...starts in a cemetery and almost ends in fratricide...
Strike a balance between good and evil and you’ll find Jay-Z. He’s gone from hustling drugs in Brooklyn’s no-go zones to a penthouse on the Hudson River, and breathlessly ostentatious displays of wealth. Yet, the self-made multi-millionaire born plain Shawn Carter feels a sense of dread and disquiet.
His position at the top of the hip-hop game is constantly being threatened. He’s faced jealousy, envy, haters, gold-diggers and high-profile court cases. America is at war. So what does Jay-Z do? Channel all the angst, anger, revenge fantasies and celebrations of a ‘bling-bling’ lifestyle into his fifth LP, a twenty-five track double album.
Alarm bells ring. Aren’t double LPs for grandiose mofos who’ve lost sight of what the people want? Not this one. Jay-Z has upped the commercial rap ante once again. ‘The Blueprint 2’ has state of the art club tracks, introspective ditties, violent face-offs and ghetto truths ripped from memory, tweaked sound-wise by Timbaland, The Neptunes, Dr Dre and Just Blaze amongst others. Two major ghosts loom everywhere: the late Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur.
It starts with an excellent dream. ‘A Dream’ finds Jay-Z as he seeks advice from BIG’s spirit about the haters. By the time ‘Some People Hate’ drops in, sixteen songs later, Jay claims he feels like Tupac did circa ‘All Eyes On Me’ and ‘Me Against The World’.
To fully appreciate the quality here check the choral and sepulchral keyboard voices on ‘Diamonds Is Forever’ (“I can’t justify genocide/but I was born in the city where the skinny niggas die”) or the heart rending real-life scenarios of ‘Meet The Parents’ – which starts in a cemetery and almost ends in fratricide. There’s even a cheese-free version of Paul Anka’s ‘My Way’, as well as a cool duet with Beyonce on “03 Bonnie & Clyde”.
Controversy surfaces on ‘The Ballad Of The Fallen Soldier’ when September 11 is mentioned, and links are made between America’s overseas wars and the everyday internecine ghetto war. But when Jay-Z rhymes “crack was Anthrax back then/ police was Al-Queda to the black man”, he’s trying to tell a pre-Sept 11th truth.
Rival MC Nas gets two aural death threats, on the title track and ‘Some People Hate’, but that should be a spent lyrical battle by now. It had better be. ‘Cos Jay-Z has just entered a new stratosphere.