"The Blueprint 3" by Jay-Z

Jay-Z
The Blueprint 3

Roc Nation
2009

Review

I can't help but feel that somehow I have been perfectly put into a marketing category. I feel this way because as far as what I expect a new Jay-Z album to deliver, I have received. This is a fully competent popular Hip-Hop record that will satisfy it's target audience (a group that I have to include myself into) perfectly. The critic in me however just wishes that the album had exceeded those exceptions a few more times because the three moments that surpassed my expectations are truly amazing (and at least two of them have already hit the public at large).

Jay-Z has come a long way. From street hustling MC supposedly in the Rap game for one classic album and out to someone known well enough to be a target of conservative talking heads. For my part, I've been following Jay-Z since "Reasonable Doubt". I've continued to follow Jay-Z mostly for his lyrical brilliance and less for his marketing savvy. In fact, the only album of Jay's that I missed was "Blueprint 2". So now the new disc arrives complete with a great amount of hype and marketing muscle behind it. What with the beef with The Game and the most recent likely marketing ploy with the Taylor Swift/Kanye West fiasco. I don't really want to focus on that but suffice it to say that I strongly agree with this post by Lefsetz that points to the whole thing being clever "viral" marketing. Instead, I want to focus on the music itself. But before I can do that, I need to get one more thing straight.

When I put this album in my car stereo, the first thing I noticed is how loud the album was. This album is literally a wall of sound with zero dynamic range to speak of at all. My understanding is that this is done to compensate for so many of us taking CD's and compressing them to MP3 when we import them into our digital libraries. So already before even getting into the music itself, I got the sense that I was being put into a marketing category - by just buying the CD. So for those of you out there interested in picking up the album, perhaps consider getting a higher quality digital copy than buying and ripping the CD of the album. I didn't buy Metallica's "Death Magnetic", but I suppose Jay-Z fan's will have a lot in common with Metallica fans pretty soon.

Loudness issues aside, what first got my attention for this album was the "for the mixtapes" single "D.O.A. (Death Of Autotune)". NO ID on the production is nice! Unfortunately, this is NO ID's only appearance on the album - so good thing he makes such a great impression. In spite of Jay-Z's earnest attempt at making Autotune to go the way of the Dodo, I think that Autotune has offically hit the mainstream, what with many people carrying digital pitch correction in their pockets. Yet "D.O.A." was selected as the appetizer to whet the Jay-Z fans appetites for two very good reasons: ridiculous beat, and ridiculous lyrics. The trumpt up marketing beef doesn't really hurt either (for more insights into the marketing mind of Jay-Z check out this interview video that I stumbled on via Hypebot).

The follow up single "Run This Town" is equally as good but is really more of a song meant for the radio. That these two songs are among the strongest on the album is good sign that Jay-Z wants to keep the hardcore Hip-Hop heads in full head-nod mode while at the same time appealing to the mainstream. The balance on the album definitely tilts more towards the radio end of the spectrum in terms of the beats, but Jay-Z excellently demonstrates why he's one of the best. Take the following from the opener "What We Talkin' About"

And now that that's that let's talk about the future
We have just seen the dream as seen by Martin Luther
And you can
Choose ta
Sit in front of your computa
Posing with guns shootin YouTube up
Or you can come with me to the White House
Get your suit up

Kanye West capably handles the bulk of the production on the album and - with the exception of the futuristic and somewhat out of place "Hate" - is pretty standard Kanye West R&B/Hip-Hop blend. Timberland goes one for three on the album but his one is one of the best ("Off That"). Swizz Beat's contribution is sparse and hard in the vein of Clipse's classic "Grindin" without as a catchy of a hook. The Neptunes turn in a very N.E.R.D.-ish track with their contribution "So Ambitious".

The guest spots are numerous and thankfully none of the guest spots manage to overshadow Jay-Z.

Overall, I'd say that this album satisfies Jay-Z's fans perfectly. There aren't a lot of risks on the album (maybe with the exception of "Young Forever" - which I really didn't care for. Did "Forever Young" the 80's song really need to be turned into a Hip-Hop song?) and I think that Jay-Z knows that he's at a point in his career where he doesn't really need to take a whole lot of risks. Even dissing autotune isn't really that much of a risk. I mean, Kanye West is practically a poster boy for autotune and he's doing the bulk of the production on the album. Lyrically Jay-Z hasn't lost a step and I think that people will be very satisfied. For me personally, there are 3 absolute standouts on the album and two of them have made their way to the radio already. If you are curious as to the state of popular Hip-Hop music on the radio at this point in time, then this album is a pretty good window into it.

3.667 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. What We Talkin' About (feat. Luke Steele) (04:03) 4
2. Thank You (04:10) 3
3. D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune) (04:15) 5
4. Run This Town (feat. Rihanna & Kanye West) (04:27) 5
5. Empire State of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys) (04:36) 3
6. Real as It Gets (feat. Young Jeezy) (04:12) 4
7. On to the Next One (feat. Swizz Beatz) (04:17) 4
8. Off That (feat. Drake) (04:06) 5
9. A Star Is Born (feat. J. Cole) (03:48) 3
10. Venus vs. Mars (03:10) 3
11. Already Home (feat. Kid Cudi) (04:29) 4
12. Hate (feat. Kanye West) (02:31) 4
13. Reminder (04:18) 3
14. So Ambitious (feat. Pharrell) (04:12) 4
15. Young Forever (feat. Mr Hudson) (04:13) 1