For over a decade Jay-Z has been at the epicenter of Hip-Hop’s ever changing landscape. Through a combination of auspicious events and astute maneuvers, he set the pace for the genre on a mainstream level with air of affluence. Which in turn allowed him to set and break trends at will with even the slightest mention. At his peak, he released 2001’s The Blueprint; an album that made Hip-Hip take a 180° turn sonically. Unfortunately, no matter how far ahead of the curve you are, the field eventually catches up, forcing you to push further ahead or fall in line. With the release of his 11th studio album, The Blueprint 3, Jay-Z looks to stay ahead of the pack.
When the horns start blaring and Jay-Z starts humming on “D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune,)“ it becomes evident that he’s going for the first round knockout against inferior opposition. The rolling timpanis provide the beat’s base as clarinets, violins & electric guitar all fight for top billing. Despite a valiant and somewhat convincing effort, Jay-Z loses as soon as Rihanna’s Auto-Tuned voice shockwaves on “Run This Town“ as the song commences. “On To The Next One” & “Off That” (featuring Drake) are both club ready odes to letting the public know how he stays on the next level and is always forward thinking. Over Swizz Beatz’ futuristic tribal chants of “On To The Next One,” he spits “Hov on the new shit/niggas like how come/niggas want my old shit/buy my old albums…” With hubris like that, it’s no wonder he hears cries from the peanut gallery.
But Jay doesn’t care what anyone thinks and lets listeners know…repeatedly. After millions sold and earned, he felt this was the perfect opportunity to let everyone know how much superior he is over the field. “What We Talkin’ About” finds him separating his real from their fake, while “Thank You” finds him sneeringly thanking detractors for all their continued support. Throw in “Reminder, “Almost Home” and “Hate,” and 1/3 of the album finds the Jiggaman “justifying his (corporate) thug.” It’s a testament to his lyrical ability that he keeps things somewhat interesting. Take the extended 9/11 metaphor he uses on “Thank You” to address rappers or his second verse on “Already Home” show he’s still on top of his game when need be.
“Empire State Of Mind” ushers in a rarity for BP3 as Jay pushes his ego to the side and pays homage to his roots. It’s the antithesis to Nas’ “NY State Of Mind,” as he presents the city that never sleeps as the ultimate proving ground for those who can escape it’s trappings. Alicia Keys just adds to the class of the song while belting out the chorus over the simple, yet epic piano chord-laced backdrop. While few and far between, Jay does stumble along the way as he closes out the album with squeaky-clean numbers in “So Ambitious” & “Forever Young. On the latter, he tries to reassure his fans that although he continues to evolve as an artist, he’ll forever be the “Young” Hov they’ve come to know. Over a 80’s mashup of falsetto and disco fiasco, Hov sounds decidedly “un-young” as his both his flow and lyrics go off on a stream of consciousness tangent. It’s one of the few times in his career that he comes off as trying too hard in creating his renascence.
For what it’s worth, Jay-Z didn’t really alter his course of action, except now his lifestyle is beyond most people’s means. While he’s always been able to connect with listeners either by drawing on his humble beginnings or giving them something to aspire to, there’s just not much of that this go around. Thanks to Kanye West, No I.D., Timbaland and others however, this album will help to usher in a new sound to Hip-Hop, just like the original did. The intricate and layered beats will more than likely be copied on upcoming projects in the near future. But unlike the original Blueprint which spearheaded change, this change was already in the works and Jay-Z was smart enough to hop on the train before it left the station. The Blueprint 3 is a polished and calculated move by Jay-Z as he shows that he’s mastered the art of artistic commercialism and tries to get his Roc Nation imprint off the ground. But it lacks the soul and veritable honesty that made the first one a classic.