Jay Z’s The Blueprint vs. Kanye West’s The College Dropout. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
In the early 2000s, Roc-A-Fella Records was the most exciting Hip-Hop label. Not only was its artist-founder in stride with some of the best music of his career, the Def Jam-housed imprint proved it could develop its own talent on a grand scale. Jay Z’s The Blueprint showcased the talents of Just Blaze, Bink and even Eminem behind the boards, but it also brought attention and acclaim to Kanye West as a producer. However, the Chicago, Illinois native had rhymes too. Two-and-a-half years later, Kanye’s moment came to be in The College Dropout, a grandiose autobiographical debut that showed his tremendous artistry beyond just beats. Facing off, these two albums represent a chain reaction. What is arguably Jay’s album zenith afforded its key role-player the next steps to his own path to greatness. At the same time, Kanye allowed Jay to sound refreshed on his sixth LP. Together, these works made for a label reign, and a redefined soulful soundscape for Rap music following bass-driven club hits. With some huge wins already in the bag for each, these two closely related albums will arm wrestle to see if master or apprentice reigns supreme. Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).
The Blueprint by Jay-Z
- Second Round Winner (against Scarface’s The Fix, 71% to 29%)
- First Round Winner (against Nelly’s Country Grammar, 83% to 17%)
In late 2001, Jay-Z (as it was spelled then) was unabashedly jockeying for Hip-Hop’s top spot. An artist with ties to The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac (in very different ways), Jay aimed to squarely own the #1 spot. One of the most poised contestants, Eminem, was a producer and lone guest MC on the album. The other contestant, Nas, was in Jay’s cross-hairs of high profile usurp, “The Takeover.” On The Blueprint, Jay-Z reinvented his sound with Kanye West and Just Blaze. The Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder found the ultimate five-year progression from debut Reasonable Doubt. With a D-boy’s confidence and an exec’s get-it-done mentality, Jay pivoted to his 2000s stand as a Rap magnate. Often criticized for his resistance to vulnerability, Jay let the songs cry on his behalf. As the Roc Boy was lunging for the top, he made some of his most relatable music. The writing on The Blueprint is ultra-specific, but the themes, sounds, and attitude of the double platinum campaign seemingly spoke to all of us. Jigga had transformed to Hov’, and when he put his legacy on the line for the belt, Shawn Carter’s Blueprint was everlasting.
“The Takeover” was Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots-meets-Monopoly, as Jay-Z, perceptively an artistic underdog to Nas, knocked the Queensbridge icon off of his block. Moreover, with a few choice bars, Jay reallocated the worth of artists like Prodigy and Jayo Felony. The giant was awoken, and Jay was naming names—unlike his ’90s tussles on wax. “U Don’t Know” was the ringside celebration after the fight. Once dismissed as a drug-dealer MC, Jay-Z used the cold Just Blaze sample massage as a chance to show his Michael Corleone-like rise from New York crimes to The New York Times. The title track would also prove significant. The cold exterior of Hov gave way to an MC unafraid to not only acknowledge pain in his childhood, but say thank you to his circle. That, and “Song Cry” were hyper-aware reactions to Jay’s often lack of intimacy in songs. Together, the Roc’s in-house hit-makers of ‘Ye, Just, and BINK! made an album that may as well have been produced by one set of ears. The prominence of Soul, intricate chops, and broad instrumentation made this man’s words sound like prophecy. “Renegade” placed Jay and Eminem back-to-back, with a song that put the comparisons in the backseat, and the lyrically-dense message in the front. The Blueprint cemented Jay’s pole position, and it showed how a great MC and a gripping story still needs patience and refinement. In the Hip-Hop landscape, The Blueprint is a skyscraper.
Album Number: 6 (solo)
Released: September 11, 2001
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, October 2001; certified platinum, October 2001; certified 2x platinum May 2002)
Song Guests: Eminem, Slick Rick, Q-Tip, Biz Markie, Kanye West, Michelle Mills, Demme Ulloa, Stephanie Miller, Schevise Harrell, Lauren Leek, Josey Scott, Keon Bryce, Victor Flowers
Song Producers: Kanye West, Just Blaze, Timbaland, BINK!, Eminem, The Trackmasters (Poke & Tone), DJ Head
The College Dropout by Kanye West
- Second Round Winner (against Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol. 2, 60% to 40%)
- First Round Winner (against Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday, 96% to 4%)
Kanye West hit the 2000s running at a breakneck speed. The Chicago, Illinois producer made hits for Jay Z, Beanie Sigel, and Talib Kweli. However, he wanted the world to know he could rap too. Reportedly passed over by both Rawkus and Cash Money Records, the Roc-A-Fella Records founders Jay Z and Damon Dash put earned faith in the hot hand. The College Dropout was the debut vehicle for an artist who would ultimately become the label’s biggest star. The debut album captured the confluence of Kanye. It was a sonic amusement park of true-school (or “backpack”) inspiration, as well as the champagne sounds of the Rap elite. With these two worlds colliding, Kanye West’s multi-platinum debut would inform the next dozen years that good music is really just about getting out one’s musical dreams.
More than just an idea, Kanye West represented a hunger story. Single “Through The Wire” told the story of West’s undying dream to make his mother proud. Even confronted with a near-death accident and a forever changed mandible, Mr. West could not be barred. The producer let the Chaka Khan vinyl croon, while he convincingly stated his higher plan. “Never Let Me Down” did the same, as Kanye owned the moment with his mentor, Jay. Not just his own rags-to-riches trajectory, Kanye emphatically used the moment to trace his lineage through facing racism to embracing leadership. Although he saw himself as an underdog, ‘Ye also identified with the top of the class. On one hand, he could joke about using his relationships to gain female companionship on “Get ‘Em High.” Meanwhile, on the menacing “Two Words,” West rhymed as though he’d always been an influencer, who shortsighted gatekeepers simply missed. That dichotomy of “I’ve told you so” and “Never give up” colored an album that unfolded with album cuts treated as singles. The artist was not a contradiction as much as a complexity. The same artist who could preach from the pulpit on “Jesus Walks” could set the mood in “Slow Jamz.” “Spaceship” was the inward struggle to make it, while “Family Business” was a touching tracking shot through the cookout reunion. College Dropout forecast the rest of the 2000s, in showing artists they could be many things at once. Most importantly, the album increased the musicality to mainstream Hip-Hop. From the samples, to the arrangements, to the dynamic subject matters, the temperamental kid from the Windy City breathed freshness all over the art form.
Album Number: 1
Released: February 10, 2004
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #2 (certified gold, April 2004; certified platinum, April 2004; certified 3x platinum, April 2015)
Song Guests: Jay Z, Mos Def, Freeway, Talib Kweli, Common, GLC, Twista, Jamie Foxx, Ludacris, J. Ivy, The Harlem Boys Choir, Consequence, Syleena Johnson, Thomassina Atkins, Miri Ben-Ari, Candis Brown, Terrence Hardy, Diamond Alabi Isama, Eric Johnson, Brandi Kuykenvall, James Knight, John Legend, Ken Lewis, Beverly A. McCargo, Lavel Meana, Kevin Shannon, Tiera Singleton, Keith Slattery, Tracie Spencer, Eugene Toale, Tarrey Torae, Aisha Tyler, Tony Williams, Josh Zandman, DeRay Davis, Riccarda Watkins, Sumeke Rainey
Song Producers: (self), Evidence, Brian Miller, Miri Ben-Ari, Ken Lewis
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.