This was supposed to drop on Friday, September 11th, but I assume rampant bootlegging after the highly-anticipated leak caused Roc Nation/Atlantic to push this one up. For those of you disappointed to not see a Raekwon review today, let me just say: I am, too. But this gives me more time to digest Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II.
Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3, featuring the best cover art in his entire catalog, is the first album to be released under his new deal with LiveNation. It was recorded for his own Roc Nation label and distributed by Atlantic Records, making it Shawn Carter's first effort since his debut, Reasonable Doubt, to not see a release date on the calendar of Def Jam Records. Allegedly, Hova still had one album left to deliver after American Gangster, but instead of sticking around, he opted to go with LiveNation and bought himself out of the building, leaving behind the artists that he originally signed (among them Ne-Yo, Rihianna, and Kanye West). Not to be deterred, Def Jam released a box set of Hova's other two parts of the Blueprint trilogy, designed with an empty space in which The Blueprint 3 can easily be inserted. Which is probably one of the dumbest ideas ever in the entertainment industry, but fuck it, there are lots of people that keep buying up every single version of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead that finds its way to store shelves, so it isn't without precedent.
The Blueprint 3 has been one of the most highly anticipated hip hop albums of all time (not entitled Detox) ever since last year, when several tracks found their way to the Interweb, none of which actually made the final cut. DJ Clue started the trending topic by unleashing "Ain't I", a Timbaland-produced cut that was recorded for a past project but never saw the light of day. Clue anounced it as the first single from The Blueprint 3, which Jay denied was even in the recording stages, although Hova later recanted that tale. Later, a Kanye West-produced old-school track called "Jockin' Jay-Z" hit the radio, but failed to kick up much dust in the industry. Another Kanye-laced track, "Brooklyn Go Hard", was allegedly going to be included on here, but ended up being showcased exclusively on the soundtrack to Notorious, the biopic of The Notorious B.I.G. Finally, "History" was a one-off that Jay recorded in honor of the newly-elected president at the time, Barack Obama.
The fucker was actually recording The Blueprint 3, though. Kanye West took over as the leader on the project: although Timbaland originally told the media that he would be taking the reigns, he ended up with only three production credits. Kanye tasked himself to make sure that Jay-Z would be rapping the the greatest beats in hip hop history, and Shawn was game: he tried to ensure The Blueprint 3's longevity by looking to the future of rap and trying to bring it to today's audience. Whether he actually accomplished that goal, though, only time (and other bloggers) will tell, but one thing is for certain: The Blueprint 3 will move units, whether I tell you its any good or not.
But if some of you two tell your friends, and they tell their friends, then who knows what can happen.
1. WHAT WE TALKIN' ABOUT (FEAT LUKE STEELE OF EMPIRE OF THE SUN)
A weird introductory track, in that Kanye West's production is on some entirely other shit (including Luke Steele from the Australian electronic dance act Empire Of The Sun doesn't exactly scream “Hip Hop!”, either). Hova's lyrics are typical of his album intros, though. This song features the “freestyle” that Jay spit live at concerts over the summer, the one that re-ignited his feud with The Game (and Jaz-O), although does anybody really give a fuck about who The Game hates this month? Musically, this isn't that bad.
2. THANK YOU
I thought this was corny as hell. The beat is alright, if a bit plain, but I didn't care for Hova's lyrics, delivery-wise and content-wise. I enjoyed the portion of the track where the drums went outside for a walk, but otherwise, I'll pass.
3. D.O.A. (DEATH OF AUTO-TUNE)
I've written about this one before, and my initial complaint is still my primary one: this song isn't aggressive enough in attacking Auto-Tune. As a result, the number of Auto-Tuned songs on the radio seem to have increased, so Jay-Z may have lost this war. No I.D.'s beat remains the best part of this song, and Jigga's constant shout-outs help keep the producer formerly known as Immenslope's name in the spotlight.
4. RUN THIS TOWN (FEAT RIHIANNA & KANYE WEST)
Personally, I don't like the video for this song: I find it fucking ridiculous. However, this track has kind of grown on me, to an extent. Not because of Jigga, though: Hova keeps repeating the phrase “Whassup?” as if he has no real concept of what's going on around him. (A fun idea for a drinking game: every time Shawn utters that phrase, you take a shot. The room will be spinning, guaranteed, before Kanye West even says a word.) Kanye easily murders Shawn on his own shit, and 'Ye's beat actually fucking rocks: maybe he should have saved this collaboration for his next magnum opus instead. Personally, I'd like to know how exactly would this have been a Rihianna solo song before Hov and Kanye took over, but that may just be my own curiosity showing.
5. EMPIRE STATE OF MIND (FEAT ALICIA KEYS)
Hova's favorite song on the album. Rumor has it that Nas was invited to contribute lyrics to this song. That would have actually made sense, as this is a love letter to New York (which happens to be Nasir's state of mind), but I suppose the ongoing divorce proceedings were a bit overwhelming. I don't have anything against Alicia Keys, but she sounds just like any other generic nameless studio vocalist while singing on the hook: was she chosen only because she has a song called “Streets Of New York” (that, conveniently, sampled “New York State Of Mind” by...Nas)? I really think that Hova should have gotten Mary J. Blige to sing on the hook (as a nod to “Can't Knock The Hustle”) or, well, motherfucking Nas. Wow, I can't believe I've become such an advocate for Nasir Jones: that doesn't sound like me at all.
