DAR Hip Hop: Jay-Z's The Blueprint

By @TrueGodImmortal

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
13. Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)
*Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)
*Girls, Girls, Girls (Remix)

16 years have passed since the famed Jay-Z vs Nas beef began. It's surreal thinking back on it now, as the start of the beef came during the Hot 97 Summer Jam in June of 2001. At the time, Jay-Z was seen as the king of hip hop, with some stiff competition from names like Eminem, Ludacris, and Ja Rule in terms of mainstream attention and sales. Musically, Jay was the king. A consistent string of albums since his debut in 1996, along with a number of multi platinum albums since the breakthrough album Hard Knock Life (Vol. 2) from 1998 had given Jay top tier status in hip hop. There had been rumblings of beef between Jay and Prodigy of Mobb Deep, as well as a brewing dispute between Jay and Nas, two of the premier MCs from New York. As Jay took the Summer Jam stage, he would dazzle the crowd with one of his greatest shows ever. He brought out Michael Jackson, his Roc-A-Fella crew, before putting Prodigy on the Summer Jam Screen and then throwing fire at Nas with the ending line of his verse directed at Prodigy. For many, that Summer Jam incident started a moment in time for Jay that honestly might not be rivaled in his career.

Truthfully, this introduction is less about the Jay and Nas beef, but more about the lead up to Jay creating what many consider to be his most poignant album of all time. It's all a part of the process. In addition to the beefs that surrounded Jay at the time, he was facing some heavy issues in his personal life, awaiting two criminal trials that could have put the legendary rapper's career on hold. With his back seemingly against the wall, Jay set out to create an album that reflected his mindset, his growth, his focus, and address every issue in the event he would end up having to serve time. Over a two week period, Jay set up shop in Manhattan Center Studios and the Roc-A-Fella hub Baseline Studios to work on an album that in many ways could be seen as risky. Jay was going to get more personal and vulnerable than we had heard him before, and in many ways, he was about to change the sound of hip hop from the commercialized sound that had dominated in a major way. Going into recording, one has to wonder what Jay was thinking.

The music flowed organically, the sound became soulful, and the end result would become something special. Released on September 11, 2001, Jay's 6th studio album The Blueprint arrived to the masses amidst a national tragedy, as the United States was "seemingly" under attack from foreign terrorists after a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Tragedy aside, Jay and this album persevered to become revered in the hip hop community and would top the charts at no. 1 that opening week. Today, as it nears the official 16th anniversary, I wanted to take a look back at one of the most impactful Jay-Z albums of all time, and one of the most legendary hip hop albums of the 2000s. Let's take a look back at The Blueprint.

The Producers
At the time, hip hop was in a different place sound wise. The top producers in the game were Timbaland, Dr. Dre, and The Neptunes, who utilized more melodic rhythms than hardcore sounds. Producers like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, RZA, and many others who pioneered the boom bap and soul sample sound weren't as in demand, and hip hop seemed to be in a more commercial space. Jay himself had worked with Dre, Timbaland, and The Neptunes over his last three albums. This time around, Jay would forego working with Dre and The Neptunes to showcase the Roc-A-Fella in house producers (Just Blaze, Kanye West, and Bink) who were setting up to take the reigns for the Roc sound. Jay would work with Timbaland, Trackmasters, and Eminem on this album as well, but the bulk of production was handled by Kanye, Just, and Bink. Let's take a look at the producers and their contributions to this album.

-A frequent collaborator for Jay, Timbo only contributes one track to this album, and the result is one of mixed results, depending on your opinion. Timbo produces a song in the middle of the album, the keyboard rhythm driven "Hola Hovito", one of the very few tracks that doesn't display soulful samples or the consistent sound of the album. It's not one of Timbaland's best productions, but it's a still a solid enough beat to nod your head to, which is a forte of Timbo.

-Poke and Tone aren't by any stretch my favorite producers, but they were responsible for some hits in hip hop over the year and they produced the bulk of Nas' classic It Was Written, so they definitely have the prowess to contribute to a classic. However, I'll be honest, their by the numbers production for Jay on this album sticks out in the worst way. They produced "Jigga That Nigga", which I believe is the worst song on the album, and the beat follows the formula of other popular Trackmasters productions like "Fatty Girl" and "Fiesta (Remix)". Poke and Tone could have given Jay a much better beat, but it's one of the only solo albums of his that they contributed to. However, we would hear a whole album of Jay next to R. Kelly over Trackmasters beats months later for the Best of The Both Worlds.

