When it comes to prophetic hip-hop album titles, Ready to Diewas the most tragically accurate of the 1990s. This decade, The Blueprint was rap’s supreme soothsayer: a grand layout too enamored with life to entertain fatalism. Without it, Kanye West may have never gotten out of his mom’s basement. Nas’ “Made You Look” probably wouldn’t exist. And Jay-Z may have become another aged-out rap casualty, gasping for relevance in a realm where 30 may as well be 60.
When the album wasn’t mastering tried-and-true hip-hop tropes like the diss track (“Takeover”), the player’s anthem (“Girls, Girls, Girls”), and the puffy-eyed ballad (“Song Cry”), it perfected a lush, sample-based aesthetic that didn’t rip-off Al Green, David Ruffin, and Bobby Byrd as much as it paid homage. Just as The Chronic revived 70s funk, The Blueprint brushed off 70s soul for fresh ears. And at the center is Shawn Carter, then 31, who supposedly recorded the bulk of the record’s vocals in a near-divine two-day, paperless outpour. Reasonable Doubt may be more complex and The Black Album more personal, but Jay’s Blueprint persona is the one that will match his legacy– towering, effortless, and as eternal as its 12-minute finale. "If I ain’t better than Big, I’m the closest one," he claimed– a controversial line at the time. In 2009, the sentiment seems quaint, if a bit modest. –Ryan Dombal / Pitchfork.com