Jay-Z: The Blueprint

The Number One rapper returns...

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8 / 10 The ruler's back. You don't have to take Jay-Z's word for it (although listening to 'The Blueprint' makes that tough). Check this week's American chart for confirmation of the unique hat-trick he nets courtesy of 'The Blueprint'. Three albums in three years: three Number Ones. There isn't an artist in the world - rap or otherwise - who can match Shawn Carter's profitable prolificacy.

Nor is there a rapper who can stand toe-to-toe with him in the actual rapping department, either. Jay-Z thinks Notorious B.I.G had a better flow, and Tupac was definitely cuter, but nobody has better lines. Not Woody Allen, not Chris Rock, not even Eminem who cuts 'The Blueprint''s only guest spot on the bleak 'Renegade' (a track Marshall Mathers also produces - Timbaland and Kayne West handle most of 'Blueprint's' other productions).

Jay-Z is the don of the one-liner, the couplet, the verse and the chorus too. "These are just my thoughts, ladies and gentlemen", explains the Jigga on opener 'The Ruler's Back' (of course), as he's wafted into the rap arena after a mere ten-month absence on the crest of a horn-parping, soul-a-delic wave. It's no big deal for him, he's saying, but it is for all his competitors. "Your reign was shorter than leprechauns", he snorts in their direction. In fact, he gets all his disses out of the way nice and early on track two, 'Takeover'. Rapping over The Doors ' 'Five To One' he steamrollers fellow New Yorkers Mobb Deep ("Mobb Deep, you little creeps/I got money stacked bigger than you") and one-time protege Nas. The message is clear: You will learn to respect the king.

Once that lesson's absorbed, we get down to the meat of the affair. Like all his albums there's a concept revealed in the title and here, on album number six, it's the blueprint for the Jigga's life and career. That's sex - the brilliantly vaudeville 'Girls, Girls, Girls' makes that clear - drugs ("so much coke on me you could run a slalom," he admits on 'U Don't Know'), hustling, and....yes, pain. Because Jay 's tough enough to cry sometimes. On the soft-focus funk of 'Song Cry' he's so cut-up over his true, teenage love that he even makes the song weep. On 'Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)' he takes us on a backseat ride through his traumatic teens in the projects of Brooklyn, introducing us to his life's cast over a stolen Al Green riff. And on the album's strident soul-stew centre piece, 'Heart Of The City (Ain't No Love)', he hilariously mourns the fate of his many foes.

By its close, 'The Blueprint' has eloquently mapped out life's foundations: laughter, tears, joy and pain, and has marked the Jigga as the complete rapper. Jay, of course, knows it: "I'm the Sinatra of my day, compadre," he chuckles on 'Hola Hovita'. Nobody could disagree.

Ted Kessler

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