Words By Marky Mark
In 1999, Jay-Z chronicled the death of his artistic persona and celebrated the rebirth of Shawn Carter, the hustler, on “There’s Been A Murder.” Ten years later, after becoming an icon, a mogul, and a guy who can text the President of the United States, Blueprint 3 resurrected Jay-Z the artist because there was little left for Shawn Carter to chase.
Don’t get it confused though because this isn’t some corny attempt to call Hov lazy. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a look at a guy who knew his lane, perfected it, and then got a little bored and wanted to veer over to the next lane while doing 90 mph on the freeway. The Blueprint 3 lacks the unified sound of the classic original, the scale of its sequel, or even the unifying theme of American Gangster, but it does have cojones. In fact, it may have too many.
Jay calls this album his “most difficult” to make and looking back, it’s easy to see why. He’s not doing what he normally does from a sound standpoint and he’s really trying to stretch the boundaries of what we think Hip-Hop music is while at the same time telling us what Hip-Hop music isn’t (shoutout to, “D.O.A.”). Rather than imitate the scale of BP2, he goes for bigger sounds. The stadium status joints he could play in Wembley Stadium or the O2. Maybe he bit off a tad more than he could or more than he was supposed to, but that’s what experimenting is: throwing ideas against the wall and finding out what sticks, even if it’s uncomfortable.
American Gangster was him in his lane and in cruise control, but it’s also him saying goodbye to that persona and that style of music. It’s his last Scorsese or Tarantino impression. On the other hand, BP3 is him doing his best Frank Sinatra and “Empire State of Mind” is the cherry on top of the metaphor.
The duet between he and Ms. Keys became the anthem for a city and there was no way to escape it as it enveloped the pop culture landscape for a year-and-a-half. In fact, you’re probably humming it right now or at least thinking of the chorus. Like a herd of zombies, “Empire State of Mind” will inevitably get you, for better or for worse. But at the time, when the United States was dealing with the effects of the Great Recession yet looking to the hope of a new president and a new future. “Empire” was the perfect song to encapsulate those hopes and dreams.
Blueprint 3 may not be his best joint. No, let’s not mince words. It’s not even close to his best joint. And even he sort of admits that. But, it is one of his most important albums as it marks a real transition in his career. BP3‘s the album where the guy who’s always seen himself as a hustler finally saw himself as an artist first and foremost and needed a new challenge.