Lots of rappers brag that they’re the king. But, as is generally the case with kings, there can be only one. And the man who occupies rap’s throne is Jay-Z. The Blueprint 3 marks his 11th trip to the top of the charts in his 13 years on the scene. Speaking of kings, 39-year-old Jay-Z (real name: Shawn Carter) just leapfrogged Elvis Presley on the list of artists with the most No. 1 albums. (He’s got nine to go to beat the all-time record holders, the Beatles.)
For his latest, Jay-Z recruits the hottest talent to contribute as guests (Kanye West, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Young Jeezy, Kid Cudi, Drake). Then he raps about “the good life” as only a playa at the top o’ the game can live it—for better or worse. Mostly worse, actually.
“What We Talkin’ About” denounces street violence (“Ain’t nothing cool ’bout carryin’ a strap/’Bout worryin’ your moms/And buryin’ your best cat/Talkin’ ’bout revenge/While you’re carrying his casket”). Being a man of his word is a life-or-death issue for Jay-Z on “Thank You.” Church attendance gets a passing mention on “Run This Town.” “Empire State of Mind” describes New York City as a place of unlimited potential. A couple lines on “So Ambitious” praise the power of positive thinking (“If you believe it/ … Then you can conceive it”).
F-words and s-words abound, as does Jay-Z’s ongoing fondness for the n-word and other profanities. He waxes profane on “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)” regarding his music’s ability to inspire criminal behavior (“This s— make n-ggas wanna go commit felonies”). We hear passing references to using and/or selling drugs on “Thank You,” “Young Forever” and “Empire State of Mind.” The latter dismisses Jesus’ ability to save and disses church too (“Jesus can’t save you/Life starts when the church ends”).
The rapper’s outsized ego takes center stage when he brags about being bigger than Elvis on “Reminder” (“I crush Elvis in his blue suede shoes”) and takes credit for every major player in the hip-hop game on “A Star Is Born.” Jay-Z is so cool, in fact, that whatever you think is trendy, he’s already done with. “Whatever you about to discover,” he says, “We off that.” “Thank You” trivializes 9/11 by comparing Jay-Z’s enemies to the terrorists who struck the World Trade Center. Crude references to the male anatomy can be heard on three tracks, and at least five songs include sexual allusions and/or graphic descriptions of women’s bodies and particular sex acts.
Jay-Z’s raps may not be quite as gratuitously foul as the efforts by many of his contemporaries. That, however, hardly qualifies as an endorsement. Fleetingly positive moments notwithstanding, Jay-Z’s latest blueprint for pop-culture domination relies on the same problematic themes he’s subjected us to for 13 years: decadence, drugs, violence, sex and king-like bravado. Along the way, Jay lobs a verbal volley at Jesus and the church for good measure.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.