“Watch out, we run New York!”

If there ever was a definitive soundbite that accented a Hip Hop record’s perfection, KRS-One’s screeching sarcasm on crooked NYPD officers could be in the running for best of all time.

A pre-College Dropout Kanye West gave a very early glimpse of his eventual legendary status by having the gall to sample The Blastmaster’s “Sound Of Da Police” to reflect off of Jay Z’s then King of New York — better yet, King of Rap status in 2001. “The Takeover” would go on to become one of the most piercing diss songs ever released, as it hung Nas and Mobb Deep out to dry, not to mention countless other peanut gallery inhabitants: (“You only get half a bar/Fuck y’all niggas”). Yet it was the KRS sample, as well as the reverberation of David Bowie’s vocals on “Fame,” that were the canvas for Jay’s testament to asserting his dominion over all competition.

Girls All Over The World: A proud bachelor Jay Z enjoying himself on the set of his music video for “Girls, Girls, Girls.”

And therein lies the ex-factor to The Blueprint being crowned as Jay Z’s best album. It arrived at the apex of his hyphenated era as well as on the hour when the country was at its most vulnerable. In 2001, Shawn Carter was a few years removed from solidifying his superstar status with his commercial breakout album, 1998’s Vol 2 … Hard Knock Life, and his positioning with his sleeper-turned-classic debut, 1996’s Reasonable Doubt, and a few years away from his bronzing with 2003’s The Black Album and reaffirmation with 2007’s American Gangster.

Yet it was The Blueprint that encompassed his best traits and spliced them all into one package. It put a definitive stamp on the concept of soul sampling within Hip Hop — a trend that would earn West and Just Blaze plenty of work in the ensuing years and go on to get the Alvin, Simon and Theodore treatment by being “chipmunked” or sped-up to create an out-of-body-experience through the journey of sound.

The Blueprint remains one of the few Hip Hop albums where the lyrics and production result in a harmonious marriage and could obtain a perfect rating off the strength of both attributes in their own right. To celebrate its 15th anniversary, take a journey through the backdrops that laid the foundation for Hov to claim the throne until he was ready to abandon it.

Jay Z’s The Blueprint: The Samples

Bobby Glenn – “Sounds Like A Love Song” (used on “Song Cry”)

Producer: Just Blaze

If the ranking had to be narrowed down to a single record that personifies the auditory legacy that The Blueprint is known for, it would be “Song Cry.” A hardened Jay Z openly admitted how his tear ducts were inoperable as he recounted a tale of the one who got away. Bobby Glenn’s 1976 composition didn’t just “sound” like a love song — it was an ambidextrous record that could comfortably be the theme song to a break-up or a unification of two souls joining as one.

Bobby “Blue” Bland – “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” (used on “Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love)”

Producer: Kanye West

Take ’em to chuuch, indeed. The saying goes “it’s lonely at the top” and as Jay continued to increase his empire ahead of his pump-fake retirement in 2003, a lot of his “Day Ones” begin to drop off the train he rode to the land of success. Mainly Jaz-O, the master who would get surpassed by his pupil and whom Jay Z’s name is derived from. It would take quite an instrumental to channel all that pain and desire to triumph over adversity and “Heart of the City,” with its echoing organs and chopped up vocal sample, is just that.

Al Green – “Free At Last” [used on “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)”]

Producer: Bink!

The Blueprint‘s greatest achievement on the lyrical front was that it finally humanized Shawn Carter, who had been shielding his persona through the lenses of a Teflon drug kingpin and playboy with bottomless pockets. With the help of the kitchen table and Reverend Green, Virginia producer Bink! took listeners into a 1980s Marcy project before the outside world would shape the man millions would eventually throw their diamonds up for. It’s oh-so-soulful.

David Bowie – “Fame” (used on “Takeover”)

Producer: Kanye West

The late, great David Bowie inadvertently allowed for Nas to get ridiculed for months on end, but that was mainly Kanye’s doing. By amplifying his most “famous” record, Jay was able to twist the knife he already cut him with at Summer Jam 2001. The end result wasn’t just a few hot lines but a hot song in general.

