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 yall aint hatin (Some People Hate). Jay laments his perceived persecution so heavily, youd think hed 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: womens 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 Jays 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.
Jays always been at his best when either celebrating his greatness (Big Pimpin, U Dont Know) or moralizing over his excesses (DEvils, Song Cry), but martyrdom doesnt 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 theres nothing worse than listening to rich men whine. News flash, Jigga: Youre Goliath now, not David.
Heres the gift of The Blueprint 2s 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: Its the gangsta teamstop your runone of the reasons that they call us gangreneThe other reason we got a gang of greenif theres 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 songs misogynistic content is indefensible, but Jay Zs form is ever remarkable.
Now heres the curse. Aside from the persecution complex, The Blueprint 2 is just plain boring to listen to. Jays 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 Jays career. Kayne and Just, responsible for the sublime soul sound of the original Blueprint, become overproduced parodies of themselves with cuts like Blazes Hovi Baby, with its orgy of synthesizer vamps, or Wests As One, an unfathomably cheesy track built off Earth, Wind & Fires syrupy fusion hit Fantasy.
The Neptunes are inoffensively passable by comparison, but considering how hot theyve 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 Dont Know remix, guest MCs MOPs screaming lyrical style fits the intense energy of Blazes 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 hadnt put out the first Blueprint, this second volume wouldnt 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)
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.