned 'Jigga that Nigga', featuring a truly awful beat by the Trackmasters (masters of ruining tracks), and stupid rhymes like “Come on the track like duh duh da-da/With a throwback jersey and a fitted/Might blow a bag of hershey in the sidd-ix/Or might take sips of army with a chidd-ick, I'm so sick widdit”. Not sick widdit on this song, Jay, as if anyone can decipher what you’re saying.
Besides the sample laden songs, the rest work together to make this album bump. The horns on Jay-Z’s homage to Slick Rick, 'The Ruler’s Back', are uncredited but are the best horns on a track since probably T.R.O.Y. Kanye West samples the Doors on the Nas/Mobb Deep diss The Takeover, chopping up the beat expertly to change it just enough that it’s not a straight jack, but still reminds the listener very strongly of the original. And Jay certainly rips into Nas and Mobb Deep with the most personal, searing diss track since Common’s 'The Bitch In Yoo'. West also chops up the Jackson 5’s 'I Want You Back' for 'Izzo', and it isn’t too poppy, isn’t too hard, just damn good. West also produces the best track on the album, “Heart of the City”, where Jay-Z’s talking about not getting enough love. Just Blaze drops a few bangers, like 'Girls, Girls, Girls', and 'Never Change'. Surprisingly, though, the best production comes from the only guest on the album, Eminem, on one of the best tracks ever...yes...ever, Renegade. I’m not normally a big Eminem fan, but this song changed my mind. The haunting production and Eminem’s flow make this track amazing. The only problem with this song is that Eminem murdered Jay-Z, for lack of a better term.
Which brings us to the final and most important point – Jay’s rhymes. They’re better than ever, but still not great. Jay still steals too many Biggie lines “Your reign on the top was shorter than leprechauns, plus 5 others that I counted” , and he got murdered by Em on Renegade, almost unforgivably. His metaphors are only okay (“I pack heat like the oven door” and “Every time I hit the ground, I bounce up like roundball”), but at least he’s starting to tell stories and make songs that actually mean something. The album is good, but not great, and while it is Jay-Z’s best, it doesn’t mean it’s the best album to come out this year. It’s no Digital Bullet, Stillmatic, Iron Flag, or Bulletproof Wallets. A solid effort all around, but not perfect. Hopefully, the sequel to The Blueprint, working title is Blueprint 2, will fix these problems and build on the success of the original.
Reviewed by: Brett Berliner
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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