This plan needed a few more drafts
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 guest-heavy tracklist.
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 rewind.”
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.