Hova Loses His Hunger
Nick Anderson | Monday, September 14, 2009
When it comes down to it, there are really only two important elements in hip hop: hunger and swagger. Whether it’s a song, album, artist or era, it centers on either a rabid ferocity towards a goal or a celebration of reaching said goal. Strangely enough, the goal itself isn’t really important. Public Enemy found greatness in radical politics, Eminem found it in a racial divide and Method Man found it in simply getting high. Good can be found without a goal, great cannot.
Jay-Z’s from a crowd of rappers who came up playing both. In the late 90s, rap was gaining respect quickly while staying true to its perceived roots in crime and poverty. In a class of rappers who were often head and shoulders above previous generations, Jay-Z was hands down the best. An embodiment of the narcissistic attitude, teeming with both, he managed to draw inspiration from his life as a drug dealer, transforming it into commercial success.
With “The Blueprint 3,” Jay-Z joins in the trend of album sequels. He also follows the trend of the sequel losing some of what made the original great, but being far from a disaster. He’s coming up on 40 and “The Blueprint 3” marks his 11th album. It’s rare for any artist to make it this far into a career while maintaining the excellence and relevance expected from Hova.
Questions surrounded the recording of the album; everything from the location (Hawaii) to the lyrical content (He’s a married businessman, far removed from what brought him into the game), to the production (Kanye, Timbaland, No I.D. and Mr. Hudson were all present in studio). Two were answered definitively at the album’s release. It was recorded in Hawaii to prevent leaks and Kayne got lead production credit, but seven different producers contributed tracks. The lyrics leave something to be desired, but will depend heavily on the listener. Jay admits that he’s no longer what he used to be but still claims to be “the hardest out there.” He walks both sides, clinging to the mythology created by his early life but dropping attitude that can only come from a man in the back of a Rolls-Royce.
Unfortunately, the weakest track is the lead single, “Death of Auto Tune.” A rally cry to return to simpler production, Jay takes on the easiest target he can find. He’s not saying anything radical by calling out the over use of auto tune and he doesn’t even create a very entertaining song. Salvation comes on the second single, ‘We Run This Town.” A collaboration rather than a straight Jay-Z track, Rihanna and Kanye both prove they can hold their own. It’ll be the more successful song and deservedly so. Rihanna’s hook may be too long for a more traditional hip-hop fan, but it’s the best commercial rap song released this year. West and Jay both deliver on the verses, easily giving the highlight of the album.
The album also provides a showcase for some young talent. Kid Cudi and Drake, both who are finishing debut albums, are featured in the second half of the album. They both make excellent supporting appearances that boost otherwise mediocre tracks to standouts. The chemistry between the performers on both tracks is impressive and keep Jay relevant without trying too hard.
“The Blueprint 3” isn’t a classic. Instead, it’s a solid album that would be acceptable from anyone who wasn’t Jay-Z. It wasn’t meant to replicate the timeless “Blueprint,” but it’s a decent companion album. Jay-Z fans should buy the album, rap fans should download the singles and everyone else will probably hear it at parties.