Jay Z The Blueprint

Because he sells an obscene amount of records it's easy to dismiss the significance of Jay-Z as an artist, but the fact is he's a genuine MC. When it comes down to flow, cadence, vocabulary and charisma - important measuring sticks of any MC worth their salt - Jigga has all of the above in spades. The glaring deficiency in his armour is his subject matter, where Jay-Z has spent plenty of time flaunting materialism and shallow pursuits. It was only on his 1996 Reasonable Doubt debut, a slick yet meditative portrait of the artist as a young hungry man, where Jay-Z really addressed issues beyond the superficial. Since he's reached the hedonistic heights he yearned for on that record his reflective side has faded rapidly into the background. The inevitable backlash seems to have been good for him because on The Blueprint, Jay-Z has apparently revived some of his initial hunger. The fuel is obviously the disses he's received from Nas and Mobb Deep, and on "Takeover" he dismantles the Queensbridge MCs in a fearsome and witty lyrical barrage. While the tailored for radio hits, arrogance and the requisite Timbaland banger are present, and his weak Roc-A Fella supporting cast are thankfully absent, the reflections on his life that comprise much of the second half, replete with soulfully-tinged production, are genuinely interesting. But while he's shown flashes of compelling introspection in his career, he's never really openly addressed social issues, and so his contention that "I'm representing for the seat where Rosa Parks sat/Where Malcolm X was shot/Where Martin Luther was popped," on "The Ruler's Back," is preposterous. Many have labelled this his best since Reasonable Doubt, and pound for pound it is, but to be honest there's not much competition in his album catalogue. (Universal)