Is the Third Time a Charm or Did Blueprint 3 Bomb?
An editorial by Steve 'Flash' Juon
I've been getting feedback all week long on Jesal Padania's review of "The Blueprint 3" and I think it's finally time I speak on it and give my own two cents. Keep in mind this is not a correction of Jay Soul's review nor is it a revision of said review - this is just my own editorial thoughts on how BP3 compares to Jay's legacy of great albums over the last decade and a half.
First things first, let's examine the fact Jay-Z chose to title this album "The Blueprint 3." It's been almost seven full years since "The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse" was released. In the interim Jay retired from rap, took over Def Jam, UNRETIRED from rap and left his position as CEO of Def Jam - not precisely in that chronological order but you get the gist. Few rappers can be said to have had more success with less focus as one can hardly begin to guess what Shawn Carter will do before he's already done it, changed his mind and done something else. Despite that turmoil he's kept on hitting us with classics like "The Black Album" and "American Gangster," proving that even as he neared his 40's he was still a relevant force in hip-hop and a pop culture icon to boot.
With so much history between now and then it seems strange to go back to The Blueprint series. The first volume suffered from tragically bad timing on its release date, but still managed to go down as a memorable and well regarded Jay-Z album. The unexpected sequel was ambitious, but at two discs long was a bit bloated. It may have been better for Mr. Carter to not go that route, but by choosing the name "The Blueprint 3" he had something to prove to his critics - he's still the archetype for all other rappers who want to follow the road to riches and diamond rings. When you're the self-proclaimed King of New York, the best rapper alive, and 40 is the new 30, why not put yourself on top by reminding everyone you've already done it twice before?
The problem is that history shows us that sequels are not always better than the original. Sylvester Stallone keeps getting older, and "Rocky" movies may continue to be entertaining, but they're not as good as the original nor are they as relevant to the mainstream. 40 is not the new 30 - 40 is still 40. Far from being a knock on Shawn Carter, I applaud his middle-aged hip-hop hustle. Rap music has grown up and blown up over the last 30 years, and now more than ever we should be embracing the artists and pioneers who have shown longevity instead of being flash-in-the-pan hip-hop acts. They are quite literally the blueprint for the future of the music and the culture - from Afrika Bambaataa to KRS-One to Grandmaster Flash to Ice-T to LL Cool J and so on. Furthermore as veterans go, Jay still has as much swagger as he did 15 years back if not far moreso. He's even challenging today's current rappers to be more creative and not just rely on gimmicks like Autotune to go gold, a challenge I hope more artists accept. Note that he's not saying NO ONE should use Autotune, just that everyone shouldn't ABUSE Autotune. That's a key distinction a lot of people were missing when Jay declared Autotune "D.O.A."
In the end though Jay's mistake is that naming his album "The Blueprint 3" automatically encouraged listeners and critics alike to compare his new work to things he did almost a decade ago. While BP3 is far from a terrible album, I can certainly understand where Jay Soul is coming from when the album is measured up to the rest of Jay's catalogue. There are at least a few songs on the album where Jigga seems to be phoning in it and resting on the laurels I've spent most of this editorial outlining, and there are at least a few beats that don't stand up to the dozens of classic songs he's had in this century alone. I've been asked many times this week how I would have scored the album if I had written the review and my simple answer is 7/10 across the board, because it's a good Jay-Z album, but it is FAR from the best album Jay has ever done - and it's not even better than the bloated BP2. At a time when the likes of Raekwon and Slaughterhouse are releasing potential albums of the year, Jay not only suffers by comparison to his own past, he suffers by comparison to his contemporaries in the present. This is far from reason for Jay to go BACK into retirement though. "The Blueprint 3" is still worth buying whether you're a long-time Jay-Z fan or a hip-hop head in general, but even at 40 it's clear that Shawn Carter is capable of much more than what this album offered.
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