Jay-Z – The Blueprint
Released September 11th, 2001 on Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam
Produced by Shawn Carter, Damon Dash, Kareem “Biggs” Burke, Bink, Eminem, Just Blaze, Michael Jackson, The Trackmasters, Luis Resto, Kanye West, and Timbaland.
Peaked at #1 U.S., #30 U.K.
“Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” (#8 U.S., #21 U.K.)
“Girls, Girls, Girls” (#17 U.S., #11 U.K.)
“Jigga That Ni**a” (#66 U.S.)
Jay-Z had been a hot hip hop commodity ever since Reasonable Doubt but the mainstream world caught up with him in 1998 when “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” went to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Afterwards he would hit the top 20 a couple more times (with “Big Pimpin‘” and “I Just Wanna Love You (Give It 2 Me)“) and collect the scorn of a bunch of rappers who thought he was just some dancing commercial pop artist. The three biggest artists to diss him were Nas, Prodigy, and Jadakiss. Jadakiss is whatever, then and now. Nas and Prodigy were a bigger deal – respected hip hop elders who had (along with the Wu, of course) defined grimy, gritty rap in the mid-1990s. Hova could have just shrugged it off and coasted along the commercial path he was on. Lord knows he was making decent money in those days, but the guy’s always been a business, man. What he needed was to shake up the game entirely, to make those old men look like old men and to establish himself as a real mover and shaker in the game – not just a Jadakiss, in other words. To this end he brought in a couple of guys who had done a bit of production work for him in the past, and also had produced a large amount of Harlem World’s The Movement. The first, Just Blaze, had also done five songs on Jay’s 2000 album The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. The second, whose production track record was spotty and included deep cuts on Goodie Mob, Lil’ Kim, and Dead Prez records, was Kanye West.
Sampling had fallen out of favour in the end of the Nineties; it had become too expensive and/or time-consuming to clear every sample and so hip hop production had moved into keyboards and exotic rhythm patterns a la Timbaland. Kanye and Just Blaze said fuck that – sampling is hip hop – and proceeded to cut up old soul records, speed them up, and layer them over booming 808-heavy drums. That chipmunk soul sound is now a trope, of course, but only because they blazed this album up as a reminder of the power of sampling and rap. The first time “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” showed up on my television screen I was hooked, and I was a confirmed rockist for my first 19 years. Without knowing it at the time, Kanye West had gotten his claws in me for the first time. People scrambled afterward to try to replicate or spin the sound; synths in hip hop would tumble back out for the decade and it wasn’t really until Tyler and OF came along in the late 00s that the pendulum began to swing back again. The general audience today likes to hate on Ye because he does a lot of things to hate on and they just think of him as some dipshit celebrity who stumbled his way into fame. They never want to listen when you try to tell them he changed hip hop like four times now, minimum. The first was on The Blueprint, when he made the, uh, blueprint for major hip hop albums for years afterwards. Jay did his part too, of course – that effortless, shrug-and-brag flow that was on the verge of not even being a flow at all at times was a huge influence on any number of young ones who would go on to try their hands at rapping. He also got back at Nas and Prodigy big time, dissing both mercilessly on “Takeover” (another Ye production, sampling “Five To One” and interpolating Bowie’s “Fame”) and setting the standard for diss tracks that has only very rarely been eclipsed.
The album would be, for some, Jay’s peak (others, like me, point to The Black Album, his supposed ‘retirement album.’) By the end of the decade he would mostly be resting on his laurels, and despite a couple of albums that remind everyone of his poise and power (Watch The Throne, 4:44) he’s mostly been on autopilot counting his money and making more of it. A lot more of it. More than that crabby old bastard Nasir ever made, at any rate.