-Known more for his lyrical ability and being an artist, Em contributed a guest verse and a brooding production for Jay on "Renegade". The beat has haunting keys and guitars with a nice amount of bass behind it. Em wasn't seen as a prominent producer at the time, but this track helped elevate his profile as a producer and soon enough, he would be getting more and more placements with legends. This is where the true ascension of Em as a producer started.

-The Virginia producer really made his name through his production on this album. He would contribute to albums previously, but his star power took off following his work on the tracks here. Producing "The Ruler's Back", "All I Need", and "Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)", Bink was truly up to the challenge of creating something special for Jay on this album. This is where Bink became a sought after producer, as his chopping, sampling, and drum pattern layering was undeniable. In many ways, a star was born.

*Just Blaze
-The New Jersey producer got his start years prior to this album, but this was the album that raised his profile in hip hop, and made him a household name. With his work on this album, Just helped elevate the standards of hip hop production of the time, continuing the legacy of boom bap in his own special way. His soulful production on "Girls, Girls, Girls", "Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)", "U Don't Know", and "Song Cry" are some of the best of his career.

*Kanye West
-As a young Chicago producer looking to get his name known in the game, Kanye wouldn't really take off as a producer until this album. He was responsible for some of the most popular tracks on the album, putting his soulful sample stamp on tracks like "Heart Of The City (Ain't No Love)", "Never Change", and "Girls, Girls, Girls (Remix)", but the most infamous production came on the booming diss track "Takeover". Kanye etched himself in the history books with his production on this album.

Track By Track Breakdown 
With 15 songs in total on the album including the two bonus tracks, I wanted to take a look at each track and rank them one by one. Let's take a look at the Blueprint tracklist.

*The Ruler's Back
-With Bink! on production, this is a supreme intro for Jay. The title, inspired by Slick Rick, showcases confidence from Jay that would be needed as he prepared for the legal fight of his life. The Bink production hits hard with the resounding horns giving off a triumphant feel to open the album. Jay's opening verse on this album is honestly one of his very best on the entire album. This is yet another flawless album opening track for Jay.


-We all know this song. The infamous diss to Prodigy and Nas remains one of the most important songs in the career of Jay. The Kanye West produced track that uses a Doors sample knocks through the speakers with amazing drums and bass, but the real focus of the song is of course the lyrics. Jay delivers scathing lines at both Prodigy and Nas to affirm his dominance on the throne in hip hop, effectively ending the song with a final shot at all other detractors. This song is as perfect as a diss song can be, but the misconception that this is all facts is one that needs to end. Jay reached as much as Nas did with Ether, he just mixed in enough believable shots to make it SOUND realer. That's a great feat in itself honestly in a rap beef.


*Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
-The Jackson 5 sample and the Kanye West produced track is the most commercial song on the album with a soul sample, but it's a great single to signal the return of Jay. It wasn't as intricate or personal as the rest of the album, but Jay drops solid rhymes over a really catchy beat and though this song isn't perfect, it's close to it. Great choice for a first single.


*Girls, Girls, Girls
-With an extremely smooth sample by Just Blaze, this song showcases Jay at his most honest about his experiences with women, speaking of the numerous ladies he encounters. It's interesting to hear a song like this now, 16 years later, while 4:44 currently sits in my music collection, but if anything, this is a great testament to growth. 16 years ago, Jay was in this element and the way he executed this song with each verse focusing on a different set of women showcased full blown brilliance. Salute to the featured legendary guests on the hooks as well (Q-Tip, Slick Rick, Biz Markie).


*Jigga That Nigga
-The worst song on this album. Hands down. Some people actually like this track, and that's their prerogative, but the truth be told, this song just doesn't fit in the whole cohesion of the album. The production is more upbeat and with the generic Trackmasters sound, it takes away from the lyrics Jay gives us, but even Jay seems to slack a bit lyrically on the production. Jay delivers for the most part, but this song seems more like the 2nd single attempt to get commercial love, but it just doesn't work.


*U Don't Know
-When I first heard this song, it seemed like an anthem of epic proportions. It became my go to song on the album, as the production and lyrics combine for the perfect marriage. Jay was at his most confident on the album here, as he talks honestly about his ascension, his struggle, and his rise. Just Blaze gave Jay the hardest song on this entire album, and Jay didn't disappoint with his lyrics. This might be the best song on the album.


*Hola Hovito
-Jay and Timbaland are usually flawless with their music together, but this time, they didn't reach perfection. That's not to say this song is bad, because it's not, but it just falls short of the standard set by the rest of the album. The beat is sold, and the lyrics are solid too, but nothing really grabs you like the rest of the songs. I've always felt that The Blueprint would have been Jay's best album if he cut down two tracks and this is one of those two. Still, Jay delivers lyrically and it's not the weakest song on the album, thus it gets a solid rating.


*Heart Of The City (Ain't No Love) -This is a great song that really caught me off guard. Everything about this track was executed perfectly from the beginning to the verses to the implementation of the sample for a hook. My favorite part of this track is the "take em to church" breakdown of the sample on the hook, as the sample becomes even more soulful somehow. All in all, this is a song I consider a top 5 track on the album without question.


*Never Change
-This is the most simple yet hard hitting Kanye production on the album IMO, and Jay makes sure to not disappoint, as he spits some of the most potent lyrics of his entire career. Through three verses, Jay gets poignant and of course, he shines through raw honesty, and as we all know, this is the song where Jay makes his infamous "lost 92 bricks declaration". Whether that declaration is true or not, Jay is in rare form on this album and delivers yet another flawless track in succession.


*Song Cry
-This section of the album is honestly the best. With these three tracks in succession, it's only right the apex of this project ends with Jay at his most vulnerable with women. Jay talks about past relationships and lost love throughout, but in a manner that doesn't show him as too weak, which was perfect for the time. You can hear in this song that Jay was growing and coming to terms with the things that bothered him throughout his life, and at its core, "Song Cry" is hip hop at its honest and vulnerable best.


*All I Need
-This Bink produced track isn't my favorite, but Jay is comfortable over the knocking drums and smooth soul sample. The track flows at a slightly faster pace than the rest of the songs here, but it still works well. I wouldn't consider this track to be perfect or in the upper echelon of the album, but Jay does his thing here, as does Bink for a very solid song. 


-There is only one other artist featured on this album rapping a verse and surprisingly, it isn't Beans or Bleek. Instead, it's one of the biggest rappers at the time, Eminem. The story behind this track is that it was initially for Royce Da 5'9 and Eminem, but apparently Jay took a liking to it, and replaced Royce on the track. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think Eminem kills Jay on this song. I think he has the better flow and he stacks more multis in his verse, but Jay is at his most raw here and his verses are equally amazing lyrically. The only issue with Jay on this is his unorthodox flow, but it still works well. This song is the only track that features these two legends together and it's even more special for that reason.


*Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)
-There are only two songs on this album IMO that show the true vulnerable side of Jay-Z and allows Shawn Carter to bleed through. This is the second of those two. Jay spits real life tales about his life, talks about his mother, his upbringing, his father, his family, and everything that shaped him growing up. He eventually moves through the rest of his life and ends the song off with some declarations to his Roc-A-Fella crew, including Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel, who he infamously remarks that he's not trying to change, but give him some game to transition away from the streets. From top to bottom, this song is one of the most honest and poignant of his career and this is yet another perfect track on the album.


*Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)
-This Just Blaze produced bonus track is as simple as it gets in concept, but Jay is in the zone lyrically here. The beat isn't a soulful classic, but rather a straightforward keyboard driven track with hard hitting drums, as Jay does exactly what the title suggests. He takes us for a lyrical exercise and shines through both verses. Simple perfection. 


*Girls, Girls, Girls (Remix)
-This song is still one of my favorite Jay records. It has an amazing sample and the beginning is flawless with the vocal soul sample and Jay's adlibs. Through three solid verses, Jay coasts over the top notch Kanye production, and pays homage to Biggie to end off the track. Salute to Kanye for supplying such a beautiful soulful beat.


Best Verses
One thing we know about Jay is his ability to rap beyond the average and his lyrics have always been at the forefront of his popularity. Jay can lyrically be witty, aggressive, and at his best with his back against the wall and this album is a prime example of that. Let's take a look at his best verses on this project.

*The Ruler's Back
(Verse 1)
-"Gather round hustlers, that's if you still living/
And get on down, to that ol' Jig rhythm/
Here's a couple of jewels to help you get through your bid in prison/
A ribbon in the sky/
Keep your head high/
I, Young 'Vito/
Voice of the young people/
Mouthpiece for hustlers/
I'm back motherfuckers/
Your reign on the top was shorter than leprechauns/
Y'all can't fuck with Hov', what type of X y'all on?/
I got great lawyers for cops so dress warm/
Charges don't stick to dude he's teflon/
I'm too sexy for jail like I'm Right Said Fred/
I'm not guilty, now GIMME back my bread/
Mr. District Attorney I'm not sure if they told you/
I'm on TV every day, where the fuck could I go to/
Plus, Hov' don't run, Hov' stand and fight/
Hov's a soldier, Hov' been fightin all his life/
What could you do to me? It's not new to me/
Sue me, fuck you, what's a couple dollars to me?/
But you will respect me, simple as that/
Or I got no problem goin back/
I'm representin for the seat where Rosa Parks sat, where Malcolm X was shot/
Where Martin Luther was popped/
So off we go, let the trumpets blow/
And hold on, because the driver of the mission is a pro/
The ruler's back"

