REVIEW: Jay-Z – The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse

The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse

Artist: Jay-Z

Album: The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse

Label: Def Jam

Rating: 5 / 10

Reviewer: DJ MF

Disses can make you, and disses can break you.

When Jay dropped “The Blueprint” last year, it was easily one of the best of 2001, while admittedly not the instant classic that some labelled it. But what happened? With beef overshadowing everything, people paid scant attention to the fact that Jay seemed to be heading back towards his “Reasonable Doubt” ways, and instead focused on the ongoing war of words between Jay-Z and Nas. Granted, ‘The Takeover’ was hot… but it stole a lot of the thunder away from the LP as a whole. What also didn’t help Jay was the fact that Nas served him in their ‘battle’. ‘Ether’ not only killed everything Jay served up on ‘The Takeover’… it was strong enough to withstand a reply to the reply, when Jigga dropped ‘Superugly’.

So Jay has come back, making gradiose statements. “The Blueprint 2” (from here on “BP2” for the sake of brevity), was in Jay’s words, supposed to continue his ascension into the pantheon of hip hop greats, and be the perfect album.

So?

Well, strike one off the bat is that “BP2” is a double album. That’s right, Mr. Hova has decided to follow in the footsteps of Pac, Biggie, the Wu, and many others… who basically all failed with double albums in the end because they spread themselves too thin.

The first disc, “The Gift” starts out horribly, with ‘A Dream’, where Jay rips off one of Biggie’s classic ‘Juicy’ verses (interestingly while editing out BIG’s WTC reference), and ‘Hovi Baby’, which sounds out of beat, if that makes sense. It’s just a mess, and the Just Blaze’s synth sample sounds tacky. Not a good start.

Thankfully, Dr. Dre saves Jay by providing him with an absolutely banging beat for ‘The Watcher Part 2’, which features Dre, Truth Hurts and… Rakim. Yikes. Jay spits absolute fire on the track, and even Dre kills it. The treat is Rakim – I’m once again all pumped up about his debut on Aftermath. But that’s another review for another day. ‘The Watcher Part 2’ is “BP2’s” first certified tight track.

‘What’s that beat?’ you’ll ask, as you hear the opening strains of ’03 Bonnie and Clyde’. Simple silly – Jay and Kayne West have appropriated Mr. Tupac Shakur’s ‘Me and My Girlfriend’ for this, the lead single… and if I said I liked it, I’d be lying through my teeth. Standard materialistic Jay ish, and Beyonce adds almost nothing to the hook. Boring and bland. And Jay… 2pac hated you. Did you think Nas used some sort of fake Tupac voice for the sample that starts ‘Ether’ off?

The next couple of tracks, ‘Excuse Me Miss’, and ‘What They Gonna Do’, featuring Sean Paul, serve only to further prove that Jay should have kept “BP2” solo only, and within his own production team. The sonic platter provided by the Neptunes for ‘Excuse Me Miss’ is (to put it nicely), saccharine and limp, and that’s BEFORE mentioning the standard ‘I need some ladies’ lyrics, and the absolutely brutal hook. ‘What They Gonna Do’ improves on the formula with a decent Timbaland beat, Sean Paul melding nicely with Jigga, and a club-ready formula… but during the last half, switches the beat to some horrible beatboxed stuff. Ugh.

Jay is laced with an old soul sample for the next track, ‘All Around The World’. I’m shocked and appalled, because Jay has never done that before. Oh wait, he has? Regardless, I can feel this beat and song. Ex-Common Sense producer No I.D’s work on the boards is formulaic, but nice nonetheless, and Jay flips some nice rhymes about his fame around the world, and how he’s blown up to become a big star from his humble beginnings.

‘Poppin Tags’, featuring Big Boi, Killer Mike, and recent Roc signee Twista, is your standard LP ploy of the moment- the ‘southern bounce cut on an east coast album’. Like every other song of this type, it stinks. Sorry Outkast lovers. A boring Kanye West beat save for a nicely-sampled Marvelettes vocal loop, and nothing else of note.

As if the tripe so far isn’t enough on “The Gift”, of the remaining 3 tracks, only one is of any worth, with ‘The Bounce’ almost certain to be the next huge Jay single in the clubs, with hot production from Timbaland (that sounds a LOT like the Neptunes), and some nice battle/bragging ish from Jigga. Next to ‘The Watcher 2’, the best cut on “The Gift”.

What I’m thinking so far? If this is “The Gift”, then I’m worried I may die of boredom or horror after “The Curse”, which is the second disc of “BP2”.

