American rapper Jay-Z needs no introduction, a household name around the world he dominated Hip Hop in the naughties as an artist and a business man who's built a substantial amount of wealth. A true rags to riches story of a young man who went from drug dealer to international rap star. I've never found myself drawn to his music, however I adore the Mafioso Rap debut "Reasonable Doubt" he dropped in 96. Watching the movie "Dope" the lead character referred to this record as the end and "exclamation point" of the 90s era I love so much. Of course I promptly picked this one up and found a couple of familiar songs, "Izzo" I remembered from MTV in my youth and "Renegades", a menacing and dark duet with Eminem who drops a classic verse from the prime of his defining style.
So "The Blueprint" is hailed as a classic, and picking up a record like this its hard to avoid the acclaim and ratings the record received. It certainly set the bar high, but didn't get my blood pumping around the clock. That being said its a mighty fine record illuminated by production from Just Blaze and Kanye West who both make their breakthroughs with a fine set of instrumentals that was the highlight for me. It steps away from the radio rap of "Volume 3" and brings a soulful vibe to snappy beats with a variety of kits and themes to keep the track running fresh. The track "Girls, Girls, Girls" is a blinding moment on the record, Just Blaze sampling Tom Brock to perfection, a true example of what the art of sampling is about. Legends Q-Tip and Biz Markie dropping in with the hook borrowed from the oldskool Crash Crew while Jay-Z talks about his promiscuous lifestyle.
The record opens up with Jay-Z making his return statement before dropping into a diss track aimed at Nas and Mobb Deep, I know Nas's response "Ether" and "Takeover" pales in comparison but to give Jay-Z credit the raps are tight and creative but again the magic comes from the beat with its rumpus baseline and baron atmosphere characterized by samples between the kick snare and bass groove. Jay-Z's raps are alright, hes straightforward, easy to follow and light on the ears, but quite honestly he rarely does much to grab my attention. Sometimes a rapper just can't do it for you and its hard to put my finger on why. He did drop a couple of great lines though "I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell, I am a hustler baby, I sell water to a well" is one that's stuck in my mind as well as his tragic mathematics on the diss track, somehow calculating four records in ten years is a two in ten average.
The only other times Jay was grabbing my attention was dropping references or recycling classic rap lines. The best rap came from Eminem on renegade, also with a fantastic hook chorus. I walk away from this record dazzled by the production, desiring more from the lyrical substance and understanding its reputation. Surprised I didn't find this one sooner but there is an ocean of music out there and the size of a name is rarely a hook to pull me in.
Favorite Tracks: Girls Girls Girls, U Don't Know, Holla' Hovita, Heart Of The City, Renegades