A full decade after its’ release, Jay-Z’s seminal “The Blueprint” still stands as the crowning achievement for the man with one of the longest and most distinguished careers in Hip-Hop. The album was released on the most significant day in recent American history (9/11/2001), introduced the masses to two producers that would immediately impact the entire musical landscape (Just Blaze became the sonic architect of East Coast Hip-Hop for the next five years and Kanye West became a cultural icon), and the album featured Jay-Z at his artistic and commercial apex with nearly every song being played on the radio and/or in clubs and non-singles like “U Don’t Know” still getting huge responses from stadium sized crowds ten years later.
In addition to being a nearly perfect album, it is also perfectly titled as in many ways it could serve as an actual “Blueprint” of how to make a classic Hip-Hop album, all of the components of a classic are present and all are so well executed that it should be required listening for any artist attempting to make their own masterpiece.
Epic Intro: The album starts off with the triumphant “The Ruler’s Back” and features Jay-Z reminding fans and critics of his place in the game. If the purpose of an album intro is to reinforce the fact that the listener made a good purchase and get them in the mood to hear the rest of the album, “The Ruler’s Back” succeeds on both fronts.
Diss Track: A classic sample from The Doors supplies the sonic backdrop for Hov to answer two rivals that had been subliminally dissing him for years (Mobb Deep and Nas). While it can be endlessly debated if “The Takeover” is better than “Ether,” what can’t be argued is that this was a new kind of “Diss Record.” Instead of going on endlessly about how much better he was than his enemies or making idle threats, Jay simply compares his career to Nas’ in a calm, cool and collected manner that only S. Carter could pull off and in the process convinces his critics and his rival’s fan base of his supremacy. Some of the best Hip-Hop records were inspired by beef with other artists and “The Takeover” is no different.
Radio Single: The Kanye West produced “Izzo (H.O.V.A)” took the technique of sampling easily recognizable hits from the past that was popularized in the late 90’s to a whole new level. By sampling a Jackson 5 classic the beat was radio friendly enough for casual fans, but the lyrics were complex enough to appease hardcore Hip-Hop heads. By the time the album dropped this single was in heavy rotation at urban and pop stations and the video was a staple on MTV and BET stoking anticipation for the new album…mission accomplished.
Girls/Sex Song: Almost every Hip-Hop album has a track about how the MC is a “Ladies Man,” but “Girls, Girls, Girls” goes beyond the traditional “I-have-lots-of sex-because-I’m-famous” rhymes and instead features three verses that each end Quentin Tarrantino-style with seemingly unconnected women all being linked together. Throw in a crazy beat and a chorus by legends like Biz Markie, Slick Rick and Q-Tip for an irresistible record that will make the biggest wall flower feel like Superfly.
Club Records: “Jigga That…” and “Hola Hovito” are two of the crowning achievements of club-ready Hip-Hop, the beats are the kind of futuristic “party-of-the-future” arrangements popular at the turn of the century, but unlike most of those records these still get the club hot a decade later, proving that they actually were ahead of their time.
Street Anthem: “U Don’t’ Know” features Just Blaze at his bombastic best. The beat is confrontational, relentless and HUGE and Jay’s rhymes about making millions and taking over Def Jam combine to make this one of the true anthems of the last decade.
Soulful/Introspective Song: Jay-Z had been introspective before (“Regrets,” “You Must Love Me” etc.) but arguably never did it better than on “Never Change” or “Song Cry.” These two songs allow Jay-Z the icon to tell the story of Sean Carter the man and connect with fans in ways most rappers can only dream about.
Killer Collaboration: “The Blueprint” ditches the endless list of featured MC’s common to many Hip-Hop albums and sticks to one guest appearance from the only other rapper on Jay-Z’s level at the time: Eminem. While who had the better verse on “Renegade” is being debated to this day, what is absolutely certain is that this track featured two icons at their artistic and commercial apex that chose to ignore the typical “lazily drop a few punch lines because it’s not my project and cash the check” mentality of many guest appearances and instead tackled race, religion, media, politics, hypocrisy and the socioeconomic conditions that pushed these two entities into the spotlight and addressed both their fans and detractors. In retrospect, the only thing that got “murdered” was the beat.
Album Cuts: “All I Need” is a great testament to the love felt in the Roc-A-Fella camp during this period and “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” is of such high quality that it would be the lead single from most rap albums.
A Big Finish: “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)” closes the album with a dedication to Mrs. Carter and the other friends/family that shaped Jay-Z and while a lesser artist would have turned this opportunity into a cliched “shout-out-fest”, Jay turns it into a beautiful monologue on how he got “from Marcy to Madison Square.”
Bonus Tracks: The breathtaking “Lyrical Exercise” and the remix (with new lyrics) of “Girls, Girls, Girls” are included as a reward for fans willing to let the last track play after the music stops and both handsomely reward patient listeners.
Ten years later Jay-Z’s masterpiece is still “The Blueprint” for a classic album.
-Angelo (Twitter: @Mr5thround)