Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3 [Review]

This was probably the most difficult album review that I’ve had to write during my tenure at nappyafro. Having previously written this album review in full with what I thought was an unbiased view led me to revisit it and start anew. Even though the initial review I composed offered a detailed view of the album, I needed to further distance myself as a Jay-Z fan before I would really be able to fairly judge its value and significance. Distancing myself as a Jay-Z fan in being able to properly review this album, which meant forgetting my adoration for classic albums (Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, The Black Album) and overlooking my distaste for disappointing albums (The Blueprint2: The Gift & The Curse, Kingdom Come, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life). I had to go into this album review with a fresh mindset clean of all of Jay-Z’s successes and shortcomings, and view this album on its own terms without comparison to any previous albums. Enter The Blueprint 3, an album that has recently been the most anticipated by listeners since Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter III and Eminem’s Relapse. It’s easy to understand the reasons for such anticipation, as it has been almost two years since Jay-Z’s previous release (American Gangster) and this album follows undoubtedly one of the best albums in his catalog (The Blueprint). Being the final album in the Blueprint trilogy, Jay-Z has gone on record in saying this album is the definition or blueprint of the “new classic” and should be viewed as such in being the new model for rap’s younger generation of rookies and stars, and being focused on the music and instrumentation side of things. It shouldn’t be compared or viewed in the same light as the original Blueprint album, which is labeled the “old classic” but viewed in the perspective of the digital, Auto-Tune heavy music industry we reside in during today’s times. The world “blueprint” as defined by Webster’s dictionary is something serving as a model or providing guidance. In terms of Jay-Z as an artist, few could argue that his career doesn’t meet the criteria of said definition. Over the years his superior and classic status albums have served as models and sources of inspiration for countless artists (both up-and-coming and established). The Blueprint displayed his life foundation and development from soul music being present in his childhood, The Blueprint2 showed his exploration of various genres and musical taste… So where does The Blueprint 3 stand?

1. What We Talkin’ About
Featuring Luke Steele (of Empire of the Sun); Produced by Kanye West & No ID
Jay-Z has always been known for having strong opening tracks (“The Prelude”, “Can’t Knock The Hustle”, “A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More”, “The Ruler’s Back”) that set the tone for the rest of the album and the rest of the tracks that follow. He seemingly understands the importance of making a good first impression in knowing that it’s important to catch the listener’s attention at the start, which will hopefully encourage them to listen until the end. Immediately you notice the change with the lush, advanced sounding production provided by duo of Kanye West and No ID who handle a majority of the album’s production and set the tone. The song initially grabs the listener’s attention but soon wears thin in terms of production value becoming dull and boring after a while. Most people are familiar with some of the lyrics on this track from the acapella “freestyles” Jay had been performing at shows in the past two months, which garnered some hate and ruffled the feathers of The Game and Jaz-O (“Talking ‘bout gossip, I ain’t talking ‘bout Game…Even Jaz made some scraps, he could’ve made more but he ain’t sign his contract”). It’s kind of contradictory though as by even mentioning you’re not talking about insert name here, you’re ultimately still talking about them by referencing their names. Sure diss tracks and harsh words towards Hov have come from Jaz, Game (The Game), Dame (Damon Dash), and Jimmy (Jim Jones), but at this point in Jay’s career and the success he’s seeing it’s rather pointless to even acknowledge the fact. None of these individuals could really greatly affect his career and he’s just playing into their hand to bring attention to their dismal careers from being mentioned by a bigger star. Other than this Jay stays true to the song title in explaining why he’s still one of the most talked about figures not only in the genre of Hip-Hop but around the world (just ask Oprah, lol). This is a passable opening track to the album, but it’s far from the level of some of previously mentioned opening songs that truly did the job of capturing the listener’s attention.

2. Thank You
Produced by Kanye West & No ID
Listening to this track you get the feeling that it should have been placed towards the end of the album possibly as the final track in closing out the album. This song could be thought of in the same light as the Mary J. Blige collaborative effort “You’re Welcome” in possibly being a concert show closing song, which sees Jay thanking fans and listeners for their continued support over the years as well as boasting and flaunting his financial stability and lavish lifestyle. Jay delivers some well-crafted verses, but the most intriguing has to be the third verse in which he compares the dismantling of his rivals and competition to the destructive events of 9/11. While some have called foul and claimed he was out of line for making the comparison to such a tragic event, I don’t think what he did was done in a disrespectful manner but said rather creatively. Not too many other artists could have presented and broken it down in the same manner that Jay did in this verse. The sampled production provided by the Chicago duo has finale type of feel to it but at the same time I sounds similar to Dr. Dre’s production heard on the Kingdom Come album. The drums and horns presented in the song are comparable to those in the song “30 Something” while the audible sampled voice/talking in the beat’s background give it a similar feel and sound to “Gold Watch” off Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. While it’s a good track that can start to get boring after a while from the lackluster beat and Jay’s casual flow, but I still find this to be one of my favorite tracks on the album as I did when I first listened to it.

