Sorry, young rappers, Jay-Z's whole "Blueprint" thing was a trick. These albums don't show a path to success. They show how Jay succeeds, why he cannot be duplicated. And "The Blueprint 3" (Roc Nation) is the most untouchable of them all.
Put aside that no one else could nab Kanye West to produce the bulk of the tracks or get Alicia Keys to sing a memorable hook. Though they're part of what makes this so special, in the end, it all rests with Jay, whose rhymes are as pointed as ever and whose flow proves to be more flexible than ever before.
He out-Ems Eminem on the quirky "Thank You." He outpaces hip-hop's leading edge by twisting the Europop-influenced "What We Talkin' About" and "On to the Next One" around his style. But most important, he tops himself, both as he takes a victory lap as hip-hop's reigning champion - on "Run This Town" and "Empire State of Mind," where he declares, "I'm the new Sinatra" - and when he pushes for change.
Though Jay-Z is known for his party anthems, he's actually at his best when he speaks out on what's irking him - whether it's his campaign against AutoTune on the hard-hitting "D.O.A. (Death of AutoTune)" or the takedown culture on "Hate," where he and West egg each other on, pushing each other to try wilder approaches.
But it's "Off That," where Jay takes on race-baiting and pushes back at Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, that shows his best skills. It's both pointed ("It's 2010, not 1864," he deadpans) and still lighthearted enough to remain accessible.
It would be great if that touched off a run on well-crafted, well-meaning hip-hop, but Jay-Z's latest "Blueprint" is so good that it's almost impossible to follow.
"The Blueprint 3" comes out Friday., Sept. 11