Jay-Z The Blueprint, 2001
I'm not really sure how I came to explore this album. I'm sure part of it was due to Kanye constantly talking about how this was the album that really allowed him to break into the business, specifically because of producing the song "Izzo".
And I also think that that same guy who played the Carbon Leaf album from earlier in this list played this when we were working that second shift job in the lab at the Perdue factory.
Oh, also Fall Out Boy named a song after the opening lyrics in one of his songs on this album ("The Take Over, The Break's Over" from Infinity on High), which intrigued me.
Regardless of how I came to know this album, it is an amazing conglomeration of braggadocio, wit, fun, and wisdom. This is an album I play when I want to motivate myself to keep my head up.
The thing that I've always liked about Jay-Z is that he makes you feel like you're just his buddy that he's talking to, trying to figure out the cleverest way to put some things, and just telling other things as simply as possible.
On "Takeover"he breaks down why he's better than Nas on a number of different levels, but my favorite level is the mathematical one. He literally talks sales figures vs number of years rapping and does it as cleanly and easily as he does everything. And it never fails to make me smile.
Here's the video for "Izzo". Couple of things about it.
1) When I first heard this song, I was really confused about what he was spelling. H-O-V-A didn't make any sense to me until a couple of years ago when my friend Calvin explained that it was like Jay Hova (read as: Jehovah) and was Jay-Z's way of comparing himself to God. Calvin was less than jazzed about this tidbit, but I, having struggled with what the hell a Hova was for year, was delighted.
2) Watch the cameos of big-name Rap and R&B acts from 2001 singing along to the song. You might see a certain lady who would become very important to Hov a couple of years later!
3) It's weird to see him still dressing in jerseys, this video being before his "And I don't wear jerseys, I'm 30-plus" manifesto from The Black Album two years later.
It's very hard to pick tracks from this album that will give you a good idea of the range exhibited. So what I'll do is this. I'll give you my favorite song on the album, "U Don't Know" and the second hidden track "Girls, Girls, Girls (Part 2)" which was produced by Kanye West and somehow outshines Part 1, which shouldn't have been possible.
Jay-Z - U Don't Know
Jay-Z - Girls, Girls, Girls (Part 2)