Hip-Hop Boo-Hoo

Pity poor Jay Z. On The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse, the heralded hip-hop hustler complains, ”[I] thought niggas would appreciate what I came in and did since ’96, every year. Something must be seriously wrong with the world, I know y‘all ain’t hatin‘“ (”Some People Hate“). Jay laments his perceived persecution so heavily, you’d think he‘d replaced his doo-rags with a crown of thorns.

To be sure, Eminem, bless his tortured soul, has made a career of playing the victim, but at least Em can name his detractors: women’s groups, gaylesbian groups, his mom, etc. With Jay, the worst he has to contend with is pithy potshots from rival Nas and embittered ex-mentor Jaz O, plus the residents of a TriBeCa building who sabotaged Jay‘s attempt at buying a penthouse suite. Even the supposedly investigative 60 Minutes gave Jay the Barbara Walters fluff treatment when they profiled him the other week, basically casting him as Horatio Alger from the PJs. It was far less painful to hear Jay admit that he used to hustle drugs than it was to endure interviewer Bob Simon reciting the phrase ”getting jiggy with it.“

Jay’s always been at his best when either celebrating his greatness (”Big Pimpin‘,“ ”U Don’t Know“) or moralizing over his excesses (”D‘Evils,“ ”Song Cry“), but martyrdom doesn’t become him. His heavy-handed pathos on songs like ”Some People Hate,“ ”A Dream“ (featuring the most bewildering Biggie cameo ever), ”I Did It My Way“ (Paul Anka gets a hip-hop remix!), ”Diamond Is Forever“ and others reminds you that there‘s nothing worse than listening to rich men whine. News flash, Jigga: You’re Goliath now, not David.

Here‘s the ”gift“ of The Blueprint 2’s title. For all the rah-rah about Jay Z vs. Nas, the conclusion is simple: Nas is a better poet, but in terms of effortless flow, sophisticated wordplay and just plain charisma, Jay Z makes it seem so easy, where Nas often struggles. Hell, Jay throws away lines that would make other rappers‘ careers. On ”Hovi Baby,“ he dribbles this off like it was nothing: ”It’s the gangsta teamstop your runone of the reasons that they call us gangreneThe other reason we got a gang of greenif there‘s bettergettin’ cheddarit remains to be seen.“ Likewise, on ”Bitches and Sisters,“ check how he slaughters syllables with this tongue twister: ”I got a sisterwho schooled me toshit you chickens dotricking foolsgot a whole Robin Givens crewthat I kick it tothey be hipping dudeshow you chickens moveI be listening too.“ The song‘s misogynistic content is indefensible, but Jay Z’s form is ever remarkable.

Now here‘s the curse. Aside from the persecution complex, The Blueprint 2 is just plain boring to listen to. Jay’s production cast is strictly A-list: the Neptunes, Timbaland, Kayne West, Just Blaze, Dr. Dre. Yet this powerhouse of talent collectively creates one of the most anemic aural efforts in Jay‘s career. Kayne and Just, responsible for the sublime soul sound of the original Blueprint, become overproduced parodies of themselves with cuts like Blaze’s ”Hovi Baby,“ with its orgy of synthesizer vamps, or West‘s ”As One,“ an unfathomably cheesy track built off Earth, Wind & Fire’s syrupy fusion hit ”Fantasy.“

The Neptunes are inoffensively passable by comparison, but considering how hot they‘ve been for the likes of Noreaga (”Nothin’“) or Clipse (”Grindin‘“), they seem to break Jay off with leftovers, save for the lurching, sinister funk on ”Nigga Please.“ There are a few genuine bright spots: No ID laces ”All Around the World“ with a torrent of blistering keys, Timbaland rolls out a slow cooker with the aptly named ”The Bounce,“ and on the ”U Don’t Know“ remix, guest MCs MOP‘s screaming lyrical style fits the intense energy of Blaze’s slightly altered beat even better than Jay does. Overall, though, The Blueprint 2 is dominated by middling tracks that are more lazy than laid-back, and after clawing through 25 songs, it all blends into an undifferentiated mass of musical mediocrity.

Maybe if Jay hadn‘t put out the first Blueprint, this second volume wouldn’t seem so overwrought. The original was a midcareer rejuvenator that showed how an innovative, energized Jay Z could, if he wanted to, fill his album with ”nothing but smashes.“ Compact, cohesive and coherent, it was an instant classic. But The Blueprint 2 brings that momentum to a crashing halt. Like most sequels -- cinematic, literary, musical or otherwise -- this listless double-CD gives you twice the length of its predecessor but only half the pleasures.

JAY Z | The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse (Roc-A-Fella)

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