The trilogy's dazzling finale

Jay-Z is the cover star of the October issue of Clash magazine, read our interview with him HERE and view a photo gallery of him, taken by noted photographer Rankin, HERE.


So, ‘The Blueprint 3’, the album where Jay-Z really crosses over. Yeah, I know you, the cross genre savvy music fan, know all about him but this time out it’ll be the shelves of Tesco that’ll be the battle ground.

Following that Glasto appearance, 'Wonderwall' intro and all, Jay-Z firmly jumped into the mainstream in the UK (the US falling to his talents years ago). With ‘The Blueprint 3’, and its attendant singles, we get the first post Glasto material for the great British music buying public to get their teeth into.

Already opening up a significant beachhead is ‘Run This Town’, featuring both Rihanna and Kanye, this lazer guided effort shot straight to the top of the UK singles chart, while the previously aired ‘D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)’ set the internet a buzz with ‘Jay-Z’ a trending topic on twitter for about the last month or so. Apparently, ‘The Blueprint 3’ was awash with auto tuned vocals until an epiphany saw a major u-turn with all songs utilising the effect stripped from the album, a bold gamble but one which has put Jay-Z back out in front again.

Opening with ‘What We Talkin’ About’, it clear why Empire of the Sun’s Luke Steele was the chosen guest vocalist. Sounding like Empire of the Sun took a wrong turn through the ghetto, picking up passengers along the way. Normal service is resumed on ‘Thank you’, it’s stoned groove and muted horn stabs a more familiar territory.

‘Empire State of Mind’ follows the previously released singles, featuring Alicia Keys, the song a paean to his New York hometown. It’s see-sawing piano and euphoric Keys chorus summing up the ghost of ‘Rocky’. A suitable metaphor given Jay-Z's humble, wrong side of the track origins (Rocky was set in Philly I know). His legendary confidence is displayed on ‘Real As It Gets’ as he lets Young Jeezy ride roughshod over the first half of the track, letting the pupil set the stage for the masters appearance.

The Swiss Beatz production, ‘On To The Next One’, features a queasy “on to the next one” vocal loop, adding kudos to the sonic innovative but making for disorientating listening.
The much hyped ‘Venus Vs Mars’ seems to take it’s title and theme from the ‘Men are from Mars, Woman are from Venus’ relationship book, displaying Jay-Z’s 'new man' side while the ghostly voice and backward groove add an unexpected angle to what could be a run of the mill lover-man tune in lesser hands.

Kanye reappears on ‘Hate’, no autotune here but plenty of talk box manipulation carrying the West produced track, aimed at the Jay-Z haters with the, perhaps tongue in check lines, ”I need you to love me I swear” and “I need you like air”, seemingly taunting his haters in an effort to provide more fuel for his creativity? A standard Neptunes production, and the obligatory accompanying Pharrell vocal appearance, powers the head nodding ‘So Ambitious’, detailing the story behind Z super-powered streak to succeed.

Closing with ‘Forever Young’, featuring Mr Hudson (Jay-Z and West’s own pocket sized Chris Martin), it’s uplifting vocal, synth washes and mention of “Drop the bomb” recall Nena’s ’99 Red Balloons’. An inauspicious ending saved by Jay-Z inherently cheese-free presence. God knows what it would’ve sounded like in Kanye’s hands.

What the hardcore hiphop fans in the US might think of Jay-Z’s expanded horizons I can only guess but for the UK market ‘The Blueprint 3’ manages the impressive feat of being accessible and experimental while ‘keeping it real’, (the ball and chain around the ankle of any rapper). Working with the hottest talents in Hip Hop and beyond all held in place by the hub that is Jay-Z’s latent vocal talent for wordplay, phrasing and cadence. As he boasts himself in ‘Death Of Autotune (D.O.A.)’ “This is Sinatra at the opera”. Fair point.


Words by Nick Annan


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