Retrospective: Jay-Z's The Blueprint vs The Black Album

The Blueprint

1. The Ruler's Back
2. Takeover
3. Izzo(H.O.V.A.)
4. Girls, Girls, Girls
5. Jigga That Nigga
6. U Don't Know
7. Hola' Hovito
8. Heart of The City(Ain't No Love)
9. Never Change
10. Song Cry
11. All I Need
12. Renegade featuring Eminem
13. Blueprint(Momma Loves Me)
*Lyrical Exercise(Bonus Track)
*Girls, Girls, Girls Remix(Bonus Track)


The Black Album

1. Interlude
2. December 4th
3. What More Can I Say
4. Encore
5. Change Clothes featuring Pharrell
6. Dirt Off Your Shoulder
7. Threat
8. Moment Of Clarity
9. 99 Problems
10. Public Service Announcement(Interlude)
11. Justify My Thug
12. Lucifer
13. Allure
14. My 1st Song

Jay-Z is one of the all time greatest on the mic with one of the best catalogs in hip hop. From his classic debut album "Reasonable Doubt", to his most recent "MCHG", Jay has crafted a long lasting legacy. Two albums of his that are widely considered classics are "The Blueprint" and his initial retirement album, "The Black Album". These two are also closely debated, so we sat down and discussed the albums and made our pick for what we felt was better. Let the debate begin.

The hype behind The Blueprint was mostly because Jay and Nas went at it over the course of the album's promotional cycle. Now, whether or not Nas won (he didn't, considering most of "Ether" was just dozens-playing insults) isn't up for discussion. The Blueprint was that middle of the road Jay. He wasn't Basquiat-acquiring, Tom Ford-rocking Jay Z, but he wasn't exactly still looking for a come up either. And this is heard through the music.

Now, I'm going to say something that Jay stans will probably hate. Eminem killed Jay on "Renegade." When a guest feature trumps you on the album which features you calling out your rival's weed carriers' verses? You've got a problem. The rest of the album is great, but the fact that Eminem ate him damn near alive kills any classic talk for me.

The Black Album is, however, a classic. The production, aside from (MAYBE) "Change Clothes" bangs heavily. Fuck it. Even "Change Clothes," for what it was, goes in. Now, this album represents Jay at the end of the sequel in the trilogy. He's gotten his money up and he's contemplating whether to retire and let the youngins shine, or keep hustling. So, he asks us "what more can he say," asks whether we want an encore, provides one, then fades to black.

Of course, we know something or someone called him back, which takes a bit of the sting off of Jay spazzing on this album. However, the album is what you want from a classic. It has amazing production, intricate wordplay, adds to the mythos of a rap legend's story, and leaves his retirement open-ended, ala Jordan circa 94. Now, whether or not Blueprint 3 and MCHG represent his Jordan with the Wizards phase, I'm going to leave that one alone...

I will give the edge to Blueprint on this one. I give Jay credit for sticking mostly with soul samples on this, which he was slowly departing from musically. Kanye and Just Blaze had breakout production which helped launch them into stardom in the hip hop community. "Girls, Girls, Girls" is a beautiful blend of soul perfectly complemented with Jay's clever lines. "All I Need" is probably my favorite track on there for real. The only bad thing about the album is Timbaland's boring, uninspiring production on "Hola Hovito". Then you have lyrical juggernauts like "U Don't Know" and "The Rulers Back" to name a few. Jay was facing a few charges at the time, so he made it a point to come more aggressive. The title track and "Song Cry" show a more vulnerable and introspective side of Jay which is good for him, because he likes to keep a perfect, untouchable image so much now.

The Black Album was a great album, but more of a farewell tour in my opinion. Jay gathered all the hot producers he always worked with and just picked the best beats. While this usually doesn't work, in Hov's case, it did. It had commercial tracks like "Change Clothes", "99 Problems" and "Dirt off your Shoulder", which solidified his knack for having radio hits. "December 4th" and "Encore" are  beautiful because they are reminiscent of The Blueprint and its soulful beats. I think "Allure" is the best song on there and it's my favorite. The melodic, melancholy keys just take you down the road with Jay as he reflects on where he was and where he has gotten to at the point. It's the perfect swan song to me as he was leaving the game for good(or so we thought).

Both of these albums are in Hov's top 5 best and they both are a great indicator of where Jay was in his career. However, the lyrical dominance and appeal of Blueprint was original and can't be underestimated.

I personally had to sit with both of these albums for a day or two before making my decision, and I have to edge this to The Blueprint, barely. While both albums are essentially classics, there are a few tracks that I'm not quite fond of on both albums in the present day. "Jigga That Nigga", "Hola Hovito", and at times "All I Need" don't really grab me like they once did. With that being said, on The Black Album, I tend to skip "Change Clothes", "My 1st Song", "Moment of Clarity", and the strangest song on the album, "Justify My Thug". I was also disappointed by "Threat", as I learned that Jay passed up on a ton of better beats from 9th Wonder.

That's not to take away from either album however, as both have great highlights throughout. For The Blueprint, the soulful production from Bink!, Kanye West, and Just Blaze elevates the album to a different level, and shifted the direction in hip hop. Songs like "Girls, Girls, Girls", "Heart Of The City(Ain't No Love)", "Never Change", "U Don't Know", the title track, as well as the two bonus tracks, are all amazing and still mind blowing to listen today. Jay was in a different zone with this album and he created something special. I'm not of the belief that he got murdered by Eminem on "Renegade", though Eminem had the better flow and verse. Jay's flow was quite different than usual, but his lyrics were perhaps more relatable to me and still solid all around. Eminem created the beat and flowed much smoother than Jay, which tips the scale in his favor, but Jay still did his job lyrically. Overall, despite a few tracks not having the same replay value as before, The Blueprint remains a classic.

With The Black Album, Jay was on his way out the door and that was obvious due to the structure of the album. The album, which was initially labeled as the prequel to Reasonable Doubt, didn't necessarily carry the same cohesiveness as The Blueprint. Songs like "What More Can I Say", "Encore", "December 4th", "PSA(Interlude)", and one of Jay's greatest songs ever "Allure", all capture him at his best, but you can tell he was looking at the exit. He reminds you that he is leaving, reminds you that he could come back from retirement like Jordan countless times on the album. Overall, the album is still great and is one of Jay's best, it just doesn't hold up as well as The Blueprint. I would agree with Apollo that it is in Jay's top 5, as is The Blueprint, but I'd have The Black Album at exactly number 5, personally. I also wanted to disagree with Speed on Jay vs Nas, because Nas definitely won the beef. Back to these albums however, The Black Album is a great album, but relies too much on the retirement angle. The Blueprint is almost flawless, with very few weaker tracks and a more aggressive Jay. I have to go with The Blueprint here.



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