Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No. 464: The Blueprint

Band: Jay-Z
Album: The Blueprint
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: After a string of three decidedly pop-oriented albums, New York rapper Jay-Z took to a new producer to record part of his next album. The result was the album's first single ("Izzo (H.O.V.A.)"), the album's best battle song ("Takeover") and Jay's most evocative song to date ("Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)").
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This is a timing situation, in my mind. I prefer Jay's subsequent album, "The Black Album."
Best song: "Takeover" is the most aggressive on the album and "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" has probably my favorite rap lyric ever.
Worst song: "Renegade." Eminem is not a good producer.
Is it awesome?: It's pretty great.

In an interview with MTV before "The Blueprint" was released, in typical fashion, Jay-Z told the interviewer he had perfected the ability to make a hit song. He cited "Change Clothes" as an example and was predicting "The Blueprint" to be less commercial and more soulful.

It was. Released September 11, 2001, the album was the soundtrack for a depressing fall. Coming off a misdemeanor plea to stabbing Lance Rivera (and another gun charge), the album was set to establish Jay -- in classic hip hop fashion, even when the rapper is the king -- as the front runner. The giant chip on Jay's shoulder may have been manufactured, his producers brought more soul samples to his work, foregoing the Neptunes-style pop to which he'd based so many of his recent hits.

Similarly, Jay found a new protege to help him back to the top. Kanye West produced the album's three best tracks with an ear for sound. Let's be clear, "Takeover" isn't really a production job, but rather a full-on lift, as West takes the Doors' "Five to One" nearly note for note. Still, West's choice of the song is remarkable and fitting and one that accents Jay's full-on venom toward Mebb Deep and Nas.

West's lift of Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Ain't No Love In the Heart of the City" is similarly great and Jay's soulful rap is great. The melancholy of the record is striking and it provided a nice soundtrack. Of course, "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" is one of the best songs Jay ever recorded, including my favorite line Jay ever uttered: "He who does not feel me is not real to me/Therefore he doesn't exist/So poof, vamoose son of a bitch."

The album is not solely West's. "Girls, Girls, Girls" is a more subdued commercial track while "Song Cry" is similarly tender. "Jigga that Nigga" was a single of consequence, though it's mostly just a really repetitive record.

The album has some of Jay's most interesting songs and was the soundtrack for a moment in time for hip hop. It partially bridges the gap between soulful rap of the backpack set and the pop rap of the late 1990s.


padraig said...

"Eminem is not a good producer"

not only that, he's an absolutely terrible producer. and the beat for "Renegade" sucks but he does murder both his of his verses on it, leading to the great Nas line from "Ether" (You ass, went from Jaz to hangin with Kane, to Irv, to Big/ And, Eminem murdered you on your own shit). "The Takeover" is a great battle track but Nas won that war, hands down. Jay did kill Mobb Deep, though, w/all that "you's a ballerina/I seen ya" stuff about Prodigy.

This is a great album. Not as good as Reasonable Doubt but what is? Dude made a good decision going back to the soul-sampling production; that Timbaland/Neptunes sound has not aged well at all.

bob_vinyl said...

While I like some hip-hop, I don't know it all that well. I will say that I don't care much for Jay-Z. The music is alright, but I don't think his voice has a memorable cadence. To be fair, that might just be my ignorance talking.

R.J. said...

Boy, howdy, Padraig, you are right. It seems like every song Em tries to produce turns to a turd. "Moment of Clarity" is the one terrible song on Jay's "The Black Album." "Patiently Waiting" is the worst 50 song on his first record. And I've mentioned that everyone Em did after his first record just reeks of his production stench.

padraig said...

well, it's not like I blame him for being a terrible producer - most great MCs can't produce for shit and vice versa. I mean, a lot of rappers produced their own material but as far as being "producers" who make (good) beats for other people there aren't very many. in the same way most great producers can't rap - Dre & Pete Rock both have dudes ghostwrite for them. there are some exceptions both ways but true double threats are pretty rare; Q Tip, MF Doom, Erick Sermon, El P, RZA (if you think he's "good" at rapping), a few other dudes, but not many. Eminem is a good rapper, even if he did bite huge chunks of his flow from Masta Ace, and he needs to stick w/what he's good at and leave well enough alone. if he ever even releases another album.