The Blueprint, Vol. 2: The Gift and the Curse

"Rumor has it, The Blueprint classic/Couldn't even be stopped by bin Laden," Jay-Z boasts midway The Blueprint, Vol. 2: The Gift and the Curse. He's right, too — the first installment of The Blueprint, which dropped last September 11th, found Jay-Z blasting through a tight collection of banging beats, irresistible hooks and brutal disses, with the one and only guest appearance coming from Eminem, Jay's top competitor for Best Living MC on the Planet. On Vol. 2 Jay-Hova ups the ante, producing something of a hip-hop "White Album": two discs worth of party anthems and serious songwriting, with a small army of guest rhymers and producers in tow. With his dexterous, rhythmically devastating flow in full effect on highlights like "All Around the World" and "Meet the Parents," Jay-Hova is a lot more consistent than his beats, which are long on both bouncy funk and forgettable R&B samples. Notable cameos by Lenny Kravitz and OutKast's Big Boi add to the album's anything-goes feel, but the gift-versus-curse concept helps hold things together, as Jay wows you with his jet-setting lifestyle one minute, then contemplates the darker side of fame and his ghetto upbringing the next. Mo' money, mo' problems, to be sure. And one more strong record from hip-hop's most dependable voice.

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