Jay-Z Illustration: Christian Clayton

The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse

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November 22, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

Three EW critics give Jay-Z’s ”Blueprint 2” a spin

With Jay-Z’s latest, ”The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse,” Def Jam goes where it has never gone before by releasing its first hip-hop double CD. To mark the event, three members of EW’s music department — David Browne, Neil Drumming, and Evan Serpick — went where no critic has gone before: They locked themselves in an office and played both discs straight through. Some highlights:

— The album starts with ”a Dream,” an homage to vintage hip-hop that includes a Notorious B.I.G. sample:
ES: I wondered if this CD would be nostalgic. This track was.
ND: But he sampled an entire verse from Biggie’s ”Juicy.” Jay-Z always tries to use Biggie to boost his credibility.
DB: I like the bombastic sound. But it’s trying to do so much, like the scratching and the sample; it’s distracting.

— Next up: ”Hovi Baby,” another self-referential homage:
ND: There’s clever stuff, but I’m already fed up with his ego.
DB: It’s like a cop-show theme.
ES: Was he dissing anyone in particular?
ND: I feel like everything he says is about Nas.
DB: Especially the line ”your career’s over.”

— Helmed by Dr. Dre, one of the album’s many producers, ”The Watcher 2” features Truth Hurts and Rakim:
ND: This sounds like Dre has been listening to that first Portishead album.
DB: And watching Bond movies.

— On comes the single ”’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” featuring vocals by Beyoncé Knowles and a 2Pac sample:
DB: This is easy-listening Jay-Z.
ND: It’s his entry into the duet phenomenon like Ja Rule-Ashanti, Ja Rule-J. Lo.
ES: But it doesn’t have a hook, the most essential part.

— ”Excuse Me Miss” is one of several Neptunes-produced songs on the album:
ES: The good news is that it doesn’t sound like every other Neptunes song. But the bad news is that it still sucks!
ND: It’s one of those grown-up Jay-Z songs where he’s with only ONE girl.

— Timbaland guides the next track, ”What They Gonna Do”:
DB: That started out really well, then got monotonous.
ND: Jay-Z’s trying to increase the energy, but the content doesn’t live up. He’s so nonchalant, it seems like he doesn’t stand behind anything.
ES: The track would’ve been dumped if this were one disc.
ND: Jay-Z never gets as personal as Eminem does.
DB: Eminem ADMITS he’s screwed up, but Jay-Z doesn’t want to go there.

— The yawning stops with ”Poppin’ Tags,” a slice of Southern hip-hop:
ES: I guess ”poppin’ tags” means buying stuff. [Laughter]
DB: That mention of Honeycombs — is that the cereal? We’ve heard references to Oreos and Pampers, too.
ES: A product-placement album.

— Timbaland returns for the party track ”The Bounce”:
ND: For Timbaland, that was pretty lackluster.
ES: Compared with the Missy single, which is so creative.
DB: A lot of this sounds low-rent.

— On ”I Did It My Way,” which samples Paul Anka’s ”My Way,” Jay-Z talks of his 2001 trial for stabbing Undeas Records chief Lance ”Un” Rivera (he pleaded guilty to third-degree assault):
ND: He’s saying people make a big deal about the incident because he’s famous.
ES: ”I scratched him/He left with-out an aspirin.” I never heard him admit to the crime before.

— The second disc opens with a stripped-down ”Diamonds Is Forever”:
DB: I liked the straightforwardness of it.
ND: There was a moment of clarity: ”Yeah, I sold drugs and I feel bad about it, but this is why I did it.” That line ”I come from the city where the skinny niggas die” is almost poetic.
ES: This bodes well. The first disc was all bragging.

— The optimism dissipates with ”Guns & Roses,” his collaboration with Lenny Kravitz:
ES: It’s weird to get Kravitz in the studio and then sample Cake.
ND: Like he was an afterthought.
DB: It’s history in the making — using a rock dude as a hook girl.

— ”Meet The Parents” is a gripping narrative about life and death on the streets:
ND: That was great. The story has an arc and changes musically.
DB: The music is derivative of Dre, but it works really well with the lyrics.

— By ”2 Many Hoes,” halfway through disc two, weariness is setting in:
ES: Too many songs!
DB: That was the definition of ”filler.”

–Toward the end of the ”Curse” is ”As One,” which samples Earth, Wind & Fire and features Jay-Z’s extended Roc-A-Fella posse:

DB: I’m already nostalgic for the ”My Way” sample.
ND: This is awful, the worst track ever.
DB: It reminds me of nearly every other double CD. It could have been a good single disc. I give it a C.
ES: ”The Gift” was no prize: a C. ”The Curse” was better: a B.
ND: I give it all a C+. It’s a good thing Jay wasn’t here when we were listening to this.

The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse

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