Rating: 4/5 stars
Pro: The best-produced album since his comeback, BP3 is Jay's triumphant return to the throne.
Con: Jay's self-absorption and navel-gazing can wear over an entire album.
Bottom Line: A worthy heir to the original Blueprint.
Empire State of Mind
On BP3, Jay-Z boasts he's gone "from Brooklyn to down in Tribeca next to DeNiro." He's gone from bragging about how many bricks he moved out the back of his trunk to bragging about how good his seats were at the Pacquaio fight. But no matter the change in lifestyle, the underlying message remains the same: Jay-Z is still pretty damn impressed with Jay-Z.
Dubbing himself "the new Sinatra," he raps over a series of glossy, high-budget beats full of live instrumentation -- strings, trumpets and hand-claps. It's the best production he's gotten since his comeback from retirement in 2006.
BP3 follows in the vein of his first 10 solo albums -- all of which, he reminds us, have "gone No. 1"; all morphing his life (teenage drug dealer "called a camel" to multi-millionaire CEO married to the world's biggest pop star) into a Charles Dickens story. On "Empire State of Mind" he takes a contemplative ride in his new Lexus through the McDonald's parking lot in Harlem where he bought drugs to an old apartment where he stashed them.
There's no hint of the actual person behind the narrative he has constructed, nothing separating Sean Carter from Jay-Z. He only gets emotional when discussing his career, addressing the fans and critics "who want [Jay] to fall from the top" on song ("Hate") after song ("What We Talking About") after song ("Already Home") after song ("Reminder").
He notes he's "in the hall already, people compare me to Biggie and Pac already, like I'm gone already." The guest list is another glimpse at his mortality: Where the first Blueprint had only one guest appearance, the third is filled with big-name artists (Alicia Keyes, Kanye, Jeezy and Rihanna) and newcomers like Drake and Kid Cudi. His first attempt at a comeback single -- the bombastic "DOA" which called for an end to the auto-tune phenomenon a year after it had already peaked -- was met with shrugs. Kanye and Rihanna overshadow him on the first single "Run This Town", a drastic role reversal from only five years ago, when he was the biggest name on their debut albums.
The album closes with a melodramatic sample of an 80's glam-rock synthesizer balled called "Young Forever." But no one actually does, not even Jay-Z.