In today’s day and age, with albums leaking weeks before they are released in stores, the situation is worse than ever. Reason being, now the ever-connected masses learn to consume these products via numerous file-sharing sources, as the news explodes like death panel paranoia via social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Case in point was with Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3, which somehow slipped into the water-stream last week. By the evening of the day it leaked, freeloading fans were already summing up their critical opinions on the record via blog comment sections and AIM transmissions, and quickly the buzz spread that this album was “not that hot”. Okay, we all have our opinions, but let this aging critic rant a little: [Rant] How the fuck do the masses pass judgement on an album that’s leaked less than 24 hours later – one that they didn’t even pay for, no less? A word of advice to the new generation – resist the urge to be “FIRST!” on a message board with your two-sentance “review” of the album to risk having to back-peddle and look foolish later. Let these things soak in, listen to them five times before you comment, and by all means never base your opinion on an album after one listen. Think of the additional damage you are doing, young internet-ers. [/Rant]
With that glimpse into the HHS review process out of the way, the end result of Jay’s Blueprint 3 is positive. Sure, everyone has their favorite Jay-Z album, with for a guy that has 11 albums under his belt, with a few classics amongst them, we all have our pre-concieved notions of what Shawn Carter’s new album *should* sound like, usually based on whatever particular love affair we have with The Black Album, The Life & Times of S. Carter, Reasonable Doubt, and so on. But Jay-Z has constantly altered his sound and style, usually shattering expectations that the fans had leading up to the album’s release. With The Blueprint 3, he does this once again, re-writing the rules of the game, as always.
This couldn’t be more evident than on the album’s pair of previously released singles, “D.O.A.” and “Run This Town”. On “D.O.A.”, he went against the grain completely, trading the Neptunes-sound-bling for a bluesy guitar riff courtesy of No I.D. (yes, the guy who produced all of those Common Sense records in the 90′s). Here, he warns “this might offend some of my political connects”, as he single-handedly murders the overdone auto-tune trend – among other tired hip-hop cliches – and managed to score the number one single on Itunes in doing so. “Run This Town” followed suit – another No I.D. production – as the dynamic trio of Jay, Kanye, and Rihanna set themselves a level above the current commercial sounds, again trading for raw, knocking, traditional hip-hop production. Surprisingly, this led to Jay’s highest charting song of his career, landing number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
This theme of destroying and rebuilding runs concurrent through The Blueprint 3, as much of the album literally acts like a roadmap for future rappers to follow. On “Off That” (an ideal choice for the album’s third single), Jay, Drake, and Timbaland take it back to the club, suggesting “you can’t bring the future back”, as they dismiss many more dead hip-hop stalwarts, whether Timberland boots, throwback jerseys, or “making it rain”, always pushing to be trend setters, not followers. Again on “On To The Next One” – which finds Swizz Beatz brilliantly chopping Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” – touching upon some of the same topics – “Hov on that new shit / Niggas like how come / Niggas want my old shit / Buy my old album…” Truly, this is forward thinking rap at it’s finest.
Conceptually, the album is rich with lyrical content, as this is not just a platform for reinvention. “Venus Vs. Mars” is a beautifully dark Timbaland track where he uses his trademark cleverness to describe the differences between himself and his lady. His cadence adopts a fluid quality matching Tim’s light thunder, as he very eloquently delivers a sensory-overload series of opposites, laced with witty double entendres. “A Star Is Born” also knocks, as Jay looks at the last decade of hip-hop, handing out props to just about everyone that has seen success in this generation, from Drake to the Wu-Tang Clan, which is nice to hear from someone who is essentially king of the hill. The Alicia Keys featured “Empire State Of Mind” is a luscious, piano driven love song written to New York City, sure to inspire many-a-champagne glass to hit the skyline of the Big Apple. His nuttiest moment, however, is the hypnotic “Already Home”, where Kid Cudi continues to establish himself as perhaps one of the best hook writers in the game, while Jigga slithers into the beat, destroying his would-be competitors with plenty of laugh-out loud moments of lyrical excellence; watch out for that third verse.
Granted, for an LP filled with many positive moments, it does fall short in more than a few areas. It gets off to a bit of a rocky start on “Thank You”, which finds Jay somehow reverting backwards to an almost stream-of-conciousness style you might have heard in his pre-Reasonable Doubt days. Coupled with an almost Rawkus-Circa-1998 track, this is one of the few areas where he seems out of his element. “Hate” is another misstep, as he and Kanye get a little too experimental for their own good, over what sounds like a leftover beat from 808′s and Heartbreaks (sans autotune, of course). The Pharrell featured / produced “So Ambitious” also falls flat, with more of The Neptunes tired, hollow production and P’s overdone falsetto hooks, not really rewriting the blueprint of hip-hop at all.
Still, this album is a grower, and will take a few listens to truly sink in. Again, while we all have our favorite Jay-Z album to hold this up next to, that is not the point of The Blueprint 3. Just as he released an album built around 70′s soul with American Gangster, Jay-Z has again attempted to reinvent his sound and style, ambiguous to whatever ideas the fans or critics are suggesting it should sound like. True, this is not his greatest accomplishment, nor does it represent the pinnacle of his career, but instead is a solid piece of work with many standout moments. Considering the fact that the album itself is a dying animal (with single track sales and ringtones taking over), the crop for good albums is almost a wasteland, but Jay-Z has succeeded in crafting another satisfying LP. – DJ Pizzo
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