3. D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune)
Produced by No ID
This is the well-known first official single of the album that has garnered both praise and criticism from critics and listeners alike. No ID hooks up Jay with a creatively sampled beat that allows him to lyrically attack Auto-Tune users and enthusiasts alike while keeping the listener’s heading nodding along the way. This was one of my favorite tracks when it was first released as it built great anticipation for album and showed Jay getting back to the aggressive style that many thought he veered from. People have been saying this song shows Jay “bullying” or “hating” on younger artists and those using the software plug-in for all the wrong reasons (Ron Browz, Webstar, etc.) but as he stated in defense, once something becomes a gimmick (i.e. Wendy’s Commercials) it’s time to move on and I think this song and his way of thinking are justified. While Jay isn’t the first one to speak out against the ills of Auto-Tune, it’s good to see a song like this being pushed and played on a mainstream level. Commend him and Kanye (of all people) for thinking up a song idea like this and following through with it against the popular trend.

4. Run This Town
Featuring Rihanna & Kanye West; Produced by Kanye West & No ID
The second official single of the album has brought along both praise and controversy (Freemasonry, the Devil, etc.) similar to “D.O.A.”. When this song was initially released I was a bit disappointed in comparing it to the previous single, and once the video leaked the accompanying visuals decreased my disappointment level. The song embodies the topic matter and complement the rebel marching production from Ye and No ID. Jay delivers braggadocio lyrics about how he, his record label, and label mates are running the industry, which is nothing new and has been recognized by now. Kanye does the same with a punch line heavy verse filled with comedic and intense lines that sounds like the Kanye of old from The College Dropout days. Rihanna provides a simple yet effective chorus much to the degree of T.I.’s “Live Your Life” that does it’s just job and nothing more. The more recent focus of this track has been listeners claim of Kanye outdoing Jay on his own track, but honestly I don’t think that happens here. Sure Jay’s verses aren’t spectacular and mind-blowing, but Kanye’s verse doesn’t really shine that much greater. I think the punch lines present in Ye’s verse (“She got an ass that’ll swallow up a G-String/And up top, uh, two bee stings”) are reason that people think he murders Jay on this track, but ultimately he just comes off in having a more clever and cunning verse, not one that’s better. When it comes to murdering Jay on his own track that position is still one solely owned by Mr. Mathers on “Renegade” and this track doesn’t see any of that type of lyrical homicide taking place.

5. Empire State Of Mind
Featuring Alicia Keys; Produced by Shux, Jane’t “Jnay” Sewell-Ulepic, & Angela Hunte
“Hey ref SUB… come on out Nas, you’re in Alicia” (boos and jeers from the crowd among the angry and puzzled faces). If this song was a Monday Night Football game or the NBA Finals that would be the scenario that played out upon the release of this album. The original plans for this album called for the third collaboration effort between Jay and Nas (“Black Republican, “Success”) and it was one that many people were looking forward to but unfortunately for unknown reasons Nas was replaced by Alicia Keys on the final track listing. Does the song suffer from the replacement? Not at all! As the song title indicates (a nice play on “NY State Of Mind”) Jay tells you about the city he loves and call home. If you couldn’t recognize by the New York Yankees fitted over the years (“I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can”) Jay reps his city to the fullest and knows it quite like no other in speaking about his time in the drug game running through various boroughs, how he has become one of NY’s most historic figures and the influence the Apple (city) can have on a young Eve (woman). This song basically serves as an ‘ode to his city much like Kanye’s “Homecoming” and Alicia provides the soulfulness on the track’s chorus and bridge that take this track to the next level in their first collaboration together (hopefully not the last). Nas would have fit perfectly on this track along with Alicia Keys and it would have served as a nice homage to the classic Illmatic track, but you certainly can’t be mad at the final results from the applied change. The song essential becomes one of the best on the album and posses the stadium status necessary to make it a New York anthem.

6. Real As It Gets
Featuring Young Jeezy; Produced by The Inkredibles
In listening to this track it feels like one that was intended for a Young Jeezy album and comes off as Young Jeezy featuring Jay-Z instead of the other way around as if Jay is reaching to appeal to a Southern audience that is currently infatuated with the likes of Jeezy, Gucci Mane, OJ Da Juiceman, and others who have the draw. The Inkredibles provide some epic but undistinguished sounding production that caters more towards Jeezy than Jay, which sees them speaking about how they’re some of the realest rappers in the game and how listeners shouldn’t look further than them to find it. I don’t know if that’s an accurate declaration when looking at others rappers that span the entire genre and the jaded rhymes at times from the two don’t do much to convince the listeners otherwise. While this song sounds like it’s on the wrong album, it’s still a good one that delivers and serves its purpose.

