JAY-Z is unquestionably the most powerful man in hip-hop, the closest thing rap has to a president. Not only is he arguably the best rapper alive, he absolutely crushes any other contender—Kanye, Weezy, T.I., Nas—on the business side of the game, and the only person who can even remotely touch him financially is Diddy, who couldn’t out rap Mase, let alone Jay. We will never see another man with Jay’s combination of talent and power. Ever.
Like all men who are the greatest in their professions—Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Barack Obama—JAY-Z is measured by a far stricter standard. What would be the album of a lifetime for most rappers is a throwaway for Jay. That scrutiny is the price you pay when you’re the president, and while Jay would never admit it, the pressure has to be enormous. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
It’s with this in mind that the world has begun to voraciously consume the latest addition to Jay’s massive catalog, The Blueprint 3. El Blueprint Tres, as the Latino homies call it, is Jay’s third album since his Brett Farve-esque “retirement.” Weighed against his other later era albums, it falls somewhere between the disappointing Kingdom Come and the near-classic American Gangster.
What’s truly remarkable about lead single "D.O.A. (Death of Auto Tune)" is not what Hova said, but that everyone listened. Like Moses coming down from the mountain, Jay commanded that Auto-Tune was now dead—and it was so. In that way "D.O.A." isn’t just a song, it’s a proclamation, and only Jay has the power to issue something like that. "D.O.A." is also the album’s most musically adventurous track, a sometimes beautiful, sometimes violent cut that fuses jazz/hard-rock/boom-bap into an epic beat while Jay absolutely murders the mic. If any song from Blueprint 3 goes down into history, it will be this one.
Despite the revolutionary stage set by "D.O.A.," the rest of the album is a mostly predictable affair. Although Jay spends much of Blueprint 3 talking about leaving the past behind, the bulk of the album rehashes the same producers and subject matter he’s been using since the first Blueprint. As dope as Timbaland’s production was on previous hits like "Big Pimpin’," that’s how bad it is on Blueprint 3 tracks like "Venus vs. Mars" and "Off That." Timbo’s beats are barely Nelly Furtado worthy, and lyrically Jay doesn’t do nearly enough to rescue the tracks from mediocrity, ironically rhyming about the future on "Off That" and delving into mundane sex talk on "Venus vs. Mars" (man I miss "Girls, Girls, Girls"). Similarly, Swizz Beatz recycles the exact same beat he’s been using for…um…the last five years for "On To The Next One," and the Kanye-assisted "Hate" is an opportunity for greatness that both Hova and Mr. West completely blow.
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What’s worse than these production lows is Jay’s inability or unwillingness to hit lyrical highs. While American Gangster allowed him the freedom to talk about every facet of success, both positive and negative, on Blueprint 3 we mostly get uninspired “I’m really rich and powerful” verses. I never thought I’d see Jay get overshadowed on a track by Young Jeezy, but it happened on "Real As It Gets." And I can’t believe that one of the greatest rappers ever dropped a hook like "Venus vs. Mars"’ “Shawty get it in, Daddy go hard.”
That’s not to say that The Blueprint 3 is entirely forgettable, far from it. The third verse on the celebratory "Thank You" is phenomenal, with the crushing 9/11 metaphor “they ran to the crash site with no mask and inhaled/toxins deep inside they lungs until both of them was felled.” Goddamn. On the same tip, "Empire State of Mind" is an eminently rewind-worthy song featuring the always stellar Alicia Keys, and the album opener "What We Talking About" is the kind of honest and fiercely intelligent track we expect from Hova. He obviously still has a classic album in him. So where is it?
If Jay is indeed hip-hop’s president, and this album is his plan for the future, The Blueprint 3 won’t leave the hip-hop nation feeling very inspired by his leadership. If this was nearly anyone else’s album I’d be amazed, but for the legendary JAY-Z, it’s merely average.
Sorry Mr. Carter, but this kind of unyielding criticism is the price you pay for your fame and power. I’m sure having sex with Beyonce on your yacht makes it all worth it.