Finding The GOAT: Jay-Z’s The Blueprint vs. Nelly’s Country Grammar. 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.
With the exception of Eminem, no two Hip-Hop artists were bigger at the opening of the new millennium than Jay-Z and Nelly. Jay, a Rap veteran since the late 1980s, had stacked his wins into a real-time artistic, commercial, and pop culture empire. 2001’s Blueprint took audit of Jay’s stock in the game, and perceptively assigned him to the top. Meanwhile, if there was anybody not on Jay’s team that he envied, it was Midwest upstart Nelly. Without any cosigns or gimmicks, Nelly’s Country Grammar moved dance-floors and units like no other. In a 15-year span that would open up the Rap map to new sounds, dialects, and regional flare, nobody achieved this on a grander scale than the Fo’ Reel founder. These multi-platinum efforts are still close by in the Hip-Hop consciousness more than a decade later. In looking at all of the factors that make a classic, which of these is the greater album? (Click one then click “vote”).
The Blueprint by Jay-Z
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
Country Grammar by Nelly
In Y2K, Hip-Hop’s global expansion was powered by the regional flare and sub-cultures across not only the United States, but the world. For St. Louis, Missouri, a former minor league baseball star named Nelly would be the juggernaut. Cornell Haynes, Jr. used trunk-rattling, homegrown beats, and a booming melodic delivery to not only become one of Hip-Hop’s most successful and enduring 2000s upstarts, but to forecast trends of the next 15 years. In the Gangsta Rap hangover, Nelly opened his doors to a strip club party, and fun-loving songs about relishing youth—and still finding some mischief. 2000’s Country Grammar helped identify “St. Louie'” as more than just a Hip-Hop tour-stop. With the St. Lunatics behind him (a group in motion since the late ’90s), Nelly brilliantly set up plans not for a flash-in-the-pan, but a highly sustainable career. In blasting his own sound and message, the Fo’ Reel flagship artist would give hope to cities across the globe, and all sorts of artists paying dues and making ends beyond the industry’s radar.
Country Grammar‘s charms and explosiveness began through its single of the same name. Nelly and producer Jay E created the perfect harmony of music that worked in cars, clubs, sporting events, and headphones. The MC’s multi-tracked vocals and melodic delivery made his music accessible to R&B/Pop playlists, while his rhymes were drenched in crossover catchiness. For his part, Nelly was a master charmer. Save for a Band-Aid under the eye, the Missouri MC was void of gimmicks. The album is confident, but not braggadocious. The Universal-backed act made the Gateway to the West the priority. “Ride With Me” put away the low-end bass for an acoustic guitar. Nelly profiled his city’s offerings with longtime St. Lunatics partner/producer City Spud. As the record defiantly chronicled the world beyond the arch, Nelly cleverly made an anthem that interchangeably applied to Anywhere, USA. As Jay Z, Nas, and Eminem were taking themselves and their songs so seriously, Nelly cast a net of carefree. These records would carve the way for Akon, Pitbull, and Taylor Swift, all at once. “E.I.” was a bit more Rap-specific. Again with Jay E’s speaker-breaking bass, Nelly made a song about feeling himself with multiple unforgettable movements. With his voice, his easy-to-follow flow, and penchant for homegrown background vocals, Nelly showed the future of Rap—with nine-times-platinum results. Like a Midwest 2000s answer to LL Cool J‘s Radio, Country Grammar effectively introduced a way of life that women and men could both support. Save for Lil Wayne, no veteran Rap stars would appear on this debut. In the era of the feature, and the notion that every artist must first be cosigned by another, Nelly’s Country Grammar was a strong reminder that those were not requirements. This album and artist challenged the expectations for a rapper’s demeanor and sound, and won. Nelly and his nearly diamond-certified debut can claim to have dominated early 2000s pop culture, and redirected the next 10 years of major label Rap trends, and cities that produced them.
Album Number: 1 (solo)
Released: June 27, 2000
Label: Fo’ Reel/Universal Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, July 2002; certified platinum, July 2002; certified 9x platinum April 2004)
Song Guests: Lil Wayne, Cederic The Entertainer, Murphy Lee, Ali, St. Lunatics (Kyjaun, City Spud, Ali, Murphy Lee, Slo’ Down), City Spud, The Teamsters
Song Producers: Jay E, City Spud, Steve “Blast” Willis, Basement Beats (Jay E, City Spud, Koko, Wally Beamin)
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums