Jay-Z Tries To Run More Than “This Town” With Blueprint 3

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Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3
3 Stars out of 5

Chastisement about Jay-Z not taking chances is usually shortsighted. His typically materialistic lyrics didn’t exactly push the envelope, but he’s been more experimental than his naysayers give him credit for. He risked his legacy by briefly abandoning his street hustler rhymes for complacent, introspective ones, garnering praise for “growing up” while getting criticized for his “grandpa rap” disconnecting with his fan base.

All over his new album, Blueprint 3, Jay-Z makes several references to moving hip-hop and pop culture forward. “People tellin’ Jay go back, but I’m doing better than before, why would I do that?” “It’s all about progression, loiterers should be arrested.” And to his credit, Jay sticks to his word: this album definitely doesn’t sound like his previous material. But experimentation often has its ups and downs, and Blueprint 3 is no exception.

Jay-Z’s experimentation may be calculated, but that doesn’t mean it always works. Despite the songs here being radio-friendly, BP3 is similar to his inadvertent mentee Lil Wayne’s trilogy-ending Carter III in that it takes sonic chances instead of relying on its creator’s bread and butter. And contrary to music videos’ casino scenes, gambling doesn’t always result in bucket-fulls of dough. Timbaland’s three contributions—”Reminder,” “Off That,” and “Venus Vs. Mars”—are even more spacey than usual, and they’d sound more in place on his Shock Value album or a Nelly Furtado collaboration instead of behind a straining Jay-Z. “What We Talkin’ About” and “Hate” miss with their grasps at techno, the alternative aspirations of “Forever Young” fail, and he doesn’t sound as at home over The Inkredibles’ soothing synths as guest Young Jeezy does on “Real As It Gets.” On one song here, Jay-Z says, “I don’t run rap—I run the map.” He uses these songs to reach for the pop universality that Kanye West has achieved, but it fails because it’s not as natural for him. His delivery is stiff, and he abandons his trademark wit to for disappointingly simple lyrics. Despite earlier claims of moving forward, he’s ironically revisiting his “dumb down for his audience, to double my dollars” syndrome: not in subject matter, but in the way he conveys that message.

Blueprint 3’s missteps are glaring, but its successes are satisfying. If not his best, this album has some of the most progressive music of Jay-Z’s career. No ID and Kanye West went all out to give Jay a brand new sound, and their successes deserve as much recognition as their failures. “Thank You” perfectly balances varied production with Jay’s nimble flow, meshing horns and kazoos with a steady snare to back his deadpan wit: “Don’t thank me, that’s just how my suit is stitched/I’m cut from a different cloth, I’m just who the shoe fits/For The Color Of Money like a Tom Cruise flick/’Cept I put 8-balls in corners without using pool sticks.” The disc’s first two singles, “D.O.A.” and “Run This Town,” are bolstered by a pair of beats unconventional for Jay: the former being a stellar combo of psychedelic guitar riffs and neck-breaking bass, and the latter with subdued strings and stuttering drums. Jay’s comfortably focused on each of these, with his flow in the pocket and his double entendres in their holsters.

Jay is also consistent when he sticks to what he’s good at. Jay’s penchant for song structure is still intact, as “Star Is Born” and “So Ambitious” ably convey their respective messages of paying homage to musical legends and motivating listeners to success, with appropriately lush beats from Kanye and The Neptunes, and memorable guest spots from newcomer J. Cole and Pharrell. And in some places—the Alicia Keys-featured “Empire State Of Mind,” the Swizz Beatz-laced “On To The Next One”—keeping it simple actually works to Jay’s benefit, with his good ole’ radio raps and braggadocio serving their purpose.

With its experimentation and unevenness, Blueprint 3 truly is the successor to the similarly inconsistent sequel before it. There’s more good than bad here, but the ratio between them is too close for comfort, especially from an all-time great. Hopefully, this album helps Jay-Z realize that running “this town”—namely, hip-hop—and a few other properties should be more than enough. If he tries too hard to “run the map,” he might emulate Drake: falling on the main stage, and having to get carried off.

