By Joel Francis
“The Blueprint 3” is not just the third installment in Jay-Z’s “Blueprint” saga. It’s also the third album since Jay “retired” in 2004. “The Blueprint 3” manages to split the differences in both of these lineages. It falls between the pared-down masterpiece of the first “Blueprint” and its guest- and lard-laden sequel. Similarly, it splits the difference between Hova’s uninspired comeback “Kingdom Come” and “American Gangster”’s return to form.
Just because “Blueprint 3” isn’t as bland and unfocused as “Kingdom Come” and “Blueprint 2,” doesn’t mean it’s a triumph. The album gets off to a strong start with “What We Talkin’ About,” which continues the hard feel of “American Gangster.”
No ID supplied an excellent track for “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” the lead single. “Run this Town,” Jay’s collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West is another in a long line of classic summer singles. “Empire State of Mind,” Jay’s duet with Alicia Keys, completes the album’s early run through its three consecutive singles. The strongest song on the album, the town fathers can immediately add it to the overflowing Big Apple hymnal.
“Hate,” a chorus-less mic battle between Jay and West, has fire in the belly. Young Jeezy nicks part of “Public Service Announcement” for his opening verse in “Real As It Gets.” Jay responds with one of his most convicted performances on the album.
Remove the EP’s worth of solid cuts, though, and Jay’s post-retirement secret emerges: he’s having problem finding new things to say. There’s nothing as fun and clever as “Brooklyn Go Hard,” his contribution to this year’s “Notorious” soundtrack. That song contains one of the best verses in Jay’s cannon:
“I father, I Brooklyn Dodger them,
I Jack, I Rob, I sin,
Ah man, I’m Jackie Robinson
‘Cept when I run base, I dodge the pen,
Lucky me, Luckily they didn’t get me,
Now when I bring the Nets I’m the black Branch Ricky,
From Brooklyn corners, burnin’ branches of sticky.”
Instead, Jay drops a dated Mac/PC comparison and gives us this in “Venus vs. Mars:”
“Shorty like Pepsi, me I’m the coke man,
Body like a coke bottle, I crush it like a Coke can,
Started at the window, then the bedroom wall,
the Ying to my Yang, I skeet skeet off,
I hits it from the back, Shorty like the front,
the Bonnie to my Clyde,
both riding shotgun,
both covered in gold like C3PO,
James and Florida Evans let the good times roll.”
Using this strained metaphor, Jay is able to reference his past as a drug dealer (now nearly 15 years ago), brag about his sexual prowess and remind everyone about his bank roll. Toss in a reference to his estranged father, and this is basically every Jay-cliché in one verse.
There aren’t many points on “Blueprint 3” as hollow as this, but there are enough that it can’t be excused as an isolated incident. Album closing “Young Forever” is intended as an uplifting anthem, but is cornier than an all-occasion greeting card that suffers from the P. Diddy school of sampling. Kanye West gets the production credit here, but all he does here is cue Alphaville’s “Forever Young” – best known for its prominence in the film “Napoleon Dynamite” – and let Jay karaoke.
Despite surrounding himself with A-list producers and guests, Jay lacks much of the fire and creativity that fueled masterpieces like the original “Blueprint.” After three installments, it’s clear Jay needs to go back to the drawing board.