Review: Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3

“Welcome to the future,” the first line from "Off That", a self-congratulatory ode to the art of tastemaking, pretty much summarizes Blueprint 3, the latest release from rapper Jay-Z. With few exceptions, there isn’t much on the Blueprint 3 that will sound familiar to Jay-z loyalists. Last year’s 808s and Heartbreak, aside from being an uneven auto-tune festival, essentially ushered in a new sub-genre of hip-hop , that could be referred to as “future-core.” Jay-Z, featuring Timbaland, Pharell, NO I.D. and Kanye behind the boards, continues and further establishes this movement on Blueprint 3.

The weak album opener “Intro”, which is like a slower, duller “Flashing Lights” does not create great expectations for the rest of the album. However Blueprint 3 gains a certain momentum only three songs in, beginning with “D.O.A.” the album’s anti everything-currently-wrong-with-music lead single. Rhianna does an absolutley chilling hook on “Run This Town” with an eager to shine Kanye batting clean-up. “Empire State of Mind” will only add fuel to the feeling that old-school Jay-z fans have that Jay “went-all-coldplay” on this album; It’s also one of Blueprint 3’s best songs. Alicia Keys sings a stirring hook that will make non New-yorkers jealous, and residents of the city feel at home.

Unfortunately for some of the more established Jay-z fans, the “future-core” sound apparently involves a lot of synthesizers and R&B, which make Blueprint 3 sound a bit-watered down at times. It should be said though that the production on Jay’s albums, while usually supplied by whoever the most popular and respected beatmakers of that year are, has always taken a backseat to the man himself. Even when the instrumentals on this album isn’t always up to par, Blueprint 3 is one of Jay’s strongest turns lyrically. While Jay’s wordplay has always been about the same things (money, cars, women and money), the endless ways in which he finds to discuss those topics, often while employing double and triple entendres in the process, continue to be fascinating. The sort of “Don Draper of hip-hop” persona that he has established with his addictive charm (or plain arrogance) and lack of self-doubt continues here, and you get the sense that Shawn Carter can do in his sleep what other rappers can’t manage to do even after their morning coffee.

Jay’s boasting has never been less unwelcome than on the otherwise increasingly cloying Timbaland-produced track “Reminder”: “10 number 1 albums in a row/who better than me?/only the Beatles/nobody ahead of me/I crush Elvis in his blue suede shoes/Made the rolling stones seem sweet as Kool-aid, too.”Jay-z is probably the most acrobatic lyrically on “Venus vs. Mars”, boy-meets-girl story gone bad told entirely in metaphor: “Thought Shawty was the truth, found out she was a cheater/we were supposed to Takeover, I caught her bumping Ether/I thought shawty like Mike, found out she like Prince/thought she was Adrian, it’s been Rocky ever since.” The alluring, almost psychodelic Timbland instrumental ensures that this will be a strip-club favorite for many years to come. “On to the next” is one of the true gems on the album; Swizz Beats supplies the hook and a backing beat reminicenst of Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it like it’s Hot.” “Next” is appropriately followed by the hyperactive “Off That” featuring new-comer Drake. Another freshman rapper Kid Cudi has a guest turn on “Already Home” which features a lovely blend of horns, violins and hand-claps that are sure to enrapture any fan of good music after a few listens.

Blueprint 3 asks the question, much more effectively than Kingdom Come did, ‘Where to go from the top?’ Jay’s answer is to branch out and go beyond the archaic gun-talk and soul-samples that were prevelant on the first Blueprint album, and swerve into yet another lane going at least ’bout 80 and waiting for his contemporaries to catch up with him. Whether or not he will be succesful in blazing a trail for those that to follow is yet to be answered, yet those in doubt about his status as the king of rap are promptly quieted.

Grade: B

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