This month marks the 22nd anniversary of JAY-Z’s sixth studio album, The Blueprint. It was released on September 11, 2001 via Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella Records. Widely regarded as JAY-Z’s best album, The Blueprint is known for its use of soul samples and for including some of his most iconic tracks. In the wake of one of the United States’s most devastating tragedies (in his hometown, no less), the album still managed to sell well, moving over 427,000 copies in its first week, not to mention it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
The now-triple platinum album’s success during such a painful time in American history was a testament to its quality. It truly spoke volumes about JAY-Z's hold on hip-hop and pop culture at the time. Additionally, the report that he recorded the album in just two weeks makes the album an even more impressive listen. Today, we are revisiting JAY-Z’s The Blueprint for its 22nd anniversary.
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JAY-Z: Basking In The Spotlight
JAY-Z's efforts prior to the The Blueprint boasted plenty of guest features. For example, 2000's The Dynasty: Roc La Familia acted as a showcase for his Roc-A-Fella roster. Even so, Jay never took a backseat on any of his studio albums. However, The Blueprint was a moment for Jay to shine with little outside help as he spat some of the hardest bars of his career. The lone guest feature on The Blueprint came from Eminem who delivered a show-stopping verse on "Renegade" that perfectly contrasted Jay-Z's.
While it had a consistent sound in its production, The Blueprint was full of variety. It showcased JAY-Z’s effortless hit-making ability with songs like “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” not to mention his ruthless rhymes “Takeover.” The Blueprint includes some of Jay’s hardest-hitting tracks like the relentless “U Don’t Know” and the slick “Hola Hovito.” Still, it also includes moments of introspection on album highlights like “Song Cry,” “Never Change,” and the closing track, “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me).” JAY-Z even gets playful in his delivery on songs like “Girls, Girls, Girls” and “All I Need.” He was certainly the star of his own album, but his top-notch team of producers brought the best out of him.
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Top Notch Production
The Blueprint includes some of JAY-Z’s best rapping, but part of what made it a career-defining album was its production. Just Blaze, Timbaland, Bink, Trackmasters, Eminem on the aforementioned “Renegade,” and a young Kanye West served as producers on the album. Known for its soulful instrumentals, The Blueprint flipped many classic soul records to make some now-iconic beats. For example, the Kanye West-produced “Izzo” brilliantly repurposed The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” Many respected producers contributed to the album, but The Blueprint notably helped establish the careers of Just Blaze and Kanye West. The two would soon become hip hop’s most in-demand producers for soul beats during the 2000s. Additionally, West's use of soul samples helped lay the foundation for his signature sound on his early albums. With a team of talented producers, JAY-Z made an undeniable classic.
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The Blueprint Arguably Stands As Jay-Z's Best Work
An argument can easily be made for The Blueprint being JAY-Z’s best album. To start, it is his most critically acclaimed album. It is currently his highest-scoring album on the online review aggregator Metacritic. The album also received a perfect rating of five mics in The Source magazine, while his classic debut, Reasonable Doubt did not. JAY-Z might personally rank Reasonable Doubt at the top of his discography but The Blueprint is an undeniable masterpiece. Jay was already a hip-hop star by 2001, but he was in a class of his own by his sixth album. His previous works showed that he could master current sounds and trap his peers, but his sixth studio album saw him leading the charge for hip hop in the 2000s.
Ultimately, The Blueprint reset the standard for the quality of JAY-Z’s albums, which he attempted to maintain in its sequels. While they did not stack up against the original, they marked significant moments in his later career that were ambitious in their respective approaches. The Blueprint remains one of Jay’s most impactful and most celebrated albums. In 2019, the album was officially selected for the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for its contributions to music. Its impact and influence on hip-hop is still evident today, 22 years after its release.