Blueprint 3 – The Aftermath
Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania - Twitter: @JaySoul
"You're playing it short when you should be playing it long..."
A few weeks ago my review of Jay-Z's latest album "Blueprint 3" seemed to create a few shocks in our little world of hip hop. It led to some affirmative backslapping from the Jigga haters, and some criticism from the diehard fans. That is perfectly natural – it is has proved to be an extremely divisive album, with the majority of hip hop fans either outright loving it or straight up hating it. As one of my esteemed colleagues pointed out, however, people should at least try to READ the review properly, and not focus on the score too much.
Before writing for the website, I genuinely used to read it every single week (since 2001, actually). Tuesdays was and still is "RapReviews Day" for me, and I know from the perspective of the reader when you anticipate a big album from a major artist. You're looking forward to it, want to go out and buy it first day and ENJOY it. Then some motherfucker tells you that, in their opinion, it isn't worth your money. It is kind of deflating, right? I've felt that way before, mentally cursing Flash for taking that experience away from me. But in the end, whether I agreed with the writers or not, I always appreciated what they were trying to say.
I've been the bearer of bad news on various albums since my time here, and I think some people – casting me in the clichéd role of Simon Cowell "British Villain" – think that I take delight in it. Not even slightly. When a major artist releases a sub-standard album, we are ALL losers! The artist, the record label (usually), the media, the fans. And nobody likes to lose.
But sometimes you must accept defeat in order to win big next time – if we are to improve, we must learn from our mistakes because life is a giant trial and error game that we play at for a while. Even some of the biggest egos in rap can accept this, and it is no coincidence that many of the legends in the game are the least delusional, the most willing to learn, progress, evolve.
Some accused me of bias, mainly owing to the last few lines of that now infamous "Blueprint 3" review. When I was stating that hip hop needs us now more than ever, I meant that it needs the STANDARD BEARERS – you, me, all of us with discerning taste – in order to maintain the quality level. It is all well and good having major artists releasing tons of music, but if none of us are listening to the entire albums a year later, it dilutes hip hop in general. There will always be MC's that can spit hot fire, producers that can make beautiful music – but someone has to put it together, and that is perhaps what is really going wrong right now. Albums are being dictated by focus groups, not visionary executive producers. That is why Rick Rubin is still legendary: he knows how to get an artist in the zone, get twelve great songs out of them, and sequence them with the right music. There are still hot singles being released, for sure – but whilst singles are hors d'oeuvres to whet your appetite, albums are the main MEAL. That is how you get to know the artist, how you connect with them.
There are a few times when I have over scored an album, for sure (LL Cool J and Eminem spring to mind). Hey, we all make mistakes and get overexcited... But just know that I do not UNDER score. In other words, you could read a review where I give someone an 8.5 and think "this motherfucker has lost his mind, over scoring this shit." But how many times have I given a genuinely great album, from front to back, too LITTLE credit? That means that if my opinion is that an album is disappointing, you should know that I have given it a great deal of consideration. Many of the emails about BP3 surprisingly said exactly the same thing – that they knew the album was poor but had been "brainwashed" into being unable to criticise a Jay-Z LP. I can completely understand that, but I pride myself on being able to see into the truth of something, ignoring the entourage of hype or history. That goes for positive and negative baggage – hey, I'm the guy that gave "American Gangster" full marks, the only time I've ever done so on this site.
As for the BP3 saga, I honestly felt that although it was a generally likeable and listenable album, there were glaringly obvious flaws. It was too long, for starters – something that has affected the majority of Jay-Z albums. The beats, around half of them, were listenable but substandard, whilst the rest were solid. Aside from the classic "Empire State of Mind," there are only a few tracks that I could honestly say I will listen to – and they pretty much come in the first five songs. His flow – yes, Jay-Z's FLOW! – is off... He just sounds lazy and unfocussed by his standards, aside from a few good moments – although I'm not a fan of "Venus vs. Mars" he does drop some clever lines. But the core truth is that Jay-Z really NEEDED a hit record, as he has run the risk of becoming a celebrity rapper that hasn't had a massive slew of singles from a big selling LP for six years. He needed to get back in the numbers game, and with the double-whammy of "Run This Town" and "Empire State of Mind," he has certainly achieved his goal – BP3 is shifting at an impressive rate. Assuming that "Young Forever" or "Off That" are hits, Jigga will be looking at his most commercially successful (singles wise) album since "The Black Album" and "Hard Knock Life." That is great for Carter, but with my reviews, I try to "play it long" as Prop Joe used to say – in other words, will we still be listening to this long play in the future? I've already stopped listening to BP3 (aside from a couple of tracks), and not out of spite but genuinely boredom. And if you've grown to really like it, that is fine too! We are all of this world, our opinions matter not one jot – because if you prize a piece of music, listen to it and love it unconditionally, whether somebody else likes/loathes it shouldn't really matter in the slightest.
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