Yeah, of course Blueprint is my number one hiphop album of the last ten years. It’s not like it was a very hard choice (and it’s not like a few of you didn’t guess it). I already wrote about why I love the album so much here.
I don’t like to repeat myself, so I’m going to refer to the above article for my rationale. Beyond the autobiographical angle I focus on there, I’d also like to point to the sly humor of “Takeover”, probably the most definitive beef track of all time, and mention the unusual fact that Jay seemed not peeved but proud when Nas, his target and one-time hero, took Jay’s insults as a kick in the ass and came back hard with “Ether”. Jay’s positive reaction to Nas’s subsequent career revival showed a lot of character (and I consider myself very lucky to have been at the concert where Jay and Nas surprised the hiphop world by ending their bitter battle onstage in 2005).
Blueprint is the album I think I’ll always remember when I think about the past decade, not only because I listened to it so damn much but also because it’s a “message record” that inspired me and gave me strength during some of the tough years at the beginning of this decade that I describe in my memoir. If he wasn’t a rapper, Jay could have written self-help books. He probably could have even called them Blueprint, Blueprint 2, etc.
Some of the personal crises explored on this CD appear to have even taken the rapper himself to the edge of uncertainty. The album builds up to a high point (following the just awesome “Never Change” and “Heart of the City”) with “Song Cry”, a confessional about a broken-up love affair that cuts deep enough to require a few layers of misdirection and sarcastic dismissal (“Sounds like a love song”, the track begins). I have no idea what the personal circumstances behind the song are. It’s not the words but the tone of the voice that lets us know it’s real.
Some bemoan the fact that Jay’s more recent work seems to slip into self-imitation (though, let’s be honest, even Kingdom Come and Blueprint 3 sound great). I say he’s given us enough. If the next decade of hiphop is anywhere near as good as the past decade, it’s not hard to guess where the blueprint will have come from.
Hell, even Barack Obama cites Jay-Z as an inspiration. That says a lot. Blueprint, indeed.
So, the Literary Kicks Top Five Hiphop Masterpieces of the Past Decade list is complete. But I know what you’re saying: what about D-Block? What about Lil’ Jon, and Mike Jones, and Fat Joe, and Eminem, and Luda, and Weezy? And why is my list so insular — why did I pick three albums that came out of the Roc-A-Fella factory and two from Death Row? And why are my choices so commercial — where’s the underground and the indie scenes? I can’t answer these questions. Blame my ears.
Other readers of this series may not care why Houston and Atlanta don’t show up on my list, but instead want to know why a literary site should afford any respect for the messy traditions of hiphop in the first place. All I can say there is that I deeply wish the popular novelists of the past decade had managed to be anywhere near as original as Jay-Z and Dr. Dre and Kanye West and 50 Cent and Cam’ron (or, for that matter, Jadakiss and Nas and Slim Thug and Akon and … okay, I’ll stop).
I don’t know which books from the 2000s will be appreciated a hundred years from now. But I just told you about five albums that definitely will be.
Hiphop isn’t the smoothest fit for the LitKicks readership, but I enjoyed writing this series, and I hope some of you enjoyed it too. I may follow up with the Five Hiphop Masterpieces of the 1980s and the 1990s, if anyone’s interested in hearing about it.
#2: Dr. Dre: 2001