On Jay-Z’s latest album The Blueprint 3, the once and future king of hip-hop elevates bravado to an art-form not seen since his Black Album. After Hov announced his retirement in 2002, he released two more albums that made you wish he really had quit the game. It was confusing to say the least. After clawing his way from being an unknown to being the president of Def-Jam records in ten years time, he left us after delivering the best rap album in a decade. It’s not exactly a new schtick in rap music. Too Short used to announce his retirement on every album. The two albums Jigga released after The Black Album sold well but did not garner much chart success with Kingdom Come’s “Show Me What Your Working With” the only top ten single on either album. American Gangster, released in 2007, fared even worse on the Billboard Hot 100 with no singles charting above number 55.
With sales already in excess of 1.6 million albums The Bluprint 3 put Jay-Z back on top. Its third single, “Empire State of Mind” featuring Alicia Keys earned the rapper his only number 1 hit. “Run This Town” with the ubiquitous Rihanna made it to number 2, but it’s the first single, “D.O.A. (The Death of Autotune)” that made this writer yell “Oh snap!” The song brings to mind great battle raps like Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” or “I’m Bad” by L.L. Cool J all set on top of brilliant production from No I.D. The mix of trumpet and electric guitar gives the track a smooth yet edgy sound. He admonishes other rappers to “grow a set” and says the way to prove your street cred is to simply, “get violent”. That sentiment appears to be at odds with his assertion on “What We Talkin About” that “Ain’t nothin cool about carrying a strap”. But this is rap music, not a dissertation. That’s one of the best things about hip-hop: It doesn’t have to be a seamless world-view. It can be jumbled and contradictory just like its predecessor Rock and Roll. Example: the self-proclaimed hater of auto-tune uses an auto-tuner on “Hater” later on the album.
“On to the Next One” and “Off That” are interchangeable, theme-wise. Namely: Jay-Z is a trend-setter. What do you expect from the only MC that does yoga? In “On to the Next One” he proclaims, “Used to rock a throw-back, ballin on the corner, Now I rock a Teller suit, lookin like an owner.” This song is good but I was hoping against hope that it would be some kind of insane collaboration with The Foo Fighters. (See “All My Life” from FF’s 2002 album One By One) “Off That” continues in the “I’m so avant-garde” vein. Jay’s awe-inspiring ego is on full display on this one as he reveals that he’s “so tomorrow they order mines on yesterday”. He even takes a second to get political on “Off That”:
“This ain’t black vs white, my n***a we off that
Please tell Bill O’Reilly to fall back
Tell Rush Limbaugh to get off my balls
This 2010 not 1864”
Once again: “O snap!”