The Blueprint

The Blueprint

100 Best Albums There’s a 60 Minutes segment from 2002—a year after The Blueprint was released to universal acclaim—in which JAY-Z is asked what it means to “flow.” His answer is vague, and, for an artist so blindingly confident, a little muted: You sense he wants to be deferential to the opportunity, to embody the paragon he’d become, but that he also wants to represent hip-hop to mainstream America in a way that scans as respectful and considered—to paint rap not just as entertainment, but art. Just a few years earlier, JAY-Z couldn’t find a label. Now, he not only had the culture on his shoulders—he was helping to legitimize it for an audience that still might’ve written him off as a fad. Released on September 11, 2001, The Blueprint was hailed as a classic from the get-go, and deservedly so: It’s brutal (“Takeover”), arrogant (“Girls, Girls, Girls”), playful (“Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”), and disarmingly vulnerable (“Song Cry”). With the exception of LL Cool J, the culture didn’t really have examples of second lives. But The Blueprint pushed the lyrical parameters of mainstream hip-hop, while at the same time returning to the form’s origins, thanks to the album’s samples of classic rock and soul (courtesy, in part, to a young producer named Kanye West). The result was a record that would help establish rap as music with historic continuity—a style now old enough to have its own “retro.” So where past Jay tracks like “Big Pimpin’” and “N***a What, N***a Who” still sound like the future, The Blueprint captures an artist with enough of a grip on the present to consolidate his past—musically, lyrically, narratively. “Reasonable Doubt, classic/Shoulda went triple,” Jay raps on “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)”: a callback to his first album, yes, but also a reminder that he hasn’t lived it down. Can you be on top and still carry a chip on your shoulder? On The Blueprint, Jay has it all—and still wants more.

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