I wrote with Sharpie on a blank CD almost a year ago: Jay-Z The Blueprint 3. It was supposed to drop. I had a list of things I was excited for. It was near the top. Almost a year later, it's leaked, almost two weeks ahead of time. Part of me has always wondered how involved artists actually are in the leaks of their albums. I mean, they have to know it's going to happen. It's going to happen. Period. So wouldn't the smart ones just do it themselves in a tricky way, something that would benefit them somehow?
So now, with the leak of Blueprint 3, my thinking got taken even further. I mean, Jay-Z held a press conference yesterday for his 9/11 concert! What better press could there be for the concert than an advance on some of the music that'll be played there? Part of me hopes that he's smart enough to control this on his own. Part of me knows that he might be, but he'd never take that risk. Regardless, the product is now out. Before we take a look, a brief aside: I hate how long it takes for me to absorb an album, because even while I was just listening, Joey from Straight Bangin' tweeted what was my first thought upon finishing the album: meh. It's got some great stuff. But that greatness is seriously limited to less than half.
With that general introduction out of the way, we'll get into a brief breakdown of the individual tracks.
The album starts pretty strong. I'm a fan of the first track, wherein Jay goes briefly and tangentially at some of the folks in hip-hop that've been going at him lately. (This made me think: Jay's been pretty good at avoiding beef. I know that sounds paradoxical with the big time Nas feud not in the distant past, but think about how many people take shots at him and how rarely he responds. I'm crazily reminded of the first track off the first Blueprint: "All you other cats taking shots at Jigga, you only get half a bar/fuck y'all n***as." [Hm. That was weird to censor myself on a direct quote. But it felt right.]) I like the verse that he'd been starting shows with, where he gets to talk about how he's not talking about Dame, Jimmy, et. al.
Track 2 is called "Thank You" and I didn't care for it on first listen, but by the second, I could see that it was just Jay doing his Sinatra thing. He's really pushed this comparison harder in the past, but there's some obvious allusions on this one. I love how the Clipse line "Keys open doors" has become a frequently-referenced refrain in hip-hop. "Do me a favor, don't do me no favors" might become my new motto.
"DOA" we all already heard, but it sounds even better here in the context of the album, and the same is true for track four, "Run This Town," which we've also already heard. Interesting to hear two of the leaked singles back to back, but they work well.
"Empire State of Mind" is a stand out track. Alicia Keys does her thing, not just with the chorus but with her (tiny) guest bit as well. One of the best on the first listen-through, this has a chance to become one of my faves.
"Real As it Gets" presents me with a dilemma - I don't like Jeezy very much, but this song is good and his work here is pretty damn great. I'm pretty sure that I love it when Jeezy gets the intro verse to a song, because, despite my overall dislike of him, his voice has a place for me right now. It fits perfectly here (esp. with a reference to Uday Hussein!) and this is a great song.
"On to the Next One" kind of starts the problems. It sounds like Swizz heard "Paper Planes" and thought, "I can do that!" Jay's verses are all right, mainly talking about how much better he is than everyone else, although, sure, he's got a few clever lines, including re-upping his semi-feud with Cristal.
"Off That" has Drake on it and, therefore, was leaked (intentionally? to build hype?) but got a piss poor reaction when that happened and the official release isn't going to change that. With Drake, Jigga, and a song centering all around the idea that whatever you're repping, they've already done, it would have been great to catch a beat that didn't sound like yesterday's recycled trash. When this album was supposed to come out a year ago, there were some reports that Kanye was going to produce the whole thing. This might be the single biggest disappointment in that department. If Kanye had been the guy pushing a different sound onto this song, it would have killed. As is, it's the beginning of the end for the Blueprint 3.
"A Star is Born" is really weird. First time, I hated it. Just another Jay track where he's semi-shouting out the rappers that everyone can agree on. But...the second time it wasn't so bad. And, honestly, I'm sure that I'll like this track after a few more listens.
"Venus Vs. Mars" however, as has already been covered other places is wack. I've never been into the idea of slow, sexy jams from Mr. Carter. I think he must have gotten some of these ideas from R. Kelly when they were working together, but he should have known better to just let him keep all of those. (Seriously, all of his slow jams are terrible. Is there a single one worth the time it takes to listen to it? And, no, "Song Cry" doesn't count. Of course it doesn't.)
"Already Home" has a great beat and some of those signature Cudi echoes, but Cudi's relegated to a bit spot if that even covers what's happening here. Jay's lines seem lazy at best, and the whole thing doesn't take on the weight that it should, considering Jay's status and Cudi's hype. This track is semi-wack, but it doesn't kill my enthusiasm for Man on the Moon. Here's to hoping.
"Hate" is the first half of the only truly good pair of songs from the second half of the album. Kanye and Jay team up and the results are as one would expect: stellar. "Reminder" is, again, Jay at the point that I like him - going after people in that way that he does: putting out vague, generalized statements about how hard he'll kill you. Because he already has.
The last 2 tracks are terrible. I'm not even sure how much more I want to say about that, except to make these couple remarks: what the hell happened to Pharrell?! I used to rep him hard, but this shit just doesn't fly. And lastly, ending your album with a sample of "Forever Young" by Alphaville better be the best damn song you've ever done, otherwise it comes off corny as hell and you'll be ridiculed for the rest of your career for that shit. And believe me, it's shit.
Overall, Blueprint 3 almost couldn't help but disappoint. Still, though...we've come to expect a certain MC to defy the expectations. And this time, he doesn't. Jay-Z has always been kind of a meta-type of guy (he used to literally talk back to his samples in the 90s) and I'm almost positive that there's a reference to him having "the blueprint for every rapper to follow" on every single one of these tracks. But with so many of them coming out of the final product as weak versions of stuff we've already heard, it really makes me wonder: where's "Jockin' Jay-Z"? Where's "Brooklyn (We Go Hard)"? Where's "History"? There was some seriously good material dropped over the last year that was rumored to be on Blueprint 3. And this is the final version that we get? It got enough that Joey tweeted, wondering if this commercial was the best thing about the album finally dropping. We never would have expected a question like that to arise about Jay-Z. At this point, it's a question worth asking.