By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Jay-Z has employed the power of mnemonics to continued success throughout his career. "Big Pimpin'" taught us all how to spell that terribly confusing word, "pimp." And when he asked, "What's my motherfucking name?" the answer was, like a reflex, "Jigga." Now, on his sixth album, The Blueprint, Jay-Z utilizes his gift for mnemonics once again on "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" as he schools listeners in the proper spelling of his most recent alias, J-Hova. If he weren't such a gifted rapper, Jay-Z would make a fine elementary school teacher.
A return to the elementary seems to be Jay-Z's agenda on The Blueprint. Except for a few tracks, like "Izzo" and "Jigga That Nigga" (which feeds off the same teat of Eastern rhythms that made Missy Elliot's "Get Ur Freak On" big and strong), Jay-Z picks the deep pockets of late-'60s and '70s soul music for inspiration. The Blueprint's frequent reliance on analog samples -- similar to the deep manipulations RZA managed on The W -- gives the album extra weight to toss. Here, a single pulse from Bobby Byrd's slow, sad "I'm Not to Blame" gets transformed into the militant anthem "U Don't Know." "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)," a warning to haters, is draped in Bobby Bland's "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City." Even the Timbaland-produced jumper "Hola' Hovito" marries the producer's bleep-bloop addiction to a Latin-ghetto horn section and fuzzy Sly Stone funk.
Jay-Z has more or less perfected his effortless, conversational style of rapping, and while his storytelling skills haven't grown significantly on The Blueprint, he still occasionally manages to inspire. The album's most emotionally honest moment, the title track, is inflected like a written confession: "Momma raised me/Pop I miss you/God help me forgive him/I got some issues." It is promising to see the player stop playing, if only for three minutes and change.