Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March 4: Jay-Z, "The Blueprint"

Artist: Jay-Z
Album: The Blueprint
Year: 2001
Label: Roc-A-Fella

Over most of his career, when Jay-Z releases an album, the world stops to take note. However, when his greatest album to date was unleashed, it went nearly completely unnoticed. After the murder of Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z stepped in to claim the title of "King Of New York." After a few years of sucess and good records, he delivered the record that would prove that he was the outright, unquestionable title holder. Easily the finest rap album of the 2000's, and certainly one of the best ever, The Blueprint found its way to record store shelves on September 11, 2001. I could make countless clever plays on words, but I assume most will find them in bad I'll just write the review...

Most rap records fall into the trap of having the same overall sound on every track, the only noticeable change being the lyrics. However, to be annoyingly cliche, The Blueprint is just that; a blueprint on how to make the perfect rap record. Original, varied, fresh-as-can-be beats, peerless rhymes and Jay-Z's signature delivery hoist The Blueprint high above all of his contemporaries and nearly all of those who ever rocked the mic. The term "flawless" is thrown around too often by music critics, but in this case, it is the absolute reality of how good an album you'll find with The Blueprint.

One of the most significant aspects that sets The Blueprint aside from Jay-Z's over albums is that the record is nearly all "him." By this, I am referring to the fact that, aside from brief appearances by Biz Markie and Eminem, every song is Jay from end to end. Nobody can deny that Jay-Z writes some of the most hilarious and brilliant rhymes in the history of hip-hop. He is constantly calling out "biters" and putting them in their place with some of the his uber-creative lyrical phrasings. Jay-Z takes nearly an entire song to "deal" with another Brooklyn native, a rapper whom Jay-Z implies would be nothing without him, Nas. If there was any score to settle, Jay settled it for good with his unbeatable rhymes on the track. He also takes time on The Blueprint to destory fellow rapper, Prodigy (from Mobb Deep), whom the world has rarely heard from since. Jay-Z has the uncanny ability to deliver some of the most intense and "gangsta" style raps without raising his voice or even being forceful in his rhymes. His verses are conveyed in an almost relaxed, measured tone and this in itself is a true testament to how truly talented he is as a rapper.

The Blueprint is certainly one of the most musically diverse rap records you'll ever hear. In a time when the music most artists rapped over was a "trademark" of their label (read as: No Limit Records makes the most annoying beats ever), none of the thirteen tracks on the album bear much musical resemblance to any other. This may, in some part, be due to the fact that there are five different people credited as producing tracks on the album. Pulling samples from Al Green to The Doors, a majority of The Blueprint was produced by Just Blaze and an unknown artist named Kanye West. The producers were careful not to overdo the bass on the tracks (a common pitfall of the genre) and this leaves room for Jay-Z's top notch vocals to shine and slay. Don't worry though, every track will have your head bobbin' and your stereo bumping.

Over the past fifteen years, Jay-Z has released a steady stream of solid rap records. Responsible for some of the biggest "summer jams" of this time frame, he is undeniably one of the most important figures in the history of rap music. Known for consistent, unforced, and crushing vocal delivery, Jay-Z has a gift for rhyming that is rarely seen. His 2001 release, The Blueprint, is a true tour-de-force and is mandatory listening for anyone and everyone who appreciates music.

Standout tracks: "The Takeover," "U Don't Know," and "Heart Of The City (Aint No Love)."

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