The life and times of Sean Carter have indeed been a two-sided story of a gift and a curse. Dealing with numerous hardships and up and downs, Jay-z has endured everything in route to become one of the true legends of our times. His track list is extensive, his influence is unparalleled, but with all his success Jay-z has received just as much criticism to go along. Many call him arrogant; some call him commercial, while others just don't like the man. Nevertheless, as Big's saying goes, the more money the more problems. And the problems have recently been stacking up against the once dominant emcee, as his ongoing beef with Nas ended on a sour note, his supposed "Best Of Both Worlds" album was a huge failure, and even more recently Jay has caught flack for the 2pac sampling and biting of his newest hit "03 Bonnie & Clyde". It seems as if no matter where Jigga goes or what he does criticism will soon follow. To add even more fire to the fuel Jay announced that his newest installment in the Blueprint saga would be a double disc effort entitled "The Gift & The Curse".
We all know the stories of double disc albums. While many have attempted to pull off a consistent double album most have failed. Biggie accomplished the greatest double album with his classic "Life After Death" and The Wu almost did the same with "Forever", but beyond that no group or artist has fully pulled off what now seems to be like the impossible. But as we know, Jay-z is never one to shy away from controversy or trying something new.
Upon the news most reactions in the Hip-Hop community were the same, Jay-z will never be able to pull off a double album. With a strong history of filler tracks appearing on almost all of his albums, which have undoubtedly taken some aura off of many of them, there was no doubt that "The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse" would follow in the same trend as all the others.
However to everyone's surprise, Jay-z indeed does pull off what most thought he couldn't, as "The Blueprint 2" isn't perfect, but a great album that exceeds all expectations. While Jay's latest effort wont mach the classic material of "Reasonable Doubt" or the original "Blueprint", it does fit perfectly with his catalogue of superb albums such as "Vol. 1 & 3". The biggest difference is the new sound that Jay presents for "The Blueprint 2". As Jay said, he wasn't looking to duplicate the soulful sounds of the original "Blueprint" and instead offer an album with variety and originality. Gone are the masterful, soulful loops of soul that dominated the original, and in is the amazing variety of not only Kanye West & Just Blaze, but also a plethora of producers such as The Neptune's, Timbaland, No I.D., Heavy D, and Dr. Dre among others. And while many will be disappointed that Jay doesn't continue the sounds of the last album, you have to realize the brilliance in what Jay has done. Never one to stick to the past, Jay has once again showed why he is the most dominant and well-rounded emcee in the industry today. Fans may want their artists to stick to the script all the time, but in reality it's the balance of everything that makes an emcee great.
While the 25 joints on the album could have very well be cut down into one classic album, "The Blueprint 2" does a great job of spreading the sounds around and not sticking to one particular genre all the time. For those looking for those classic hard-core, street enthused tracks from Jay look no further than the sounds of "Diamond Is Forever", "Show You How", "Bitches & Sisters", "U Don't Know Remix" featuring M.O.P, and "Meet The Parents". The remix of the smash hit "U Don't Know" featuring the newest members of the Roc M.O.P. is a sure fire banger as Just Blaze twists the production into something totally fresh and innovative while staying true to the original sound. M.O.P. of course bring that intensity and hunger only they can bring, while Jay once again rips the spectacular production to shreds with his verse. However, the standout track of the album just might be the amazing story telling anthem of "Meet The Parents". With a Just Blaze produced track that redefines the word dope, Jay literally destroys the track with his vivid imagery, as the track is definitely Jay's best verse since "The Dynasty" days. Many questioned if Jay could come up with any variety and topics for this album, well all answers of that can now be silenced.
A lot of attention was also drawn to the numerous guest appearances featured on the album. Surprisingly, the collaborations on "The Blueprint 2" are some of the albums highlights. "Guns & Roses" featuring Lenny Kravitz is an extremely hope Heavy D produced track that finds the two superstars blending perfectly with precise chemistry. Lenny adds some nice flavor to the track singing the hook as Jay does a solid job behind the mic, even though his verses could have been better. Nevertheless, the song still ends up a success. Jay also reunites with Scarface and Beanie Sigel for another soulful masterpiece called "Some How Some Way". Continuing the tradition of greatness these three guys always seem to have together, the Just Blaze track is reminiscent of the original Blueprint style.
