Friday, February 5, 2010

Jay-Z - The Blueprint

I'm still just poking and prodding with rap, and I decided a good next step would be what might be the most acclaimed hip hop album of the last decade. It was released way back on 9/11, the same day when the towers fell. I don't know what it means that one of New York's most prominent rappers released possibly his best album on the same day of the city's worst tragedy, but there's definitely something interesting about it. Unlike using the events of that day to make political points though, The Blueprint still feels relevant nine years later. It helped lead a shift back towards using samples in rap beats, as Jay-Z and the various producers on the album (including Kanye West before he launched his own career) took a lot of 70s R&B and soul, and even a bit of The Doors, and made it sound new, with pretty much every track having its own sound yet a consistent feel with a heavy dose of bass. Some of the vocal samples are pitch-changed, and they're all used to add depth to the sound, and the album never sounds boring. I think Jay-Z is a talented lyricist and a pretty good rapper, but the star of the record for me is definitely the music.

I still remember a couple of the album's singles from back when they were playing on MTV, though they're honestly among my least favorite songs. They're not bad, and "Girls, Girls, Girls" redeems itself a bit with the second part crammed onto the end of the twelve minute final track, but most of the other songs just seem to have more heart and more interesting moments. The content of the album is heavily autobiographical as would probably be expected, and also a bit defensive, as he was getting some backlash at the time for being presumptuous about his place in the scene, although he's still very confident in his own greatness. To be honest though, I think the single best verse on the album belongs to Eminem, who collaborates on the track "Renegade" which is apparently a remake of one they did earlier. It's overall an extremely good song, with a beat that's unique to the album and some extraordinary lyrics from both rappers. "Takeover" is another one that sounds a bit different from the rest, and features some pretty brutal disses including two bars at the end that pretty brilliantly wave aside just about everyone. There's plenty of other good songs on the album, and there's not really a point in naming them because it's just such a consistently high quality achievement.

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