RD and TBP were heralded as instant classics upon their release but one had a greater impact on Jay’s career than the other.
Despite its critical acclaim, RD left Jay still chasing that elusive combination of fame, fortune, and hit records. In fact, according to Johnathan Mannion, one of the titles Jay was originally considering for RD was Heir To The Throne. But considering the fact that Big was cooking up the masterful Life After Death, that title would have seemed foolish in retrospect. Even if Jay was a great rapper, he simply wasn’t a proven hitmaker.
Jay celebrated the 10-year anniversary of RD by staging a sold-out one-night-only concert at Radio City Music Hall. But let’s be honest: There’s no way Jay could have sold out Radio City in 1996. He even admitted the album’s lack of impact on “Hard Knock Life” lamenting, “I gave ya prophecy on my first joint, but y‘all lamed out.”
But no one lamed out on The Blueprint. It was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Most importantly, TBP proved how vital a figure Jay was to hip-hop. Rap careers are known for having short life spans, but Jay showed that he still had plenty to say even after being on top of the game for years.
Not only did the album give Jigga another 15 years of celebrity, whenever his credibility was questioned after flops like Kingdom Come or even The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse, you could point to TBP as an undeniable testament to Jay’s indelible contributions to hip-hop. Maybe that explains why he opened the album with “The Ruler’s Back”; by the end of TBP, it was obvious that the ruler was here to stay.
Although RD established Jay as an enormously gifted rapper, it didn’t cement his position as a major figure in hip-hop. Most rap fans didn’t appreciate that record until years after the fact, when Jay shot to the top of the charts. By the time he released TBP, Jay was already an established hip-hop giant. The record asserted Jay’s dominance in hip-hop like no other record before or since. In other words, R-O-C was running this rap shit.