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The Blueprint: Plans for a Takeover

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Already iconic with the release of Reasonable Doubt (even if, as he suggests, we didn’t appreciate his debut until its follow-up) and Vol 2… Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z embedded himself as the People’s Champ with his sixth long player, The Blueprint. That the album was released on 9/11 is certainly significant. Similarly, though—with all due respect in comparison—as those fateful events in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. transformed America, Brooklyn’s finest put the finishing touches on a seismic shift in hip-hop. No longer were the late Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. the undisputed kings. Hov had chased their ghosts ever since the release of In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, but the Wallabees proved too big to fill for the young God. Instead of inheriting the crown, the crafty lyricist worked hard to earn it, with a string of releases, including the Streets is Watching soundtrack, in addition to the Lifetime series.


But everything coalesced for Jigga with The Blueprint. He snatched a pair of budding producers, in Just Blaze and Kanye West, along for the ride into his consciousness as the famously private former hustler wove tales of his upbringing while as the nascent beatsmiths reintroduced the soul-sample sound. The dripping paean of regret poured from “Song Cry.” “U Don’t Know” boomed with the intensity fitting of a country looking for answers. And, for those standing in the way of Jay-Z’s ascendancy, he ridiculed and mocked them with the roaring “Takeover.”


It’s been a new day in hip-hop ever since. The rap sovereign withstood challenges far and wide, from 50 Cent to Lil Wayne, and the throne has remained occupied by his presence. Although he would go on to record two more Blueprint sequels, it’s a telling that 10 years later his latest project is a collaborative effort with West titled Watch the Throne. Guess it’s been lonely at the top for Jay-Z this past decade. And the only worthy visitor, it seems, is one of the men who helped craft his royal digs. In honor of the 10-year anniversary of The Blueprint, here, XXLmag.com, revisits the seminal LP with a track-by-track overview. Salute.

1. "The Ruler's Back" (Produced By Bink)

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By 2001, Jay-Z's lyrics had become a source of inspiration for many. Several lines off The Blueprint have been borrowed and flipped into new lyrics and hooks for the likes of Ne-Yo and Fabolous. But with the first bars on Blueprint, Hov reminds his listeners that he pays homage as well. “Yo, gather 'round hustlers, that's if you still livin'/And get on down, to that ol' Jig rhythm,” he spits to kick off "The Ruler's Back," adapting the lyrics to Slick Rick's classic 1988 song of the same name. He also borrows from The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Kick in the Door" on his first verse (“Your reign on the top was shorter than leprechauns,” he rapped). Jigga also starts his second verse by channeling his inner Ricky D and uses the Ruler's closing lines to finish both of his verses. "Hold on because the driver of the mission is a pro," he offers. This tactic would soon earn him flack, but Hov quickly put the criticism to rest. “I say a Big verse, I'm only biggin' up my brother,” he raps, dismissively, on The Black Album's “What More Can I Say."

2. "Takeover"

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Jay-Z’s “Takeover” shook up hip-hop months before the track’s recorded version made its way onto the airwaves in September 2011. Hov premiered the song’s second verse—which disses Mobb Deep’s Prodigy— at the 2001 edition of Hot 97’s Summer Jam. Jigga showed a photo of a young Prodigy at his grandmother’s dancing school as he rhymed, “When I was pushing weight back in ’88, you was a ballerina/I got the pictures, I’ve seen ya.” Several lines later, Jigga mocked, “We don’t believe you, you need more people”—a rhyme-turned-expression that is still used in urban culture to this day. Hov ends his verse by warning, “Ask Nas, he don’t want it with Hov”—giving birth to one of the greatest battles in hip-hop history. The line prompted the Queensbridge lyricist to strike back at Jay with his “Stillmatic” freestyle and Jigga later responded to Nas on the third verse of “Takeover.” God’s Son then fired back with the scathing “Ether.” Prior to the feud, Nas had just come off the most critically panned album of his career, Nastradamus. Spearheaded by “Takeover,” the battle re-energized Nas and gave him momentum for the highly successful second half of his career.

