September 2001: Jay-Z Drafts 'The Blueprint' for Success
Though he famously proclaimed himself "not guilty" on lead single "I.Z.Z.O. (H.O.V.A.)," Jay-Z was caught red-handed with the top spot on the Billboard 200 when his sixth studio album The Blueprint debuted at #1 on September 29, 2001.
Released just two weeks before on September 11, Jay-Z's confident collection featured production by up-and-comers Kanye West and Just Blaze, plus key contributions by Timbaland, Eminem, Poke & Tone and Bink - a note of triumph for hip-hop fans reeling from the attacks that shook America on release day.
At the time of recording, Jay was dealing with problems of his own. The previous April, he was arrested outside a Manhattan club and charged with possession of a firearm. He was also awaiting trial for assault after allegedly stabbing a record executive outside another club in 1999. (The possession charge was dropped a month after The Blueprint's release, though Jay pleaded guilty to the assault charge and served three years' probation.) He was also embroiled in bitter feuds with Queens rappers Nas and Prodigy of Mobb Deep.
Fueled by the controversies, Jay and his collaborators decamped to Manhattan's Baseline Studios, where the tracks came to him at a breakneck pace. "I had a lot going on, so I had a lot to write about," he later told MTV. "I went in the studio one day, I made seven songs. That just goes to show you: my music is what's going on in my life."
Guest appearances included Eminem on the album cut "Renegade" and cameos from Q-Tip, Slick Rick and Biz Markie on "Girls, Girls, Girls." (A hidden remix of the song at the end of the album purportedly features uncredited vocals from Michael Jackson.) Kanye West's production on tracks like "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" and "I.Z.Z.O. (H.O.V.A.)" - Jay's first Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 - planted the seeds for his own career as a rapper in the decades to follow.
But the album's standout track may be "Takeover," where, over five minutes and a sample of The Doors' "Five to One," Hov eviscerates Nas, Prodigy and all his critics with precision that threatened to stop several careers in their tracks. The track was ranked #51 on Pitchfork's list of the 200 best tracks of the 2000s - and the album itself found high marks on many best-of lists. It made the top 10 on Rolling Stone, SPIN and NME's best-of lists in 2001, topped Complex's list of the best album of the 2000s and ranked #50 on Rolling Stone's newly revised 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2020.
An era-defining album and a new level of success for Jay-Z? Guilty as charged.