Under the Radar’s 15th Anniversary: Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint”

Celebrating Under the Radar's 15th Anniversary and the Best Albums of 2001

Jan 05, 2017 Web Exclusive By Kyle Mullin Bookmark and Share


Under the Radar's very first print issue came out in December 2001. In honor of our 15th Anniversary some of our writers are reflecting on some of their favorite albums (and movies and TV shows) from 2001.

If you'd told a hip-hop fan in 2001 that, in 15 years, Jay-Z and Nas would have long squashed their beef and Kanye West would be dissing Hov onstage, they never would have believed you. This was long before Yeezy was a solo star in his own right, much less hating on Jay and his boo Beyonce or pledging allegiance to President Elect Donald Trump (which he did at a recent concert in Sacramento). No, at the time young West was a humble up and coming beat maker who quickly earned acclaim for his soulful, vintage tinged beats on Jay-Z's landmark album The Blueprint. Indeed, West helmed tracks like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," which features West's soon to be trademark tight sampling style of a retro hit, in this case The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," gave the Jigga man the sonic platform he needed to reach a wide new audience outside of his established rap and R&B circles.

But it was the West produced battle track "Takeover," that also made The Blueprint a hit with hip-hop heads, thanks to its menacing yet unique samplings of both "Five to One" by The Doors and "Sound of da Police" by KRS-One, over which Jay laid lyrical waste to rival New York MCs like Nas. The song, like many Blueprint cuts, deftly (and distinctly) balanced accessible sonics with Jay-Z's finessed lyricism. Hov and Esco would go on to settle their differences and even amiably collaborate, with Nas signing to the Jay-Z helmed Def Jam records in 2006 and trading verses with his former foe on that album's deep cut "Black Republican." But when The Blueprint hit record store shelves in 2001 such reconciliation seemed almost inconceivable, as Jay spent verse after verse belittling Nas' entire discography (prompting Esco to eventually retaliate, of course, with his own arguably fiercer dis track "Ether," later that year). All those dramatic twists and turns began with "Takeover," though, and the dis track was one of the many ways that future MCs tried to begin similarly aggressive narratives of their own-be it 50 Cent's potshot rife "How to Rob," right up to Kendrick Lamar's most recent all but blasphemous dis track "Control," on which he crowned himself "King of New York," to current on wax beef between Drake and Kid Cudi.

Sure, there were several other standouts from The Blueprint-such as more of-the-moment sex and romance, respectively, themed tracks like "Girls, Girls, Girls" and "Song Cry." And there were, of course, other notable producers that worked on the LP, like Timbaland and Just Blaze, not to mention the chart dominant Eminem. But the work between Jay-Z and Kanye West-on sonic, lyrical, and broader rap cultural (what cynics might call marketing or publicity) levels-make The Blueprint live up to its name a decade and a half later, as a long lasting design that a generation of younger rappers could build their own legacies upon. In that sense, that album has and will surely continue to live up to its name.



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