As transparently phony attempts to look edgy and dangerous by wealthy middle-aged men go, Jay-Z’s “D.O.A (Death Of Auto-Tune)” ranks somewhere between a graying ponytail and a tiny diamond earring. The hilariously unconvincing bid to regain his street credibility by pretending he’s a taboo-shattering rebel and asserting that the whole Auto-Tune fad is a little silly only underlines how safe and borderline adorable Jay-Z has become. He’s like a Labradoodle puppy pretending to be a rabid pitbull. The song is even more ridiculous considering Jay-Z spends the rest of the rock-solid third entry in the Blueprint series indulging his Rat Pack fantasies and luxuriating in the splendor of life at the top of the socioeconomic ladder. The drug dealer turned über-yuppie sounds much more authentic bragging about hanging with Oprah than with street-corner thugs.
When he’s not pretending that he’s still a tough guy, Jay-Z sounds like he’s having a blast co-opting and co-signing next big things Drake (“Off That”) and Kid Cudi (“Already Home”) as well as current big thing Young Jeezy (“Real As It Gets”) and re-affirming his chemistry with the big-money beatsmiths behind many of his hits: Kanye West, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and The Neptunes. The lush sound alternates between glossy hyper-soul and icy synthesizer shards. On the Kanye West and No I.D-produced “Thank You,” Jay-Z cuts down pretenders to his throne with a 9/11 metaphor as elaborate and creative as it is deliciously tasteless. He gets even fancier with the wordplay on the slinky, seductive “Venus Vs. Mars,” with lyrics that blur the line between clever and corny. The great ones make it look easy. Accordingly, Jay-Z sounds liberated by his legacy rather than weighed down by expectations. It’s Jay-Z’s world, but on The Blueprint 3 he’s considerate enough to let listeners perambulate about for a most enjoyable visit.