The Blueprint is the sixth studio album by American rapper Jay-Z, released September 11, 2001 on Roc-A-Fella Records in the United States. Its release was set a week earlier than initially planned in order to combat bootlegging. Recording sessions for the album took place during 2001 at Manhattan Center Studios and Baseline Studios in New York City. Contrasting the radio-friendly sound of Jay-Z's previous work, The Blueprint features soul-based sampling and production handled primarily by Kanye West and Just Blaze. At the time of its recording, Jay-Z was awaiting two criminal trials, one for gun possession and another for assault, and had become one of hip hop's most dissed artists, receiving insults from rappers such as Nas, Prodigy, and Jadakiss. The album is also famous for its producer Kanye West's big breakout as a major producer. Kanye West produced 4 of the 13 tracks on the album, including the iconic track "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and the controversial track which included diss lyrics aimed at rappers Nas and Prodigy, "Takeover".
In spite of its release coinciding with the 9/11 attacks, The Blueprint sold over 420,000 copies in its opening week, becoming Jay-Z's fourth consecutive album to reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart. It was certified double platinum as sales stand at over two million units in the U.S. The album received a perfect "XXL" rating from XXL magazine, while The Source awarded The Blueprint a classic 5 mic rating.The Blueprint received general acclaim from most music critics, based on an aggregate score of 88/100 from Metacritic. In 2003, the album was ranked number 464 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time; in a revised list in 2012, it was ranked number 252. In 2010, Pitchfork Media ranked it number 5 on their Top 200 Albums of the 2000s list. Sales as of February 2012 stand at 2.7 million.
In late August, Jay-Z announced a September–October tour in small venues. Because of the September 11 attacks, the first two performances were rescheduled. Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles were subsequently added, and Jay-Z donated a dollar of the cost of every ticket sold from the tour to relief organizations.
The Blueprint contained a unique and balanced blend of soulful samples that had both street credibility and mainstream appeal, thereby garnering praise from all quarters of the hip hop community and receiving special recognition from critics. Most consider The Blueprint to be one of Jay-Z's best albums, holding it on a level close to that of his debut, Reasonable Doubt. Upon its release, The Blueprint was rated as Vibe Magazine's "Best Album of the year", and even received a 5 mic (out of 5) rating from The Source (a distinction reserved for hip hop classics). Pitchfork Media named it the 2nd best album of 2000-2004. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 88, which indicates "universal acclaim", based on 12 reviews. The popularity and commercial success of the album established Kanye West and Just Blaze as two of hip-hop’s most celebrated producers. Furthermore, The Blueprint signaled a major stylistic shift in hip hop production towards a more Soulcentric and sample-reliant sound, creating a number of imitators who attempted to emulate the album's atmospheric style. Prior to The Blueprint, mainstream hip-hop producers had largely eschewed music sampling in favor of the keyboard-driven Timbaland sound (characterized by a shifting, syncopated rhythm, similar to samba or jungle music), due to the financial and legal issues associated with copyright laws. The Blueprint, however, revived musical sampling as a common practice in hip hop music and dislodged the digital keyboard-driven production style as the dominant sound in hip-hop music. Kanye West would later incorporate some of the production and sampling techniques he used on this album into his own solo albums. Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "One of the greatest poets ever to pick up a mic released his magnum opus in 2001. One retirement and one un-retirement later, it's still his finest hour."
As with Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter, Jay-Z put two hidden bonus tracks at the end of the final track. "Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)" is 3:41 by itself. Twenty-five seconds of silence follows after and the bonus track "Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)" begins. That song fades and is immediately followed by "Girls, Girls, Girls (Part 2)." It is reported that the latter song features uncredited vocals by Michael Jackson. The final track as a whole is 12:07. On the iTunes Store, however, these bonus tracks are released as separate tracks, thus making the album 15 tracks long.