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Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3

"- The Blueprint 3"

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
17 September 2009, 15:02 Written by Tyler Boehm
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bluepint3On the same day that Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3 was released last week, Michael Jordan was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. In front of an audience of basketball legends and fans who had paid $1,000 a ticket, all of whom seemed eager to celebrate his career and share a rare unguarded personal moment with a man they idolize. Jordan delivered a rambling twenty five minute speech that glossed over the influence of his mentors and teammates and instead returned again and again to his rivals, from stars he battled for championships to ordinary people who served him the pettiest of slights, to recount his grudges against them and the vengeance he unfailingly won over them. Jay-Z has compared himself to Jordan throughout his career, whether as a fellow G.O.A.T. or cold-blooded competitor or in referencing their parallel retirements; on The Blueprint 3, Jay-Z has his own podium moment. Like MJ, Hov, through the lens of essentialism, presents his past championships as a defining and undying personal quality and tries to keep that image of himself in the spotlight through sheer force of will.Lyrically, Jay-Z is still on the obsessive self-congratulating tip of Kingdom Come. As Brandon Soderberg pointed out, Jay has become a habitual violator of the old Creative Writing maxim of showing instead of telling. Starting around the The Black Album and the accompanying phony retirement hype, Jay's verses became increasingly shallow as the subtext, the casual arrogance in his voice and effortless flow, the supreme confidence that comes with being the greatest rapper alive, became the text and suddenly Jay was just calling himself "the greatest," often in a grating, theatrical, I-really-mean-it delivery, (which, thank God, is gone here) without demonstrating any of the flair that earned him the crown. Actually, this seems to be a virtually inescapable trap for larger-than-life rap stars, who run out of things to say when they start playing into their own carefully constructed myth (or vice versa); see Wayne, whose genuine unhinged weirdness became canned "I am a Martian" chants on Tha Carter III, and Eminem, who continued to pander to audience expectations with his scatological humor and self-loathing (which weirdly became more believable and uncomfortable) even as all his irreverent joy and hilarious/stomach-turning details disappeared. Jay managed to avoid this fate longer than anyone, but these past few years he's been in full-on victory lap mode. The old Jay emerges more rarely these days and it's almost always on a track that pulls him slightly out of his comfort zone. Luckily for us, there are a handful of songs like that here.BP3, by and large produced by Kanye West, is the freshest Jay has sounded musically since The Black Album and is closest in conceit to its own sprawling predecessor, BP2. Following the single-minded greatness of The Blueprint, that album, with too many guest spots and too many songs, felt like an unfocused disappointment, but BP3's eclectic range and guest performances (although all the flavors of the week are here) actually are refreshing coming after American Gangster, which in trying to recreate the Hov as cold-blooded realist vibe of Reasonable Doubt became monochromatic and boring. On BP3, Jay sounds equally uninspired on Kanye's martial 'Run This Town' and Timbo's in-the-pocket 'Off That' and shows his age on the uninteresting scold 'D.O.A.' Consequentially the singles aren't nearly as interesting or listenable as the album tracks, from the uneasy synths on opener 'What We Talkin' About' (that bizarrely features Luke Steele from Empire of the Sun), to Swizz Beats' chopped up banger 'On To The Next One' to the sweet arena rock pomp that Alicia Keys and Mr. Hudson lend 'Empire State of Mind' and 'Forever Young' respectively. The more unusual the track, the more engaged and fresh Jay sounds. He rides 'On To The Next One' in staccato bursts and on the slightly queasy and off-kilter sex-rant 'Venus vs. Mars' (another Timbaland production) he raps in a Juelz Santana-style call and response with himself.After a few listens, the most interesting track on the album, however, emerges as 'A Star is Born.' Over a rapidly shuffling beat with a doleful and pretty horn figure echoed by a sung refrain of "every day a star is born," Jay runs through a litany of rappers, from Nas to Nelly to Prodigy to 50 to Drake, who have become stars over the course of his career. For example, "Rae took on the date with the Purp' Tape/Passed on to Ason and then Ghostface/They had a hell of a run, standing ovay!" He gives each rapper no more than two lines and bounces from magnanimous to vindictive, belittling to appreciative, and always sounds sincere and melancholy for a past time. The subtext of the song isn't subtle, but it's there: Jay-Z has stood above all other rappers as the greatest star for thirteen years now. BP3 didn't produce a dominant, summer-long single and it doesn't have any mind-meltingly awesome verses like the old Jay-Z albums. Instead, for the most part, it's the sound of Jay at his Hall of Fame podium as he looks out over the assembled masses and reminds us how he wants to be remembered.
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