The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation/Atlantic)
It's becoming more and more reasonable to ask why Jay-Z keeps making albums. The Blueprint 3 is his third consecutive clunker, and his career can now be almost evenly divided between the good years—from Reasonable Doubt in 1996 through The Black Album in 2003—and everything after.
The third volume of the long-running Blueprint series is neither a retrenchment nor a radical reinvention. But it's more than just a predictable attempt for Jay-Z to maintain his status as hip-hop's CEO. If you've already heard the two singles—"D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" and "Run This Town," with Rihanna and Kanye West—you've heard most of the best of The Blueprint 3. And both are pretty good, certainly better than any of the singles from Kingdom Come or American Gangster. At the opposite end, though, is the desperate-sounding "Young Forever," featuring Jay over a sample of Alphaville's Euro-synth hit "Forever Young." Nearly as embarrassing is "Off That," with Jay boasting how ahead of the curve he is over a throwaway Timbaland beat. That's the most egregious fault of The Blueprint 3—Jay proclaims himself the future of hip-hop when he's very clearly just trying to keep up. The production here is a catch-all of recent trends (Timbaland's three tracks sound particularly out of place), and guest spots by Young Jeezy ("Real as It Gets") and Swizz Beatz ("On to the Next One") highlight how much things have changed since Jay's prime.