(Verse 3)
-"I know you missin all the - FAAAAAAAME!/
But along with celebrity comes bout seventy shots to your brain/
Nigga, you a - LAAAAAAAME!/
You the fag model for Karl Kani/Esco ads/
Went from, Nasty Nas to Esco's trash/
Had a spark when you started/ But now you're just garbage/
Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all/
To your bodyguard's Oochie Wally verse better than yours/
Matter fact you had the worst flow on the whole fuckin song...but I know, the sun don't shine, if son don't shine/
That's why your - LAAAAAAAME! - career come to a end/
There's only so long fake thugs can pretend/
Nigga you ain't live it, you witnessed it, from your folks pad/
You scribbled in your notepad/ And created your life, I showed you your first tec on tour with Large Professor/
Then I heard your album bout your tec on your dresser/
So yeah I sampled your voice, you was using it wrong/
You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song/
And you ain't get a coin nigga you was gettin fucked and/
I know who I paid God, Serchlite Publishing/
Use your - BRAAAAAAAIN! You said you been in this ten, I've been in it five/
Smarten up Nas/
Four albums in ten years nigga? I could divide/
That's one every let's say two/ Two of them shits was due/
One was - NAHHH, the other was Illmatic/
That's a one hot album every ten year average/
And that's so - LAAAAAAAME! Nigga switch up your flow
Your shit is garbage/
But you try and kick knowledge?/
Y'all niggas gon' learn to respect the king/
Don't be the next contestant on that Summer Jam screen/
Because you know who did you know what with you know who/
But just keep that between me and you/"

*Girls, Girls, Girls
(Verse 2)
-"I got this young chick, she so immature/
She like, Why you don't buy me Reeboks no more?/
Like to show out in public, throw tantrums on the floor/
Gotta toss a couple dollars/
Just to shut up her holla/
Got a project chick, that plays her part/
And if it goes down y'all that's my heart/
Baby girl so thorough she been with me from the start/
Hid my drugs from the NARCs/
Hid my guns by the parts/
I got this model chick that don't cook or clean/
But she dress her ass off and her walk is mean/
Only thing wrong with ma, she's always on the scene/
God damn she's fine/
But she parties all the time/
I get frequent flier mileage from my stewardess chick/
She look right in that tight blue dress, she's thick/
She gives me extra pillows and seat back love/
So I had to introduce her to the Mile High Club/
Now that's young chick, stewardess, project and model/
That means I fly rough early, plus I know Taebo/
That means I'm new school, pop pills and stay in beef/
But I never have a problem with my first class seat/"

*U Don't Know
(Verse 2)
-"I came into this motherfucker a hundred grand strong, nine to be exact/
From grindin G-packs/
Put this shit in motion ain't no rewinding me back/
Could make 40 off a brick but one rhyme could beat that/
And if somebody woulda told 'em/
That Hov' would sell clothing/
Not in this lifetime/
Wasn't in my right mind/
That's another difference that's between me and them, I smartened up/
Open the market up/
One million, two million, three million, four/
In eighteen months, eighty million more/
Now add that number up with the one I said before/
You are now looking at one smart black boy/
Momma ain't raised no fool, put me anywhere on God's green earth/
I'll triple my worth/
Motherfucker - I, will, not, lose/"

*Never Change
(Verse 3)
-"The streets robbed me/
Wasn't educated properly/
Well fuck y'all, I needed money for Atari/
Was so young, my big sis' still playin with Barbie/
Young brother, big city, eight million stories/
Old heads taught me/
Youngin, walk softly/
Carry a big clip, that'll get niggas off me/
Keep coke in coffee/
Keep money smellin mothy/
Chains is cool to cop but more important is lawyer fees/
That's how it is now, that's how it always be/
I never change, this is always me/
From the womb to the tomb/ From now until my doom/
Drink army from one cup pass it around the room/
That's the ritual/
Big Ran, I ain't forget you fool/
And all that bullshit you tryin to get through/
This is crew love/
Move music or move drugs/
Rival crews get your black suits up/
I never change"

