On Jay Z‘s 46th birthday, we’re taking a look back at Source issue #248, in which we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of what’s widely regarded as Jay Z’s best album, The Blueprint, his 6th album (or 5th, if you want to get technical and exclude The Dynasty). Aside from the historical implications–this album infamously dropped on 9/11–The Blueprint represents a pivotal time in Hip-Hop for many reasons. The Jay Z-Nas beef. The birth of Kanye West and Just Blaze as production superstars. The iconic records (“Izzo,” “Song Cry”). Today, we decided to take a look back at our 10-year commemoration of the album that forever changed Jay Z’s career, and Hip-Hop.

You Must Love Me
We commemorate the 10th birthday of the album that affirmed Jay-Z’s seat on the throne. Salute!
Words by Elliott Wilson

What does it take to be #1? Skill. Strength. Savvy. And throw in a little adversity on top. After his classic 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt ignited the streets, dazzled the critics but didn’t move enough units, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter scrapped his bad marketing plan for a one album discography and decided to a drop new masterful work each and every year. He emerged center stage with a fervent desire to be #1 in the post ‘Pac-Biggie era. No MC ever wanted the throne as much as Hov. If consistency kills than he was the Son of Sam and by the time he got to his sixth album, his frustrated competitors were firing shots back.

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It was the summer of 2001 when Jay decided to counter his most vocal opposition, Prodigy by debuting an early version of “Takeover” during a headlining set at Hot 97’s Summer Jam. “You little fuck, I got money stacks bigger than you,” Hov growled while an image of the Mobb Deep member in his adolescent years as a dance school student beamed from the concert’s jumbo screen. But the salvo that set off hip-hop’s greatest battle is when Hov later brought up Prodigy’s QB brethren. “You guys don’t want it with Hov/Ask Nas he don’t want it with Hov.” It was a shot heard around the world. The battle for the new King of NY was on.

But The Blueprint isn’t a great album because of just one visceral record. From back to front, the opus is genius. The bonus songs alone were superior to other MCs entire albums. On “Lyrical Exercise,” Jay references his drug dealing past, his gift of memory, and offers evidence as to why he’s the best in the game via a brilliant sports thread. He literally runs circles around his foes with stamina. It’s the cherry on top of a classic. One that was ignited by a creative explosion that occurred one weekend in Baseline Studios when the sped-up soul-sampled productions of Kanye West and Just Blaze inspired SC to complete seven songs in two days. Not only was Hov gonna use this project to lay claim to his dominance in the rap field but he and his hungry Co-Ds behind the boards were gonna change the sound of hip-hop altogether. In late 2001, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Just Blaze would do to Swizz’s keyboard beats what the God MC would do eight years later to Auto-Tune: plummet its stock.

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Just’s “U Don’t Know” is an exhilarating back to the future joyride of Hov’s journey from corner boy to corporate hustler. “Could make 40(K) off a brick but one rhyme could beat that,” he boasted over Bobby Byrd’s “I’m Not To Blame.” Mr. West then alters Bobby Blue Bland’s “Ain’t No Love In The Heart City” deliciously for Jay to vent about the cattiness of the rap game while asserting that his accomplishments should be appreciated. “I know you waitin’ in the wing/But I’m doin’ my thing.”

A true rap fan’s delight occurs on track 12 where Hov goes toe-to-toe with fellow Hall of Famer, Eminem over Marshall’s minimalist production. Like a closely contested heavyweight boxing match gone the distance, rap nerds still debate over which great MC’s performance is superior. “Eminem murdered you on your own shit,” is a hot line from Nas’ “Takeover” retaliation, “Ether” but one that’s not accurate.

As evidenced by the chorus of “Takeover,” “All I Need” has Hov focused on empowering his Roc-a-fella Records roster. Following in the footsteps of the Dynasty album a year earlier, Young H.O. was intent on sharin’ the spotlight with his signees: Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Oschino, Sparks and the Young Gunz. Jordan was leading his young bulls. Like Bad Boy Records in its prime, the R.O.C. was the team you wanted to play for. Dame was still dancing with imaginary dice in his hand and Biggs was still chillin’ on a boat puffin’ on cigars.

But BP isn’t all male bravado; here Jay-Z laid some of his most personal work. Beyonce’s future hubby’s last days of pure bachelorhood wind down on the comical “Girls, Girls, Girls,” while “Song Cry” finds Hov lamenting the loss of old love. The hook supplied by his A&R Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua summed up Shawn’s cold steel persona: “I can’t see it coming down my eyes. So I gotta make the song cry.” The title track adds more touching moments, on which Jay lets his guard down to reminisce over great childhood memories (“banana pudding”).

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The Blueprint was shrouded in emotion, especially with, at the time, the pending assault case for the stabbing of record exec Lance “Un” Rivera” hanging over its recordings. Although he declared he was “not guilty” on BP’s lead single “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” Jay would eventually cop to the charge a month after the album’s release. Real world issues would also affect matters. Then there was album’s release date:

September 11, 2001, which will always be remembered for the World Trade Center tragedy. Touched by the horrific terrorist attack, Jay would donate proceeds from his TK tour to relief organizations. Being a class act while puttin’ his Timberland in all of his rival’s assses, Mr. Carter crafted an amazing album that remains his finest hour. 1998’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life is the album that introduced Jay-Z , the superstar. The Blueprint was the album that crowned Jay-Z the best.