The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse: Jay-Z

The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse: Jay-Z

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Album: Jay-Z
Label: Roc-A-Fella
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Album: Jay-Z
Label: Roc-A-Fella

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The problem with being on top, as Jay-Z would no doubt attest, is that there's nowhere to go but down. It's not surprising, then, that The Blueprint 2 has led many to claim that the rapper has lost his vise-like grip on rap music. Given the triumph of 2001's The Blueprint and Jay-Z's long run at the top, a backlash was probably inevitable, and Roc-A-Fella's finest has made it easy for playa-haters and critics alike by releasing a two-disc concept album with a bloated running time and two terrible singles, "'03 Bonnie And Clyde" and "Guns & Roses." Thankfully, both are the exception rather than the rule on Blueprint 2, which showcases his strengths as well as his weaknesses. Overreaching but surprisingly solid, Blueprint 2 is divided into two sections meant to symbolize the duality of stardom. The first disc, The Gift, offers more radio-friendly, club-ready tales of life among the rich, jiggy, and label-conscious. Breaking from its predecessor's stripped-down approach, Blueprint 2 finds Jay-Z collaborating with a slew of rappers—many, not surprisingly, from the Roc-A-Fella family—as well as numerous hot producers, including Dr. Dre, The Neptunes, Timbaland, Just Blaze, and Kanye West. Jay-Z begins The Gift by evoking both Notorious B.I.G. and Jesus Christ before anointing himself "a revolutionary Jay Guevera" on "The Bounce." The album revels in Jay-Z's trademark arrogance, but low self-esteem has never been part of his modus operandi, and Gift boasts plenty of the insouciant wit and lyrical mastery that have been his saving grace. Blueprint 2's darker and more erratic second disc, The Curse, trades in The Gift's pop-rap bangers for large doses of paranoia and anger. "Meet The Parents" affords Jay-Z an opportunity to revisit the street-life milieu and pulpy narratives of his emotionally penetrating early work, this time as an observer rather than a protagonist. His latest doesn't hold together the way The Blueprint did, but few albums, even good ones, do. It falls apart at the end, outstaying its welcome by at least 20 minutes, but reports of Jay-Z's creative demise have been greatly exaggerated.

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