Jay-Z – The (First) Blueprint Review

We’re going to try something new this week, kids. Normally here at 411, we’re all about the newest of the new releases, however, due to the good amount of response to my reviews of The Blueprint 2 and God’s Son, your friendly neighborhood webmaster has given me the green light for a one-time-only trek in the way back machine to 2001.

Those of you keeping score probably know that I thought Blueprint 2 was a little better than God’s Son. My reasoning was simple: the former had better production and more diverse subject matter.

The Original Blueprint was released on September 11, 2001. Despite the connection with the most tragic day in modern American history, Jay-Z managed to move over 500,000 units in its first week. This was mostly on the heels of the radio-friendly Izzo (H.O.V.A.), an infectious joint that managed to overflow with charm despite the self-serving theme.

Jigga brings in hip hop legends Q-Tip, Slick Rick and Biz Markie for the album’s other major crossover hit, Girls, Girls, Girls. They’re all relegated to hook-duty and voiceovers, but they still lend an appealing flavor. The track is almost playfully exploitive, as Jay-Z tries to convince us that he loves all his women and they love him back. There’s a “hidden track” remix, too, that’s a little more up tempo and works just as well.

Blueprint begins to sag by the fifth track, however. Jay-Z is capable of tight lyrics and wordplay, but neither trait is present on cuts like Jigga That N**** (“Gnarly dude /I puff Bob Marley dude/All day, like Rastafari’s do”) and Heart of the City (“I pack heat/like the oven door”).

Not surprisingly, Jay-Z spends a lot of time telling us how great he is and how much money he has. As long as the production is solid and Jigga isn’t too over the top, his ego trips aren’t unlistenable. Tracks like U Don’t Know prove that isn’t the case here. It’s four minutes of false humility and weak production. Jay-Z tries to get introspective on Song Cry, but just comes off like a whiny lil’ biiatch who gave his girl no attention and is then shocked when she leaves.

There are still some positives that deserve mentioning. Super-Producer Timbaland adds an edgy, electric hook to Hola Hovito as Jigga gets back on the lyrical track with a line comparing his haters to Sam Bowie and himself to “the third pick”. (NBA fans should get it.) He also finds time here to claim that no one comes closer to Biggie Smalls’ greatness than he does.

The infamous diss track Takeover is another good cut. It’s not as good as it’s reputation on the streets, though. The Kanye West production borrows from The Doors and the beat is fire. Jay-Z gets some quality shots in at Nas and Prodigy, but it’s about a minute too long and adds an unneeded verse at the end that goes nowhere and should have been dropped.

The runaway album highlight is the Eminem/Jay-Z collabo on Renegade. Slim Shady’s production can often sound dark and predictable, but not here. In opens with a quiet piano clinking in the background, then proceeds to layer drums, strings and a throbbing pulse. In fact, Eminem leaves Jigga in the dust. Jay-Z has trouble keeping up with Em’s flow here and is forced to play second fiddle on his own album while Em references everyone from Shakespeare to Jesus to Ice Cube.