Album: The Blueprint
Label: Def Jam
Rating: 5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Jay-Z is one of the best rappers ever. There, I said it. It wasn’t that hard to say either. He’s also one of the most loved / most hated rappers (delete as applicable) for the exact same reason. People who love him will point to his skills (of which he has plenty), the way he effortlessly rides a beat, the amount of sales he generates. People who hate him will point to the fact that he’s biting Biggie’s style, he’s too commercial, he might have strong singles but he hasn’t dropped a dope album since “Reasonable Doubt”. The debate can go on and on, and no doubt will. What everyone (lovers and haters alike) have to admit is that Shawn Carter has charisma in abundance, and he moves units. “The Blueprint” will be no exception, and will no doubt top charts across the country. But then so did MC Hammer… is the Blueprint dope? Read on…
The basic idea of this album is to present Jay-Z’s “thoughts, what he felt at the time” on how to put together the perfect Hiphop album, hence the title. One of the problems I have with Hiphop albums today, is the glut of guest appearances – it seems noone can hold down an album on their own anymore. Jigga addresses this issue by keeping the guests down to an absolute minimum. (more on this later.) Another interesting fact, is the absence of a DJ Premier track (alledgedly thru beef) – but perhaps Mr Carter wanted to show that he could still come off dope without the services of “Make-You-Sound-Dope Inc”?
‘The Ruler’s Back’, the opening track, had me begging for a rethink on these tactics straight away. Number one, this is an average track – yes it does make the head nod a little, but in no way is this a standout. Number two, this whole trend of reusing old lyrics is getting tired, (so much that XXL now runs a regular feature highlighting offenders). Why did he have to use so many of Slick Rick’s lines? He might say that’s he paying homage to the old school, but that doesn’t wash – the new fans probably don’t even know of the existence of the original track, and this older fan (at least) hated the incorporation of the old lines.
‘Takeover’ is gonna be the most talked about track of the album. Discussions I’ve been involved in already have people split down the middle on the dopeness / wackness of this song. In my opinion, this is hot. From the Doors sample, to the Bowie interpolation – this bangs. Add to this the fact that Jigga spits nothing but venom at Nas, and Mobb Deep and this is hotness. Nas especially, takes a major savaging –
“Went from Nasty Nas to Esco’s trash
Had a spark when you started, but now you’re just garbage
Fell from Top Ten to not mentioned at all
To your bodyguards Oochie Wally verses’ better than yours”
By now everyone will have heard ‘Izzo’. I like it – the whole way the Jackson 5 sample has been flipped is dope to me, plus the catchy chorus only adds to the track. Moving on, another pisser for me is ‘Girls Girls Girls’ – this is one of the tracks that “features” some pretty big names in Hiphop. I was looking forward to seeing how the 3 guests fitted on the track with Jay, so imagine how pissed I was when I found out that Q-Tip, Biz Markie, and Slick Rick do nothing but repeat a tired sounding chorus over and over again. And no matter how articulate the subject matter is addressed, at the end of the day, Jay-Z is only talking about how many girls he has / has had. A kinda tired subject (maybe that’s why the chorus was so tired sounding?)
The downers continue with the throwaway ‘Jigga That Nigga’, a Trakmastered piece of garbage (with more “borrowing” lines from Snoop). Skip this. Remember how MOP used the sped up Foreigner sample on ‘Cold As Ice’? Jay-Z obviously does too, utilising the same speeding-up-the-sample tactics on ‘U Don’t Know.’ Another plodder I’m afraid though – this one ain’t doing much for me. Timbaland throws his producer’s hat in the ring for ‘Holla Hovito’ – don’t know why, this is average at best.
Where things pick up on ‘Heart of the City’, (despite the obvious sample), they instantly fall back down on ‘Never Change’. This is obviously the “2pac-influenced” track where the criminal gets introspective, looking inside of himself to justify why he does what he does. Sorry Shawn, Mr Shakur did this kind of shit much better. ‘Song Cry’ – hmmm, still undecided on this – on one hand this is kinda average, with a wack chorus, on the other hand, I’ve listened to it a few times, and its maybe a bit of a grower. Mark this up as one to return to. Something I won’t be doing on the next track – averageness abounds on ‘All I Need’. Even Jay-Z’s flow here, indicates that this is one of the filler tracks. Another case of “the borrows” (this time from 2pac) doesn’t impress me either.
Eminem and Jay-Z – a match made in heaven or hell? Well two strong lyricists, busting over a dark Em-produced beat is one of the bright points of the album. ‘Renagade’ (yep its spelt wrong) is ill. Jay-Z comes ill here, as does Em (with another flow change). In fact Eminem’s verse is probably the best on the entire album. In the presence of such an intense emcee, it seems that Jigga turns it up a notch here too –
“I had to hustle, my backs to the wall, ashy knuckles, pockets filled full of lint
Not a cent, gotta vent – a lotta innocent lives lost on the project bench
What you hollering? Gotta pay rent, bring the dollars in.”
The title track is one of those retrospective songs – one of those “I went thru all this and still came out of top” joints. Unfortunately the track is wack, and only serves to take away from the story being told (which is on point). And thats it – except it isn’t, cos theres two “bonus” tracks.
The first has Jay staking his claim to lead the league is catagories such as “best flows, most consistent, realest stories, most charisma.” In reality he’d have a good shot at leading maybe 2 of these 4, but with beats like this who’s really interested? This one is another plodder – chugging along with a simple kick/snare composition with a piano dropped over the top. Pretty boring really. A remix of ‘Girls Girls Girls’ completes the album – this one is not really any improvement over the original, substituting the 3 guests for a female vocal chorus.
And you know what? Despite this album – which is below the standard I expected for a new Jay-Z album – Jigga is still one of the best rappers out at the minute. Its just so frustrating that for most of his career he’s been on autopilot. The question is does he care? He’s releasing stuff like this, and still coining it.