Tuesday, April 22, 2008
No. 464: The Blueprint
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.