7. On To The Next One
Featuring & Produced by Swizz Beatz
The first time I listened to this song it gave me a “Really Jay??” expression on my face. Being the first time in since Kingdom Come (“Dig A Hole”) that Jay and Swizz have linked up for a track and about 10 years since the last time it was successful (“Jigga My Nigga”, Vol. 3: Life And Times Of S. Carter), it comes off as disappointing. The production provided by Swizz Beatz is in typical fashion as it has that signature bounce that he’s known for but given his history in knowing what he’s capable of he could have came a lot better. In terms of lyrics Jay holds up his end of the bargain in speaking about how he’s always forward moving and never caught being in the same light as everybody else. With a better beat the results could have been better and matched the track’s potential from these two collaborating.

8. Off That
Featuring Drake; Produced by Timbaland & Jerome “Jroc” Harmon
This was the track that started it all in regards to the leaked BP3 tracks produced by Timbaland and saw people’s interest and promise for the final album decrease. I’ll admit that when I heard this song after it leaked I was with the majority of listeners who felt that this track was real disappointing for Jay’s standards and limiting Drake to just hook duty was a big letdown. Timbaland provides Jay with some of the Techno-infused production that he has recently become known for and while it’s catchy it can becomes dull over time. Timbaland can be hated for his production on this track but credit is due as he’s one of the few music producers that isn’t afraid to try new things that eventually see others following months and years later. This is Jay’s track to address current trends (Audemars Piguet, Cristal, Rims, Timberlands, “Making It Rain”, Oversized Clothes/Chains, etc.) that he feels a “R.I.P.” is necessary. Topic wise it’s very similar to the previous track where Jay states the facts about how stays ahead of the game and boasts that he’s still proficient in his “trend killing” abilities. We’ll see how many of these get added to the list with Throwback Jerseys and such (Probably a good majority…but I don’t know about Timbs Hov, that’s so NY). This track had the potential to possibly better with a verse from Drake instead of just featuring him on the hook, but we’ll have to see if that collaboration happens on Drake’s Thank Me Later debut album. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being the third single from the album (Since it was rumored to be the 2nd before “Run This Town”) as it would work well in the club.

9. A Star Is Born
Featuring J. Cole; Produced by Kanye West & No ID
Even more anticipated than Jay working with Drake was his collaboration with his label signee J. Cole. So many people were ready to be disappointed when it was initially seen that Cole was nowhere to be found on the album but feelings changed when the official track listing was released. Kanye and No ID provide some subtle production that doesn’t overpower the emcees and allows the lyrics to shine for the listeners. Jay’s uses his verses to commend and celebrate those in Hip-Hop music who have become stars over the years in their careers (Eminem, DMX, Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye, T.I., Outkast, Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg, etc.) and who are due to become stars in their own rights (Drake, Jeezy, J. Cole, etc.). He also talks about his rise to fame from the corner to the crown of the rap game while figuratively passing the torch to the rookie who delivers an effective verse and holds his own on the track with Jay. This song and J. Cole’s verse remind me of Kanye’s track “Touch The Sky”, which introduced the world to Lupe Fiasco and stands as the defining moment in his career from which it took off from. J. Cole is destined to become a major force in the music industry in some years and stand as one of the top figures of the new generation of rap music, this track further solidifies that point and shows that Jay knew what he was doing when he made him the first member of Roc Nation.

10. Venus Vs. Mars
Produced by Timbaland & Jerome “Jroc” Harmon
The final leaked Timbaland track that featured more laid-back production from Timbo this time around compared to his other two offerings. As the track title implies, Jay goes men vs. women (read: Jay vs. Bey) on his verses in using some clever play on words for the comparisons (Biggie/Pac, Blackberry Bold/Sidekick; “Me I’m from the apple which means I’m a Mac/She’s a PC she lives in my lap”). This is Jay’s “grown folk” track seeing as how there hasn’t been one on the album until this point and it’s one that could see some play in the clubs for its relaxing, laid-back feel.

11. Already Home
Featuring Kid Cudi; Produced by Kanye West
This is another collaboration that people were anticipating in seeing Jay hook up with another one of rap’s next generation stars on the rise. Kanye goes for dolo on this track in handling the production by himself, providing a lush beat that sounds like it could have had a home on his College Dropout or Late Registration album. Kid Cudi is left to the same fate as Drake in being brought on to just handle hook duty on this track and he does so in fitting fashion with it being not too much but just enough. Even though this track seems more fitting for Kanye or Cudi, Jay is able to make it work for him to a successful degree.

