People seem to have a problem with criticising Jay Z. This is likely due to the fact that the man is a hip hop legend and has done incredibly well for himself, what with over 26 million records sold in the US alone, and 10 studio albums before this one, every one going platinum. He has also proven himself a diligent businessman, hitting #7 on last years Forbe’s top 100 richest celebrities, co-owning an nba team and becoming (as well as retiring from) CEO of Def Jam Records.
But when you write a review on an album, none of this is supposed to matter. A review should be a completely unbiased account of the music on the disc, and these sorts of things should not have any bearing whatsoever on the verdict of a review. So now that I’ve given Jay Z credit where credit is due, let me move on to tell you about his latest effort, The Blueprint III.
Rather than give more background on the life and times of Jay Z, I’m just going to get right into it. This album did not, in any way shape or form, live up to my expectations. And my expectations were not particularly high, considering the quality of his last two albums.
But im going to start with the good, rather than turn this into a Jay Z bashing post. The majority of the beats on this album are nothing short of unbelievable. When the contributors to your album are some of the best the industry has to offer, you expect a certain level of quality, but even that expectation is surpassed. “D.O.A (Death To Autotune)” is hands down one of the craziest beats produced in a good while, but Swizz Beatz delivers in a serious fashion with “On to the Next One”, as does Timbaland with “Venus vs. Mars”. There are others that are quite catchy, but these three take the top medals.
The other highlight of this album is some of the standout performances from the featured artists. “Run This Town” is my favourite song on the cd (which is surprising, as it is one of the only two singles on the radio), but its no thanks to Jay Z. Rihanna’s chorus is perfect, and gets your head bumping almost immediately. Her voice is haunting, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing a better job with the beat she was supplied. She makes the song what it is (and I’m not a huge Rihanna fan). Kanye West’s verse on this track is arguably the best verse on the whole CD. (“This the fast life, we are on a crash course, what you think I rap for, to push a f**cking Rav 4?”) He betters anything Jay Z has to offer, but we will get back to that in a minute. Drake’s performance on “Off That” is decent, but doesn’t showcase his mindboggling lyrical skills in the least. Young Jeezy, Kid Cudi and Pharrell also feature (as well as others that dont even need to be mentioned), but their contributions were not indicative of what they’ve proven they can do. Still, they provided a refreshing alternative to Jay Z himself.
And that, my friends, is the problem with this album. Jay Z. The majority of his verses are just gibberish, and lack the captivating story-telling style that he’s become famous for. His flow is respectable in a couple of songs, sometimes even enjoyable. His defining moment is on Swizz Beatz’ “On to the Next One”, but even then, the lyrical prowess that we have come to expect from Jay is non-existant, therefore pushing me to the conclusion that it might actually be extinct. “Venus vs Mars” is another highlight, but I use the term “highlight” loosely. its more like a “midlight”. The rest of his verses on the album are forgettable at best, often times annoying.
But nothing is more annoying than the bragadocious, egotistical rants that congest the Blueprint III. Jay Z’s boisterous attitude towards himself and his achievements is the demise of this album. The man rants on and on about how much he’s done, and how much he’s made, and how he’s now friends with the president. Essentially, he’s so busy rapping about how real he is, and how much better he is than everyone else, that he fails to realize that him and his style are outdated. He makes it blatantly obvious that he thinks he’s gods gift to hip hop, and he has returned (yet again, the goddamn man won’t die he’s like a retirement zombie) to save hip hop, as it is currently dead without him. Get a clue. Lil Wayne gave the best rebuttal, saying “I don’t like what he’s saying about how he had to come back because hip hop’s dead and we need him… What the f**k do you mean? If anything it’s reborn, so he’s probably having a problem with that. You left on a good note, and all of the artists were saying, ‘Yo, this is Jay’s house. He’s the best.’ Now he comes back and still thinks it’s his house… It’s not your house anymore, and I’m better than you”.
The whole album makes Jay Z sound like that stereotypical old, senile grandpa that barks at his grandkids about “When he was young, he did this and this and that and blah blah blah”. Like, we get it already. Haven’t you heard the saying “let your accomplishments speak for you”? You dont see Bill Gates running up to every microphone he sees and desperately explaining what he’s done and how much money he has….if you want to hang with the distinguished folk of the world (and we all know Jay Z does), then act like one of them, not one of the people you returned to “save hip hop from”! It seems that ever since he became buddy buddy with Obama, he’s started to act like the arrogant younger kid that no one likes thats gained a sense of importance by hanging out with the older kids in the schoolyard. Get over yourself.
Conveniently enough, Jay Z has even made concluding this review mighty easy, by including the last song on the album, called “Young Forever”. It is a remake of Alphaville’s “Forever Young” (you know, the one from Napoleon Dynamite), and it is hilariously fitting, as the chorus repeats over and over “I want to be, forever young”. This is the epitome of Jay Z’s mindset. He is the Peter Pan of the hip hop world, never wanting to grow up and desperately holding on to all his past experiences and achievements. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, there is something wrong with subjecting us to listen to him rant on and on about it, trying everything he can to prove he is still relevant. The music on the album, as well as the guest appearances prove it be worth a listen, but not a buy. My verdict? Pirate Bay, not Itunes.