Why Jay-Z Won't Release The Blueprint 4

Jay-Z is one of the greatest rappers and hip-hop visionaries of all time, but he particularly dominated the 2000s with hits like "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," "Big Pimpin,'" "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," and "99 Problems." He also gained fame for his collaborations with everyone from Kanye West and Pharrell Williams to Rihanna and Beyoncé, with whom he also famously collaborated off-wax to become probably the most beloved and influential power couple in pop culture.

Jay-Z is fond of loosely related albums built around a theme — early in his career, he released In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, and Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter, all of which helped to establish Young Hov as one of the most thoughtful and original voices in music. In the 2000s, he gave the notion another shot with the lyrically compelling and musically thumping The Blueprint (2001), The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse (2002), and The Blueprint 3 (2009). Is a fourth entry in the Blueprint series a possibility? At one time, it seemed like it was ... so why hasn't Mr. Carter released it yet? Here are some potential reasons why we've yet to hear the almost mythical The Blueprint 4.

It's long gone now

No I.D. is one of the producers Jay-Z employed to put together Watch the Throne, his album-length 2011 collaboration with Kanye West. Just a few weeks after that record dropped, No I.D. made a big announcement to Billboard (via Digital Spy). "Jay has started again," the producer said, meaning that Jay-Z had already started working on a new album. "He played me a couple of things. I gave him some music while we were at the Watch the Throne sessions." 

Speculation ran rampant that this still-untitled album would eventually be titled The Blueprint 4, but The Blueprint 4 never came out, of course. It could be that the album — in its original or early form — was scrapped, and Jay-Z (and No I.D., for that matter) moved on to do other things. 

Usually, if a promised album takes many years to see a release date, it just might not be come out ever. One example of this phenomenon: Dr. Dre's Detox. The superstar rapper/producer announced the project in 2002, and he told Rolling Stone that he'd recorded around "20 to 40 songs." In 2015, Dre still wasn't happy with the project, so he scrapped it and recorded a new album called Compton instead. It's entirely possible, if not probable, that the same fate befell The Blueprint 4.

It's all in the 'Magna Carta'

Ockham's Razor states that the simplest answer is almost always the correct one. By that logic, it stands to reason that the first album Jay-Z released after he announced that he was working on The Blueprint 4 in 2011 would have been The Blueprint 4. Since an album with that name was never released, it might just be that the album he released in 2013 — his follow-up to The Blueprint 3 — may have started out as that fourth entry in the series, but it evolved during the writing, recording, or production process. And that album is Magna Carta...Holy Grail, a serious-but-gritty look at modern life in much the same fashion as the three actually released Blueprint albums. (Some evidence: In 2011, producer No I.D. said he and Jay-Z were hard at work on a new album, presumably The Blueprint 4 ... and No I.D. is credited on Magna Carta... Holy Grail.) Jay-Z may have intended to make another entry in his lauded series of albums but, at some point, decided this beast would take on another form, one free of the expectations-raising "Blueprint" banner.

The Blueprint 4:44

Or, if The Blueprint 4 didn't morph into Magna Carta... Holy Grail, it may have transformed into the next album Jay-Z recorded, the sprawling, far-reaching, musically ambitious 4:44. (In other words, it's his Lemonade.) On a superficial level, this kind of makes sense: The Blueprint 4 had the number 4 in its title, and Jay-Z's 2017 record (his 13th consecutive certified platinum release) was titled with nothing but 4s (okay, and a colon). A stylized presentation of The Blueprint 4's 4 would also provide an explanation for the album's striking title, which remains enigmatic even after Jay-Z claimed its inspiration was when he woke up at 4:44 a.m. to write what turned out to be the title track.

Some major hip-hop talents even suspect that The Blueprint 4 and 4:44 are one and the same. Producer Vince Valholla posited on Twitter that "4:44 = Blueprint 4." Rapper Joey Bada$$ tweeted (and then-deleted) his observation: "I think I figured it out... 4:44 is the 4th Blueprint." Rapper Wale weighed in, too, saying that while Bada$$'s theory is an intriguing one, it doesn't hold up because 4:44 doesn't sound anything like the Blueprint records, which Wale said had an "upbeat/club vibe," contrary to the Common-like introspection found on 4:44.

It's taking forever because it takes him forever

Some rappers churn out mixtapes or upload tracks to SoundCloud like they were moving high-quality crack on the mean streets of Brooklyn. While Jay-Z can relate to the latter half of that comparison (he famously got his entrepreneurial start as a drug dealer back in the day), the first part of it is as foreign to Jay-Z as the true meaning behind the number "4:44" is to everybody who isn't Jay-Z. This is to say that Jay-Z isn't very swift with his full-length solo releases. His last three albums, in chronological order were The Blueprint 3, Magna Carta...Holy Grail, and 4:44. The release dates of those albums: September 2009, July 2013, and June 2017, respectively. Allow us a second to crunch those numbers ... yep — it takes Jay-Z just about four years to create an album from conception to it appearing on iTunes and/or Tidal. If Jay-Z really is working on The Blueprint 4, get ready to wait for it, because, if his track record is any indication, it's not coming out until the summer of 2021.

Wouldn't YOU rather hang out with Beyonce?

Jay-Z isn't just some lone wolf hustler anymore, content to hang out in the studio for days, weeks, or months to craft the perfect beats and the rhymes to go along with them. Nor does he want to spend another few months promoting his work with concert gigs, magazine interviews, and TV appearances. He's got a pretty active life outside of making music, and it looks to be filled with rewarding activities.

For example, Jay-Z is in the family way. In case you hadn't heard, his bae is Bey — Beyoncé, also known as the queen of the universe. He's understandably content to bask in the ever-loving glow of his wife and muse, whom he made an honest woman out of back in 2008. First comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes Jay-Z with the baby carriage, too. He's a father of three kids: Blue Ivy (born in 2012), and twins Sir and Rumi (born in 2017).

Of course, Jay-Z is a businessman, and it takes a lot of time away from recording what could be The Blueprint 3 to attend to those businesses in which he is full or part owner, including entertainment company Roc Nation, streaming service Tidal, and a New York restaurant and bar called 40/40 Club.

He doesn't do that kind of thing anymore

The Blueprint era of Jay-Z's career is now a decade in the past. He's a lot older, and more mature now, and he's, of course, changed as a person and as a musician. Those three Blueprint albums dealt lyrically in the things that concerned Jay-Z way back when — there's a lot more content about crime, partying, bragging, carousing, and street life on those records than there is on, say, 4:44, which includes everything from apologies, to reflections on fatherhood, to seething social commentary, to a spoken-word piece from his mother about her coming-out journey. As far as the music goes, Jay-Z's beats aren't all the hard-charging party-pumpers they once were, with the man they once called Hov utilizing a variety of backing musical styles.

Blueprints 1, 2, and 3 were finite things in place and time, and so is 4:44. Jay-Z has always been an artist whose art reflects where he is at the time of its conception, and he's just not a Blueprint guy anymore. He's a 4:44 guy now.