Going the West Coast route, "The Watcher 2" which is a sequel to the Dr. Dre smash seen on "The Chronic 2001" is nothing short of a classic. Jay and Dr. Dre put forth good efforts, however it's the god Rakim who rips the track to shreds with his best verse in years. Moving to the dirty south "Poppin Tags" featuring Big Boi, Killer Mike & Twister, see's Jay going back to his roots and ripping the track with his ridiculous double timed flow reminiscent of tracks like "Is That Yo Bitch" & "Nigga What". Big Boi of Outkast, Killer Mike and Twister also put forth good performances over the impressive Kanye West beat.
However, some guest appearances on the album end up disappointing. "As One" featuring what seems like the entire Roc-a-fella staff is a very boring and generic group effort which shows why most are calling the Roc's roster overrated. Almost all of the emcees on the track, especially the up and coming youngsters, do nothing to help its cause and only bring it down. Reggae sensation Sea Paul shows up for "What They Gonna Do", however Timbaland hooks Jay up with a sub par beat, not including Jay's horrific lyricism and rhyme scheme on the track.
Timbaland also lends his production minds to two other tracks, the average sounds of "2 Many Hoes" where Jay shows his disgust for dickriding groupies who wont leave him alone at clubs, and "The Bounce" featuring Kanye West. While the other two Timbaland tracks are disappointing, "The Bounce" brings back that classic Jay/Timbo feel we once loved on Vol. 3. With some truly great production, Jay goes off with his slick flow and precise wordplay describing the Blueprints influence and how now everybody is now "looking to loop up soul". Kanye West also shows up for a verse, stepping from behind the boards and onto the mic, however maybe that's where Kanye should stay, as his verse is nothing special.
With a plethora of tracks the two discs "The Gift & The Curse" are both different stories. "The Gift" disc is undoubtedly the more commercial disc as tracks such as the horrendous "03 Bonnie & Clyde", the lackluster Just Blaze production of "Hovi Baby", the cut and paste sounds of The Neptune's on "Fuck All Nite" and "What They Gonna Do" bring the disc down. However, disc 1 does feature a variety of great tracks such as "The Watcher 2", "Poppin Tags", "All Around The World" and the surprising soulful sounds of The Neptune's on "Excuse Me Miss". Probably the two standout tracks on "The Gift" disc are the Biggie dedication of "A Dream" featuring Biggie himself & Faith Evans and "I Did It My Way". "A Dream" features Jay speaking to the late great emcee in his dream and even features Biggies classic verse from "Juicy". The track is able to capture a surreal feeling and transports you into another world upon listening to. "I Did It My Way", which samples the original Frank Sinatra track, features Jay going all out on critics, even addressing the situation between him and Lance "Un" Rivera".
While disc 1 is solid, it's "The Curse" disc that ends up as the albums finest. "Diamond Is Forever", "Guns & Roses", "U Don't Know Remix", "Meet The Parents", "Bitches & Sisters", "Show You How" and "Some How Some Way" as mentioned are already outstanding tracks. However, not to be lost in the shuffle is the fiery sounds of "Blueprint 2", "Some People Hate" & "A Ballad For The Fallen Soldier". The title track of the album is where Jay goes all out. Putting forth one of the albums best verses, Jay rips into critics everywhere and once again takes some shots at his dominant rival Nas. Even going as far as admitting defeat but learning a great lesson in the mean time. With quite possibly the finest production on the album, which is done by Charlamane, the track does have one flaw, its weak hook. With such a great track you would think Jay would have a little more sense in making a better hook instead of quoting Austin Power's lines like "I got my mojo back baby, oh behave", which just ends up as plain embarrassing. One of the more original tracks on the album comes from the Neptune's produced "A Ballad For The Fallen Soldier". An emotional track of sorts that's captures a heartfelt experience; Jay compares the life of a street hustler to one of a solider in war.
In the end Jay-z accomplished exactly what he intended to do with "The Blueprint 2". While some of the more commercial songs take away from this album truly being a classic, one cannot deny what Jay-z has done for the most part with this album. Jay has taken all the aspects of his game, all sides of Jay-Hova, and mixed them together for one phenomenal album. Only if Jay-z would have taken the best joints off of both discs and made it into one classic album, which fans will undoubtedly be complaining about for years to come. Nevertheless, "The Blueprint 2" adds to legacy of Sean Carter and shows why exactly he is on top of the industry. It seems as if the more we doubt Jay the more he steps up his game. And as the title of the album suggests, either this album will be a "Gift" or a "Curse" for many, just like the description of Jay's career. Some realize the greatness of Sean Carter (The Gift), while others see nothing but a "Curse". But in the end can you really deny what the man has done for the game?