In some ways people have been waiting for Jay-Z's "Blueprint 3" since the original "Blueprint" album. Yes, in between we had "Blueprint 2" but it was a bloated, double disc affair that lost much of the special qualities found on the original album. Can "Blueprint 3" regain the classic, soulful feel of the "Blueprint" album?
"WHAT WE TALKIN' ABOUT" FEAT. LUKE STEELE OF EMPIRE OF THE SUN (PROD. BY KANYE WEST & NO I.D.)
Portions of the album's intro cut have already been heard as Jay was spittin' the intro at various concerts:
when Jay-Z spits "I don't run Rap no more I run the map" it's clear that Hov is more than secure about his place in the game...especially since he's so much bigger than the game now. The song is lyrically deep as Jay speaks on Obama, Dame Dash, crack, Jaz-O and more. Luke Steele contributes soft complimentary vocals as Jay rips it over a synth heavy track. The production from YE and No I.D. while far from sparse, doesn't detract from Jay's vocals and gives him a clean canvas to intro "Blueprint 3."
"THANK YOU" (PROD. BY KANYE WEST & NO I.D.)
Long time fans of Jay-Z will instantly feel the "Reasonable Doubt" vibe pouring through this track. Jay's slightly off beat flow gives the song a throwback vibe and the final verse on "Thank You" will have Hip-Hop purists smiling from ear to ear:
"I was gonna kill a couple rappers but they did it to themselves/I was gonna do it with the flow but they did it with they sales/I was gonna 9/11 them but they didn't need the help"
Jay uses "Thank You" to show that he can still dirty up the flow and vocals and spit with the young'ins. Compliments to No I.D. and Kanye West on their horn heavy backdrop complete with quirky vocal snippets dispersed faintly in the backdrop throughout.
"D.O.A. (DEATH OF AUTO-TUNE)" (PROD. BY NO I.D.)
The funniest thing about "D.O.A." is when Jay says "this aint for sing-a-longs" given that this song turned out to be a huge hit and EVERYONE is singing-a-long.
So Brooklyn. Between No I.D.'s ridiculous beat and Jay's vicious lyrics, "D.O.A." was the perfect appetizer to "Blueprint 3"...regardless of the fact Auto-Tune is far from dead.
"RUN THIS TOWN" FEAT. RIHANNA & KANYE WEST (PROD. BY KANYE WEST & NO I.D.)
I've grown to like this song more. Jay-Z's second verse hits much harder than what I felt was a weak lead-off to the track. Kanye delivers spitting clever lines such as "It's crazy how you can go from bein' joe blow/to everybody on your dick no homo/I bought my whole family whips no Volvos/next time I'm in church please no photos." The track, built around "Someday In Athens" by The Four Levels Of Experience, does a great job of building tension from the first few seconds leading into a sound that is like a call to arms for modern day music fans. I think this song would have made more sense appearing on "Kingdom Come" rather than "Blueprint 3" but it's a solid single nonetheless.
"EMPIRE STATE OF MIND" FEAT. ALICIA KEYS (PROD. BY AL SHUX)
When I saw the tracklisting for "Blueprint 3" I was hoping for this song to be epic in the same vein as Cam'ron's "Welcome To New York City":
The song is a more smoothed out, grown-up ode to the "Big Apple" that sees Jay-Z talking about various New York related things such as The Statue of Liberty, Hip-Hop, Broadway, Knicks and more. By no means is this song bad, it just leaves much to be desired. Alicia Keys appearance, while strong, comes across as an afterthought and the production grows tiresome as the song moves along. There was so much potential for this cut and it could have been aided by harder production...an appearance by Just Blaze maybe?...or hell...it would have been nice to see what DJ Premier could have done with this.
"REAL AS IT GETS" FEAT. YOUNG JEEZY (PROD. BY THE INKREDIBLES)
"Real As It Gets" hook of "put your sets in the air if you represent your click" and "hey, ho" refrain is sure to make this one a club favorite...especially down south. The track from Inkredibles is an orchestra like backdrop in the same vein as Young Jeezy's "Circulate." The song may get lost in some of the other outstanding moments on "Blueprint 3" but it does include several quotables from Jay-Z including:
"At a snail's pace I won this race that y'all trail/Blueprints for sale/follow in my footprints you can't fail/set sail/I used to duck shots but now I eat quail"
Kudos to Young Jeezy for adding a little more Soul to his vocals and fitting in nicely to that "Blueprint" vibe. It's a solid album cut.
"ON TO THE NEXT ONE" FEAT. SWIZZ BEATZ (PROD. BY SWIZZ BEATZ)
"On To The Next One" is one of those moments on the "Blueprint 3" that just doesn't work from a production perspective. A beat like this from Swizz on anyone else's album might fit in nicely but it just comes across as the same ol' Swizz on "Blueprint 3." Not surprisingly Jay-Z still delivers lyrically but much of his lyrics get lost in the vocal sample used throughout by Swizz Beatz and the typical beat that could easily have made this "My Drink N My 2 Step" part 2. Not literally but Swizzy's contribution here is just way too formulaic.
