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TBT: Jay-Z – The Blueprint (Review)

Here we go all the way back to 2001 to discuss Jay-Z’s seminal album “The Blueprint”


Artist: Jay-Z

Album: The Blueprint

Release Date: 11th September 2001

Jay-Z was never really my favorite rapper. He was however, necessary. A summer without a new Jay-Z anthem just didn’t feel like summer. So he had managed the trick of sneaking all of his albums into my collection, without me really having a strong opinion on him. The first time my interest was piqued for “The Blueprint” was when US radio DJ Angie Martinez revealed that my favorite rapper Eminem would be appearing on the album. This blew my mind. How would Eminem‘s shock filled horrorcore raps, work on a track with Jay-Z‘s “on the block, hustlin'” stories? Well before school, I took my lunch money for the week to Asda (Wallmart to those outside the UK) and headed straight for the surprisingly diverse music section. Picking up the blue tinted jewel casing I remember already being a little impressed. This felt like even Jay-Z felt this album was something special. As if checking it was really true I glanced the albums tracklisting looking for the feature. There it was “Renegade Feat. Eminem“. That was good enough for me, I quickly walked to the counter and handed the money without a second thought as to what I would eat for the rest of the week.

The first thing that struck me was the way album opener “The Ruler’s Back” actually sounded like what my mum would call “real music”. One track in and Jay-Z had already graduated from the drum machine beats that made him like every other rapper at the time. The way the drums broke down at the end of every 8 bars, sounded deeper than anything he rapped over before. He sounded confident, but more than confident he sounded like the best, and of course I wouldn’t say he was, but he rapped like he didn’t care. Every verse would end with him simply saying “The ruler’s back” as if that was enough, but it was. After getting the listener on his side, believing he was in fact the “Ruler”, Jay then went on to settle some scores in spectacular fashion. Without the context of the now infamous Summer Jam concert, out here in Wembley, London “Takeover” was the first time the beef really had any relevance. Hearing him reduce the guy who wrote Shook One’s to a light footed angry midget, had everyone in the room reloading the track again and again son we could hear every. single. word.

Featuring samples turned up to a squeakily high pitch, “U Don’t Know” combined the almost child like warning “You don’t know what you’re doing” with Bobby Byrd’s formally triumphant horns turned up to nightmarish level. Sounding like the soundtrack to a hell ruled by angry chipmunks, with Jay casually strolling relaying just how indestructible he is. Easily the albums god moment where he converts non-believrs. The track stayed with me, a lyric in particular always wrung loud in my head: “I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell/ I am a hustler baby, I sell water to a whale/”

The album also represents the first time Jay really opened up. I always struggled with the fact that I knew everything about my favourite rappers. Eminem’s tumultuous relationship with Kim, the dark recesses of DMX, to any and anything that was on Andre 3000‘s mind. Critics praised Jay’s candour on “Song Cry” and “Heart Of The City” I thought these songs were cool, great eve. But I was really drawn to “Never Change“. The melancholy Kanye West beat saw Jay combine vignette storytelling with his story: “The street robbed me, wasn’t educated properly/ but fuck ya’ll I needed money for Atari/”

For me, the climax of the album was always going to be “Renegade“. Eminem at his most rabid. The track was also infamous for being the one where Em ran rings around Jay. Nas’s reply to Jay’s “Takeover” delivered the particularly memorable sting: “Eminem murdered you on your own shit

And Hip-Hop pretty much agreed, but Eminem himself stated that Jay was doing something else entirelty. Deep metaphors that would fly over the head of the average Jay-Z fan who wanted “I’m A Hustler Baby”. So it actually turns the song into the best of both worlds. Eminem delivering the impassioned anger he’s known for and a more introspective Jay there to help him back to sanity. It’s a brilliant song, that hasn’t aged a day and the jewel in the crown that is another classic Jay-Z album.

You know what? Forget all that, here’s how you know this album’s essential: my friend asked if he could borrow it, and then a month later moved to Trinidad.

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