Like fellow un-retirees Cher and Brett Favre, Jay-Z knows the value of stepping out of the game temporarily and the hazards, too. The hip-hop kingpin's two ''comeback'' albums, 2006's too-complacent lifestyle chronicle Kingdom Comeand 2007's appreciably rougher and tougher American Gangster, made money but fell short of former glories.
On The Blueprint 3, Jay aims to rectify that by reconciling his two divergent worlds: the rode-hard history of the Brooklyn housing projects he came up in, and the yachting- off-the-Amalfi-Coast-with-Gwyneth celebrity Narnia he inhabits today.
Even if it lacks the raw power of his earlier work, the album succeeds at its larger goal reaching maximum commercial blast radius while maintaining its street bona fides. At times, the guest list makes Blueprint feel less like a solo project than a sonic Ocean's Eleven: slick, frenetic, parade-of-stars entertainment. Guests Rihanna and Alicia Keys supply the radio catnip with honeyed hooks on ''Run This Town'' and ''Empire State of Mind,'' respectively, while Kanye, Pharrell, and Young Jeezy trade boasts with urban Rat Pack aplomb (though the headliner carries horn-filled standout ''Thank You'' all on his own); JV squad Drake and Kid Cudi court the youth vote.
Purists may blanch at a reworking of the teardrops-on-my-keytar hit ''Forever Young,'' from '80s German synth-poppers Alphaville (on ''Young Forever''), but the ladies will probably love it. And the man born Shawn Carter, who turns 40 this December, seems unworried either way. Blueprint is hip-hop as big business, and Jay retains his CEO throne. B+Download This: Listen to the song Empire State of Mind at imeem.com