When Jay-Z dropped "The City Is Mine" in 1997 and claimed New York's hip-hop throne upon the Notorious B.I.G.'s demise, many smirked and some even snickered. Four years later in 2001, when he released The Blueprint, no one was smirking and no one dared snicker. At this point in time, nobody in New York could match Jay-Z rhyme for rhyme and nobody in New York had fresher beats -- and many would argue that Jigga's reign was not just confined to New York but was, in fact, national. Yes, Jay-Z had risen to the top of the rap game in the late '90s and solidified his position with gigantic hits like "Big Pimpin" and "I Just Wanna Love You (Give It 2 Me)." Furthermore, The Blueprint's leadoff single, "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," dominated urban radio numerous weeks before the album hit the streets, generating so much demand that Def Jam had to push up the album's street date because it was being so heavily bootlegged. So when Jay-Z opens The Blueprint dropping rhymes about "runnin' this rap sh*t," it's not so much arrogance as it is a matter of fact. And by the time he brutally dismisses two of his most formidable opponents, Mobb Deep and Nas, less than ten minutes into the album, there's little doubt that Jay-Z's status as the top MC in the game is justified. But that's just one song. There are 12 other songs on The Blueprint -- and they're all stunning, to the point where the album seems almost flawless. Besides rhymes that challenge those on Reasonable Doubt as the most crafted of Jay-Z's career to date in terms of not only lyrics but also flow and delivery, The Blueprint also boasts some of his most extravagant beats, courtesy of impressive newcomers Kanye West and Just Blaze. Moreover, if the rhymes and beats alone don't make The Blueprint a career highlight for Jay-Z, the minimal guest appearances surely do. For once, listeners get exactly what they want: Jay-Z and nothing but Jay-Z, over beats so loaded with marvelously flipped samples the songs don't even need big vocal hooks. Besides, when you're already the top MC in the game, there's no need for crossover attempts. Uneven albums like Hard Knock Life were the crossover attempts, and now that Jay-Z is "runnin' this rap sh*t," a fully realized masterpiece like The Blueprint is the glorious result.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier