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Jay-Z – ‘Blueprint 3’ (Roc Nation)

Jay-Z - Blueprint 3 Cover Jay-Z – Blueprint 3

© Roc Nation

Blueprint 3 is Jay-Z’s third post-“retirement” and possibly the most anticipated rap album of 2009. Even people who appear not to care about hip-hop seem to have a dog in this fight. Everyone wants to know if Jay’s still got it as the top –- if not only -– mainstream quadragenarian on the mic.

The Architect Still?

Blueprint 3 is by no means a swan song. It’s intended to be a monument to Jay’s staying power, where he transcends rap career expectations by setting his sights on Mick Jagger territory. The real question is not so much if Jay can still rhyme, but how long fans will stay on board. Heads closer to his age are stuck on Reasonable Doubt. But if you have any doubts about his resemblance to the boy from the projects, Blueprint 3 makes it very clear he’s not that guy anymore.

Best Laid Plans

“Empire State of Mind” is the album’s apex. More of a standout than any of Jigga’s rhymes is the excellent display of some unusually strong vocals from Alicia Keys. It’s not all downhill from here, but there’s certainly no upswing to match the album’s beginning tracks. “What We Talkin’ About” is a strong opening and “D.O.A. Death of Auto-Tune” is already a gem.

If Keys’ collaboration is the peak, then Swizz Beatz’ “On To the Next One” is the nadir as an unfortunate piece of album filler in the same vein as “Who’s Real” on Jadakiss’ The Last Kiss. Kiss is at parity with BP3 as another anticlimactic end of a trilogy suffering from the same need to please all of the people all of the time and diluting the impact in the process.

Staying in His Lane

Jay plays it safe by working with the same producers as in past efforts. Timbaland produced three tracks on the album. What seems like a conceptual winner on gender relations, “Venus vs. Mars,” is lacking in punch. The woman repeating “daddy go hard” on the hook sounds a little too much like pillow talk from wifey, Bey. Uh, TMI.

Tim’s other contributions, “Reminder” and “Off That,” are unacceptably simple to the point of sounding incomplete. The man who once provided the ultimate backdrop for Jay’s futuristic flow sounds stuck in an early millennium time warp. It’s hard to believe this is the same person who gave us “Dirt off Your Shoulder.”

Hov takes us back to the early ’90s with a funny though dated reference on the Kanye-produced “Already Home.” On rappers lacking originality he spits, “You see Single White Female, when she dyed her hair blonde/sometimes I look at these rappers/the movie remind me of them.”

The ubiquitous Kanye West is annoying on “Hate” which sounds like it was pulled out of a recycling bin from 808’s and Heartbreak. ‘Ye shows way more skills on “Run This Town” with lines like “I’m just trying to change the color on your mood ring.”

By now, we get that like West, Jay can make whatever he feels at any given time. He doesn’t have to rhyme at all ever again, but he should never sound like it.

The Bottom Line on the Blueprint 3

Blueprint 3 is a fresh listen, but it doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s like the Lethal Weapon of hip-hop. Great first run, good sequels. You wait in line, get a ticket, have some fun, but you won’t be blown away. It’s a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Jay’s biggest triumph is making grown up rap for those of us who will listen to his album while paying the bills or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

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September 10, 2009 - Posted by | 1

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