Friday, November 14, 2008

Jay-Z "The Blueprint 2: The GIft & The Curse"

Upon the delivery of The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse Jay-Z was subjected to a lot of hate. While not fully deserved, it’s hard to listen to The Blueprint next to it’s predecessor and believe that it’s the best Jay-Z could have given us. Filled with his typical commercial fodder, the sprawling two disc effort might be the Jay album you’ve been sleeping on.

Let’s just get this out of the way: This album is not The Blueprint. Aside from the similarity in name and a few producers you shouldn’t expect to hear the same style that was executed to perfection the first time out. Instead be ready for club hits and a more studio oriented sound. The samples aren’t completely gone, but just as present are keyboards and synthed out effects a number of producers continue to perfect so as to avoid the expensive penalty of clearing a sample.

Bringing back the two stars of The Blueprint, Kanye and Just Blaze are in heavy attendance here with them contributing four and seven beats respectively. Jay also reached out to some old friends getting The Neptunes down for several cuts as well as Timbaland. The inclusion of these two goes a long way to explain the club sound much of the first disc (The Gift) has.

In listening to these tracks you have to let them exist for what they are. I won’t claim they are musical masterpieces (although if a club track’s purpose is to get the girls to shake their ass, these would most certainly succeed) but the Neptunes and Timbo have controlled pop music for a number of years for a reason: They do what the do well. From “Excuse Me Miss” to “The Bounce” and all the tracks in between you won’t be able to deny the rhythm ingrained in these knocking tracks.

But beyond these mindless moments of sheer entertainment, we see Jay give us more of what we love. Smack in the middle of The Gift disc we see No I.D. connect with Jay for the first time and smash it out of the park with a stellar beat based around some of that classic P-Funk only George Clinton could be responsible for. If this wasn’t enough “All Around the World” features LaToiya Williams singing a stellar hook, sounding fresh out the 70s.

Many of the Kanye selections here leave a bit to be desired (above video being a big one), but he brings it altogether for the always enjoyable posse cut “Poppin’ Tags.” With a laidback beat fitted perfectly for it’s guests we see Jay-Z, Big Boi, Killer Mike and Twista all spit game about the hustle and their fresh gear they constantly cop. Superficial? Yes. But you know you love it.

Mr. West delivers another stellar beat (50 percent average? ‘Ye can do better) on disc 2 (The Curse) with Jay’s open letter “Some People Hate” – you can imagine how Jay handles the verses. Next up is the title cut and it serves as the follow up dis track at Nas and everyone else that took his side in the aftermath of “Takeover.” With a cinematic beat courtesy of Charlemagne chopping up a fine Ennio Morricone sample, this is one of the finer tracks here.

The Curse disc as a whole is darker, with less club oriented tracks. Beans and Face join up with Jay again, their third teaming in a year. Just like the other tracks “Some How, Some Way” is the perfect mix of emotion and lyrical decadence we have come to expect from this team. Just Blaze creates a bubbling track for them to express their hope for change, and you can’t help but feel the positivity in their voices.

Just Blaze is a constant presence on this second disc and he rarely disappoints. Bringing back the monster “U Don’t Know” from The Blueprint and adding M.O.P. to the mix? You can't go wrong. On the haunting tale of parental neglect, Justin Smith gives the perfect audio back drop for Jay to tell his street symphony “Meet the Parents.”

Never forgetting the past, they also decide to update the classic Jeru and Premo cut delivering “Bitches and Sisters” to utter perfection. As Jay breaks down the differences between these two species of females you would be hard pressed to argue with his analysis. If this isn’t enough, Just pounds out the hardest beat on the album and includes some of his trademark cuts, letting the N.W.A. crew assist Jigga in his lyrical assault on all the bitches in the world.

At one point on the album Jay says “This must have been what the nigga Pac felt like when he made Me Against the World, All Eyez on Me.” Now this may be wishful thinking on Jay’s part in hoping that he could deliver something of that quality to us back to back – but in a lot of ways the parallels are there. Jay doesn’t abandon the personal touch that made The Blueprint the album many of us listened to as we watched NY burn, he shows us his world. Full of glitz and glamour, pitfalls and successes, he lives a decadent life and that is conveyed in the beats and rhymes here.

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