The Blueprint 3
Shawn Carter is an asshole. For the cocksure Brooklyn MC better known to non-pedestrian music fans as Jay-Z, it's an attribute he wears with as much shame as Amy Winehouse guzzling a bottle of vodka at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. After all, this is a man with an ego mammouth enough to open up his classic 2003, would-be swan song The Black Album with his mother trumpeting his arrival as if he was the second coming of Jehovah ("The only one who didn't give me any pain when I gave birth to him..." Sheesh!) Yet, like other iconic a-holes who have led the pack in their respective musical genres--Miles Davis, Mick Jagger and Prince, to name a few--Jay-Z has managed to back up his peerless inflated ego; save for the occasional, tepid Kingdom Come mishap.
Given Jay's hard-to-love aura (the sports club-owning, Beyonce-having, Forbes list-topping, 10 no. 1 albums boasting mogul is not above reminding fans of his trailblazing success from time to time), artistic stumbles will always be met with overzealous reaction. Such is the case with the polarizing online reception some tracks off his 11th album The Blueprint 3 have received. Even Jigga's brilliant yet risky opening shot "D.O.A. (Death of the Autotune)" was the subject of debate, igniting hip-hop's first generational civil war with pre-meditated lines like "This aint for I tunes, this aint for sing-alongs." But while he won over the throwback faithful by having the gall to release a digging-in-the-crates, clarinet-backed single in the kiddie age of Soulja Boy, the knives were already out. Leaked tracks like the uninspired "Off That," a Timbaland techno-ish debacle, featuring rap's current boy wonder Drake, was greeted with a Greek chorus of boos.
But just as the epitaph for the 39-year-old's tombstone was being tossed about, Jay-Z unleashes his most lyrically devastating project in years. No, The Blueprint 3 is not cut from the same soulful, introspective cloth of his 2001 masterpiece The Blueprint. This is Jay's revenge album as the sneering opener "What We Talkin' About," with its sci-fi synthesizer attack, clearly attests. "We have just seen the dream as predicted by Martin Luther...you could choose to sit in front of your computer, posing with guns, shooting You Tube up," an annoyed Jay-Z spits at the crowd of keep-it-real antagonists claiming the jet-setting Obama supporter has gone soft.
The playful rhyme delivery of "Thank You" belies Jay-Z's brutal verbal drive-by on the Jim Joneses of the world, paralleling their demise with the aftermath of a terrorist attack: "They ran a plane into that building and when that building fell, ran to the crash site with no mask and inhaled toxins deep inside they lungs...as they heard that second hand smoke kills." On the celebratory "Real As It Gets," he recruits Atlanta street-rap king Young Jeezy, recalling his D-boy days where "I used to duck shots, but now I eat quail..." And on one of Blueprint 3's truly shining moments, the Kid Cudi assisted "Already Home," Jay tosses his uncomplimentary alias back in the faces of critics ("Now these nigga's is mad, oh they call me a Camel, but they ass is in a drought/What the fuck, I'm an animal").
Unlike its predecessor's steady flow of dusty soul samples, The Blueprint 3 is armed with a sparser, colder keyboard sound (Kanye West, No I.D., Swizz Beatz, The Incredibles, and the Neptunes all back Jay's brazen big payback). Sure, the floundering moments are easy targets--from the West-produced "Hate," with its plodding, stutter-step beat and sophomoric lyrics to "Forever Young," a song so transparent in its aspiration to become Jay-Z's version of Euro-arena rock. Just be glad that after 15-plus years in the game, Mr. Carter still understands his strength. "Meanwhile had Oprah chilling in the projects/Had her out in Bed-Stuy, chilling on the steps....I gotta be the best," he proclaims on the potent 808 kick of "On To The Next One." What an asshole. -- Keith Murphy