Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

A new album by Jay-Z is out this week. Jay-Z is one of hip-hop's most prolific and financially successful artists. This release, "The Blueprint 3," is his 11th solo album in 13 years. Reviewer Oliver Wang says that, even this far into his career, Jay-Z is still finding ways to stay on top.

(Soundbite of song, "Run This Town")

RIHANNA (Singer): (Singing) Got a problem tell me now. Only thing that's on my mind is who's gonna run this town tonight…

Professor OLIVER WANG (Sociology, California State University; Music Reviewer): In a minute-long TV ad made to promote "The Blueprint 3," Jay-Z glides through a photo shoot, restaging every iconic pose from his previous 10 album covers.

JAY-Z (Rapper): (Rapping) We are yeah I said it we are this is rock nation pledge your allegiance get y'all black tees on all black everything black cards, black cars all black everything and our girls are…

Prof. WANG: The commercial is all about reminding people where Jay-Z has been. There's even a song called "Reminder" on "The Blueprint 3." However, elsewhere, Jay flips things around, urging listeners to stop dwelling on his past.

(Soundbite of song, "On to the Next One")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) Don't be mad cos it's all about progression, loiterers should be arrested. I used to drink Kristal, (censored) racist, so I switched Gold Bottles on to that spade (censored), you gon have another drink or you just gon babysit, on to the next one, somebody call da waitress, Baby I'm a boss…

Prof. WANG: If Jay-Z can't decide if he want to focus on the past or the future, he's clear on where he stands in the present. "The Blueprint 3" is well-versed in contemporary pop trends, though not always in a friendly manner. The album's first single, "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," critiques the ubiquity of the voice-altering software in today's pop music.

(Soundbite of song, "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) Begin. This is anti autotune, death of the ringtone. This ain't for iTunes, this ain't for sing alongs. This is Sinatra at the opera, bring a blonde…

Prof. WANG: Despite his disdain for Auto-Tune, Jay isn't anti-pop. Indeed now that he sign multimillion-dollar deals with music promoters such as Live Nation, he's more of a global entertainer than ever — and he knows it. "The Blueprint 3" is easily one of his most commercially savvy albums to date, aiming for relevance in Wal-Mart kiosks, Hollywood clubs and Brooklyn bodegas alike. It helps that the songs are generally brighter, less violent and less drug-themed than past efforts. Jay also invites on a few current 15-minute famers such as Drake and Kid Cudi. But nowhere is the album's populist ambitions as clear than in its dance-friendly, electronic-infused rhythms. All kinds of minimalist beeps, burps and claps bump alongside huffing synthesizer vamps and blaring banks of horns.

(Soundbite of song, "So Ambitious")

PHARRELL (Rapper): (Singing) Issues, when you been what I been through, hey if you believe it, then you could conceive it. Yeah, yeah…

JAY-Z: (Rapping) I had to lace up my boots even harder, father is too far away to father, further more of the kids either smoke reefer…

Prof. WANG: "The Blueprint 3" is Jay-Z's strongest release in recent years, though overall, it would only rank somewhere in the middle of his catalog. It lacks the singular cohesion of the original "Blueprint" album, and Jay-Z's once-unrivaled flow sounds more pedestrian at times. There's also the matter of basing a song around Alphaville's 1984 hit, "Forever Young," a move that says anything but forever or young.

(Soundbite of song, "Forever Young")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) May the best of your todays, be the worst of your tomorrows, but we ain't even thinking that far, you naw mean?

Mr. HUDSON (Singer): (Singing) Forever young I wanna be, forever young, forever young, do you really want to live forever? Forever, forever young…

JAY-Z: (Rapping) So we live a life like a video, when the sun is always out and you never get old. And the champagne's always cold and the music is always good. And the pretty girls just happen to stop by in the hood and they hop their…

Prof. WANG: To be fair, this is his 11th release and at this point, Jay-Z has attained the rap equivalent of Bruce Springsteen or U2 status. Each new album aspires to be an event, though it becomes harder to reinvent yourself when you're this deep into a career. That's why "The Blueprint 3's" broad appeal is a powerful statement in its own right. Jay-Z has outlived — literally and figuratively — so many of his peers. Yet, in what could easily have been the twilight of his recording days, he's still standing, still striving, still shining.

(Soundbite of song, "Thank You")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) Thank you, thank you very much for comin' out this evening…

BLOCK: The new CD from Jay-Z is called "The Blueprint 3." Our reviewer Oliver Wang is an assistant professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach. He runs the audio blog soul-sides.com.

(Soundbite of song, "Thank You")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) Thank you, thank you, thank you. Please hold your applause, for I just applied logic keys keys open doors. Now I'm balcony, Opera, Black Tux, Binocular, Black lure…

SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: