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Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Producers: Kanye West, Just Blaze, Dr. Dre, Scott Storch, The Neptunes, Timbaland, No I.D., Jimmy Kendrix, Big Chuck, Ron Feemster, Heavy D, Charlemagne, Darrell "Digga" Branch
Features: Faith Evans, The Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Rakim, Truth Hurts, Beyoncé, Sean Paul, LaToiya Williams, Big Boi, Killer Mike, Twista, Kanye West, Lenny Kravitz, M.O.P., Beanie Sigel, Scarface, Young Chris, Memphis Bleek, Freeway, Young Gunz, Peedi Crakk, Spars & Rell

"I'm so far ahead of my time, I'm about to start another life/Look behind you, I'm about to pass you twice." Jay had established himself as the dominant rapper of his generation on The Blueprint. And for all its problems (most of them involving a surfeit of ambition, or Lenny Kravitz, or both), The Blueprint 2 successfully maintained the mythos-building of its prequel. The double-album is a feat basically required of a rapper at the upper tier, a moment of peak-era hubris that rarely (Biggie, Tupac) justifies itself. Blueprint 2 suffers badly for its long running time, and it hasn't aged nearly as well as many records from that era. But in its best moments, it speaks to why Jay enjoyed a rep, for as long as he did, as the best rapper alive. Listen to him reveling in technical audacity: flowing deftly over the tricky, 5-bar-loop in "Hovi Baby," spitting double-time next to Rakim on "The Watcher 2," spinning the finely detailed morality tale of "Meet the Parents." On the beats front, its hard to complain about guest production from Kanye West, Just Blaze, and Timbaland, then all in near-peak formThe album also supplied the rapper's biggest hit to that point, thanks in part to solidifying the royalty-pairing of Jay and Beyonce. "'03 Bonnie and Clyde" was the single that set him up for complete popular crossover, one which he would not surpass on the charts until the one-two punch of "Run This Town" and "Empire State of Mind" in 2009.

Still, bloated, over-indulgent and bogged down by some of the more mediocre material he's ever recorded, this is one of Jay's worst albums. (It didn't help that the single-disc version released later on left out some of the original's best tracks.) The biggest songs weren't its best, and the problems overshadowed the plusses. The title track is a good example: a diss song that continued Jay's famous battle with Nas. The rhymes are fine; strong, even. But the war had seemingly ended the year before (after Jay's mom herself had told him he'd taken it too far with the "condoms on the baby-seat" line in "Supa Ugly") and extending it put Jay in the unfamiliar position of sounding petty. With an ill-fitting, funny-style chorus (an Austin Powers imitation? Really?) it came off like sour grapes. The album left a bad taste in your mouth. In retrospect, its not surprising that 50 Cent would upend Jay's dominance the following year. —David Drake