Jay-Z draws up ‘Blueprint’

091609_arts_jayzMost rappers wouldn’t dare criticize the industry that supports their lavish lifestyles, but then again, most rappers aren’t married to Beyoncé, aren’t almost 40 years old and can’t brag about their 10 No. 1 albums. Jay-Z’s ninth solo release, The Blueprint 3, hit stores on Sept. 8, a few days shy of the eighth anniversary of the release of his sixth album, The Blueprint. The new work marks yet another change in the artist’s style, creating a new “blueprint” by which other, lesser emcees will be sure to follow.

In moving away from the hard-hitting rhymes that fans came to love on the first Blueprint, Jay-Z here raps to a sound that is more befitting to the times. The artist still delivers brilliant verses and evocative stories that interest both young and old, but The Blueprint 3 gives audiences a taste of hip-hop’s future with an innovative use of sampled music and effortless lines.

The album’s overriding point stems from Jay-Z’s critical dissertation of his contemporaries on the hyper-commercialization of hip-hop. The album embodies what hip-hop should be. Jay-Z’s single, “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune),” cuts deep into emcees who have made a living though their exploitation of computer software programs. Though the message is harsh, the song serves as a wakeup call for every rapper who has ever slaved for hours over a Macbook Pro and a mixing board, frantically trying to create the next big thing. Jay-Z declares that hip-hop is in a state of disarray, evident by the fact that a great single needs no more than a trite computer beat with a mass-appeal dance routine.

Critics are coming down hard on Jay-Z’s stance on the use of Auto-Tune, claiming that the tool has helped redirect the path of hip-hop. But it is clear that Jay-Z’s message is not directed at everyone: Kanye West, an Auto-Tune genius, appears on the album twice. T-Pain, Lil Wayne and Kanye are all guilty followers, but every one of them uses it in conjunction with their musical prowess. Jay-Z is making a statement to rappers who hide behind the tool because they lack real talent, not to those who use the tool to enhance what they already have. In “D.O.A.,” Jay-Z says, “Get back to rap you T-Paining too much,” which is a clear command to those rappers who use the voice-altering equipment that brought T-Pain fame to stop and do what they do best – rap.

With Jay-Z at the top of the field, what he says goes, and critics should take notice of the performer’s analysis of the industry.

The rapper not only takes the time to criticize the work of others, but also praises himself for his own accomplishments. In his song, “Reminder,” Jay-Z claims his success is paralleled by none in the rap game, stating, “Only thing you can identify with is losing/ 10 No. 1 albums in a row,/ who better than me?/ Only the Beatles, nobody ahead of me,/ I crush Elvis with his blue suede shoes.” Jay-Z has always been a pioneer in the hip-hop industry, claiming the title of one of the first rappers to release his own clothing line and head a record label.

When you are a great emcee like Jay-Z, audiences will always have unrealistic expectations for your work. Good simply is not good enough. Each song must deliver and stand on its own as a hip-hop classic, and if it doesn’t, fans and critics will scream failure. Attaching “Blueprint” to the album name only further creates anticipation. So even though a handful of critics have spoken out against it, The Blueprint 3 shows Jay-Z’s growth and, more importantly, ambition. It’s not ground-breaking material like the first Blueprint or as concise and moving as the Black Album, but it shows that Jay-Z has heart and remains at the forefront of hip-hop innovation. Even in the midst of an automated industry, Jay-Z’s latest album will definitely raise your spirits and make you believe that hip-hop is living and well.