“I’m talkin’ music, I ain’t talkin about rap. / You talkin‘ bout whats hot, I ain’t talkin‘ bout that. / The conversation has changed, lets yap about that. / I don’t run rap no more, I run the map.” - “What We Talkin‘ About”; The Blueprint 3
On the real, Jay-Z may be the best ever at opening an album. He has an uncanny ability to know exactly which tracks will put the listener immediately in the exact zone needed to sink into the LP. Think about it, whether its the Scarface or Carlito’s Way intros on Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, or “Can’t Knock The Hustle” on Reasonable Doubt, or “The Rulers Back” on The Blueprint, or “The Prelude”, or “Hova’s Song” or “December 4th”; Hova The God comes hard right out the gate. No one does it better. TB3 is no exception.
“What We Talkin‘ About’s” synth injected keys and subdued bass line provides the perfect backdrop for Jay’s effortless delivery and proclamations of progression - the overall theme of this Part 3. The transition into “Thank You” keeps heads knocking and Jay’s ill 911 analogy for whack rappers is worth running back repeatedly. “Empire State Of Mind’s” sublime chorus and ridiculous word play immediately re-instills pride in New York City rap music and is probably one of the rare songs that you don’t mind being overplayed. It just feels good. Seriously, this cut is loaded with real life content, dope quotables and truisms. Real quick, The Company Man’s top 4:
- “Shit I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.” - absolutely true.
- “Caught up in The In Crowd / Now you’re In Style / Anna Wintour gets cold / In Vogue with your skin out” - dropping mean fashion analogies while describing how young women lose themselves in the limelight.
- “Welcome to the Melting Pot / Corners where they selling rock / Afrika Bambataa shit / home of that Hip Hop.” - just feels like NYC.
- “The City never sleeps. Better slip you an Ambien.” - the perfect conclusion.
Back to the review...
Young Jeezy continues to improve, dropping two suitable verses on the triumphant “As Real As It Gets.” “And if you listen hard enough I say some thangs.” You gotta appreciate the unintentional comedy of that Jeezy line. “A Star Is Born” is possibly the most potent cut on the album, putting into perspective Jay’s longevity by name dropping the chart topping artists he’s outlasted. The hopping snare and perfect hook and standout J.Cole performance all blend perfectly.
Matter of fact, “A Star Is Born” leads off TB3’s best run. “Venus Vs. Mars’” hollowed 808s and paradigm shifting relationship commentary diversifies the album content. “Already Home” is an immediate airwave snatcher. And as far as hater songs go, “Hate” may be one of the best ever (my boy Maine pointed that out and he’s absolutely correct. Shouts to CNY Collective). Here, ‘Ye and Jay trade venom spitting bars at their many detractors over Kanye’s bass-heavy, minimalistic production cypher style. No hook. Just rhymes. Bravo.
If “A Star Is Born” is the album’s most potent cut, then “So Ambitious” is its most important. Its felt like years since Jay’s provided a truly introspective song on an album (I’m thinking something from The Black Album, like “Moment of Clarity” or “Allure.” Possibly “Fallen" off American Gangster). This is his Michael Jordan Hall of Fame speech. This is Jay expounding on all the negative comments and career roadblocks he powered through throughout his life and how each naysayer provided fuel to the proverbial fire. Here, he goes Van Gogh over Pharell’s majestic sound scape, switching styles and perspectives on each verse, dropping memorable line after line, painting lyrical pictures. “I had a couple of meetings, no offers yet. / Maybe I’m not good enough for these offices. / Back to the drawing board, duckin officers. / Its all good cause the streets is A&Ring this.” Through all of his accomplishments and swaggerific, lyrical bravado, the level of trepidation Jay-Z trampled over is often lost in the lore. This is the most honest reminder of his career.
“Feel it coming in the air. / Hear the screams from everywhere...” - “We Run This Town”; The Blueprint 3
Through all of its dopeness, The Blueprint 3 fails to evade the wackness. Tracks like the sonically generic “On To The Next One” and faux-progressive “Off That” and “Reminder” sound like they belong on any other Jay-Z album (the non-classic ones), fracturing the album with one time listens. Not only is the production on each less than to be desired, but the commentary consists of little more than stale proclamations of Hova’s accomplishments. None of the three offer an original or interesting angle on the album’s mission: Hip Hop progression. Ironically, the songs that are supposed to signify how far ahead of his time Jay-Z remains, are also the ones that sound the most like what everyone else is doing. Its difficult to stay out front when you’re playing in other people’s sandboxes. Hell, even “We Run This Town” sounds like T.I.’s “Live Your Life’s” tag-along step brother.
D.O.A. is a different problem. The Company Man already spoke on this here, so I’ll save the commentary. But what happens if Jay doesn’t end Auto-Tune? Seriously, Country Music acts are now using Auto-Tune. Does the song even mean anything if it doesn’t extinguish this latest scourge to artistic integrity? Whatever happened to Cristal? Did heads stop drinking after Jay’s boycott? I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m just asking. What if the song was D.O.H.H. (Death Of Healthcare Hustle)? Or D.O.S.R.L.E (Death Of Shady Record Label Execs)? Or D.O.W.R. (Death of Wack Rappers)? I mean, there are a 4,080 other issues out there to address. Does Auto-Tune deserve to be that high on the list?
Albums are about Replay Value, I don’t know how I to emphasize that enough. The more I press skip, the less likely I am to continue to listen an album in its entirety again and again and again. And thats why I buy albums....to listen to them! I don’t want to be on mile 2.1 or 2.7, so deep into an album that I forget that I’m even running, then have to reach into my pocket, pull out my ipod and press skip, interrupting my psychological distraction and reminding me that I am actually running, all because “Reminder” and its whinny, eardrum grating hook infiltrated my earbuds! The more times that I have to do that, the worse an album becomes. And nearly one-third of The Blueprint 3 is skip-inducing. Thats never a good ratio. At its best this is the second best of the Blueprint series - CEO rap at its finest. At its worst its too long and and too often topically shallow. If you can make a song as progressive and lyrically relevant as “A Star Is Born” or “Thank You” or “So Ambitious”, why would you surround it with stale leftovers like “Reminder” or “Off That”?
I don’t know the answer for that either.