Review Summary: Hova's newest schematics for the future of the rap game are structurally sound.
Jay-Z is the last guy I would ever expect to be fishing for indie cred. So…what WAS he doing at that Grizzly Bear concert last month? Apparently, Jay just likes good music, and he can’t help but give credit where credit is due. The world’s most recognized rapper even went so far as to say that he hopes, “Indie rock will push rap back a bit because it will force people to make great music for the sake of making great music.”
Hmm…music for the sake of music, eh? Jay might be on to something there. His new attitude is probably responsible for Blueprint 3 kicking off with the synth-storm by the name of “What We Talkin’ Bout”. The track is enough to make one wonder if this is going to be Manners: Hova Edition, but “Thank You” soon clears all that up while stacking on the total mind*** of hearing Jay cop Lil’ Wayne’s flow in the first verse.
So, just what the hell is going on here?
Jay’s success is his shield. He doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks because he’s been there, done that and bought the t-shirt several billion times over. Experience has given Jay an ear for what works and what doesn’t. He figures if Weezy’s flow is what’s hot, why not try it on for size? Sampling French house tracks made Kanye’s Graduation the new hotness? Hova can dig it too. Blueprint 3 is where Jay set out to prove that he can take what works for everyone else and make it work for himself, and it’s a mean feat that he proved to be largely correct.
Jay’s choices in production both make and break this album. Jay himself is rarely off the mark in the lyrics department with only a few exceptions worth griping about (“I’m an animal/ half man, half mammal” from “Already Home” being the most unforgivable). He spends most of the album just enjoying his new position as the blinged-out Obi-Wan of the rap game. Jay may have abdicated his throne but he’s still part of the force, offering some helpful advice to his contemporaries (“Get back to rappin’/You’re T-Paining too much”) and leading by example (“I used to drink Cristal/ But those ***ers is racist”). Stripping B3 down to the beats is where you can see the real heavy lifting being done, and the cast of selected producers is dazzling. The Kanye West/No ID collabs stand out as the most memorable thanks to their evenhanded treatment of melding stately orchestration with pop sensibilities. “Thank You” gets a regal treatment of slow, brass-heavy swing. “Run This Town” will no doubt be an inescapable fact of life for months to come thanks to Rihanna’s star-power vocals and the heavy radio rotation that adores them. “A Star is Born”’s ingenious echo hook and sped-up hand claps are the perfect debut for J. Cole’s young-hype flow. ID’s only solo joint, “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune),” is a saucy gumbo of blues guitar and drums with a clarinet that comes out of nowhere but fills in all the right places. The remaining West offerings, “Already Home” and “Hate” are at totally different ends of West’s production spectrum. The former relies on strings with a hook that never really rears its head, while the latter may as well be one big hook of a synthesized voice. Both songs are album staples.
Remaining production duties fall to everyone else aka two industry dinosaurs and four up-and-comers. Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun does a great job of boosting that indie cred for Hova I was talking about on the aforementioned ocean-of-syth, “What We Talkin’ Bout”. Al Shux (who produced the track “Hi-Definition” on Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool) gets all the credit for cooking up the soon-to-be everyone’s favorite track on B3, “Empire State of Mind”. Beginning with a sentimental piano loop, the song’s chorus soars on the wings of Alicia Key’s skyscraper-sized vocal talents. Timbaland isn’t quite as successful, but manages to go 2 for 3 out of the tracks he handles here. “Off That” is the album’s centerpiece, a frenetic electro-future shock for the MTV crowd. Canadian rapper, Drake’s ineffectual cameo will probably only serve any purpose for the video. “Venus vs. Mars” is a disappointing, minimalist xx vs. xy bore. (Seriously, just skip it). The annoying chorus in “Reminder” almost makes the song unlistenable, but after repeated listens it just melds in with the keyboards. It’s not like anyone can resist a track where Jay says upfront “I’ll crush Elvis in his blue suede shoes/ Made the Rolling Stones seem sweet as kool-aid too” anyway. The Virginia based Inkredibles craft a gaudy beat tailor-made for Young Jeezy’s guest spot on “Real as it Gets”, but it won’t get nearly as many asses shaking at the club this year as Swizz Beatz’ Justice-fueled “On to the Next One.” The Neptunes’ too-suave-for its-own-good “So Ambitious” raises an eyebrow over a duo that seemed to have fallen off half a decade ago, and gives weight to my theory that Pharrell can do no wrong with Jigga in his corner. Mr. Hudson’s appearance at the end of this album is almost downright hypocritical considering he’s just coming fresh off West’s 808’s and Heartbreak (THE autotune album), but Jay uses his talents like a tactical nuke. While technically lazy, laying a beat over Youth Group’s “Forever Young” is irresistibly catchy and makes for a satisfying album closer. Sometimes, true genius lies in simplicity.
Blueprint 3 is Jay leading by example. He’s at his most fearless here, sampling a bit of everyone’s style and running off with it to the bank. Hip hop can really benefit from this sort of musicality. Before that happens though, Jay has already made sure he got the first buck and the last word. Welcome to the future, everybody.