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September 22, 2016

Jay-Z has "Blueprint" for Longevity

jay-z-blueprint-3-coverCalling his new album “The Blueprint 3” was probably not a decision taken lightly by Jay-Z. The name “Blueprint” conjures up imagines both of one of the most beloved rap albums of all time, “The Blueprint,” and one of the disappointing follow-ups in music history with the over-ambitious, sprawling “The Blueprint II: The Gift and The Curse.” Not surprisingly, “The Blueprint 3” falls between these two extremes, a very good rap album with a couple missteps. In a time where listenable rap albums are few and far between, Jay-Z’s latest still stands out like the Empire State Building against the other hip hop offerings in the New York City skyline.

Jay-Z’s strengths have always been his lyrical prowess and smooth delivery and first single “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” finds Jay-Z in fine form. It combines razor sharp flows and a gritty beat provided by producer No I.D. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two months, you’ve heard the ubiquitous second single “Run This Town,” which takes the album in a more mainstream direction, adding a Kanye West verse and a Rihanna chorus. The rest of the album plays more like the latter than the former, with futuristic sounding beats, catchy choruses, and more guest appearances than The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Kanye West, No I.D. and Timbaland provide the production work for most of the album, and for the most blackjack flash part, succeed in providing effective backdrops for Jay-Z to rap over. Old-school Jay-Z fans will likely argue that he sounds best over old-school boom-bap-type beats instead of newer, synthesizer-soaked ones. Jay-Z even says in “On To The Next One,” “Want my old sh*t, buy my old album.” If you were someone who has not liked anything Jay-Z has done since his first album “Reasonable Doubt,” then “The Blueprint 3” will likely not impress you. However, if you are like most people, and found yourself helplessly bobbing your head to “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Big Pimpin,’” or “99 Problems,” “The Blueprint 3”has a lot to offer.

Whatever type of hip-hop you like, “The Blueprint 3” probably has you covered. You’ve probably heard “Run This Town” at the last party you were at, while last track “Young Forever” unlikely covers the Alphaville hit “Forever Young” which has been featured in both The O.C. and One Tree Hill. “Off That” features rapper-of-the-moment Drake and a swift beat provided by Timbaland, and  “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” will satisfy hip-hop purists with its sparse beat and aggressive lyrics. “Already Home” and “Empire State of Mind” are also standout tracks for very different reasons; the former has arguably the best production and verses on the album, and the latter has the fantastic Alicia Keys chorus that overshadows Jay-Z himself. That being said, a couple of tracks like “Hate” and “Thank You” do not work as well as they should due to subpar production that just does not mesh with Jay-Z’s flow.

Although “The Blueprint 3” is certainly not the undeniable classic that “The Blueprint” is, it is undoubtedly one of the best rap albums released in 2009. People who are going to see Jay-Z at the Mullins Center in October should be just as excited about hearing his newest material as they are to hear his classics. Thirteen years after he broke on the scene, Jay-Z is still churning out quality music, displaying a longevity that few hip-hop artists could even come close to matching. If the man has not found a fountain of youth, he has certainly found something close.

Jeffrey C. Larnard can be reached at jclarnar@student.umass.edu.

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