Lecturing the audience in his usual dramatic manner, KRS-One stated in the Miramax documentary “Rhyme & Reason,” that “Between ’75 and ’85, you had to have ‘juice,’ you had to have political power in the culture of hip-hop to grab the mic; to step out onto the cardboard and breakdance; or even do a [graffiti] piece, you had to be known in the community.”
Hip-hop has always been about gaining and maintaining clout, treating it as the world’s most important commodity. Stuffing their three-minute allegories with braggadocio and latent self-fulfilling prophecies, rappers often live in fantasylands that remain unattainable in comparison to the lifestyles they were reared in, all ultimately in pursuit of respect from the industry, radio, fans and most importantly, the streets.
Possessing an uncanny skill to deliver lyrics with such precision and confidence that it breeds jealousy in the hearts of other MCs, Jay-Z has manifested his career into the story of a master salesman who has learned the art of giving the customers what they want.
After five successful albums in five short years — an unheard-of statistic in the hip-hop industry — the favorite son of the Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Marcy City Housing Projects has tossed out the over-the-top wordplay in his 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt, while also avoiding the heavy eighties rock samples featured in 1998’s In My Lifetime Vol. 1 to produce a soulful effort that is the most complete album of his short, yet stellar career.
The Blueprint’s cover illustrates Jay-Z as Park Avenue’s newest hustler — perched on top of an executive style desk, smoking a cigar; a man who has turned his wit and wisdom into dollar signs and clout, invoking intrigue into a man considered one of the greatest hip-hop lyricists in history.
With the same conviction he uses to claim that he’s one of the world’s great street hustlers, Jay-Z convinces even his detractors that he is one of the genre’s greatest lyricists.
The Notorious B.I.G. embodied the thug that could ride a beat as well as he could distribute illegal pharmaceuticals; Nas laced beats with delicately constructed hyperbole that has yet to be matched; but nobody has yet to match the storytelling abilities of the man known to the government as Shawn Carter.
He has collected clout in the same manner that a young baseball fanatic does Topps and Donruss. Tight-roping the fine line between ashy and classy, Jay-Z paints a picturesque landscape via carefully crafted rhymes reflecting his contradictory world, a world somewhere between the streets and the boardroom. After an appearance with the “King of Pop” himself at Nassau Coliseum this summer, Jay-Z proved that he is more than a rapper; he is an enigma.
Exemplified in the Just Blaze-produced track “U Don’t Know,” Jay-Z makes his case for the ultimate hustler in the rap game. “I sell ice in the winter/ I sell fire in hell/ I am a hustler, baby, I sell water to a well/ I was born to get cake, move on and switch states/ Cop the coupe with the roof gone and switch plates/ Was born to dictate, never follow orders,” the lyrics ride over the Bobby Byrd sample.
Jay-Z’s fifth album wouldn’t be complete without a track to address his current beef with some of hip-hop’s elite. Deftly delivered shots at Queensbridge natives Prodigy and Nas produces one of the most clever, as well as harsh, battle rhymes of all time, showing that when needed, Jay-Z is not afraid to throw around his weight. “Went from Nasty Nas to Esco’s trash/ Had a spark when you started, but now your just garbage/ Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all/ To your bodyguard’s ‘Oochie Wally’ verse is better than yours,” Jay-Z raps as he attempts to prove his arrogance is warranted and his mincing of Nas’ self-esteem is justified.
As for the mandatory party track, a feature celebrated on all of Jay-Z’s past albums, The Blueprint more than delivers. The Jackson 5-sampled lead single “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” found itself infiltrating radio waves early in the summer, building the tremendous hype for the album. The Timbaland-produced “Hola’ Hovito” leaves Jay-Z’s unique delivery bouncing over synthesizers and wah-wah guitars, proving that he and the Virginia-based producer continue to be a killer combination.
Heavy on little-known 70’s samples, first-class producers and evidence of his tremendous clout, The Blueprint lays out the plan for a master career in the hip-hop game. Spewing wit and wisdom from every lyric, Jay-Z manages to prove that he can take center stage, appeal to the streets as well as the radio, and produce a soon-to-be-legendary greatest hip-hop album in one fell swoop. There certainly is a reason why his alias is Jay-Hova.