12. Hate
Featuring & Produced by Kanye West
On this track Kanye goes solo again on the production side of things but provides some rhymes along with it this time around. The beat on the track sound like something that was done in the style of 808s & Heartbreak and for that fact fit Kanye more than it does Jay. This song isn’t too much stronger than “On To The Next One” in that it was one that could have been left off the album for better results. An average track and at best it just doesn’t work as a Jay track as much as it does for a Kanye track in looking like Jay was just following suit to Yeezy’s style and technique. The lyrics on this track basically follow suit to the song title with Jay and Ye talking about the topic of hate and haters with them copping a similar flow to LL Cool J’s “Going Back To Cali” in the first few bars of their verses respectively. This is the shortest track on the album so it’s one that listeners don’t have to sit too long through.

13. Reminder
Produced by Timbaland & Jerome “Jroc” Harmon
When Timbaland’s tracks leaked people were asking where the “bounce” was from him that he provided for Jay on tracks like “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “Big Pimpin’”, well this track is the track that they were searching for. Compared to the other two Timbaland produced tracks on this album this stands as one of the better ones as the bouncy beat allows Jay to spit lyrics that basically remind listeners of who he is and what he has accomplished in the industry (10 #1 albums in a row… make that 11 with BP3). At this point in his career a reminder of these facts isn’t really necessary and if so you need to go back 13 years and catch up. This is a good track that brings the level and tempo of the album back to a steady pace.

14. So Ambitious
Featuring Pharrell; Produced by The Neptunes
Thought we weren’t going to hear from The Neptunes on this album, but you know that’s mandatory since The Blueprint2. The subtle production provided by The Neptunes on this track has a similar sound and feel to Common’s “Punch Drunk Love” heard on Universal Mind Control and ultimately it’s sort of lacking for The Neptunes’ production value. However Jay utilizes it to deliver a motivational track about how he never gave up his dreams and ambitions when others said he couldn’t and the opposition was stacked against him… and a little sneak jab to Mr. Dash (“Old buddy, oh buddy!”). Pharrell supplies the chorus on this track in his usual falsetto style and if you know him this track’s topic is one that he is familiar with.

15. Young Forever
Featuring Mr. Hudson; Produced by Kanye West
As the title implies you should have guessed that you would hear Alphaville’s “Forever Young” in some shape and form and it appears courtesy of a sample in Kanye’s production work. Serving as the album’s closing track, this album has a similar feel to “Beach Chair” on Kingdom Come with its spacious production and Jay’s lyrics of reflection. Jay’s lyrics talks about staying young and never growing old, and how he will forever be Jay-Z (A play on his nickname “Young”) and won’t change from who he is regardless of the years that past. The chorus sung by Mr. Hudson basically takes from the original Alphaville track as he gives off a similar feel to hearing Chris Martin of Coldplay (You know Jay wasn’t going back to that after Ye accused him of biting on “Big Brother”… but we know the real story). While this track has a similar to feel to “Beach Chair” it is unfortunately not as strong production wise or lyrically. However it does a nice job of closing out the album on a calm and peaceful note.

BOTTOM LINE:
15 tracks later and 8 years since the original, The Blueprint 3… is a really good album. Leading up to the 9.11.09 9.8.09 release there was much anticipation for this album in seeing how it ultimately would fare against the now classic The Blueprint album and in that regard it falls short of what that album achieved with classic status. But as Jay stated with this album he wanted to create the “new classic” and refrain from it being compared to the “old classic” (The Blueprint) in allowing it to stand on its own apart from the rest of the Blueprint trilogy. With that being the focus of creating something “different” and diverse from the rest of the albums in his catalog he achieved that as The Blueprint 3 is unlike any other album he has released lyrically and production wise. That doesn’t mean the results are a total successful from it being different. With this album he showed more diversity sonically in terms of production value and provided a platform for the rap’s next generation to be ushered in. By now it is understood that Jay-Z has matured/grown older, moved away from the street life that he used to be involved in, and isn’t the same Hov that was once heard on Reasonable Doubt. In working to present an album that’s diverse I think it succeeds in doing that while it might be a little too different for hardcore Jay-Z fans’ standards. Some songs on this album sound as if they were intended or would be better placed on other artists’ albums, which kind of shows Jay as reaching to appeal to other audiences and what’s deemed popular by Hip-Hop’s younger audience. But this album offers a good mixture of tracks with something to be found enjoyable by listeners of all types. In regards to its ranking with the other two albums in the Blueprint trilogy, it tops The Blueprint2 but fails to surpass The Blueprint. Some mediocre tracks prevent this album from being labeled a classic but it still warrants a purchase from casual listeners and hardcore fans alike. Whether physical or digital, make sure you pick up a copy of BP3 when it’s released cause when it comes to bootleg copies… we Off That!

nappyPicks: “D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune)”, “Run This Town”, “Empire State Of Mind”, “A Star Is Born”, “Reminder”, “Already Home”, “Venus Vs. Mars”, “Thank You”, “Real As It Gets”, “Off That”

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