This plan needed a few more drafts
In September of 2001, Jay-Z dropped his magnum opus The Blueprint, heralding a new era for hip-hop. The Blueprint 3 arrives eight years later to the day with equally lofty aims, and a yawning chasm between expectations and reality.
Singles “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” and “Run This Town”
teased at grand designs worthy of the album’s title; the former as a mission
statement on modern hip-hop, the latter as a radio-ready car-windows-down
summer banger. But Jay overreaches, leaning too heavily on by-the-numbers
production from Kanye West and Timbaland, and muffling his own voice in favor of a
And the album suffers for it. Young Jeezy’s
coke-rasp is criminally underutilized on the adlib-less “Real as it Gets,”
which sounds like Mark Mothersbaugh filtered through a Super Nintendo. “Hate”
mines the nadir of hater-bating braggadocio while Kanye softballs some of the
worst verses of his career: “'Cause we too high up in the a-yur / we blastin' off
just like a la-zur," he spits, adding in his own lazer sounds to embarrassing results. The tracks without a featured guest
are even worse. On obligatory club number "Venus Vs. Mars," for example, Hova comes off as a creepy, sex-starved voyer.
Blueprint 3’s flashes
of inspiration are few, but needed. Jay and Kid Cudi offer a cheery
point-counterpoint between swagger and introspection on the orchestral “Already
Home,” which is easily his most well-realized track since anything from The
Black Album. And there’s a wry nod to hipster
hip-hop heads in Luke Steele’s backing vocals on synth-soaked opener “What We
Talkin’ About,” and the chopped-up sample of Justice on superb minimalist
screed “On to the Next One.”
But Jay gives the whole damn game away on “Young Forever,” an
Alphaville-sampling histrionic fit that may as well be the credit-montage music
to his biopic. It’s a thematic reprise of Kingdom Come’s “Beach Chair,” naked in its anxiety about his legacy.
The track rides Mr. Hudson’s crooning for a full minute before Jay launches
into a rhapsodic vision of his personal heaven: “Just a picture-perfect day
that lasts a whole lifetime / and it never ends 'cause all we have to do is hit
And there it is. This supposedly forward-thinking album is
just another facet of Jay’s post-“retirement” obsession with recapturing his
peak, finger forever poised on that proverbial rewind button. Blueprint 3 is the portrait of a rapper no longer able to lift
his eyes above his navel, or his swagger above the sartorial. He promised a
paradigm shift for hip-hop, and came to his own revolution armed with pastiches
and feigned indifference.
Jay-Z is one of the shrewdest rappers in the game, and this
lifeless album won’t change that. But he wants it both ways: to be the
visionary voice of the next generation while defiantly posing as the hip-hop
equivalent of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, growling “get off my lawn.” Yet there’s no moment of redemption here,
only a musician who is, for all his protestations to the contrary, perfectly
content with mediocrity.
Listen to Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3 in full here.