Jay-Z The Blueprint – Roc-A-Fella/ Def Jam
By DREAM HAMPTON
There’s this subculture of cyber thugs in hip-hop-—ex–Dungeons & Dragons dweebs who are scared of life in general—that never gives MCs anything past their first album. EPMD? Ended with Strictly Business. Biggie? They only bump Ready to Die. Cube? AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is where it begins and ends. Jay? Reasonable Doubt. Period. They get sour when sales soar. Scream rap treason when artists reach beyond hip-hop’s xenophobic hamlet. Generally, Jay is dismissive of these loners, hovers above their closed worlds. But with The Blueprint , his sixth album in as many years, he’s submitted what could be read as the second half of the double album that began with 1996’s Reasonable Doubt. Like a bookend, or the second key on a double bolt lock. Only better.
That Jay should make his best album some 75 songs after his first defies the laws of nature. He blasts off Blueprint with “The Ruler’s Back,” both a nod to Slick Rick and a reassertion to JayZ’s reign. On “In My Lifetime, Vol. 1’s “The City Is Mine,” he asks his ungrateful peers , “Where is the Love?…/ Oh you ain’t feeling me?/ Fine/…Sensitive thugs/ Ya’ll need hugs.” Still he keeps bringing out heavy artillery for MC’s who simply don’t want it.
Of course there are a few exceptions to this phenomenon. Prodigy and Nas got talked into beef with Jay and are probably living to regret it. “Takeover “ is Jay’s response to both rappers. “Don’t let me do it to you/ ‘Cuz I overdo it ,“ he warns. Boy, does he ever. A master of economy, Jay is able to say in one line what it takes some writers entire songs to get across : “You little fuck / I got money stacks bigger than you”. I refuse to comment further on these battles. I like when people are alive. Making hit records or not.
Thankfully, we ladies get way more love on Blueprint. But I’ve never bought JayZ’s whole pimp thing. He’s what I call an unconvincing misogynist. His videos-—where bikini-clad models end up drenched in bubbly-—are a combination of peer pressure and unnecessary pandering to the South. “Girls, Girls, Girls” may be read as plain sexist by sisters with no imagination, but all he’s really guilty of on this one is using us as a subject prop for what is inarguably the most unique and complex rhyme construction on the album.
“Song Cry” is a lament over the love he lost to immaturity: “I was just fucking those girls/ I was gon’ get right back…” Like Reasonable’s “Regrets,” “Song Cry” and the title track are remarkable for their candor. He’ll probably never submit an all-out diary, but moments like these are gold, helping us understand not just “the mind of a hustler,” but his very heart.
The real surprise on Blueprint is Jay’s experimentation with tracks. Timbaland’s “Hola’ Hovito,” “U Don’t Know,” and “Takeover” are rap rock-pure hard-core head-banging in the tradition of KRS-One’s “I’m Still #1”. Ever icy, Jay never raises his voice, proving you don’t have to yell to rage. Divided between this new kind of metal and the soulful sounds of “ Heart of the City,” Blueprint is made cohesive by the consistency of its pilot, no matter the change in speed.
At his worst Jay is guilty of sounding bored with his own ability. At his best, he is our cleanest poet, rethinking space. With his laserlike intelligence (focused, man) Jay could’ve followed one of two paths : either lock himself in a basement and build mail bombs, or write rhymes. He writes rhymes. He won’t stop.