Rating: 7 / Format: CD / Label: Roc Nation/Atlantic

So, here we are. Eight years after Jay-Z’s career-defining Blueprint, its second sequel and the year’s most anticipated hip-hop album arrives. There should be no argument that the original Blueprint – better produced than Reasonable Doubt, more memorable than American Gangster and The Black Album, and more relatable than In My Lifetime and the stupidly underrated Life and Times of S. Carter – is Sean Carter’s best ever full-length. And likewise, there should be no such anticipation that this will match the original Blueprint. Albums like that rarely come around more than once a career.

So what does it match? Well, there’s too many forgettable tracks for Blueprint 3 to stand up to Carter’s elite records. The already leaked ‘Venus vs Mars’ is fine, but Timbaland’s percussion feels wasted this low in the mix, and bar the woozy synth work-out on the second verse and a couple of funny couplets, I can’t imagine going back to the way I will ‘Star Is Born’. ‘Thank You’, where Jay sounds weirdly like ex-Demigod Louis Logic, is an extended intro at best, a poor man’s ‘Change Clothes’ at worst. And ‘Hate’ is too slow to be exciting and too stupid to carry any threat or even feel vaguely ominous (‘How much they hate it? / Very / Kiss girls like Katy Perry / I am never sprung / But I Springer / Jerry" – cheers Kanye).

For all the talk about this record having too many guest appearances (the original Blueprint had Beanie Sigel, Eminem and the old skool choir on ‘Girls Girls Girls’ and that’s about it), most of them work. The oft-maligned ‘Run This Town’ could do without the usual stupid Kanye verse, but his crunchy, blood-red production makes up for it; Rihanna wailing the hook like she’s dying and sounding brilliant. Alicia Keys is the perfect choice for ‘Empire State of Mind”s chorus, making it sound like a cross between American Gangster and a Sinatra film, and Young Jeezy adds the same sort of super-quotable bite as he did to ‘Love In This Club’ to ‘As Real as it Gets’. It’s only the features that were doomed from the start that don’t work: Kid Cudi adds nothing to ‘Already Home’, and let’s face it, no one wanted the dude from Empire of the Sun near this record – though he doesn’t sound that bad.

When all’s said and done, Blueprint 3 is exactly the good, but not great, or even particularly grand album that we all knew it would be. Most of the material here is very good, and the indie-crossover vibe that we feared when the Empire of the Sun appearance and guitar-heavy ‘D.O.A.’ were revealed doesn’t materialize. And even if it had, you couldn’t resent Jay for it – he’s just an aging rapper who’s gone to a few too many Grizzly Bear concerts and ended up misguided (and let’s face it, an appearance by them would be no worse than the high school ball pulp of closing track ‘Young Forever’ – the Pharrell-featuring ‘Ambitious’ would have been a far superior closer). Even with the missteps, you can’t help being behind Jay throughout Blueprint 3, and that’s why he’s been one of the best for so long.

Chris Campbell

Jay-Z homepage



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