Review Summary: "If I ain't better than BIG, I'm the closest one."
Back in 2001, such a statement could very well be interpreted as going too far. After all, no ordinary MC could claim to be even close to BIG's skills as an MC. Then again, Jay-Z was and still is no ordinary MC. He started his own successful record label. He had hits all across the charts. He helped bring hip hop to bigger heights. He was already so huge that after the Blueprint leaked, he pushed the release date UP. Even when his album hit the shelves on the tragic day of 9/11, he STILL charted at No. 1 with an impressive haul of 450,000 copies in the first week. Jay wasn't merely an MC, he was far bigger than that. And this is the landmark album that sealed him as one of the greatest on the mic.
The Blueprint was never really hyped much beyond the title "Jay-Z's sixth album". No comeback, no game-changer. So obviously when it finally dropped, it came as a shock to even Jay's biggest critics who claimed the MC could never return to the days of Reasonable Doubt. The Blueprint was not a return to the old Jay, but it forged a fresh path for the new and bigger Jay. From the rugged pop music of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland to a more soulful selection that was very mainstream-accessible. From Bobby Byrd to Al Green, The Blueprint helped reinforce the use of sampling as the use had since diminished due to copyright claims.
And lyrically, Jay proved he was still in top-form. He was unafraid to talk about his legal woes and discuss his drug-dealing past on an otherwise poppish lead single. He scorns his critics on the excellent "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" over a beautiful Bobby Blue Bland sample and tag teams with Eminem on the hard-hitting "Renegade" to holler a big "F**K YOU" to his detractors. And he pulls a couple devastating punches at Prodigy ("I don't care if you Mobb Deep, I hold triggers to crews/ You little F**K I got money stacks bigger than you"). To add insult to injury, at the Summer Jam held that year, Jay revealed a picture of a young Prodigy in a ballerina suit. But of course he pulls out the big guns for Nas:
"Nigga you are LAAAAME!
You'se the fag model for Karl Kani Esco ads
Went from Nasty Nas to Esco's trash
Had a spark when you started
But now you're just garbage
Fell from Top 10 to not mentioned at all
To your bodyguard got a "Oochie Wally" verse better than yours...
"Use your BRAAAAIN!
Said you been in this ten, I've been in it five
Smarten up Nas.
Four albums in ten years nigga? I could divide
That's one every let's say two
Two of them ***s was due
One was nah the other was Illmatic
That's a one hot album every ten year average
And that's so LAAAAME!"
Yet the album's most special moment comes as a love song about a relationship gone sour. Jay simply doesn't TELL the story, he relives it. From reminiscing on his early rise to fame to affairs to the breakup when he found out she too was being unfaithful as a retort. He tries to maintain his pride by questioning her way of getting back yet he acknowledges his own faults. When Jay describes his loss, it is almost as if he admits that money and fame isn't everything.
While Reasonable Doubt is still his best album, The Blueprint firmly establishes Jay as one of the greatest MCs ever. If Jay's cockiness could be summarized and proved in a single album, it would without a doubt be this one.