In hip-hop history, Jay-Z will always be linked with the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. It was the day he released his now classic album “The Blueprint.” And, just as the nation was forever changed, so was Jay-Z’s career. With “Blueprint” he became, arguably, the greatest living rapper.
The virtuoso proved deft at a range of emotions, from bluster (“Izzo,” “H.O.V.A.”) to vulnerability (“Song Cry”). And the music drew upon the tradition of stirring 1970s soul.
The recently released follow-up, “The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse,” doesn’t just pick up where the last album left off. It suggests new directions for Jay-Z’s music, with largely pleasing results.
It sounds as if the rapper retained a taste for rich instrumentation following his MTV “Unplugged” special last year, because many tracks have a live feel. The rugged “Guns & Roses” features the roaring guitar and throaty wails of black rocker Lenny Kravitz. And “Hovi Baby” is a marvel based around a repeated and wildly manipulated band breakdown.
Jay-Z maintains a footing in soul with the rootsy “All Around the World,” which also spotlights the bluesy vocal riffs of newcomer LaToiya Williams. But he also gamely ventures into bouncing reggae dance-hall rhthyms (“What They Gonna Do”) and whizzing electro-funk (the Neptunes-produced “Excuse Me Miss”).
Lyrically, Jay-Z remains a sharp chronicler of street life. One of his best verses references Sept. 11: “Bin Laden been happenin’ in Manhattan; / Crack was anthrax back then, / Back when police was Al-Qaida to black men.”
But despite offering a flurry of great songs, “Blueprint 2” isn’t as cohesive as its predecessor. Nevertheless, the set’s musical diversity suggests great things for the future.