September 11th, 2001, a day we all remember vividly. I remember just starting my freshman year of high school a week or so before that, and people were still talking about the untimely death of singer Aaliyah. I was wearing a navy blue FUBU vest, white jean TWISM shorts, and white Dr. J converse kicks with a blue line in the design that matched my vest. It was in second hour when all of a sudden I was pulled out of class, and the teacher told me that my mom took me out and was waiting for me in the office. I was very confused and nervous - I got to the office and my mom told me that America was under attack, and that the twin towers were hit, and she thought I should be at home just in case people started acting crazy, whatever. On the way home we stopped at Target, and per usual I ended up in the CD isle, and saw the brand new Jay-Z Blueprint album and grabbed it immediately. Little did I know for approximately a year this album would be the soundtrack of my life, it would takeover my ambitions, my sense of “cool”, and in some ways come back around to affect me years later.
H to the...
Let’s rewind a little bit, to Summer of 2001 when Aaliyah was still walking the earth and the Twin Towers still stood tall, and before I ever stepped foot in a high school. I was a 14 year old kid with parents who spoke broken English, I was a shy, skinny, reclusive kid who didn't hang with many, loved girls but couldn't mustard up the courage to talk to them, and escaped this bubble through his Walkman and radio. Music was my friend, writing my own terrible rhymes, or just staring at the ceiling while listening to dope rhymes by some of my favorites at the time. Artist such as DMX, D12, Outkast, and Jay-Z. I still remember my house phone (remember those?) ringing and my cousin telling me he bought tickets to Jay-Z live at Joe Louis Arena, and he got me one! I was super excited, I never even been to a concert ever in my life until this point. I had a Eminem calendar on my wall and I would mark important dates, and this was one of them! I would count the days to the concert, I even had my outfit ready for the show weeks in advance. The day came, my cousin picked me up and we headed to Joe Louis, just walking into the arena and being on the floor gave me rush. We watched all the opening acts and I was ready for Jay to hit the stage, and then out came legendary Detroit comedian who was the host and told us, “Jay-Z ain't here, due to the weather his flight to Detroit was canceled.” I thought it was a joke, but it was for real and people started leaving out of the arena. I was heart broken. Fortunately though, the show was rescheduled and moved to late July, and we were able to use the same tickets. So here we go again, we get to the arena, I'm on cloud 9 looking at all the beautiful women in attendance, it's a dope show, and out comes Jay-Z and the place goes nuts. I got a rush just being around the energy, and I begin singing along with almost every song. I didn't want it to end, but if my memory serves me correct the last song he performed that night was one I have yet to hear, but I remember thinking it was awesome as hell. Few weeks later a new Jay-Z video/single comes out and I'm pretty certain it was the last song he performed that night, “Izzo”. That track was so dope and catchy to me at the time I was so excited for the album to drop that I started my high school days off by saving my lunch money my pops would give me just to buy this album, hence why when I made it to Target that day, I had to grab it.
Filling a Void
This album took over my life. My freshman year was this album on repeat. There wasn't a song I didn't like. I had a Grey CD player/Walkman that I was always listening to in my own world as I walked through the halls of my high school. The only other album I remember I started listening to that year was DMX's The Great Depression, and although I liked that album too, nothing hit like Blueprint. One song that struck a cord with me was “Girls, Girls, Girls.” As I mentioned earlier, when you're a reclusive shy kid, music becomes escapism, and Jay-Z was everything that I wasn't but wanted to be. Cool, slick, and popular with the ladies, and since back then I've been a sucker for them soulful laid-back type beats, so I naturally gravitated to this song and “Song Cry.” “Girls, Girls, Girls” was so dope to me that somehow it became a thing in one of my classes where I would end up rapping that whole song in the back of science class while the other kids couldn't believe I knew it by heart. It was my only sense of being “cool” or getting any type of attention. At 14, mimicking Jay-Z gave me a sense of existence that I had yet to feel up to that point.
My love for the album continued to grow and inspired me as a writer. I started really to pay attention to the word play. Jay's subtle slick bars that make you say “ah, I see what you did there.” Like in the second verse of the opening record “The Ruler's Back” where Jay says “And you got a couple of beans and you don't have a clue?/You situation is bleek, I'ma keep it real 'cause/Fuckin' with me, you gotta drop a mil'/'Cause if you gonna cop somethin' you gotta cop for real” Jay just shouted out his roster on Roc-a-fella records at the time, Beanie Sigel, DJ Clue, Memphis Bleek, & Amil. Or a line I always found to be really well put together is on “Heart Of The City” when he says “bird ass n***as I don't mean to ruffle y'all/I know you waitin' in the wing but I'm doin' my thing”. There are many more examples of these witty lines throughout the album that I always found impressive and entertaining. With the soulful production from a young Kanye West at the time, the flows and rhymes, and just the attitude this album had that I didn't in my real life, the Blueprint by Jay-Z became my go to and what I inspired to be. Whenever I think of the year 2001, 9/11, ninth grade, starting high school, being 14 years old, or anything that remotely reminds me of that time frame my mind automatically goes to this album. Then towards the end of 2001, when I was in 10th grade and after listening to this album damn near on repeat for a whole year..... I heard “Ether” by Nas.