“I don’t run rap / I run the map.”
Ten years ago today, Jay-Z spoke those words into existence on the closing opus of his Blueprint legacy. As a swaggering giant in hip-hop, there wasn’t much else Hov hadn’t accomplished or done at that point and yet he wasn’t done running the game, as he illustrated in The Blueprint 3. It also marked an interesting time in music.
Autotune, although new at the time, was setting the course for a new musical landscape. Newcomers more aligned with the younger generations were encroaching on the foundation built by old heads like Jay. But the illustrious 15-track record brought together old and new, including Rihanna, Kanye West, super producers Timbaland and Pharrell alongside the new kids on the block: Kid Cudi, Drake and J.Cole.
Autobiographical in some parts and insightful in others, the LP was a reminder that the basic elements of music and hard-hitting rap was not a lost art and still appreciated. It was also an invaluable look into the mind of the man who would become one of hip-hop's first billionaires. In honor of the album's 10th anniversary, here is a look back at how one of music’s most iconic records came together.
Timbaland originally told MTV News that he was overseeing production for the album before Jay came out and refuted it. Speaking to Rolling Stone, Hov said: “If Timbaland makes ten great tracks then he produces the album, if Kanye West makes ten great tracks then he produces the album; if he makes three, I'll take three. I let the music dictate the direction. You know I love Timbaland, he is like a brother to me, but until the music is done it’s premature.”
Ultimately, Kanye helmed a majority of the opus with production credits on eight tracks off the 15-song record. He shared production work with other hip-hop heavyweights such as Swizz Beatz, No I.D., and the Neptunes.
The album almost leaked anyway, and by Jay himself: he nearly lost the recordings on a flight.
“The day I flew in from Hawaii [where BP3 was largely recorded], I was doing some recording, and I had an iPod in my pocket on a commercial flight from Hawaii to New York,” Jay told tech mogul Warren Buffett during a Forbes talk. “I had on jogging pants, and the iPod, with all the music I had recorded, [went] missing...it was on the plane somewhere. So I had to walk into the office the next day and buy an album that might leak the next day. So every day I would wake up and check all the internet places, for like three months.”
All three of his Timbaland-produced records, “Rumors,” “Off That,” and “Venus vs. Mars” surfaced on the Internet two weeks before the album’s release. It caused a rift between the two that many, even Timb himself, thought signaled the end of their friendship. The Virginia legend had to make amends with Hov, who admitted the leaks made their relationship “kinda weird” at the time. The superproducer revealed to MTV News that the tracks he worked on were stolen and leaked after his email was hacked.
In Jay’s Grammy-winning love letter to his home city, it’s hard to imagine anyone else holding down the hearty hook of the song than R&B songstress Alicia Keys. So, can you imagine the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige, on “Empire State of Mind?” Hov told Miami New Times he was "two seconds away" from calling Blige. But when he heard Keys’ melody played over a piano, he knew he had a hit on his hands.
According to the Rolling Stone, an unconfirmed tracklist surfaced in June 2009 with the Illmatic rapper’s name listed for the track alongside Keys. But when the official list of features dropped, his name was gone.
The Blueprint 3 was Jay-Z's 11th album to top the charts. The King of Rock & Roll previously held the title after ten of his albums went number one. Additionally, five singles off the album charted and earned Jigga two Grammy nods.
Kanye started recording music for his fourth solo studio album on the heels of finishing his work for The Blueprint 3. ‘Ye came out of the recording sessions for Jay’s album spurred ‘Ye to start working on his experimental LP, which was completed in three weeks, from September to October.
“The 808 records came out of doing The Blueprint 3 records,” No I.D., Kanye’s longtime co-producer, detailed on the “Juan Epstein” podcast in 2014. “Matter of fact, when we did ‘Heartless,’ he just stopped and said, ‘No.’ I was like, ‘No what?’ He was like, ‘No way! This is my record!’ I was like, ‘Come on, man. Can we just finish the guy’s album?’ He was like, ‘Nope. I’m doing an album.'”
Kanye decided to keep the track for himself and floated Hov “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)” instead.
R&B singer, Tony Williams (a.k.a The World Famous Tony Williams) ended up featuring on the J.Cole-assisted track, which he didn’t find out himself until two weeks after the fact. Williams, who is also Kanye’s cousin, explained to Genius how he ended up replacing Cudi after he was originally brought in to just record supporting vocals.
“Kid Cudi initially did that hook and I just did harmonies and a supporting vocal for the melody. When Blueprint 3 came out, I looked at the track list and saw ‘A Star is Born featuring J. Cole.’ But I had no idea who J. Cole was, and when I listened to the song I heard a hook that I’d never heard before…For two weeks, I [thought], “Wow, this J. Cole is really killing this hook.” But it’s actually me! What ended up happening was that they took Cudi totally out of the mix and pushed my vocals up to make it the lead. So it’s my voice on the record, but for two weeks I was thinking it was some dude named J. Cole.”
It’s hard to imagine a better hip-hop all-star lineup than Rihanna on the chorus alongside Kanye and Jay holding down the verses on the fourth track off the album. But, the two-time Grammy-winning track was almost left on the chopping block, according to music engineer Young Guru, who helped put the record together.
“We had started on ‘Run This Town’ and he wasn’t really catching a vibe,” Guru explained in a 2011 interview with the Red Bull Music Academy. Hov was concerned that it didn’t sound “army enough” but he changed his mind after Guru laid down some studio magic and put his final touches on the song.
(Photo: Rob Loud/FilmMagic)