  • Excellent article. Glad I read this before I took a listen to it. Now I know what to expect.

  • Spot on. Jay messed up because of the shadow of BPI which is a classic. BP3 is cool, but can never live up to the legend of the original.

    Fair assessment of this outing

  • i actually feel the exact same way, perhaps a little more fonder of the good moments. i mean, the man’s pushin, what, 46? this is damn good for somebody who will have to use a cane in a couple years.

  • aliya ewing

    nice observations 🙂

  • Agreed completely. With the article, plus the above comments

  • Nirmal

    I agree… half dope half wack.

  • I think the No ID and Kanye joints were good, the Timbaland joints were definitely the low points. His experimenting on different sounds was a lil off but at least he is evolving. There are plenty of artists who make the same type of album over and over and over again. Im glad he is making music about what his life is about now.

    But I think Jay is at a point where he doesnt have anything else to prove anymore or has anyone to keep him inspired or to compete with. He was still making music when Biggie, Pac, Wu, Nas, Eminem, DMX, 50, Kanye, Sigel and plenty of others were all in their prime who he also felt was in his competition but now he doesnt really have anyone he feels is in his league. His life is kinda complete. Its almost like being on the courts hooping against young teenagers, yea you could give it your all but they arent your peers so you dont feel the need to go as hard as you would have 10 yrs ago when you had to prove yourself.

  • Finally, someone with an unbiased opinion about BP3. Not just the typical “Not feeling it/WTF speech”! Big up! I would respect this review even if you gave it 1/5 because you explained, in detail, how you felt unlike all the other morons and “artists” who haven’t had 1/10th of the career Jay-Z has. I still have yet to listen to the album, so I can’t even give my opinion about it. I’ll let you know on the 11th.

  • Bruce Pettit

    Very good article. I’m curious to know, what your top 3 songs are, in order, from this album?

  • kat3000

    Interesting perspective. Good read!

  • Great piece. i would give it a solid four. But I respect your viewpoints. Good job

  • Hasslehuff

    This was a great read. But you know me, and I have to disagree with a few spots. The song with Jeezy was excellent to me. Jay was spot on with the beat by the Inkredibles and Jeezy makes for a really underrated collaboration with Jay (something I’ve noticed after a few remixed singles of theirs). “Forever Young” was cool to me. “Hate” was just hilarious (something I’ve been waiting for in rap that’s not Dipset affiliated or Eminem). “What We Talkin Bout” was cool (even if his flow was weird) because that really set the tone for how the majority of the album ended up being. All together I have to give this album a 4 out of 5 because (after listening to it again) this seems to be the most fun Jay has ever had while crafting an album. The production is filled with the same youth the Hov just hasn’t been able to put on a song in quite some time, and the lyrics match with it. The Timbaland joints could have easily been replaced with better songs (such as “History”, “Jockin Jay-Z” and “Brooklyn Go Hard”) but I’m curious to see what type of reaction “Off That” and “Reminder” receive when not played in front of hip hop enthusiasts. With the exception of a few songs the album is also strangely cohesive. There were a few moments when listening to it that had me wondering how much time was put into sequencing these tracks. Is it going to be remembered as a hip hip essential? Nope. Is it worth the money? Yessir

  • JYoung The General

    The way you know that this is a good review is that even from my perspective of not having listened to the album yet, it still makes me interested in checking it out…possibly even more so than before.

    Good read. Now i have to listen and come back and see what points i agree/disagree with.

  • I guess I’m wack for being the only entertainment journalist who hasn’t heard it yet. I just couldn’t do it. I’ll work my way around to it, but this was a thorough review and you confirmed what I thought BP3 would be–nothing short of just aight. Aight to death. smh

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  • Venson

    Great read bro. I would prolly give em a good 4 though. “Empire state of mind” and “on to the next one” and others I think he killed it! Lyrically I feel he fell off on previous endevours but I was pleasently surprised at hi flow and delivery on this one. Good read though, gotta respect your opinion.

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