A Case For And Against Jay-Z's 'Blueprint 3'

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Hip Hop icon Jay-Z made history this week when debuted at the top of the Billboard Top 200 charts this week. It was the rapper's 11th top album, pushing him past Elvis Presley as the solo act with the most top albums. Host Mandalit del Barco talks with two bloggers Sam Sanders of "The Not-So-Angry Black Man" and Andrew Noz of CB-rap-dot.com about Jay-Z's latest CD, "The Blueprint 3."

(Soundbite of song, "Run This Town")

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, host:

hip-hop superstar Jay-Z earned his 11th number one album on the Billboard chart. We're listening now to his current single the aptly titled "Run This Town" off the CD, "The Blueprint 3." This work shoots Jay-Z ahead of Elvis Presley as the solo artist with the most albums to hit number one. The only musical act with more top albums are The Beatles.

We're joined now by two bloggers with very different takes on Jay-Z's latest work. Sam Sanders is the creator of the blog, The Not-So-Angry Black Man where he writes about politics and pop culture. And Andrew Noz is a writer for cbrap.com.

Welcome to both of you.

Mr. SAM SANDERS (Creator of the blog, The Not-So-Angry Black Man): Good to be here.

Mr. ANDREW NOZ (Writer, cbrap.com): Thank you for having us.

DEL BARCO: I'm curious to find out what stood out for you from this album? Sam, what was your favorite song?

Mr. SANDERS: I've got a few. I think the song with Alicia Keys is awesome. I also like "As Real As It Gets," featuring Young Jeezy.

(Soundbite of Jay-Z's music)

Mr. SANDERS: I think my favorite track was "Off That," featuring Drake.

(Soundbite of song, "Off That")

JAY-Z (Musician): (Rapping) Say black versus white one, we off that. Please tell Bill O'Reilly to fall back. Tell Rush Limbaugh to get off my. This 2010 ain't 1864. Ah. Yeah we come so far so I drive around town hard top and it's off. Ah. And my trop at the loft with my high brow ah and my high yellow broad. Hey. Hey. Ah. And my dark skin sense and my best white mate say what's up to Chris. How's that for a mix? Got a black president, got green presidents. Hey. Hey. Blue prints in my white iPod. Black diamonds in my Jesus piece, my God. Hey. Hey. Ah. We ain't tripping off that. This is a Benetton ad, been up off that.

DRAKE (Musician): (Rapping) Whatever you about to discover we off that. You about to tell her you love it, we off that. Always want to fight in the club and we off that. But you can't bring the future back, back...

DEL BARCO: So, tell me why you like this song, Sam?

Mr. SANDERS: So, in this track, Jay-Z is basically saying to all these other rappers who aren't as great as he is that all of the things that you're doing now I've done it before and I'm already off that to the next thing, so you're always behind me. And just being able to make that track and know that he started so many trends and that he's still fresh, that's awesome.

DEL BARCO: So Andrew, I understand you found this album very disappointing. Why?

Mr. NOZ: Well, if you listen to what Sam was saying, so much of what he enjoyed about the album was based on Jay's legacy more so than the actual content of the album and that's kind of the whole angle that Jay's been pushing for his past few records, where he just tells us what he's already done rather than doing anything new or groundbreaking. Like a record like "Off That," you'll find Jay complaining about everything that's wrong in hip-hop but not at all offering any solutions or leading by example or giving any options of where it's going from here.

DEL BARCO: But he's got some bragging rights doesn't he, as the number one hit?

Mr. NOZ: Oh definitely. I mean he's, in his prime he was the greatest rapper, period. He's an easy contender for best rapper of all time, but since his fake retirement in 2003, he hasn't really been delivering so much, as far as rapping goes at least.

DEL BARCO: Tell me about the song "Death Of Auto-Tune?" I mean that's kind of like a mission statement for him isn't it?

Mr. NOZ: Well, it's a mission statement that he never follows up on. The whole premise of "Death Of Auto-Tune" is - Auto-Tune, of course, is the vocal effect, the robotic vocal effects that artists like T-Paine have been using and have had tons and tons of pop hits with over the past two or three years. But, yeah, Jay talks about killing off Auto-Tune. He talks about, you know, making records for the streets, making records for his core hip-hop audience on "D.O.A.," and then he puts out a record with 15 pop songs attached to "D.O.A." So it's a pretty hypocritical record.

Mr. SANDERS: I wouldn't call them all pop songs. I think they're poppier(ph) than "The Blueprint" or some of his earlier albums, but the beauty of it for me is that he was a street rapper and, you know, now he's hit the big-time and he's up there with the greatest from all genres.

Mr. NOZ: So, because he has had all this success he can basically lie to his fans?

Mr. SANDERS: I don't think he's lying to his fans. I think you all know what you're in for when you buy a, you know, Jay-Z album. Like, he makes singles. He makes songs for the radio and for pop saturation.

DEL BARCO: So let's have a moment of silence right now for "D.O.A."

(Soundbite of song, "D.O.A.")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) La da da da, hey hey hey, goodbye. Holdup. Only rapper to rewrite history without a pen. No I.D. on the track let the story begin, begin, begin. This is anti-Auto-Tune, death of the ringtone. This ain't for iTunes, this ain't for singalong. This is Sinatra at the opera, bring a blonde. Preferably with a fat ass who can sing a song. Wrong, this ain't politically correct. Ah. This might offend my political connects. Ah. My rap's don't have melodies. This should make jackers wanna go and commit felonies. Ah, get your chain token. I may do it myself, I'm so Brooklyn. Ah. I know we facing a recession. But the music ya'll making gonna make it the Great Depression...