Things start off well with ‘Diamond Is Forever’. While by no means classic, it’s a nice cut, mellow production with varied synth stabs, Jay Dee-like claps, and Jay dropping some great rhymes and flow examining his fame. The next track continues the decent build for Jay, as his rock-rap fusion with Lenny Kravitz, ‘Guns and Roses’ does a great job of melding the genres while not resorting to Limp Bizkit suck tactics. The transition by Kravitz from quiet to hard will remind you of the grunge era, as Jay spits some hot lyrics, and Lenny does a better than decent job with his singing portions over some nice boardwork by Heavy D (yes, THAT Heavy D.)

The real gem comes next however, on a remix of one of the stronger “Blueprint” tracks “U Don’t Know”, as another recently signed Roc group joins in on the fun – M.O.P. That’s right. And as you’d expect, PURE FIRE. Just Blaze laces a disgusting beat, with a wide-spanning synth effect that sounds a little far east to my ears, another sped up soul sample (this time, Bobby Byrd), and of course, the unsurpassed energy and aggression that M.O.P. always bring to their tracks. The guests seem to bring out the best in Hov as well, as he rocks the mic better than on the majority of “BP2” too.

‘Meet The Parents’ continues the hit streak for Jay on “The Curse”, with a piano-tinged beat accompanied by some introspective lyrics reflecting on the life and death of Jigga’s friend, and his having to bring the bad news to his parents. Dope track.

Screech.

No, not Saved By The Bell.

That’s the sound of “The Gift” for the next 3 tracks. ‘Some How Some Way’ will probably be a bit of a ‘I’m a sensitive thug’ hit for Jay, but it’s really a sappy song with a tired beat, and tired lyrics – even the presence of Beanie and Scarface can’t lift the energy levels here. ‘Some People Hate’ has Jay comparing himself to Pac, once again, and as the title would make you guess, is yet another diatribe against his detractors, with some not so subtle disses towards Nas of course. The Kanye West beat is hot, but Jigga – get over the beef and move on man. Same for Nas too, just in case I’m accused of taking sides. ‘Blueprint 2’, while also sporting a decent enough doom and gloom beat accentuated by some nice bells, also falls prey to the ‘been there, done that’ syndrome, with subject matter we’ve heard before, and a bunch of shots taken at detractors again (Nas, Prodigy, Jaz-O), albeit with one very nice jab at Nas –

‘Is it Oochie Wally Wally, or is it One Mic?’

Unfortunately, “The Curse” ends much like “The Gift” did. On sour notes all around. ‘Ni*ga Please’ and ‘2 Many Hoes’ are basically Britney’s ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ and Justin’s “Like I Love You”, but with Jay rapping over the beats instead of the two pop stars singing over them. ‘As One’ features more sappy beats and rhymes, this time with a slew of B-team Roc artists to ‘help’ the cause. Worth a listen however, just to hear Freeway cry his way through yet another verse. As for ‘Ballad For The Fallen Soldier’? Good in theory, wrong in practice. Once again, the lyrics are there, but this time, the Neptunes beat fails.

In addition to two discs, Jay adds in 3 bonus tracks too – of the 3, there’s a ‘remix’ of sorts – ‘What They Gonna Do Part 2’, which isn’t as good as the original because Sean Paul is absent; the woman-friendly ‘Bitches & Sisters’; and one REALLY nice track that didn’t make “BP2” proper – ‘Show You How’, with a driving Just Blaze bassline, and a slower flow from Jay. Dope song.

So…

Gift? Curse?

Well, Jay does definitely have a gift. The man can still rap like few in the game. He’s got that going for him. He also has a stellar team of producers – although the magic of sped up soul loops is quickly dissipating.

The curse? Well, like I said earlier, double albums inevitably fail – too much material, and spreading yourself too thin. Biggie, Pac, the Wu et al, couldn’t do it, and Jay can’t either. There’s definitely enough here for about 10 dope songs… but 25? No chance in hell. There’s also the issue of cohesiveness – too many producers, too many styles, too much clashing. Jay would be happy to know he’s emulated Biggie’s “Life After Death” LP in this regard. Also… way too many guests – what happened to solo Jay? He might be trying to put on some of his Roc crew… he might be trying to flex his showbiz muscles by having high profile collabos… but in the end, he lives and dies by what HE does… and he’s drowned out on “BP2”.

Not worth the money, not worth your time in the end. Go ahead and get the few songs you like, move on, and let’s just see if Nas can do anything with “God’s Son”.

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