The Blueprint 3, by Jay-Z (Album of the week)

Listening to Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3 is an enjoyable lesson in humility for a guy like me. The enjoyable part is the music – much of it is catchy, upbeat and big. Drum riffs, rhythm, lyrics that are a guilty chuckle – it’s a fun album. But it’s also a bit humbling. There’s a whole world out there that I don’t know anything about, and Jay-Z isn’t writing his songs to make me feel hip. The album is full of references and slang that I simply do not catch.

Shocking, isn’t it, that a middle-class, middle-aged white guy might have a bit of this album go over his balding head?

Perhaps even more shocking is that I liked it. This music was definitely not written for my ears, but its head-bobbing, foot-tapping rhythms penetrate even my sluggish senses. You don’t want to visualize or even know this, but I even busted a few corpulent moves while playing it loud this morning.

It surprised me how many of these songs I recognized. Jay-Z is a big deal, and his music reaches us even if we’re not actively seeking it. “Thank You”, “Empire State of Mind”, “A Star is Born”, “Reminder”, and “Young Forever” were all familiar.

So, what about the lyrics? What about the “N-word”, and the disrespect for women? What can I say – what should I say? The Deliberate Obfuscator goes there, and her review of our shared album is much more high-minded, serious and probably insightful. You should read it – she makes some good points.

Honestly, though, I can’t get that worked up about it. Part of it is that most of the lyrics come too rapidly for me to really hear them clearly. They function more as sounds than as narrative for me. I catch a phrase here and there, and I can sing along with most of the choruses. Much of what I catch is slang I don’t know or references that I don’t know. “I gave Doug a grip and lost a flip for five stacks.” Huh? “Look here-ah, see Ye is running the Chi like Gale Sayers.” Alright, gather that someone known as “Ye” is thriving in Chicago like Gale Sayers, a running back whose name I do recognize. Yea, me – I’m hip! But what does running a town mean – he talks a lot about it with Kanye and Rihanna in “Run this Town”, but I don’t really know what he’s talking about.

Amusingly, Jay-Z sparked a whole lot less controversy than Megyn Kelly when he announced, “Grown men want me to sit em on my lap/But I don’t have a beard and Santa Claus ain’t black.”

Again, I know this is not an album designed to enthrall Dan Ryan. I’m listening in on something that doesn’t intend to pertain to me. I could probably find out what all those references are and become more fluent in the slang, but, really, I’m okay just listening to the music and enjoying it on a shallow level. But if he starts dating my daughter, he better show her more respect than Shawty, whoever she is.

Next up: Same Tralier Different Park, by Kacey Musgraves

5 Responses to “The Blueprint 3, by Jay-Z (Album of the week)”

  1. [...] is what Gone Mild had to say on his listen. We agree that this makes us tap our toes, but turned up some differences in [...]

  2. Nick says:

    “…lyrics that are a guilty chuckle – ”

    Leaving aside the actual content of the “lyrics”, I would take issue with your nomenclature. I refer to the Oxford dictionary:

    Lyrics -

    1. (of poetry) expressing the writer’s emotions, usually briefly and in stanzas or recognized forms.
    • (of a poet) writing lyric poetry.
    2. (of a singing voice) using a light register:a lyric soprano with a light, clear timber

    (usually lyrics) 1. a lyric poem or verse.
    • lyric poetry as a literary genre.

    2. the words of a song: she has published both music and lyrics for a number of songs

    The English language is a malleable entity. Yet I would disagree with the assertion that “rap” meets the current definition of lyrics; were the rapper to offer the same words stripped of the music and sampled tracks — say, as performed in a coffee house – one could easily make the case for rap as free-form (protest) prose – def poetry. But lyrics? I don’t think so.

    As to the content…why bother? I suppose aggressive self-aggrandizement, combined with misogynist and puerile rhythmic references (invariably interspersed with the ubiquitous “Ho!”) are the current “hot” thing, or at least for a certain segment of society. However, I would argue that fact merely exemplifies the continuing debasement (if that’s possible) of popular culture.

  3. gonemild says:

    Wow, Nick! I bet you wrote a strongly worded letter to the Ed Sullivan after that obscene Elvis character was on there, too! Thank you for making me feel like less, much less, of a fuddy-duddy.

    I’m sure prior generations acted as though the words to rock songs weren’t lyrics, either. Do you walk around the Kemper and harrumph that “My 3 year-old great great grandson could have painted that!”?

  4. Nick says:

    Ha! Yes, I kept thinking I needed to add the “…get off my lawn” trope in there myself.

    But, no, back in the day I actually had a pair of blue suede shoes; while the “olds” of the period decried Elvis’ lack of “decency” (and his unfortunate case of hip dysplasia), there was no denying what he sang was comprised of lyrics set to music.

    Elvis –to continue to pick on the old, fat, dead white guy some more — sang about any number of topics, to thoroughly include sex, yes indeedy. As did Tom Jones a little later on (panties galore!) and hundreds of artists before and since; the American songbook is rife with songs about sex. When Ricardo Montalbán wooed Esther Williams with “Baby It’s Cold Outside” back in ‘48 there were undoubtedly some “shocked” folks concerned over Ms Williams’ possible ‘virtue’, but the lyrics there reflected the respect and teasing interplay between a couple.

    Here’s Jay-Z’s updated and shouted take on the topic:

    “All these girls only gonna want one thing
    I can spend my whole life goodwill hunting
    Only good gonna come is it’s good when I’m cumming
    She got an ass that’ll swallow up a G-string
    And up top, ah, 2 bee stings…”

    So, no, I’m not going to pretend the gentleman is a lyricist à la Mercer and Loesser, or even Waits and Cohen, much less Gil Scott Heron. Jay-Z’s raps (mild compared to some of the more aggressively thug life violent examples available) are mostly but the playground musings of a sixth or seventh grader talking trash for his friends.

    p.s. – thanks for the hat tip to my daughters (10 and 8): how did you know they recently had some of their art (one piece realism, one piece decidedly abstract) hung in the Learning Annex at The Nelson?

  5. gonemild says:

    Sincerity before snark. That’s great about your daughters. Great for them, and it’s good to know that you’re obviously the kind of parent who supports and encourages that kind of involvement with the arts. They’re lucky, and so are you.

    Now, back to battle. Actually, more of a negotiated truce. I actually agree that many of the songs benefitted in my view because of the too-rapid-for-my-old-ears-to-hear lyrics. I’m not impressed with the braggadocio or swagger, except, as noted, for the occasional “guilty chuckle”. And, to our view, songs designed to reach our generation sounded better. But can you imagine how disgusted John Milton would be by TS Eliot or Robert Frost? You consider it a continued debasement, and I occasionally agree, but that is exactly what every generation before us has whined about.

    The lyrics aren’t written for you or me. Golden oldies were, even though our parents disapproved.

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