The Blueprint 3 is perhaps the only album in the series that takes its title literally. That’s probably why it isn’t much good. The first Blueprint took its title more metaphorically, and was everything you’ve heard it was: an absolute classic. The second Blueprint is the aural equivalent of, say, The Transporter--just plain fun in a self-consciously low-quality way. (I defy you to tell me “The Watcher 2”, “Guns & Roses” or “The Bounce” aren’t good songs.)
The Blueprint 3’s organizing idea is that it really is a blueprint for the rappers who are coming up, and so Jay-Z takes it upon himself to advise them exactly what they should be doing. (“Death of Autotune” features bad advice with a bluesy beat; “Off That”, besides the boring recitation of things owned and deeds done, has the fascinating detail that Jay-Z owns cashmere sweatpants and believes you, too, want to own cashmere sweatpants. Cashmere sweatpants seems to be the fashion version of a fancy restaurant serving mac-and-cheese, a sort of deliciously “subversive” gesture that really just shows highbrow’s anxiety about lowbrow taste’s dominance. Anyway, like the mac-n-cheese, cashmere sweatpants seems to miss the point entirely. “Thank You” features a weird riff that should have been controversial in which Jay compares unnamed incompetents at rap to 9/11.)
It’s hard to call Blueprint 3 a failure, exactly, but it’s not good either. What made the first Blueprint great was its focus: focus on a specific sound (specifically sampled soul hooks) and focus from Jay-Z himself, who only allowed one guest rapper on the album (Eminem, who is famously accused of “murdering Jay-Z on his own shit”—I’ve always disagreed with this characterization, because while Eminem’s verse is amazing, Jay’s is also very good, and features the great line, “I drove by the fork in the road/and went straight.”). The second Blueprint’s commitment was to having fun, and while that’s not a formula of greatness, it is a formula for entertainment, at the very least. Blueprint 3’s ambitions are all over the place, but it seems to be mostly a confused bid for attention: attention now and attention later.
Attention later is filled by “Empire State of Mind,” which may yet displace “New York State of Mind” as the signature song about Gotham. (Question: why do more people like songs proclaiming New York’s greatness than the city itself?) Attention now is Jay-Z inviting every up-and-coming guest rapper to his album (yup, there’s Drake! There’s J.Cole! There’s Kid Cudi! Do you think B.o.B was pissed off he didn’t get an invite?), with a similar vibe as that older dude that wants to prove he’s cool. Meanwhile, “Young Forever” seems like his wink-and-a-nod towards his white audience (and he almost accidentally ends up with a good song.)
It seems almost accidental that the album resulted in a bunch of good songs, but it did, and that’s pretty awesome. In fact, I’d argue the best songs from the album stand up with many of the other great songs in his catalog. If anything, it confirms some things we’ve been thinking about mass media for a while: namely, the album is dead and all that. We went in because of the name on the album, and we’ll be thinking of a few of the songs on the way out.
(By the way, I thought this Jay-Z-and-Beyonce performance at Coachella was simply awesome. Thanks YouTube!