The Blueprint 3 by Jay-Z. Real Talk.

Blueprint_3

I hold the opinion that there should be no such thing as a “bad” Jay-Z album. He’s the greatest rapper alive, he has access where others do not, how can he not keep dropping classics? The answer, most likely, is that Jay-Z is only human, and humans have been known to make mistakes. The Blueprint 3 is one such mistake.

I’m not sure why Jay-Z insisted on having a Blueprint trilogy. Sure the first one is a classic, but he already did this three album cycle shit back in the 90’s. And it’s not like The Blueprint 2 was screaming for a finale. I like that album fine, but the criticisms of a bloated nature are not at all out-of-bounds. Also it isn’t nearly as good as The Blueprint. That said, The Blueprint 3 is closer in relation both thematically and song-wise with Kingdom Come, which most people agree is Jay-Z’s worst album. The Blueprint 3 is better than that record, but only just so.

Let’s start with the beats, the bedrock of any great rap record. Jay-Z has long been fabled for his beat choices. Just see him suss out the beat for “What More Can I Say?” in the concert film Fade To Black*. It appears that much like on Kingdom Come, Jay has become less discerning in his tastes. Maybe Hov is just reading the labels and not really listening, but these Timbaland and Neptunes beats aren’t that hot. Timbaland’s “Reminder” might be one of the shittiest tracks he’s ever done that hasn’t appeared on Shock Value. The Neptunes’ beat for “So Ambitious” outdoes it with a weak shamble and a basis around video game sound effects. It sounds like it was sampled from the soundtrack to a The Legend of Zelda. Timbaland does a slightly better job on “Off That“, but the beat is all forward motion, no innovation. Did the guy blow his wad on FutureSex/LoveSounds? But when we’re talking about a failure of beats, the prize goes to “Young Forever“, Jay-Z’s attempt to get a foot in the door of the ever important high school senior class market. If this is any indication of Jay-Z’s next move, expect a freestyle over Toto’s “Africa” before his next album drops.

I’ve read plenty of criticism over the last few years since Kingdom Come that Jay-Z hasn’t really been bringing it lyrically and that his rhyming skills and flow are deteriorating. I had never agreed with this statement until hearing The Blueprint 3. Across the board, track for track, I don’t think Jay-Z delivers anything generally crazy, quotable, or with any sense of greater style. And the man’s only true competition is himself. Take a track like “Thank You“, which plays like a retread of The Black Album‘s “Encore“. Jay starts out saying it’s a song for his fans, but then quickly flips it into another attack on his critics, equating them rather clumsily to September 11th, with a strained metaphor of crashing planes into buildings. The beat is nice, but we’re two tracks into the album and he’s evoking terrorist attacks against battle rappers he won’t even name. Not to mention that the first song is an attack on his critics as well. Listen, I’m well aware of the fact that most Jay-Z songs are about how he is awesome, his critics can kiss his ass, and so on. The problem is that Jay-Z used to make songs like this that made such statements self evident. “The Takeover” is a track that slams Nas, Mobb Deep and a slew of other rap competitors by actually being an amazing track built around stellar rhymes, rhyming, and an insane, heavy beat. Jay-Z was telling everyone they weren’t as great as him and proving it at the same time. With The Blueprint 3, Jay is just saying it, taking his top status for granted. He used to show us he was the greatest, now he can only tell us about it. When asked in an interview whether Kanye West out-rapped him on “Run This Town“, Jay-Z responded with a non-committal shrug and instructed the interviewer to compare his overall work to Kanye’s and ask him who was the best. Well sure, if we play it that way of course Jay-Z wins. His hits vastly outweigh his misses. But if he keeps whiffing like this he might just screw up his average.(“Run This Town” is still terrible, by the way. Mostly, it’s Rhianna’s yarl.)

Nice things to say? Sure. Swizz Beatz proves his worth on “On To The Next One” with a wicked beat that is proto typical Swizzy but still energetic. “D.O.A.” isn’t bad, like a second rate “Roc Boys“, which I guess isn’t much of a compliment. Oh well.

I’m a little confused on the theme of The Blueprint 3. The original Blueprint was Jay-Z throwing down the gauntlet and letting everyone know he was a force to be reckoned with. No guests except for Eminem, production from mostly Kanye and Just Blaze**; shit made sense. The Blueprint 2 was more of a victory lap, which is why it felt a bit lazy. Yet, there were some top flight beats and Jay had some sharp rhymes to go along with them. This third iteration seems to indicate, “I’m still here, I’m still great”? A good chunk of the running time is devoted to this plot point, when not denigrating haters and critics, with a occasional aside to reference women from his past (“Venus vs. Mars“) or pay respect to every commercially successful rap act to come up in the last twenty years (“A Star Is Born”). “A Star Is Born” is treacle bullshit, sharing a motif with “Empire State of Mind”, also on The Blueprint 3. On “Empire” Jay lists random New York City locations, while on “Star” he lists random rappers. “Empire” is a little better, and the tracks might even work in with better beats, but the verses are snared between a god awful choruses. The message of these two tracks is “I love New York, also various rappers. Group hug.”

The great irony is that this record clearly cost millions of dollars. Millions in marketing, millions for the beats and studio time, all in the service of what turns out to be a relatively mediocre product(“On To The Next One” notwithstanding). Yet, for significantly less money, Hov is outclassed, on the same release day mind you, by Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx…Pt. 2. Great beats, trenchant and evocative rhymes, plus passion. Jay would probably argue that if you stack up his career against Raekwon and a blah blah blah. Hey Jay, let’s stack up your pre-retirement career against your post. Real talk.

*Watching this clip still gives me goosebumps, followed by giddy elation. Do you see the guy make that face at the end of the clip, that “Holy shit, Hov is killing it” face? In the first verse of  “On To The Next One” Jay raps that if we don’t like his new albums, go listen to his old ones. Gladly.

**Just Blaze has been unjustly ignored by Hov of late. Just had to footnote that.

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