September 11, 2001 will always live in the history of America as the date of an incomparable tragedy. The day that two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and later a third crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The tragedy of the September 11th attacks cost the lives of 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused over 10 billion dollars in property damage. It also launched a war causing even more loss of life and from which this country has yet to extricate itself. For all of the tragedy that shrouds this day in American history, prior to 8:46 am on September 11, 2001…this day was the day of the release of the highly-anticipated sixth studio album from Jay Z.
The Blueprint was the album that would redefine Jay. His last solo album, Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999) was a commercial success largely fueled by the single “Big Pimpin’” (feat. UGK). However, the triple-platinum sales were nowhere near the monster success of the five times platinum Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life (1998) which was the album that made him a star. The release of The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000) was another turning point for the rapper and spawned his biggest single, “I Just Wanna Love You,” but the album’s intent was to showcase his Roc-A-Fella label signees.
By 2001, Jay Z was vulnerable. He had sustained lyrical assaults from Jadakiss, Prodigy, and was knee-deep in an epic battle with Nas. Jigga was also facing two criminal trials, one for gun possession and the other for assault. At the same time, there was also the continuing pressure from the West Coast where Dr. Dre, Snoop, et al, were selling millions of copies, creating an entire offshoot that included Eminem. Critics and fans alike were wondering if New York Hip Hop was even relevant anymore.
It had been a long, hot summer. Lyrical barbs had been thrown back and forth between Jay and Nas for years, their disdain for one another was one of Hip-Hop’s worst kept secrets, with jabs and subliminals abound. The beef was truly legitimized in June during Jay’s legendary appearance at the June 2001 Summer Jam in New York when he brought out Michael Jackson, posted Prodigy’s childhood photos, and debuted the first 32 bars of “Takeover,” telling the audience: “Ask Nas, he don’t want it with Hov. No!” Nas responded with the freestyle, “Stillmatic (H to the Omo)” which meant the war was officially on and the stakes were high.
In August, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” was the first single, but the second song released from The Blueprint. The first song released was the completed version of “Takeover.” The song featured a sample from three legendary songs, The Doors “Five to One,” KRS One’s “Sound of da Police,” and “Fame,” by David Bowie. Produced by Kanye West, the driving beat was made for neck-breaking headnods. It was “Takeover” that fueled the anticipation for The Blueprint.
Every bar was classic. Lyrical boxing full of jabs and gut punches.
You bringing them boys to men, how them boys gonna win?
This is grown man B.I., get you rolled into triage, bi-atch
We bring knife to fistfight, kill your drama
We kill you motherfu**ing ants with a sledgehammer
So yeah, I sampled your voice, you was using it wrong
You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song
And the streets responded. The Blueprint was set to be released on September 18, 2001. The date was pushed up a week to fight the anxious bootleggers (Remember those?). While it was a diss song that was truly fueling the album momentum, the good news was that the entire album was classic. 13 amazing songs with flawless lyrics and amazing production. It was perfection.
“Girls, Girls, Girls,” (prod. Just Blaze) was full of quotable lines and memorable characters. Plus the vocal features of Slick Rick and Q-Tip just added to the Just Blaze’s track richness.
“Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” (prod. Kanye West) was the anti-diss track where instead of directly attacking his opponents, Jay makes himself a protagonist and a new hip-hop hero deserving of the love and respect of New York rappers.
“Song Cry” (prod. Just Blaze) became a sing-along staple in Hip-Hop. The song is a breakup anthem, Jay’s version of a ballad. Written about three different relationships, the song was a moment of vulnerability on an album that was full of braggadocio.
The Blueprint pulled in an admirable 420,000 copies in the first week. The album was Jay Z’s fourth consecutive album to reach number one on the Billboard 200. The album redeemed Jay Z and reestablished him as The King of New York, and while Stillmatic would come out a few months later spawning its own classic tracks “Ether,” “Got Ur Self A…” and “One Mic.” Somehow The Blueprint seemed to rise above the beef and stand on its own in a way that Stillmatic didn’t.
By 2003, the Jay Z/Nas rivalry which had lasted over ten years would draw to a close. There had been too much tragedy. Aaliyah’s death, 9/11 and the beginnings of war. And these were men who had known Biggie and Pac. In 2002, Nas’ mother, Ann Jones passed away inspiring the introspective God’s Son released in December of that year. The feud was reduced to minor shots on occasional tracks (like the title track from The Blueprint 2.) Jay released The Black Album in 2003, retired from rap and later took over the presidency of Def Jam. In 2005, the two titans would publicly squash their beef at a comeback concert ironically dubbed “I Declare War.” In 2006, Nas would signed to the Jay Z helmed Def Jam. An epic moment in hip-hop history was over.
Jay Z went on to become the entity that we now know, businessman extraordinaire, philanthropist, lyrical legend, husband to Beyoncé. And Nas is one of the greatest rappers of all time, a venture capitalist and investor, television and film producer. They are extraordinary men.
But it was on September 11, 2001, a clear day in New York City at 8:46 am when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of The World Trade Center. At 9:03 am United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into WTC 2, the south tower. American life changed forever. But before we knew that, it was just a Tuesday, a great day in hip-hop history-the date of the release of a classic hip-hop album. The Blueprint.
Author’s Note: September 11, 2001 was also the release of Ghetto Fabolous-the debut album from Brooklyn’s own Fabolous. Ghetto Fabolous is also an amazing hip-hop album and classic moment from a classic emcee. Much, much love and Happy 15th Anniversary to Fab.