The Las Album’s Leftovers

It has been eight years since Jay-Z’s The Blueprint set the standard for innovative, accessible and soulful hip hop. With his third installment of the Blueprint series set to release on September 11, 2009, Jay-Z once again attempts to further his iconic status as one of the most prolific and hardworking rappers in the industry.

After 13 years in the music business, Jay-Z understands the art of reinvention. On The Blueprint 3, he enlists Kanye West and Timbaland to produce a majority of the tracks. Additionally, these tracks feature artists like Rihanna, Alicia Keys and Drake.

The first two singles “D.O.A.” and “Run This Town” have been playing non-stop for about two months now, much to the delight of Jay-Z’s fans. Both tracks presented a preview to the album, and prepared audiences for a worthy addition to the Blueprint series. In many ways, Jay-Z delivered exactly what listeners expected, though not without a few disappointments.

On the opening track, “What We Talkin’ About,” listeners are immediately lured in by forceful synthesizers and aggressive rapping. Jay-Z declares: “I don’t run rap no more/ I run the map,” which followers of his career cannot help but agree with. The next track, “Thank You,” tastefully shifts gears into a more upbeat and loose feel. This track is also unique in the sense that audiences get a glimpse of Jay-Z’s half-hearted humility, which is all listeners can expect to get from the extremely sucessful artist.

A favorite song on the album, “Empire State of Mind” depicts New York City as the place where dreams are made and ultimately realized or unfulfilled. Jay-Z gives an insightful history lesson while Alicia Keys belts out a bittersweet chorus that is as inspirational as the Manhattan skyline.

At this point the album slowly loses momentum as Timbaland’s influence begins to dominate the album. By the time the tenth track “Venus Vs. Mars” begins, listening becomes tedious and the feeling only intensifies. The album fails to repeat the highs of the first half, and waiting for a return to the original sound of the album only leads to disappointment. There are some catchy hooks on tracks like “On to the Next One” and “Already Home” but they quickly get repetitive and ultimately feel hollow.

The closing ballad “Forever Young” plays on nostalgia with a dreamy ambience as Jay-Z steps outside his usual “living large” routine to remind us that life is only temporary. He depicts a future, long after his death, where he is survived by word of mouth in barbershops and by loyal fans. Jay-Z knows that he has secured his spot as a musical legend and finds fulfillment in the empire he’s created.

While Jay-Z announces the death of auto tune, he falls short of offering a substitute. He’s grown too comfortable with relying on the signature production styles of Kanye and Timbaland that has dominated the radio for years now. The album does a better job of capturing the spirit of today’s hip hop then living up to its promise of a new era of mainstream music. It’s simply Jay-Z updated for 2009, nothing more and nothing less.