By Johnny Firecloud at 3:58 PM Saturday, September 12th 2009
The full-length album is a dying art form, heralded by an increasingly single-focused industry and an entire generation of increasingly-disposable artists all too eager to accommodate. Jay-Z, now 40, is no doubt in a position to revel in remembrance of the glory days, but he’s made it clear that he’s not looking back with The Blueprint 3. “If you want my old shit, buy my old records,” he offers unapologetically.
The flipside to his stance is that his album suffers from the fact that it doesn’t run at all like an album. In fact, for all the hype and bleating about new and innovative, the end result, while evidence of a refreshing, multi-faceted evolution of style and rhyme, is scattered on consistent delivery and, while heavy on stars, wavering on shine.
The Blueprint 3 could have been distilled to roughly half the tracks and been that much stronger for it. In fact, by not doing so, Jay-Z has put a strain on the Blueprint majesty. The strength is true power, though – A Star Is Born is Jay at his most aerodynamic, earning every accolade with subtlety of swagger and rhythmic rhyming that could be instrumentalized to its own drum beat. J. Cole’s verse is solid as well, supplementing the track. It’s just a shame Jay didn’t shine more light on the lesser-knowns.
Truly, when running with a crew that shines as bright as this one, it’s hard not to join the consumer chorus crying foul – but really, the only problem is that it’s just not fair to anyone claiming to be near his level. It’s one thing (and all-too-common as it is) to have superstar guests on an album without the skill to deserve them – but to flow like this, be as high on the mountain as this, and then add the attention magnets that are Rihanna, Drake, Kid Cudi and Timbaland, is something else entirely.
Venus vs. Mars is a deep slugger, dripping sex panther on a low-hum beat and stick-tap rides with synth sprinkles, but… something’s missing. Is it Timbaland, having jumped the shark when he produced Chris Cornell’s abomination of an album earlier this summer? Is it the Neptunes’ smarmy color scheme? An issue of soul? It’s hard to say. But the same problem arises in tracks such as Empire State of Mind and Aint I, which should be seam-ripping blasts out of the park, but fall oddly short despite moments of greatness. (Put a little heart into it next time, Alicia.)
It certainly doesn’t help matters that On To The Next One has the single most annoying hook in the history of Hova – and that’s covering quite a bit of material. That’s a damn shame too, because Jay’s flow is buttery, despite its repetitive cadence. Again, that’s the Kryptonian core of the problem on BP3: the beats and backing tracks aren’t seeping with innovation, essentially making for meat without the potatoes.
Luke Steele turns in a memorable appearance on What We Talkin’ About, a track with proper Blueprint legacy tones and evidence of exactly what makes Jay-Z the best rapper alive. Targets are set on a slew of names including everyone from Dame and Jaz-O to Calvin Klein, but Jay calls out an entire generation of rappers when suggesting that Obama’s ascent to the White House should serve as a catalyst for stepping out of the self-parodying “Wendy’s commercial” collective artistic mentality. “Sittin’ in front of your computer/ Posin’ with guns, shooting YouTube up/ You can come with me to the White House/Get your suit up/You stuck on being hardcore/I chuck the deuce up.” And he’s leading the way, but don’t expect a free ride on his coattails. “Grown Man, want to sit on my lap, but I don’t have a beard and Santa Clause ain’t black. I repeat you can’t sit on my lap, I don’t have a beard now get off my sack!”
After conquering mountains most MCs will only ever dream of, Jay-Z has little left to prove. But his tenacity is admirable, if a little misdirected. This one will be a slow-burner, deep with a varied complex of single-ready tracks to devour and digest. Jay-Z’s only real enemy is overkill; with attention spans being what they are, odds aren’t in favor of proper radio infiltration. The climate has changed, and no numbers are guaranteed anymore – but Hov has plenty of life in his rhyme and tricks up his sleeve. He’s getting closer, and provided he stops the retirement charade, we may see perfection by The Blueprint 5.