A Retrospective Look at Blueprint 3
“This is what tomorrow is,” rhymes Jay-Z on “Off That” from his most recent release The Blueprint 3. A look back on an album like Blueprint 3 nearly a year after its release can effectively answer the question as to whether Jay-Z’s latest really has been a “blueprint” for the sound and look of the culture that followed. And the word “look” is vital because BP3 really is a hipster record; the sculpture on the cover could have been a feature in the Museum of Modern Art and the production choices walk a thin line between ‘80s pop sensibilities and the electronica vibe embodied in the last Black Eyed Peas album. New Yorkers were hearing BP3 blasting in Greenwich Village and BedStuy alike around this time last year.
Many consider Jay’s The Blueprint (2001) a classic in the genre. This was an album that introduced many heads to Kanye West’s sample-heavy, Motown-inspired production, a sound pervaded in both mainstream and underground records for the next six or seven years in a very big way. From Scarface’s The Fix to Common’s Be, the sound of The Blueprint was a clear influence.
Around the release of BP3, Drake was up-and-coming and J Cole, now one of the most hyped underground emcees in the industry, had only released a single mixtape. The point? Jay-Z knows what’s hot.
But does BP3 hold up today?
Most will have heard at least “Run this Town,” “Young Forever,” “D.O.A.,” and, of course, “Empire State of Mind.” Of these tracks, the latter is a certified classic that is appreciated by hip-hop heads and the general public alike; in 10 years, it will have the status of “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”
The rest of the album is a fairly consistent listen and will be enjoyable to most, yet perhaps that is the album’s largest flaw as well. With the exception of “D.O.A.,” a proclamation that KRS-One and Buckshot made six months earlier in their single “Robot,” the album is too glossy and synthetic to appeal to those who like their hip-hop raw and lyrical. Jay is more concerned with selling records to the greatest number of listeners than he is saying anything truly profound, topical, or inspiring on most of these tracks. Jay-Z may have succeeded, along with Lil Wayne and Kanye West, in making hip-hop cool again, but his lack of concern with making it a truly relevant art form is missed here.