Release Date: Sep 8, 2009
Record label: Roc Nation
When Jay-Z first made a series out of his best album, 2001's The Blueprint, it became a game of high expectations. The Blueprint of the first volume was Jay-Z as vital as he'd ever been, storming back to the hardcore after a few years of commercial success. The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse was a complete turn, a set of half-cocked crossovers, bloated to bursting with guest features that obscured his talents.
P.O.S. :: Chill, dummyDoomtree RecordsAuthor: Patrick TaylorI've been a fan of Stefon "P.O.S." Alexander since his debut nearly 10 years ago. On "Audition" and 2009's "Never Better," he proved himself to be one of the few artists who could successfully meld punk rock and hip-hop. Fellow Minnesotans ….
Like fellow un-retirees Cher and Brett Favre, Jay-Z knows the value of stepping out of the game temporarily — and the hazards, too. The ?hip-hop kingpin’s two ”comeback” albums, 2006’s too-complacent lifestyle chronicle Kingdom Comeand 2007’s appreciably rougher and tougher American Gangster, made money but fell short of former glories. On The Blueprint 3, Jay aims to rectify ?that by reconciling his two divergent worlds: the rode-hard history of the Brooklyn housing projects he came up in, and the yachting-?off-the-Amalfi-Coast-with-Gwyneth celebrity Narnia he inhabits today.
During The Blueprint 3’s opening salvo “What We Talkin’ About?,” Jay-Z spits, “I don’t run rap no more; I run the map.” It’s a typical top-of-the-world boast that Jay has been spewing since 1998, but in some respects, it feels like he’s finally earned it. He’s not only the biggest rapper of all time (by far), but he’s also one of the last big pop stars -- a rapper whom even your mom knows and whose every album is an event to be reckoned with. It’s hard to imagine a new 50 Cent album, or even a new Lady Gaga album, being subject to a kind of hype that includes blog posts that boast exclusive looks at the scanned CD booklet.
"People talking about, Hova take it back," raps Jay-Z on his 11th studio album. "I'm doing better than before, why would I do that?" He sounds bullish – in fairness, Jay-Z always sounds bullish, timidity not getting one terribly far in the world of hip-hop – but there's a detectable defensiveness about that remark. His vast wealth and success might suggest otherwise, but things haven't gone entirely according to plan since the former Shawn Carter decided he hadn't retired after all.
This plan needed a few more drafts production from Kanye West and Timbaland, and muffling his own voice in favor of a guest-heavy tracklist. which sounds like Mark Mothersbaugh filtered through a Super Nintendo. “Hate” mines the nadir of hater-bating braggadocio while Kanye softballs some of the worst verses of his career: “'Cause we too high up in the a-yur / we blastin' off just like a la-zur," he spits, adding in his own lazer sounds to embarrassing results.
Allow him to reintroduce himself. His name is Hov. His debut, Reasonable Doubt, was easily one of the 1990s’ best albums, hip-hop or otherwise, and it featured some of the best producers and rappers of our time. He beefed with fellow New York City rap heavyweight Nas for years before they buried the feud and appeared together on several tracks.
A couple of years ago an Empire of the Sun credit on a Jay-Z album would have meant very little, at a guess maybe a spoken-word poet recommended by Q-Tip to add some Afrocentric kudos. That EotS is the sci-fi pop experiment of Sleepy Jackson’s Luke Steele makes the guest-spot on The Blueprint 3’s opening track 'What We Talkin' About' even more unlikely – and a relevant reminder of a seesawing power industry. Kanye set a benchmark when he recruited Chris Martin for the chorus of ‘Homecoming’, and previously Jay-Z rehabilitated rap-rock on the mighty Rick Rubin crunch of ‘99 Problems’.
Who's been responsible for The Blueprint 3's biggest PR boost thus far: Kanye West or Rihanna? Timbaland or Drake? Um, LeBron James? According to our RSS, the answer would appear to be Ed Droste. Now, a few years ago, a YouTube of Jay-Z swaying lazily to "Ready, Able" might've been a "gotcha" moment worthy of the Summer Jam Screen, but in 2009, the buzz it's generated is either a huge breakthrough for the hip-hop/indie conversation or a sign that seeing Jigga in the same room as Grizzly Bear is more exciting than hearing him on the same song as any of the all-stars that populate The Blueprint 3: After all, The Blueprint 3 is so certainly Jay-Z's weakest solo album, you'll be tempted to wonder if Kingdom Come was somehow underrated. While "30 Something" and "Beach Chair" might stand as some of the most smug hip-hop ever committed to tape, they at least came from a real place, which illustrated the "curse" Jay so often speaks of: Nearly all of his LP's are concept albums about the state of his career, but in the 21st century, he's needed some sort of external boost to make it work, whether it's announcing his dominance of New York, his retirement, or the ability to play fast and loose with Frank Lucas' biography.
Despite Jay-Z's resolute declaration of Auto-Tune's death on The Blueprint 3's lead single, D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune), the pitch-correction software is alive and well even on this record. A dozen tracks after D.O.A., bleach-headed Kanye protegé Mr. Hudson auto-croons Alphaville's 80s hit Forever Young on mid-life-crisisesque Young Forever.
The Blueprint 3 is not a rap album. Fuck, Jay-Z isn’t even a rapper. He’s a business man and a business, man. Rhyme schemes, lyrics, rhythms, word play, flow, delivery. These things don’t even factor in during the creation of his music, outside of how they can be manipulated to make money. It ….