It is nearly without question that Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt” is his best album lyrically. He says on The Black Album’s “Moment of Clarity” ..
“And the music I be making/I dumb down for my audience, And double my dollars/They criticize me for it, Yet they all yell “Holla””.
With that confession, he makes it clear that he isn’t as sharp as he once was by choice. However, even with slower flows and less double entendres, Jay is able to make waves in the hip hop community, and no body of work is more indicative of that than “Blueprint”.
There are so many factors that make Blueprint more significant, if not, better, than Reasonable Doubt. The first would be the Jay-Z vs. Nas rivarly. The song “Takeover” is notorious for it’s simultanious attack on Nas & the refueling of Nas’ career. As Jay-Z says in the song,
“Four albums in ten years nigga? I can divide/That’s one every let’s say two, two of them shits was due/One was – NAHHH, the other was “Illmatic”/That’s a one hot album every ten year average”
All one has to do is read reviews of Nas’ albums from Illmatic to Nastradomas to see that Nas’ career was faltering. The beef with Jay-Z allowed Nas to not only regain his career by coming back at Jay, but it also allowed the both of them to cementing there titles as the Kings of NY. This was the first time two well respected MCs in the East (which was dominant in hip hop, at the time) had gone head to head with such intesity. It is common for Jay-Z & Nas to be compared 11 years later, and this Blueprint album is the reason for it. It remains as one of the most infamous battles in hip hop history.
Another reason the album is so significant is because it was the stylistic introduction of one of, if the THE, hottest MC in the game today, Kanye West. While Kanye wasn’t present on the microphone on the album, it was his production that spawned the aforementioned “Takeover” as well as the albums biggest hit, “Izzo (H.O.V.A)”. He produces exactly 1/3rd of the album, the rest go to Just Blaze, Bink, Trackmasters & Eminem, who is the only feature on the album, another classic track by the name of “Renegade”. The production was influential to the immediate hip hop climate, causing a return to sampling in place of the synth-dominated sound that Jay-Z himself embraced previously.
Lastly, I believe Blueprint is better because it shows Jay-Z becoming a trendsetter as opposed to a trend follower. When Reasonable Doubt came out, Jay-Z was following the formula of the late 90s, Mafiaoso Rap. The subgenre invented by Kool G Rap in the 80s was embraced most notably by Raekwon & AZ on their debuts. While Jay-Z may have done it better to some, he still wasn’t the first to do it. On the Blueprint, Jay-Z went against the grain and set off a whole new wave of innovation and admiration, and for that reason, The Blueprint has been more commercially and critically successful than his “baby”, Reasonable Doubt.
– baragon (twitter @bigbadbaragon)