Ten years ago, the country was recovering from the worst national disaster since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Mourning, sadness and anger filled the air. It’s understandable that pop music released on September 11, 2001 was lost in the chaotic aftermath of the terrorist attacks. However, Hip-Hop music provided a small glimmer of cultural positivity: Brooklyn’s native son, Jay-Z, released his classic LP, The Blueprint, the very same day.
Despite its unfortunate drop date, The Blueprint’s accolades include the following: launching the career of then-producer Kanye West, including one of the best and well-executed Hip-Hop diss songs ever (the Nas- and Prodigy-bashing “Takeover”) and forcing listeners to debate whether Eminem’s verse on “Renegade” is his greatest. And, oh yeah, the music’s pretty good too—from album opener “The Ruler’s Back” to closer “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me).”
September 11 mourners will lament that praising a record’s release and subsequent impact is disrespectful in light of tragedy. What critics are missing is not just The Blueprint’s salient impact on Hip-Hop music as a whole, but also the escapism from disaster it provided. While a recent CNN article on the album claims the opposite (“music experts state that music sales that day were at least partially driven by a group of youthful consumers, who were somehow and incredulously untroubled”), it would be naïve to discredit the music’s ability to provide at least an hour’s worth of solace.
Not to say that there was anything of-the-moment about The Blueprint or particular about its sound in regards to the 9/11 attacks. It’s an album hinged on an early ’90s adherence to comfort food soul samples and clever bars. It’s incredibly digestible, as the album packs the hits together tightly. The smooth soul of Just Blaze’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” plays well with West’s powerful sampling of the Bobby Blue Band on “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love).” And its release provided a.) a resuscitated era of New York Hip-Hop and b.) a Jay-Z for the new millennium. Both created a perfect, incredibly enjoyable storm—especially for those affected New York City fans.
Even for those outside of the Big Apple, the album’s likable appeal inspired and remade the sonic landscape. Current Jay-Z protégé J. Cole credits the album with fostering his admiration of Jigga. West’s mass manufacturing of “Chipmunk Soul” laid the foundation for his debut album as a rapper, 2004’s The College Dropout.
For as successful as the album has been, its accomplishments were achieved in the most unlikely fashion: Jay-Z created a LP in 2001 that harnessed old-school sounds but cranked out a generation-defining album. It didn’t rewrite the book on Hip-Hop, but it certainly re-asserted the genre’s blueprint. After the atrocities of 9/11 Jay provided exactly what was needed: a 63-minute audio escape from the complexities of the day.