4. Jay-Z, 'The Blueprint'
Unlike many of Jay-Z's records — the retirement and comeback discs, the movie soundtracks, the posse albums and "rock" albums — The Blueprint didn't have a gimmick. It rounded up a bunch of surefire beats and turned the greatest rapper on Earth loose.
Presto: Jay-Z's best record, and one of the finest rap albums of all time. Much credit is due to producers Just Blaze, Timbaland and especially Kanye West, who made his name with relentlessly catchy tracks like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)." The old-school soul samples give the record a lush feel, but Blueprint was recorded at the height of Jay-Z's feud with Nas, and he was out for blood. Punch lines arrive fast and furious — "Sensitive thugs/You all need hugs," he quips — but what really stands out is the rapper's sheer musicality: the new flows, timbres and tones that Jay-Z unveils in every song, with a virtuosity that marked him a vocal stylist on par with pop's greatest singers. "I'm the compadre/The Sinatra of my day," he rapped. For once, he wasn't talking trash.
• Rolling Stone's Original 2001 Review