A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

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Blueprint 3: Is we still on that?
By Aba Taylor

Nuuuuuuuuuuuuu Yaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuk….

If you happen to be living in the Big Apple, there’s no way to avoid it. You hear it walking down the street. You hear it when you enter a bodega. You hear it when you go into a store. You hear it in a cab. Hell, you even here it at 8:30am on the train. And not because you have a radio, cause you don’t. And not because you have an Ipod, cause, well, we (are of the few who) don’t. And not because the MTA has used its squandered money from the fare hike to install Bose speakers onto all A Trains, cause, well, they didn’t. No, you hear Alicia Keys crooning what could be the proverbial NYC anthem for the new millennium everywhere you go because it IS everywhere you go. Even outside of NYC my goddaughter chants “New York” every morning, before heading to pre-school…in Boston.

 

 

The “New York” mantra is so because through song it boastfully pays homage once again to the city that gave birth to the star known as Jay-Z, aka Jiggaman, aka HOV, aka HOVA. The simultaneously played out and timeless track “Empire State of Mind” may be the most memorable song off of Jay-Z’s latest album Blueprint 3; maybe because it is the one track that has gotten the most airtime of all the songs; maybe because it speaks to the 8 million (plus) of us living from Tribeca to Bed-Stuy; maybe because it is one of the catchiest tunes Blueprint 3 has to offer. 

While all the above may be true, the catchiness factor is an important one. Being Jay-Z’s 11th album, Blueprint 3 reaches, claims, and strives to prove how innovative the LP is, all while still appealing to the masses. Not an easy task, the album then must double as one that has never been done by any, but still one that can be swallowed and consumed by all. Therefore Blueprint 3 attempts to bed originality with marketability, including use a noteable lineup of collaborating usual suspects such as Kanye West, Timbaland, Pharrell, the Inkredibles and guest artists like Alicia Keys, Rhianna, Kid Cudi, and Young Jeezy.

Hence catchiness factor runs deep, where tracks like “Empire State of Mind”,  “Venus vs. Mars”, “Run This Town”, and “Hate” buttress the album as guaranteed winners that will keep the mainstream palate satiated. On the other hand, the song D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” tries hard to be innovative in dodging the abusive overkill of hip-pop sounds, however both the repetitive horns and Jigga’s off-key singing sound simply whiney and more deserving of a b-side placement on an Unplugged album.

On the other hand, Blueprint 3’s imminent blowhorn, loud as it is, is shaped by tracks like “Off That” which boast about HOV being on some future, next level ish, just as “Already” and Swizz Beatz’s predictable but always enjoyably produced “On to the Next One”. Similarly, “What We Talkin’ About” cites everyone and everything Jay-Z is “not” talking about. Rather than elaborate on his ice and Cristal, this Marcy project protégé prefers to swank about his personal relationship with Obama. Next…

Unfortunately, next-levelness apparently needs some days off too, as demonstrated by songs like “As Real As It Gets” which feels like an intermission, and the album’s most dissimissable track, “Reminder”.

Nevertheless redemption is once again found in tracks like “A Star is Born” where Jay-Z reminds us of his masterwork as a lyricist. While the musical temperament of “A Star is Born” is sleepy, it actually allows the listener to tune into the lyrics themselves, which are clever, inventive and subtly subversive. Ditto for “So Ambitious”, even though, producer Pharrell clearly was not on this track. HOVA’s flow on “Already Home” proves to be one of the best on the whole album. That, combined with the tightness of the beat, and harmonic waltzing between lyrics and sound, prove why Jay-Z has lasted all these years for a reason. Knowing this, he gladly reminds us of it in "Thank You”, expressing both humility and ego; a little show of gratitude while brushing off of shoulders. “Forever Young” nicely closes out the album, feeling nostalgic, warm and fuzzy while Jigga switches his flow to mirror some of the younger, current rappers out today.

What I see as truly the album’s greatest achievement has less to do with the musical microcosm of the album and more so the cultural macrocosm of its record-breaking effect in the music industry. As Jay-Z’s 11th album to reach number 1, thus beating his own record which he previously tied with Elvis, Blueprint 3 is an unmatched achievement for that alone.  And for that we can certainly say “Black Mozeltof, it’s a celebration bitches!” Kinda smells like audio repatriation, well, to me at least. So while even being futuristic can at times be passé, breaking new ground never, ever gets old.  
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