"OFF THAT" FEAT. DRAKE (PROD. BY TIMBALAND)
Awful beat from Timbaland aside, there are other problems with "Off That." Drake on the song's hook does nothing and can be chalked up to a wasted appearance. You get the impression he was included here merely for name recognition. Jay's quick paced flow is fine, but the song is very lyrical and it would have been nice to hear Jay spit these same bars over something a little slower paced and more Hip-Hop oriented rather than Timbaland's Nelly Furtado like backdrop. Plain and simple this song should have been left off the album.
"A STAR IS BORN" FEAT. J.COLE (PROD. BY KANYE WEST & NO I.D.)
"A Star Is Born" is the shining moment on "Blueprint 3." The epic, feel-good nature of the song's production and lyrics send this one into the stratosphere. Jay-Z lyrically runs down achievements and milestones of various Hip-Hop artists...and even for good measure ether's Prodigy again:
"Mobb Deep shook it/but Prodigy took it...a little too far/can't fuck with Brooklyn"
Production on this one is outstanding. The soul-clap backdrop is screaming for this one to be played in a room full of inebriated Hip-Hop fans. There is so much Soul on the track but it's still a head-nod, straight Hip-Hop banger. The hook's repeat of "everyday a star is born" is instantly catchy and can't help but make you smile and want to get on your grind. J. Cole's guest appearance shows that this Roc Nation artist is destined for big things and Cole manages to stand tall alongside Jay-Z...very impressive. The other thing that's great about "A Star Is Born" is it's one of the few songs that could have actually fit on Jay's original "Blueprint" album.
"VENUS VS. MARS" (PROD. BY TIMBALAND)
There isn't a whole lot to say about "Venus Vs. Mars." In an overall sense the song isn't very good. Timbaland's overly quirky backdrop might have worked better on an R&B track and Jay's lyrics, while much better than those found on "Stanky Leg", fall into a modern day trap. "Venus Vs. Mars" is not part of the overall "Blueprint" and much like "Off That", should have been left off the album.
"ALREADY HOME" FEAT. KID CUDI (PROD. BY KANYE WEST)
Even though Kanye West is more known for his rapping/singing than production these days, YE continues to deliver behind the boards with a beautifully put together track for Jay-Z on "Already Home." As he did with Drake, KiD CuDi delivers only the hook here and doesn't make a guest appearance. He does a good job of singing the hook but my question is if you weren't going to let him spit a verse, why not get someone like John Legend to deliver it? The standout moment from Jay-Z is the final verse where he ends each line with "awready" which is sure to make "awready" the favorite phrase of 2009/2010...props to the south. This is a great album cut that sees Kanye delivering one of his finest production moments.
"HATE" FEAT. KANYE WEST (PROD. BY KANYE WEST)
Think of "Hate" as Jay-Z's "Drunk and Hot Girls"...whatever Jay and Kanye are doing lyrically they should never...ever...do again. I get the fact they were trying to be creative but sometimes doing what people expect you to do can be as appealing. "Hate" not only has no business being on "Blueprint 3", but it had no business leaving a studio.
"REMINDER" (PROD. BY TIMBALAND)
"Reminder" is another Timbaland production but after a few listens, "Reminder" seems to grow on you. Sure the beat isn't anything you are going to remember years from now like "U Don't Know" or "Heart of The City", but it's bouncy enough to compliment hot lines from Jay like:
"I crushed Elvis in his blue suede shoes/made The Rolling Stones seem as sweet as Kool-Aid too"
The repeat of "reminder, reminder" on the song's hook is initially annoying to the ear but once you start feelin' the track and get more into it, it aids in the overall appeal of the song. "Reminder" is the best of Timbaland's contributions and is the only one that should have made "Blueprint 3."
"SO AMBITIOUS" FEAT. PHARRELL (PROD. BY THE NEPTUNES)
The lone contribution from Neptunes on "Blueprint 3" is a cool, laid back cut...something to smoke to. Pharrell croons the hook with effective results as Jay spits about overcoming people's low expectations. The combination of Neptunes and Jay-Z never fails...it just yields varying results. "So Amibitious" is one of the better collaborative moments for Hov and the 'Tunes with Jay showing a vicious lyrical hunger.
"YOUNG FOREVER" FEAT. MR. HUDSON (PROD. BY KANYE WEST)
"A Star Is Born" might be the best moment on "Blueprint 3", but "Young Forever" is the most epic. Yes the song heavily jacks Alphaville's "Forever Young"...but it works perfectly. Birmingham, England born Mr. Hudson delivers an effective rendition of the hook from "Forever Young" while Kanye West lays out a "stadium status" backdrop that will translate very well with a live band in a concert setting. Jay's lyrics celebrate life and see him reflecting on his own legacy saying "when the director yells cut I'll be fine." YE, Mr. Hudson, Jay-Z and an Alphaville sample = a hit record.
Getting the obvious out of the way, 2 of the 3 Timbaland production contributions had no business being on this album and the Kanye West produced "Hate" disrupts the overall flow of the LP. That being said, "Blueprint 3" is a solid Hip-Hop album in 2009. Hip-Hop sequels are a tough game. Why do you think we never got "Illmatic 2" or "Paid In Full 2?" Jay-Z believes in the "Blueprint" brand and from a strictly lyrical standpoint, it's clear that Jay wanted this album to stand against his other plans for a perfect album.