*Song Cry
(Verse 1)
-"Good dudes/
I know you love me like cooked food/
Even though a nigga gotta move like a crook move/
We was together on the block since free lunch/
We shoulda been together havin 4 Seasons brunch/
We used to use umbrellas to face the bad weather, so now we travel first class/
To change the forecast/
Never in bunches/
Just me and you, I loved your point of view, cause you held no punches/
Still I left you for months on end/
It's been months since I checked back in/
We're somewhere in a small town/
Somewhere lockin a mall down/
Woodgrain, four and change, Armor All'd down/
I can understand why you want a divorce now/
Though I can't let you know it/ Pride won't let me show it/
Pretend to be heroic/
That's just one to grow with/
But deep inside a nigga so sick/"

(Eminem's 1st Verse And Jay's 2nd Verse)
-"Since I'm in a position/
To talk to these kids and they listen/
I ain't no politician/
But I'll kick it with 'em a minute/
Cause see they call me a menace, and if the shoe fits I'll wear it/
But if it don't, then y'all swallow the truth, grin and bear it/
Now who's these king of these rude, ludicrous lucrative lyrics/
Who could inherit the title, put the youth in hysterics/
Using his music to steer it/
Sharing his views and his merits /
But there's a huge interference/ They're sayin you shouldn't hear it/
Maybe it's hatred I spew, maybe it's food for the spirit/
Maybe it's beautiful music I made for you to just cherish/
But I'm debated, disputed, hated and viewed in America/
As a motherfuckin drug addict - like you didn't experiment?/
Now now, that's when you start to stare at who's in the mirror/
And see yourself as a kid again, and you get embarrased/
And I got nothing to do but make you look stupid as parents/
You fuckin do-gooders, too bad you couldn't do good at marriage/
And do you have any clue/
What I had to do to get here I don't think you do/
So stay tuned and keep your ears glued to the stereo/
Cause here we go/"

-"I had to hustle/
My back to the wall, ashy knuckles/
Pockets filled with a lot of lint/ Not a cent/
Gotta vent/
Lot of innocent of lives lost on the project bench/
Whatchu hollerin?/
Gotta pay rent, bring dollars in/
By the bodega/
Iron under my coat, feelin braver/
Doo-rag wrappin my waves up/Pockets full of hope, do not step to me, I'm awkward/
I box lefty and often/
My pops left me an orphan/
My momma wasn't home/
Could not stress to me I wasn't grown/
Especially on nights, I brought somethin home/
To quiet the stomach rumblings, my demeanor/
Thirty years my senior/
My childhood didn't mean much/ Only raising green up/
Raising my fingers to critics, raising my head to the sky/
Big I did it - multi before I die/
No lie, just know I chose my own fate/
I drove by the fork in the road and went straight/"

*Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)
(Verse 1)
-"I jog in the graveyard
Spar in the same ring/
That was housed by the building
Where Malcolm X was slain/
I spring train in the winter/
Round early December/
Run suicide drills over and over/
With the weight of the world on my shoulder/
That's why they call me Hova/
I'm far from being God/
But I work goddamn hard/
I wake up the birds so when the nerds is sleep, I'm catching my second wind/
The second the first one end/
I am focused man/
And I'm not afraid of death, and I'm going all out, I circle the vultures in a van/
And I run the block/
Pull up in a drop/
Push up on my money/
I'm in great shape dunny/
I keep jacks jumping thirty six sets/
Like a personal trainer, I teach coke to stretch/
I pump and rock sweats/
All white trainers/
The ghettoes, Billy Blanks, I show you niggas what pain is/
Maintain your stamina/
Hov will damage ya/
Spot you two rhymes y'all niggas is amateurs/
The fifth/
A dead lift/
If niggas don't want to get shot/ Then y'all niggas better squat/
I drop your set for rep/
No need to hit the showers, the spit from the fifth leave you wet/
Lyrical exercise/
Y'all niggas ain't tired right?/"

Final Thought
With this album, Jay attempted to set himself apart from the rest of the hip hop world, and he succeeded. He took shots at his enemies, gave the world a glimpse at his soul, and went to his highest level of lyricism in years. The Blueprint saw the full maturation of Jay at the time, as the man who once told us he would never give his heart to a woman was now letting the song cry. The Blueprint is Jay-Z and Shawn Carter clashing on a smaller level, and it was the first piece in the puzzle that completed the small glimpses of soul searching we saw on earlier albums, and began the next chapter of his career. Is The Blueprint his greatest album? That's left up to opinion, but while I couldn't put this album above Reasonable Doubt, it is in a class of its own. The Blueprint is in a class of its own. Simply put.

Rating: 9.5/10



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