NEW YORK — After fending off naysayers for years, Jay-Z finally decided to back down when making his latest, The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse.
No, Jigga isn't giving up his claim-staking to hip-hop's crown — he's upping the ante, all at the urging of his crew, with a double album.
"I didn't want to do it," Jay, seated next to Memphis Bleek, said Wednesday night at Bassline Studios. "These guys talked me into it. I knew it was gonna be difficult to follow The Blueprint. [Then] I started recording a lot of songs, and the songs were coming out so good."
Of the 40 songs Jay recorded with producers such as the Neptunes, Kanye West, Dr. Dre, Timbaland and Just Blaze, 20 cuts, along with four bonus tracks, will appear on The Blueprint 2, which has a more eclectic sound than the soul-based soundscape of its predecessor.
"[Tracks on The] Blueprint were all familiar," Jay said. "This one, I wanted to take it everywhere. ... Some next sh--."
Jigga steps into the reggae realm for "If You With Me," which Sean Paul is scheduled to lay vocals on. From there, Jay touches rock with the Heavy D-produced "Guns and Roses," which features Lenny Kravitz.
Over guitar thrashes, Jay, who rhymes "I'm the young Ralph Lauren/ Michael Corleone on the microphone," also raps about earning his bachelors by dating models and actresses and how his invisible rhyme book leaves other MCs shook. Meanwhile, Kravitz sings, "Life is like guns and roses/ Bittersweet like friends and foes-es/ Some get chosen."
On "Excuse Me," Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes does some high-pitched crooning ("Excuse me/ What's your name?/ Lady, what's your name?/ ... So contagious, I can't take it"), Jay playfully goes into a sing-song flow, taking from Luther Vandross' "Take You Out."
"Excuse me, miss/ What's your name?" he starts off before later playing off Notorious B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa." "I see some ladies tonight that be rollin' with Jay-Z, Jay-Z."
He adds, "I have one chef, one maid, I just need a partner to play spades with," trying to tell the ladies he wants them to fall for Shawn Carter and not Jay-Z.
Jezebels steer clear, though — "Sisters and Bitches" breaks down the differences between the two. "This is gonna be a shocker, but listen to the whole song," Jay said with a smile before playing the track.
"Sisters work hard/ Bitches work your nerves," he rapped on record a few moments later. "Sisters hold you down/ Bitches hold you up/ ... I love all my sisters but don't love no bitch."
A guy who's been known to fling the b-word around every now and then, Dr. Dre, produced and spits on the remix to "The Watcher." (The original version was featured on Dr. Dre 2001.) The beat starts off with creepy lifeline beeps, and then thunderous string plucks come in. Truth Hurts sings, "I know y'all got your eyes on me/ Feel you watching me/ It ain't hard to see that you can't see me," in between the duo's verses. Rakim closes the song, flowing with the lyrical acumen he displayed in the late '80s.
Scarface, most of the Roc family, Faith Evans, Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny's Child (see "Jay-Z's Camp Refutes Toni Braxton's Tupac-Biting Claims"), LaToiya Williams and Sadat X also pop up throughout the LP. One old-time crooner also helped Young Hova get his point across, though he didn't lay down live vocals.
"You might have heard this sample before," Jay said with a light chuckle as the engineer cued up "I Did It My Way," which samples the classic "My Way."
"We used the Paul Anka version — that way it was cheaper," Jay said. On the song, he likens himself to Frank Sinatra, Damon Dash to Sammy Davis Jr. and Kareem "Biggs" Burke to Dean Martin.