Jay-Z

The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse

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Jay-Z kept The Blueprint incredibly tight, focusing on a single sound and letting nothing interfere with some of the best raps of his career. The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse is a radically different record, with the most respected rapper in the business trying on a range of styles, collaborating with a lot of guests (from Rakim to Lenny Kravitz to Scarface to Beyoncé Knowles), and working with an army of producers (Neptunes, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Heavy D, Kanye West). No one else in hip-hop possesses enough power of personality to carry a 110-minute double album, and if Jay-Z can't quite manage it either, he certainly delivers some solid material in the process. The discs are split into "The Gift" and "The Curse," though there's no concept in view, just a loose collection of tracks ranging from unapologetically sexed-up party joints to theatrical epics and even taking in a Dirty South feature for Outkast's Big Boi. It's clear Jay-Z's in control even here, and though his raps can't compete with the concentrated burst on The Blueprint, there's at least as many great tracks on tap, if only listeners have enough time to find them. Good choices for highlights include the Neptunes' bounce track "Excuse Me Miss," the horn-driven blast of "The Watcher 2" produced by Dr. Dre (featuring Truth Hurts), and "I Did It My Way," which balances the trad-pop singalong of "Hard Knock Life" with the digital drumrolls of "The Takeover."

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