The Blueprint 3

"What more can I say?" asked Jay-Z in 2003, on his vaunted "retirement"record, The Black Album. The question has haunted the great —arguably, greatest — MC ever since, from his comeback dud KingdomCome (2006) and soundtrack curio American Gangster (2007). As thecurtain lifts on his 11th studio album, Jay is still posing it: On "WhatWe Talkin' About," he booms, "What we talkin' about, real shit?/Or wetalkin' about rhymes?"

Well, rhymes, certainly. Jay-Z remains avirtuoso, and Blueprint 3 has the usual quotient of punch lines ("Grownmen want me to sit 'em on my lap/But I don't have a beard and SantaClaus ain't black") and casually inventive flows ("Off That," a tastyTimbaland track). It's a catchy, pop-friendly record, with nods to theretro-soul sound of the original Blueprint (2001) and cameos from AliciaKeys and Young Jeezy, among others.

But Jay-Z is stuck for a subject."Empire State of Mind" is a pallid New York shout-out, and theanti-Auto-Tune polemic "D.O.A." is one of the weakest moments — apublicity stunt that Jay-Z probably wrote in five minutes.

Jay-Z has tocontend with a dilemma that Tupac or Biggie never did — how to behip-hop's first Hall of Fame workhorse, documenting life on top ratherthan on the rise. By all indications, he'll continue to make good butnot great music, replicating the form of his finest records minus theelectric charge. What more can Jay-Z say? Not so much, apparently. Buthe says it well.

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