For the the amount of time Jay-Z spends on this album telling us how ahead of the game he is, it's kind of surprising that he pulled a title from the past. We know Jay is market savvy enough to use the Blueprint name to launch his first album on a new label, Roc Nation -- just as his old label, Def Jam, was smart enough to take a shot at capitalizing on it by packaging the other two in a box set that leaves "a place to complete your collection." Both share a hint of desperation, but thankfully Jay hasn't reached the level that he needs to drop a Reasonable Doubt 2... yet.
-- Mason Storm
Although allegedly the completion of the Blueprint trilogy, it's more of the conclusion to a comeback trifecta of mediocrity, at least by his high standards and the expectations that we -- among others -- have set upon him. That doesn't mean we aren't listening -- check the rating -- but some of the same traps reappear, including the repeated line gimmick that was bad the first time we heard it. (And when did "aw" become Jay-Z's version of Master P's "unh"? I'll have to break out Reasonable Doubt again and see if it's there, but just not nearly as distracting.)
At least one thing was certain: this album had to be better than The Blueprint 2, and nowhere near as good as The Blueprint. At first glance it looks a lot like the first sequel, with all of the guest appearances. That alone is an insult to the solo masterpiece that serves as its namesake.
The first single, "D.O.A.," showed promise with its back-to-basics approach and attempt to rid the world of auto-tune. (Later on in the album he throws throwbacks, Cristal, Timberlands -- not Timbaland, he produces a few surprisingly underwhelming tracks -- rims, gold and "Making It Rain" under the bus as well.) Sadly, the weight of his point is somewhat lost when he employs a practice that should have died several years before auto-tune in a funeral track of its own -- rappers singing. But "D.O.R.S." isn't as catchy an acronym. If I want to hear a bad rendition of "Na Na Hey Hey" I can go to a White Sox game and wait for the opposing pitcher to get pulled. (Actually, the fans' rendition isn't half bad, comparatively speaking.)
Thankfully, Jay didn't go all Ja Rule on us and keep all of the singing to himself. Rihanna steps in on the catchy and pop-radio-ready second single, "Run This Town," which also boasts a nice appearance by Kanye West -- behind the boards and on the mic (despite the bizarre "beasting off the Riesling" concept topped only by his Katy Perry tribute later on).
"Town," savior of the second half "Already Home" and "Real As It Gets" top this album for me. Future be damned, the Young Jeezy-blessed track recalls a couple of my favorite cuts from a simpler time 14 years ago when Eightball & MJG and AZ were sitting "On Top of the World."
It gets complicated from there. As could be expected from a track featuring Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind" gets too big for Jay -- and he sounds a little out of breath throughout. Not that it won't become a New York anthem.
After being underwhelmed after the first spin, it became clear that additional listens would be necessary to appreciate this album. It also provided some perspective in the form of two unrelated events that occurred on Blueprint 3's original release date, Sept. 11: 1) MSNBC spent the morning replaying the events of that date eight years ago; and 2) Michael Jordan's entrance into the Hall of Fame later that night.
The first proved our gut feeling was right that using the term "9/11 them" on the West-produced "Thank You" was too soon, especially when describing the events in detail as a comparison to the end of his rivals' careers. It's in poor taste for the self-proclaimed "new Sinatra." Worse yet, he sports a decidedly non-futuristic Skee-Lo flow.
The second once again provided a perfect metaphor, one that we and Hov have used in recent years. Both past-their-prime stars are stuck settling scores from the past while overstating his impact on the future and having an over-inflated opinion of his place in the present. For Jordan, it was claiming you might see him make a comeback at 50. For Jay, it's the suggestion that this album is really the road map to hip-hop in 2010 and beyond. If anything, Kanye West was the only one to do some truly futuristic sh--, but we already discussed how Jay feels about that. And he claims he doesn't want to hear it, either, at one point saying, "People want my old sh-- / buy my old albums."
But the conflicted truth is revealed throughout. On the album's opener, "What we Talkin' About," the hook is "Who cares what they say?" yet on "So Ambitious" (featuring Pharrell) it's "the motivation for me is them telling me what I could not do" and goes even further on "Hate" (featuring Kanye) as he laments that "I made myself so easy to love." Sounds like caring.
The majority of the album is listenable or better, but there's room for improvement. Surprisingly, it's lyrically. Too focused on the past and the future, he's never in the moment. "This is a 'Reminder.'" "On that next sh--." "Welcome to the future." The two themes never stop. It's always what he did or what he's going to do.
The low point is the final track, which would seem fitting except it is often there where you'll find Jay-Z at his deepest. He tries again here, but "Young Forever" comes off hollow and a bit forced. The Beyonce collabos are thankfully absent, but the weak "Venus vs. Mars" duet with Cassie fills the void.
Then there's "A Star is Born," which at first listen seems like a tribute to all of Jay-Z's MC peers from the past decade or so, but like Jordan's trash-talking induction speech it turns into a bitter list of backhanded compliments. Jay dismisses -- sometimes accurately -- Mase, DMX, Puffy, 50 Cent, Nas, Eminem, Nelly, Ludacris, Ja Rule, T.I., Outkast, Mobb Deep as simply passing through hip-hop as his career keeps moving, closing with this comment on the Wu-Tang Clan: "They had a hell of a run. Standing ovate." But their rhyme ain't done any more than Jay's is, as evidenced by the fact that Raekwon's own sequel to a classic made sure BP 3 wasn't a unanimous pick for the best album released on Sept. 8, let alone in 2009. But clap for Jigga. He deserves a standing ovation, too, for his hell of a run from 1996-2003.
It's time for Jay-Z to take his own advice from this very album and get "Off That" Blueprint. Move "On To The Next One" and leave the guest stars in the green room. Unless he really doesn't have anything more -- or better -- to say. Click here to find out how to buy this album.
-- Mason Storm
The 411 Online's other Jay-Z reviews
JAY-Z, American Gangster
JAY-Z, Kingdom Come
JAY-Z, The Black Album
JAY-Z, The Blueprint 2
JAY-Z, The Blueprint
JAY-Z, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
JAY-Z, Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter
JAY-Z, Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life
JAY-Z, In My Lifetime... Vol. 1
JAY-Z, Reasonable Doubt