T-Pain's Blueprint

Jay-Z's latest, reviewed via app

T-Pain ponders his next app

Once all the chips have been counted, we’ll remember this as the week we had to decide which release was the bigger deal: Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 or the “I Am T-Pain” iPhone app.

Yes, for a mere $2.99 you can Auto-Tune yourself to sound like T-Pain whenever you’d like, and with five songs available at no additional charge, it won’t be long before you start wondering how you haven’t been nominated for seven Grammys yourself.

I took my first stab at the application Tuesday, trying my hand at 2006’s “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper)” before deciding the song was entirely too slow for my liking. A brief run through “Kiss Kiss” left me feeling the same way, and just as I was lamenting my decision to actually spend money on this one-trick pony I came across salvation: “Bartender,” off 2007's forgettable Epiphany.

Sitting at my desk I started singing whatever flew through my head. “Ooooooh, there’s a red pennnnnn. It’s sitting on my college-ruuuuled notebook. Where’s my waaaater? Where’s my waaaaaattttterrrrrrrrr? Nope, that’s just apple juuuuuuice. I think I’m going to read a magaziiiiiine.” It all sounded perfect - almost too perfect.

To pit “I Am T-Pain” against its only true competition, the highly anticipated 11th album from hip-hop’s true GOAT, I wrote up a review of the album and set it to “Bartender.” Though not perfect, and unlikely to launch any careers anywhere besides Esther’s Follies, what you’re hearing was only my fifth take of the endeavor. I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t wearing knock-offs of Pain’s signature sunglasses while I went through with this.

In a game that’s all about real talk, the greatest sin rappers can commit is to rap about what they don’t know. Especially if they’re from New York City. Hip-hop’s most lyrically conscious city has seen a wealth of Chosen Ones since Rakim first took to the concrete jungle, but few have maintained. With the exception of Ghostface and Jay-Z there hasn’t been a New York rapper who could hold a spot in the public eye for long.

That’s important because the knock on Jay-Z’s new Blueprint 3 is that the album’s soft, when in reality it’s just what a guy like Jay should be making. At 39, Jay-Z is the only rapper to run iconic record labels, own minority shares in NBA teams, and still put out three albums in four years.

Blueprint 3 flows accordingly. Jay mixes longtime allies Timbaland (who actually drops a couple thuds with “Venus Vs. Mars” and “Reminder”), Swizz Beats (“On To the Next One”), the Neptunes (“So Ambitious”), and Kanye West - who throws down on seven of the album’s 15 tracks – with the Inkredibles, No ID, and Al Shux. He places superstars (Young Jeezy, West, Alicia Keys, Rihanna) next to descendents (Drake, Kid Cudi, J. Cole), and for the most part, the aforementioned leave you unfulfilled.

But Jay’ll still rap you out of your chair, and when it’s on he’s the best rapper coming through your speakers. Plus, the bangers still show up. It’s not the first Blueprint - the one that ran wall-to-wall with “Izzo (H.O.V.A),” “Heart of the City,” “All I Need,” and “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)” – but Rihanna and Kanye West prove formidable partners on “Run This Town” and Kid Cudi’s featured “Already Home.” Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” and the “Encore”-reminiscent “Thank You” won’t get skipped on any Greatest Hits mixtapes.

Evidence lies in nearly every track that the founder of Roc Nation is a master of metaphor, spinning lyrics three times over before coming to a punch line. Or he’ll just beat you off the dribble.

It may not be hard, but it’s the real talk: “The fact is we not in the same bracket, not in the same league. Don’t shoot at the same baskets, don’t pay the same taxes, hang with the same bitches. So how am I in the way?”

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