Released on 9/11, the album showed how hustle wasn't just a young-man's game
Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam
Last week the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani made waves with an essay in which she declared that, ten years on, "9/11 has not provoked a seismic change in the arts." It's hard to know whether she's right—accusing something, anything, of "not provoking a seismic change in the arts" seems strange—and hard to know how much to care. September 11 and its aftermath certainly gave writers something to write about and singers something to sing about, but the best songs aren't always about what they claim to be about, and art that sets out to respond to a specific event is often handcuffed by literalness. Much of the most memorable art surrounding 9/11 wasn't occasioned by the tragedy but rather coincidentally attended it: the Strokes' "New York City Cops," pulled from Is This It on the eve of release, or Bob Dylan's "High Water (for Charley Patton)," the homage to Patton's 1929 flood blues "High Water Everywhere" that appeared on Dylan's Love and Theft, released on 9/11 itself.
Jay-Z's The Blueprint also came out on September 11, 2001, an incidental bit of trivia that will be obligatorily mentioned for as long as the album is discussed, which will be a very long time indeed. Jay-Z's influence on hip-hop is massive and varied, but his greatest achievement is his longevity: Many rappers before had stuck around, and aged gracefully—KRS-One, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys—but Jay-Z has been at the top of the genre for nearly all of his 15-year career, the longest sustained reign that rap has ever known. The Blueprint was when the consensus around him solidified, a moment that now seems so preordained that it's easy to forget how it actually happened.