18 November, 2002@12:00 am
It’s that time of year again. The weather gets a little colder, families come together, and all the big dogs of hip-hop rush release their annual year-end albums. Jay-Z in particular, who maintains a somewhat ridiculous inferiority complex of continually outdoing his competitors, now maintains a 2.3-albums-per-year average. Quickly following his collaborative project with R&B singer / courtroom star, R. Kelly, and his recent Unplugged endeavor, Jiggaman has his seventh album coming and his eighth album dropping with the double disc set, The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse.
Just as everyone else has followed in the footsteps of 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z sees it necessary to graduate to the two-disc level, and salutes both fallen heroes on each “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” and “Dream”, the former acting as a formulaic “just add Beyonce” radio rush, and the latter a more poetic tribute, yet one that comes off somewhat gimmicky with Biggie’s sampled (and censored?) verses from “Juicy”. And like just about every double album that has ever been released in the history of hip-hop, yes, quantity outweighs quality.
Still, we can’t be mad a Jay-Z for simply doing it his way, as he comes off completely naturally on “Hovi Baby”, yet another anthem celebrating his name over an orgasmic Just Blaze banger. The same can be said for the obvious “Girls Girls Girls” follow-up, “All Around The World”, with backdrop provided by Kanye West and hook courtesy of classy lady crooner LaToiya Williams of Dogg House records fame. Naturally, Timbaland steps in for his obligatory three joints, shining brightest on future club rocker “What They Gonna Do” featuring Sean Paul. The Neptunes also chime in for three typical-yet-likable tracks of post N.E.R.D. syndrome, including the dreamy “Excuse Me Miss” (meeting at the crossroads of LL Cool J’s “Love You Better” & Clipse’s “Gangsta Lean”) and the more threatening “Nigga Please” led by another one Pharrell’s trademark soulful hooks.
This is all fine and good, but truthfully, the two best joints on this album are remixes of past favorites. The certified blazer is easily “The Watcher 2″, a reworking of Dr. Dre’s 2001 opener, now featuring blistering verses from not only Dr. Dre and Jay-Z (“word to the hyphen in my name!”), but also a gray-bearded Rakim, who surprisingly rips the mic with incredible lyrical skill in 2002. Add in some spaghetti-western guitars and an extra hook from Truth Hurts, and it all adds up to a classic track. Meanwhile, disc two sports a brand new remix of “U Don’t Know (Remix)”, which takes Kanye West’s original blueprint and expands on it to include all new energetic verses from new Roc-A-Fella signees’, the Mash Out Posse, where you can literally feel the energy captured in the studio at that moment. Both remixes easily outdo their original counterparts.
But then you got a whole ‘nother disc’s worth of tracks to sift through, making this one incredibly looooong album, and truthfully, after a while Jay runs out of clever things to say, and good beats to say them over. While the obvious Nas dis lands on “Blueprint 2″, it doesn’t top “The Takeover”, nor “Ether”. And at an hour & a half into the disc, the sleepiness of tracks like “Meet The Parents”, “Some How Some Way”, and other snoozers definitely takes it’s toll on the listeners – and even attempted club-bangers like “2 Many Hoes” and the ridiculously wack (yeah I said it – beat, lyrics, and all) “As One” can’t win them back. Sure enough, bonus tracks “Bitches & Sisters” and the mixtape classic “Show You How” keep one ear open, but at that point it’s too little too late.
In essence, The Gift and The Curse is just that – it’s packed with several likable jams thanks to Hov’s natural rap “gift”, but also is “cursed” with the plague of the double album, containing too many average tracks not up to usual Jiggaman standards. Whether or not this begins the natural decline that usually comes when one has reached the top remains to be seen, but either way, unlike his last album, this isn’t quite as necessary of a Blueprint worth studying.
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