A Mini-Documentary Shows How Jay Z’s Blueprint Laid The Plans For A New Era In Hip-Hop

On September 11, Jay Z’s The Blueprint will celebrate its 15th anniversary. Its release on what is now an infamous date in American history for other, tragic reasons, marked a time in the Roc-A-Fella leader’s career when criminal allegations and frequent diss tracks surrounded his image. However, it has proven to be one of his most celebrated LPs, and for many it served as an introduction to a fledgling superstar in the making named Kanye West, and the duo’s partnership has (without a reasonable doubt) become one of the most influential of the 21st century. For those reasons and more, Pitchfork recently made the album its focus for “Liner Notes,” a new series from the outlet which takes a brief yet immersive look at the backstory behind albums which have become cultural touchstones.

As the new mini-documentary discusses, The Blueprint arrived at a time when it was “becoming increasingly clear that [Hip-Hop] was starting to replace Rock ‘n’ Roll as Pop’s default sound,” and there was a changing of the guards happening in the “chaos” of Rap music. The “Bling Era” sound, spearheaded by the likes of Cash Money Records, was doing its part to attract new kinds of fans to the genre, while simultaneously “alienating hardcore fans,” and artists like Lil Jon, Ludacris, and Outkast were making Southern Rap just as viable from a market perspective as were the East Coast-West Coast regions in the years leading up to the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. As Heads will likely recall, the notion of “who’d succeed Biggie Smalls as the King of New York was driving MCs to new creative heights.”

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As such, Jigga, in the eyes of many, rose to the occasion with his sixth album. Selling over 400,000 copies in its first week, it would arrive at double-platinum status and usher in an era of trends, including “the early aughts craze for vintage Soul samples.” Along with West, Just Blaze helped to make what Pitchfork calls “one of the album’s most influential cuts” in “Song Cry.” Ghostface Killah, Lil B, the Game, Keyshia Cole, Rick Ross, and Joey Bada$$ have all since sampled the track, speaking to The Blueprint‘s status as a relatively contemporary LP that has maintained a strong (though perhaps often unspoken) grip on huge stars of both past and present generations.

Of course, the album was also a platform on which Jay famously voiced his piece in ongoing beefs with Mobb Deep and Nas, but The Blueprint‘s legacy remains impressive in the way it continues to echo through the music of its younger audience members (Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint would likely be called something else entirely, for example), and also in its crucial role in re-establishing a dominant trend in the East Coast market. Artists like Ja Rule, DMX, Erick Sermon, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Cam’ron, and Beanie Sigel helped make the beginning of the new century a viable era for mainstream success in New York City (with Eminem also playing a major part in invigorating a trend of his own, which could be heard on The Blueprint in the form of “Renegade”), with Jay playing the role of architect in many ways. That’s especially notable as an artist who already had five solo albums under his belt.

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For even more of a glance inside the album’s backstory, Heads can peep Los Angeles’ iconic Rap radio station Power 106’s examination of the LP’s sample material.