It’s 7PM. Due to birthday celebrations all weekend, I somehow missed the biggest (who cares?) music event of the week – the leak of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3. Of course, now I find myself at 7PM on my birthday with no celebrating left to do, and a copy of the aforementioned album. Wanting to get my disappointment out of the way early, as has been the case with pretty much every Jay release post-Black Album, there is only one solution: Liveblog!
What We Talkin’ About
Featuring that guy from Empire of the Sun. Spacey aaaaah in the background. Synths. Jay is mad that we whine about how all he talks about is crack. It’s not that he talks about crack. It’s that he talks about having spoken about crack. “I don’t run rap no more, I run the map.” Well, the first clause of that sentence is certainly true. Writes off his mistreatment of Jaz-O with “he didn’t sign his contract.” I don’t know if Jay-Z has ever been this defensive before…he’s not on the attack; he’s not taking down his haters; he’s just complaining about them. Also, while I’m all about Jay-Z’s love for Grizzly Bear, pushing rap’s boundaries with the help of indie could be done with worthier people than these guys. Chorus: “Who cares what they say?” Evidently, you.
There’s something different about his voice on this album so far. He’s on autopilot, but it’s more than that. His flow and his tone are off by about 10 degrees…like someone doing a good imitation of Jay-Z. Cramming too many syllables into lines a la Kweli “we tip thewaiterahundreddollars and keep the ice cold tonight.” The beat struts and the horns trumpet but they all sound a bit tinny and out of tune.
The sample is great. I’ll give it that. But…it’s Jay-Z. Being a cranky old man. And officially making himself irrelevant. AutoTune is alive and well and climbing the charts. “I’m a multi-millionaire / How is it I’m still the hardest n**** here?” Leaving aside the fact that Jay hasn’t built his reputation on being hard since…Reasonable Doubt or so, and the fact that no one is more responsible for rap’s crossover into pop music over the past decade than Mr. Carter…this is a pretty good track. Not great, but it’ll do. Let’s now appreciate the irony of the blatant application of pitch-correction on the next track…
Run This Town (feat. Rihanna & Kanye West)
Rihanna smoulders and shines, and the song sounds promising until Jay’s laboured entry with the awkward WE ARE yeah I said it WE ARE rhyme scheme. Not that he was ever Eminem, but there was a time when there was some creativity present in his flows. The appeal of Jay-Z has always been his apparent effortlessness, so I’m not sure what to make of this facsimile huffing and puffing on the track, TRYING. Thank god for Rihanna, and this martial beat. Can she release a solo version of this? When do we get the inevitable remixes? Kanye murking Jay on a track is…not something I ever really wanted to hear. Especially latter-day Kanye.
Empire State of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys)
Jingle Bells beat? Chiming pianos with panning popping Neptunes-y drums. The chorus is unexpectedly epic. Not sure if this is what the song needed…it makes it feel sort of easy listening. Alicia Keys gets all inspirational on us. Jay-Z listlessly lists off things and places from NYC that he loves, but unexpectedly gains some bite and pathos in the last verse when he stops talking about things and starts talking about the people who live it…celebrities and nobodies, wannabe models and students and hustlers, all of them searching for something bigger. “The city never sleeps / Better slip you an Ambien.” The chorus works this time. Picking up after a weak start to the album, but I’m not sure exactly what this track heralds. It’s a strange little beast.
Real as It Gets (feat. Young Jeezy)
ALLOW ME TO REINTRODUCE MYSELF, says Jeezy at the beginning (at the same time reintroduce my wealth). On The Black Album this was a statement of purpose…here it’s yet another guest appearance being wasted to prop up Jay’s self-mythologizing. The beats on BP3 all seem universally midtempo, a touch too epic and overly orchestrated. Critics say he’s “Money Ca$h Hoes”…I’m from the hood stupid what type of facts are those? is a valid defense of Jay’s aesthetic, but only if he can make moneycashhoes consistently interesting. He brags that the constantly moving Statute of Limitations allows him to tell us more and more about his criminal exploits past, but this feels like floating on past glories. He’s clearly not grinding anymore – he says as much – so what type of cred does he stand to gain by telling us about ten year old crimes.
On to the Next One
A Milli-esque beat, with spacey blippy noises. Not bad, but not half as innovative as it wants to think it is. “Want my old shit / buy my old album.” Yeah. I just might. You can’t posit yourself as the champion of progressivism in rap due to your propensity to wear suits and willingness to hire young up and comers in production like Kanye and the Neptunes if you’ve used the same stable of producers for your past four albums and just spent an entire track blasting people for experimenting with melody. He compares himself to the Jonas Brothers in order to burnish his manliness credentials. Yeah, Jay. You use your cojones and they’re virgins. They’re also 16 year old Christians. How many months before this reference is hopelessly dated? “They didn’t drop me, I dropped the label.” Ok. On to the next one on to the next one on to the next one on to the next one.
Off That (feat. Drake)
To be fair, this certainly is sonically progressive. Timbaland merges his weird eastern beats with a whole bunch of cowbell and every other gimmick he’s ever had and brews them up in a cauldron. Drake is on the chorus for no discernible reason. His characterless singing propels the momentum along, but Jay-Z spends an entire verse rapping in what sounds like the “secret language” my sisters and I used when we were kids.
A Star is Born (feat. J. Cole)
Jay reminds us that he has been around longer than pretty much all rappers popular today, and tells us that he has passed the torch to each of them in turn. As if he didn’t try to take down 50 on BP2 when dude was still doing mixtapes. As if he didn’t take down NaS and Mobb Deep on The Takeover. Elder statesman is a strange look for any rapper, let alone Jay-Z. He then introduces J Cole, who is presumably supposed to be the next Star to be born. If only his verse was remotely memorable. “Dreams of being behind the Wheel/Will like Jada” is funny, I guess. Gloopy production…
Venus vs. Mars
The beat whines and torques as nice jazz guitar licks dance overtop. I don’t think Jay’s done a successful “track for the ladies” since BP2 when he and B got serious. If this is supposed to be about her, it’s oddly filthy. Either way, this is sort of uncomfortable. Like listening to your dad have phone sex. “that was before the ponzi scheme / shorty just made off.” Excruciating.
Already Home (feat. Kid Cudi)
Second track to quote the Black Album. Either love me or leave me alone. The production is incredible here. Kanye at his Late Registration heights. The horns are finally warm and well tuned and sound LIVE. Half-man Half-mammal is hilariously awful, but besides that, Jay-Z stays out of the way of the beat, and lets it carry him, and for once, that’s welcome.
Hate (feat. Kanye West)
I am never sprung but i Springer / Jerry. Jay and Kanye both attempt to do Wayne’s free association and forced scansion trick and just end up sounding awkward. “I need you to love me / I sway-er” Ugh. This is just sort of sad. Best left on a studio outtake reel.
“All rhymers with Alzheimer’s line up please.” Really, Sean? That’s the best reference to make for a rapper who’s pushing 40? Half of this album is spent loving his haters, reminding us that he was once great and trying to firmly place Jay in the pantheon of rap gods. Insecure aging rapper-turnt-business-exec? I don’t even know if I have it in me to finish listening to this.
So Ambitious (feat. Pharrell)
“I’m so ambitious / I might hit two sisters.” Sights are lower these days. At this point I fell asleep.
Let’s not talk about this, shall we?