DEL BARCO: That was "Death Of Auto-Tune." A song from Jay-Z's new album, "The Blueprint 3." Jay-Z, he's 39 years old now. He's been called an aging rap star.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEL BARCO: Although, you know, some people might take offense to that. But Andrew, why don't you tell us a song that you think shows Jay-Z at his best and where you think he's come from since then?

Mr. NOZ: Well, I think if you look at a record like "Dead Presidents," which was the lead single from his first album, "Reasonable Doubt," it's from 1996, you can see a more intricate, a denser flow and construction of his rhymes dramatically. He's kind of slowed it down since then and gotten, dare I say, lazier with it. And if you compare that song to a lot of the material on this current album, I think you'll see a noticeably deteriorated rap style.

DEL BARCO: Let's listen to a little clip from that music.

(Soundbite of song, "Dead Presidents")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) The Soviet, the unified steady flow. You already know, you light, I'm heavy roll, heavy dough. Mic macheted your flow, your paper falls slow like confetti, mines a steady grow, bet he glow. Pay five dead it from blow, better believe I have eleven sixty to show, my doe flip like Tae-Kwon. Jay-Z The Icon, baby, you like Dom, maybe this Cristal's to change your life huh, roll with the winners. Heavy spenders like hit records...

DEL BARCO: But people change their flows over time.

Mr. SANDERS: Exactly. Exactly.

DEL BARCO: So isn't this just an evolution of Jay-Z, this latest album?

Mr. NOZ: Well, I wouldn't, I'd call it the de-evolution, perhaps because you're talking about...

Mr. SANDERS: Oh.

DEL BARCO: Ooh.

Mr. NOZ: You're talking about an artist who's one of his main selling points was that virtuosity and I think in the hip-hop community that's something people look for and appreciate. But when you're trying to expand your audience to a more pop crowd, it's harder to sell more complex rhymes because people aren't as familiar with that style.

DEL BARCO: Sam?

Mr. SANDERS: But what's wrong with getting out to that larger crowd? I think it's a good thing for hip-hop.

Mr. NOZ: But, if you're going to misrepresent hip-hop...

Mr. SANDERS: Ah, to say that it's misrepresented is to kind of give it a definition that's probably too limited. I think that there's room for the Jay-Z of "Dead Presidents" and the Jay-Z of "The Blueprint 3" to be part of hip-hop. And I'm excited more about how he's been able to take hip-hop to the masses than about the meandering quality over his span of hits.

DEL BARCO: So what do you think is next for Jay-Z? I mean he's finally beaten Elvis, The King. Maybe he's the king of hip-hop. I don't know. Andrew, what do you think first and then we'll hear from Sam.

Mr. NOZ: Well, a lot of the press lately has been Jay-Z claiming that he plans to make a quote/unquote "experimental record," which could mean doom commercially.

DEL BARCO: Like the Beatles or something?

Mr. NOZ: Well, I don't think Jay-Z has a very good grasp on experimental music the way a Kanye would and I don't know if he's really going to be able to adapt to making more adventurous music, especially at this point in his career.

DEL BARCO: Sam, what do you think is next for Jay-Z?

Mr. SANDERS: I think Jay-Z could stop today, right now, and be fine. I am excited that he has brought hip-hop to folks that might not have listened to hip-hop. As a lover of black music, I think that the ultimate goal of black musicians is to bring the art form to as many people as possible, you know, to spread the art. And he's taken hip-hop to the inauguration of our like newest president. He's taken it to Oprah. He's done good things for hip-hop and for that, I'm grateful to Jay-Z. So I guess whatever he does next, he can experiment or not, but he has a smart enough business mind to I think make a hit again.

DEL BARCO: Sam Sanders is the creator of the blog, The Not-So-Angry Black Man, where he writes about politics and pop culture. And Andrew Noz is a writer for cbrap.com. They both joined us here in our studios.

Thank you so much both of you.

Mr. NOZ: Thanks so much.

(Soundbite of song, "Real As It Gets")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) ...trail, blueprints for sale, follow in my footprints, you can't fail...

DEL BARCO: That's as "Real As It Gets," a track off of Jay-Z's number one album, "The Blueprint 3." And that's as real as it gets for our program today.

I'm Mandalit del Barco and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'll tell you even more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of song, "Real As It Gets")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) Hov's the audio equivalent of Braille, that's why the feel me in the favela's in Brazil and water house cos real recognize real, rrrahhhh.

YOUNG JEEZY: You know me homie, I don't need no introduction, just call me make a lil something out of nothing everywhere you go, were the topic of discussion, damn, that's gotta be disgusting. Err, make you wanna throw up, it's big boy music, it should make you wanna grow up, flows like syrup should make me wanna pour up, lyrics courtesy it just me or it make you wanna roll up, a big fat one then unpack one, then unwrap one, peel back one. They used to call me chisel with a stamp in the middle. And you can tell the color when its damp in the middle. Now put your sacks in the air if you represent the click. Money in the air if you ever hear the lick, baby...

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