2. “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” (Produced By Kanye West)

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Jay-Z easily could have performed a track off his current LP, The Dynasty: Roc La Familia at the 1st Annual BET Awards in 2001, instead, the God MC broke ground when he premiered “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”—the lead single from his upcoming record, The Blueprint. Kanye West, who produced the track, would follow in his big brother’s footsteps years later when he premiered “Love Lockdown” at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards and “Runaway” at the 2010 VMAs. Yeezy also put a face to his name for the first time towards the end of the “Izzo” music video—showing off the production credits (including “Izzo”) tatted up on his arm. Jigga shouted the Cold Crush Brothers on his opening verse, asserting, “Label owners hate me I'm raisin' the status quo up/I'm overchargin' niggas for what they did to the Cold Crush/Pay us like you owe us for all the years that you hoed us." The legendary group praised Hov for the name-drop and even sampled the lyric for a song they recorded shortly after the single was released. The single garnered Hov his first top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100. Not even a copyright infringement lawsuit by a woman who claimed she wasn’t paid for singing the “H to the Izzo/V to the Izza” chorus, could tarnish the song’s legacy.

4. “Girls, Girls, Girls” (Produced By Just Blaze)

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Within the soulful-laden Just Blaze backdrop, which featured a sample of Tom Brock's "There's Nothing In This World That Can Stop Me from Loving You" and Crash Crew's "High Power Rap" (represented on the chorus), Golden Age MCs Slick Rick, Biz Markie, and Q-Tip provide additional vocals for the hook on Jay's second single off The Blueprint. Just Blaze later revealed that the track was originally produced for Ghostface Killah.

5. "Jigga That Nigga" (Produced By Trackmasters)

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Here, Hov swapped out my (from his Ruff Ryders banger, “Jigga My Nigga”) for that and the results varied. The former cut, was an underground favorite, where this Trackmasters-helmed number turned out to be the third single from The Blueprint. A video was never commissioned, however, and the song sputtered on the Hot 100 chart stalling at No. 66. He’s still that nigga, though.

6. "U Don't Know" (Produced By Just Blaze)

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Jay spit prophecy on this song, rapping, “I'm rapin' Def Jam till I'm the hundred million man.” Ten year's later, Jiggaman's worth—thanks to Def Jam and plenty of other endeavors—is reportedly four times that number. One of those money-making channels has been his work with Roc-A-Fella and Roc Nation. With a slight variation to the beat (still produced by Just Blaze), the song was remixed the next year for The Blueprint 2. The new version also featured New York duo M.O.P., new to Roc-A-Fella at the time, in a relationship that turned out to be short-lived.

7. "Hola’ Hovito" (Produced By Timbaland)

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Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin were running shit back in the early Aughts. The Puerto Rican bombshell released her J.Lo album in 2001 and suddenly everyone was on the Boricua bozack. Timbaland would eventually move on to other worldly sounds through his samples, but on this track, it was like he sampled sounds from the 6 train and everything below the tracks. Hov’s moved on.

8. "Heart Of the City (Ain't No Love)" (Produced By Kanye West)

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"Where's the Love?," asks Jigga to his ungrateful peers over the tantalizing soul-stew brewed up by Kanye. The Bobby Blue Bland-sampled cut ("Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City") was the first beat that 'Ye created after getting evicted from his Chicago apartment and originally intended on giving the beat to DMX. But, after hearing it, Dame Dash made sure the track landed in the hands of the R-O-C. The rest is history.

9. "Never Change" (Produced By Kanye West)

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This track indicated that Jay is (to some extent, at least) a student of history. First, he spits a refreshed take (“We all fish, better teach your folk/Give him money to eat, then next week he's broke”) on a Chinese proverb (“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”). Later, when he raps “Old heads taught me, Young'n, walk softly/Carry a big clip,” he channels his inner Teddy Roosevelt (“Speak softly and carry a big stick”). He also crafted a bar that he would update on Blueprint 3. “Eight million stories, out there in the naked city it's a pity half of y'all won't make it,” he dishes on “Empire State of Mind,” an updated version of his line “Young brother, big city, eight million stories” from this track. The Kanye West-produced cut also shows Jay was a bit ahead of his time in his usage of “Pause,” employing the term years before it became unavoidable slang in hip-hop (“Where my dogs at? Where my soldiers at war?/Where your bars at? Whoa/Gotta pause that, whoa,” he raps).

