Byline: Peter Suderman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Didn't Jay-Z retire?
That's what the rap heavyweight said he was doing, way back in 2003, when he released The Black Album and hung up his mic. But rap retirements are about as permanent as comic-book deaths, and sure enough, even as he pushes 40, he's returning once again - with his third full-length studio record since announcing he quit.
At this point, Jay-Z isn't merely a swift-tongued rapper; he's a pop superstar with decades of experience. So it's no surprise to find that The Blueprint 3 is the sure-handed product of a master entertainer, confident and casually cool enough to cover its few mistakes.
Even more than that, it's a record that, thanks to its easygoing accessibility and proud pop ethos, embraces the age of both its creator and his chosen genre: His edge has disappeared. Like most rappers of his era, Jay-Z still drops N-words and calls himself a hood, but The Blueprint 3 is as safe a record as they come.
Jay-Z's original Blueprint, in September 2001, proved a turning point in hip-hop: Slick, spry, soulful and unabashedly hit-driven, it expanded the genre's boundaries, spawned a decade of imitators and ushered rap into its populist prime.
Now, with the release of The Blueprint 3, Jay-Z has once again dropped a mid-September hip-hop landmark. And once again, it suggests a pivotal moment in the genre's evolution. Not only is The Blueprint 3 a hip-hop triumph, it's a nearly perfect pop album. Innovative, expansive and accessible, it owes as much to Prince and Justin Timberlake as to Public Enemy and N.W.A.
Once a trash-talking criminal underdog from Bed-Stuy's projects, Jay-Z originally established a persona as a mobster, playboy and thug king.
Since then, he has rhymed his way to the top. These days, he's the reigning king of hip-hop high society and happy to let anyone listening know: Though he grew up at Brooklyn/Now I'm down in Tribeca/right next to De Niro, as he raps on Empire State of Mind. Married to pop princess Beyonce, he has blessed longtime collaborators including …