6. REAL AS IT GETS (FEAT YOUNG JEEZY)
The Inkredibles provide a beat that sounds like one of the boring songs on The Black Album that I used to skip. I'm convinced that Jay-Z and Kanye West keep Young Jeezy around them at all times so that, in a pinch, they can prove their respective mic dominance by out-rapping him at the drop of a hat. That has to be the only reason, right?
7. ON TO THE NEXT ONE (FEAT SWIZZ BEATZ)
I didn't realize this was possible, but I actually fucking loved the Swizz beat on here. (His vocals, though, should have been deleted.) Hova's boasts are punctuated by the instrumental's attempt to create a darker version of Lil' Wayne's “A Milli”, and it actually succeeds. Hova couldn't resist taking shots at Auto-Tune, the makers of Cristal (“that fucker's racist”) and his old Def Jam home (“I don't get dropped/I drop the label”), though.
8. OFF THAT (FEAT DRAKE)
Yeah, yeah, Drake only handles the hook, and he sounds interchangeable with any other artist, kind of like how you can change out facial features on a Mr. Potato Head, but that doesn't mean that Aubrey won't jack the song and put out a version with a verse of his own on a mixtape or something. Hova's rant against current fads (because he's already moved on, you see) isn't as bad as a lot of bloggers claim, mainly because Timbaland's beat is on an entirely different plane than his previous collaborations with Shawn. Not the man's finest hour or anything, but this is decent, I suppose.
9. A STAR IS BORN (FEAT J. COLE)
Shawn plays the role of a hip hop fan, expressing his awe in his peers from the unique perspective of a guy who was doing the same shit. He even calls Eminem “fuckin' awesome” at one point, which is hilarious. He also can't resist taking pot shots at both Curtis Jackson and Prodigy, even though their respective beefs are allegedly over. He even shouts out Raekwon, probably because, as the only other major rapper in direct competition with him today (as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II drops today, too), Shawn knows that he already has the man beat when it comes to first week sales. The production, with its simulated handclaps, was really good, and J. Cole's guest verse is impressive enough to make listeners forget that they were angry at Drake's non-contribution on the previous track.
10. VENUS VS. MARS
So this Timbaland-produced track didn't sound good when it leaked, according to the bloggers, but here's the thing: Timbo's minimalist beat works very well, and Hova's verses are all intricately constructed (lots of double meanings here), but the chorus is what flat-out ruins the song for me and, I'm willing to bet, for a lot of you, as well.
11. ALREADY HOME (FEAT KID CUDI)
If Kanye West was going to use The Blueprint 3 to promote his own stable of artists (like KiD CuDi, on here, and Mr. Hudson), where are the guest spots from Consequence and GLC? Hova sounds pretty good on here, but 'Ye's beat is terrible, and KiD CuDi's presence on the hook was almost completely useless. So why is he poised to be the next big thing again?
12. HATE (FEAT KANYE WEST)
Kanye's beat sounds like a screwed version of something from 808's & Heartbreak. Kanye's rhymes are almost hilarious in how fucking terrible they are: I guess he felt awful about stealing “Run This Town” away from his gracious host. I'll never need to hear this shit again. Hell, I don't even want to finish the song now, but at least it's short.
This has got to be the worst Timbo/Hova collaboration ever recorded. Yes, I said ever recorded. Discuss below.
14. SO AMBITIOUS (FEAT PHARRELL)
I love how the best Jay-Z/Neptunes collaborations have always been the upbeat club tracks, but Shawn insists on getting Pharrell and Chad's quiet storm castoffs (“Allure”, “Ballad For The Fallen Soldier”). To their credit, this doesn't really sound like a Neptunes song, but just because they branched out doesn't make this song any good. Nice try, though.
15. YOUNG FOREVER (FEAT MR. HUDSON)
Remember the Chris Martin-produced “Beach Chair” from Kingdom Come? This is on that song's level. “Young Forever” borrows from Alphaville's “Forever Young”, which I'm sure will annoy almost all of you (if you're as protective of music as I am, anyway), but 'Ye's beat truly doesn't sound like anything that he's ever done before, so that was fairly ambitious of him. Mr. Hudson's singing sounds out of place, but fuck it, he cashed a paycheck, right? With this, Jay-Z ends The Blueprint 3 on a relatively low note.
THE LAST WORD: As fucked up as it sounds, The Blueprint achieved its otherworldly status because of the unfortunate events that occurred on its release date. Its sequel failed because it was full of bloated excess (as most double albums tend to be, right, Nas?). The Blueprint 3 is partially brilliant and mostly really really meh. Having Kanye West produce the majority of the project was a mistake (seriously, were DJ Premier, Just Blaze, Dr. Dre, or even Ski not returning your calls, Shawn?), as he takes over the album to further his own agenda and, out of pure coincidence, I'm sure, finds work for his two latest artists. Timbaland's contributions are also disappointing, although, save for “Reminder”, they're not entirely without merit. A heavy reliance on guests is a detriment: Jay-Z doesn't really need to have someone singing hooks on every single one of his songs. But, hey, Memphis Bleek isn't on here, so that's fuckin' awesome. While this comes nowhere close to meeting my own (or anybody else's) sky-high expectations, The Blueprint 3 has its moments, and hell, I never thought I would ever hear fucking Swizz Beats out-Timbaland Timbaland, so that was weird. It's not a great album, and it won't be up for contention as a classic, but some of it is pretty goddamn entertaining, which is all that actually matters. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to craft a write-up for something that I was actually looking forward to hitting store shelves today, so I'll see you tomorrow.
Read more about my Jay-Z stannery by clicking here.