First and for most, let's just get one thing out of the way: Sorry, Game. Sorry, T-Pain. Jay-Z is not too old to put out records. He's not a basketball player; he's a rapper. And when you factor in all he's accomplished outside the studio as well as in, he's arguably the most successful one of all time.
With The Blueprint 3, his 11th studio album, Jay recreates and re-masters the same swagger and bravado we've been hearing for the past 13 years. He knows what his listeners want, and he's still fully capable of giving it to them.
At this point in his career, Hov can afford to work with whomever he chooses, and as you'd expect, the majority of the production is handled by some of the best in the game. Kanye West and No I.D. collaborate on four of the album's 15 tracks, including the single "Run This Town." West handles three other songs himself. Timbaland, two. Swizz Beats and The Neptunes, one each.
But lesser-known producer Al Shux lays it down on one of the albums finest cuts, "Empire State of Mind." Here Jay tips his hat to himself and the Big Apple, taking us from the streets of Brooklyn to courtside at MadisonSquareGarden and back again. A booming chorus from Alicia Keyes pushes the song over the top. Her voice flies forth with the last syllable of each verse still ringing in your ears. With the masterful production of Al Shux, who aggrandizes the baseline and piano chords when Keyes sings, it’s a thing of beauty.
Another stirring cut is the Kanye-produced "Young Forever," which samples Alphaville's classic "Forever Young." On it Jay-Z glorifies the here and now. His love of life is genuine and you can't help but be moved by the chorus. The song ends with the refrain, "Do you really want to live forever, forever, forever young?" And you know, without a reasonable doubt, that that's exactly what Jay wants, and he's managed to convince you that he just might be able to.
He certainly seems willing to embrace his younger peers too. Songs feature newcomers Drake and Kid Cudi. "Off That," with Drake, is a thumping party track, produced by Timbo. Kid Cudi sings the hook on "Already Home," as Jay reaffirms that he doesn’t plan to vacate the throne any time soon. The Cudi feature is symbolic. It represents Jay's acceptance and approval of the next generation of rappers, which will undoubtedly extend his own career.
He's willing as well to share his accolades with many of his fellow, veteran emcees. He had words of praise for more than twenty of them on "A Star Is Born." Over two verses, he expresses his admiration for Nas, Eminem, Outkast and even Ja Rule. He, of course, reserves an entire verse and the majority of the love for himself. "But I'm the blueprint / I'm like a map for 'em / I dropped another classic / Make Puff pass it." He just couldn't resist.
If there is one thing to harp on about the album, it is that it's musically inconsistent. The songs vary a great deal from one to next. This, of course, is preferable to an album with one generic sound, but still The Blueprint 3 doesn't flow as nicely as some of Jay's previous work. "Venus vs. Mars" and "Hate," two of the more experimental tracks, are both excellent, but they don't really fit anywhere. "Death Of Auto-Tune," the album's much-talked-about first single, it sort of an entity all its own.
However, this is really a minor issue. A few of the tracks -"So Ambitious" and "Reminder"- are fairly average moments, but hoping for greatness 15 out of 15 times is unrealistic. The album itself is great, and that's more than enough. It's amazing to think 13 years in, Jay-Z has still somehow managed to boost his already-staggering resumé.