Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jay-Z "The Blueprint"

The Blueprint.

Some say it’s Jay’s masterpiece. Nothing will ever touch Reasonable Doubt but to drop a record like this after 5 years in the game is testament enough to the capabilities of its creator and its significance in the Jay-Z cannon.

While Jay-Z has always had those tracks that scream “single” he has always walked the line closely and chosen his beats well in order to never alienate his original fan base. It worked to an extent, but by The Dynasty (Um... It was here? I'm not sure where it went, but I'll repost it for y'all!) he was far more significant player to the TRL crowd than to any head.

With The Blueprint he lined up a strong trio of beat makers to ground the album in some of that old classic soul that sounds so good when chopped right. Introducing to the world Kanye West and Just Blaze (Yes, they both had appearances on The Dynasty but let’s be honest this was the coming out party) and giving Bink! an equal amount of shine, we are treated to some of the best beats this decade has seen.

I’ve always been miffed by how Bink! never was placed in the same category as his peers here, but regardless of his commercial success he delivers my favorite beat here opening the album with a great rendition of the Slick Rick classic “The Ruler’s Back” incorporating the horns in the end is only the icing on the cake, as he constructs a smooth track with excellent strings and a pounding drum track that steadily builds into an explosion. Jay-Z is as scathing as ever in addressing all the haters and those who might want the crown, but in trademark Jay fashion he does it all so subtle you can’t help but float with him as he gets you ready for the real attack.

In a brilliant less is more approach Kanye loops the drums behind The Doors “Five to One” and selectively includes sparse elements of the track where appropriate leaving it open for Jay to declare his team the best and dedicating a verse at Nas, sparking off their infamous beef. That subtlety I spoke of present on the first track is dismissed here for an all out affront on the mic – Jay isn’t pulling any punches he had some things he needed to get off his chest and he does it with stunning clarity. Even if he lost the battle “Takeover” will always be one of the greatest battle tracks Hip Hop has seen.

From here the quality rarely falls as we see ‘Ye do his thing with a classic Jackson 5 sample creating an anthem (Everyone remembers singing “H to the Izzo, V to the Izza”) and proving that a pop hit will be a pop hit no matter the era. Just Blaze pops up here with something unlike we have seen him do in the years since. For “Girls, Girls, Girls” Just gives Jay a bouncing fun track for him to air out all the chicks he keeps in the wings while he awaits that special one. Don’t forget to listen through the end of the disc to hear a remix with Q-Tip, Biz Markie and Slick Rick all doing the hook!

Throughout this album, thanks in large part to the choices of records sampled, the soulful feeling from those old songs is transferred and channeled by Jay, except on two tracks. One produced by Timbaland proves just how talented he is as the beat is typical synthed out Timbo but knocks so hard and fills you with energy as you hear the chants of “Hola’ Hovita.” Poke and Tone however are unsuccessful at reigniting that fire they once had and instead give us a generic “Jigga That Nigga” which was probably intended to be a single until they saw the people respond to the soul. Delete it from the playlist and you will think the album doesn’t have a passable song.

Minus this minor shortcoming, The Blueprint is amazing. I already mentioned Bink! but his work on “All I Need” has to be brought to light. Using no samples, playing it all himself he creates a sparkling track that feels live. Bink!’s biggest asset is his programming skills as he keeps his drums constantly moving and never quite the same with well placed rolls and splashes on the cymbals along with his incorporation of a wide range of instruments the track is perfect.

After albums filled with guests, Jay chose to perform on The Blueprint truly for self making only one exception for Eminem to hop on board the track he also produced, “Renegade.” It’s a typical Em beat, which is to say it’s dark and ominous – kind what Dre might sound like if he were white. But we’re all here for these two lyrical giants sparing and they don’t disappoint, but I do believe Nas was right.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Jay-Z (which for many could have ended upon the release of this album) it’s imperative to listen to the catalogue, but starting here won’t tarnish the legacy or distract you from what he slowly became over years I the industry. The bottom line is that Jay-Z, at the peak of his fame, released an album that went against the norm in almost every respect and came out on top.

Of course at the time he was the norm.

Bonus Video: "Song Cry"

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