11. "All I Need" (Produced By Bink)

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At the dawn of the new millennium, the big 3-0 symbolized the beginning of the end for most rappers, not Jay-Z. The God MC has only become more prominent in his thirties. On the first verse of "All I Need," Hov offers, "A nigga's been focused since I said hi to 30." The line forecasts Hov leaving do-rags and throwback jerseys for button-down shirts and cardigans. A few bars earlier, Jay rhymes, “All…I…Need is for a chick to hold a jimmy like/Meth and Mary/Like, Marvin and Tammy.” He then opens up the second verse by offering, “All I need in this world of sin/Is me and my girlfriend”—an homage to Tupac Shakur’s “Me and My Girlfriend.” Roughly a year later, Hov reprised the line on the hook of his first collaboration with Beyoncé, “Bonnie & Clyde.” Reports soon surfaced that the two were a couple. Could Jay—the subliminal king—have hinted at bagging the “hottest chick in the game” when he described his dream ride or die chick on “All I Need?"

12. "Renegade" feat. Eminem (Produced By Eminem)

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If anyone still doubted Eminem's abilities before this track, Slim Shady's flow and wordplay made believers out of his remaining skeptics on "Renegade." The song originally featured Royce Da 5'9” alongside Eminem, not Jay-Z, but when Em and Royce's Bad Meets Evil collective initially flamed out, the song took shape with Hov, instead. The two verses from Eminem are the only featured raps on the entire album. Jay and Em may be the two best rappers when it comes to dismissing criticisms, and this track shows exactly why. Hov refuses to be boxed into a misogynistic, materialistic rapper and stakes his claim as a hood reporter who can “Bring you through the ghetto without ridin' 'round.” Talks of Jigga lacking substance is practically unheard of 10 years later.

10. “Song Cry” (Produced By Just Blaze)

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In one of his most vulnerable moments on wax, International Hov cries, “I know the way a nigga livin’ was wack, but you don’t get a nigga back like that” on the tail end of his third verse on “Song Cry.” Ne-Yo interpolated the line to pen the hook to Ghostface Killah’s 2006 hit, “Back Like That.” The song stands as Ghost’s highest-carting single to date.

“Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)” (Produced By Bink)

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On the closing of most of his preceding albums, sans Vol. 2... Hard Knock Lif and Vol. 3... Life & Times of S. Carter, Jay features a page out of his own personal biography. Tracks like "Regrets," "You Must Love Me," and Where Have You Been" are filled with deep introspection and the theme is revisited on the Bink-produced album closer, "Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)." Sampling Al Green’s “Free At Last,” Jay recalls his humble beginnings when he shouts Clark Kent, Ski and DJ Premier and then looks to the future by bigging up Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel. He also lets it be known that his grandmother makes a mean banana pudding. Hov mentioned the desert on Watch the Throne's "Made It in America" almost 10 years later.

14. “Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)” (Produced By Just Blaze)

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The hook to Jigga Man’s Just Blaze-produced “Breathe Easy” inspired the chorus to Fabolous’ 2004 hit single, “Breathe”—also produced by Just. Hov’s chorus went, “one, one/two, two/three, three/four, four/breathe easy” while Fab’s goes, “Breathe, one and then the two, two and then the three, three and then the four, then you gotta breath.”

15. "Girls, Girls, Girls (Remix)" (Produced By Kanye West)

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Remember when Michael Jackson took too long to walk onstage at Summer Jam? So does Jay-Z. The plan was for Hov to lend a verse to MJ’s “Rock My World (Remix)” in exchange for the King of Pop gracing the “Girls, Girls, Girls (Remix)” with his vocals. Jay delivered, but, again, Jacko took too long. So, this remix moved forward without him. Maybe that’s why Jay had no words after MJ finally joined him on the SJ stage.

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