The Jackson 5 – “I Want You Back” [used on “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”]

Producer: Kanye West

Back when Jay was comparing himself to all the Mikes, Yeezy had the bright idea to merge the King of Pop with the King of Rap for a jam that was equally throwback and futuristic at the same time. The record’s success would enable the two music icons to collaborate on the single, “You Rock My World (Remix)” shortly after.

Fun fact: Michael Jackson actually sings in the background of “Girls, Girls, Girls (Part 2).”

Jackie Moore – “If” (used on “The Ruler’s Back”)

Producer: Bink!

Every great album is replete with a great intro and “The Ruler’s Back” set an incredible standard for an album that could actually live up to its opening salvo. It takes a special kind of talented ear to pull what Bink! did from the “Precious, Precious” singer’s lesser-known hit but the tale of the tape for The Blueprint is that magic was in the air on all accounts. The horns come across as a coronation for a royal figure who is returning from a victorious battle to enjoy the spoils of his kingdom. Slick Rick is still proud to this day.

David Ruffin – “Common Man” (used on “Never Change”)

Producer: Kanye West

Ruffin, the former Temptations lead singer was undoubtedly a rebel, unapologetic to the day of his death. Definitely a suitable sidekick for Jay’s subtle anti-snitching, thug-aggin-to-the-end anthem that highlighted how he never forgot where he came from. It’s one of the more passionate instrumentals on the album, and you can feel the “never change” mantra with every syllable that is sung. Now, who you know like Hov?

Natalie Cole – “I Can’t Break Away” (used on “All I Need”)

Producer: Bink!

As recently mentioned, Jay opened up quite a bit on The Blueprint, especially on “All I Need,” which is boosted by an “unforgettable” solo high note from the dearly departed Ms. Cole. The minimalist production whizzes by with a funky kick and a snare and allows for a retelling of his run-ins with the district attorney and crew unity to shine above all. Uh huh.

Tom Brock – “There’s Nothing in This World That Can Stop Me From Loving You” (used on “Girls, Girls, Girls”)

Producer: Just Blaze

Although the breezy backdrop of “Girls, Girls, Girls” ushers the track into the sunset, it would be nothing without the slowed vocals of Tom Brock pushing it along. It’s a clear-cut example that instruments don’t always come in the shape of equipment or physical contraptions.

KRS-One – “Sound Of Da Police” (used on “Takeover”)

Producer: Kanye West

With the rate unarmed black men are being turned into a hashtag, one could easily be persuaded to believe that the friction between that community and law enforcement is a new epidemic. The catchy-yet-unnerving single, “Sound Of Da Police” from KRS-One’s 1993 debut, Return of the Boom Bap, is a heavy-handed slap of reality that such problems existed even before the Boogie Down Productions co-creator outlined them on wax, as Hip Hop has always been a reflection of a rapper’s environment.

Lyrics like, “There could never really be justice on stolen land/Are you really for peace and equality/Or when my car is hooked up, you know you wanna follow me/Your laws are minimal/Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal” have absolutely no timestamp on them and that’s a muthafuckin’ problem.

Concert Of Greatness: Jay Z performs with Mary J. Blige and The Roots for his MTV Unplugged, which contained several records off The Blueprint.

The Persuaders – “Trying Girls Out” [used on “Girls, Girls, Girls (Part 2)”]

Producer: Kanye West

Sorry, Generation Z. Mr. Carter wasn’t always Mr. Beyonce. While we will spare running you through the rumor mill of all the celebrity bodies he allegedly tapped, he was, at one point in time, the biggest — and best – thing in Hip Hop and no one man should have all that power. On the criminally slept-on reprise to “Girls 3x,” Jigga compared his ubiquity in women’s bedrooms to Caine and O-Dog’s corner store caper in Menace II Society. Ladies and gents, it gets no iller than that and ’70s R&B group’s crooning about testing the market made it that more memorable.

The Doors – “5 to 1” (used on “Takeover”)

Producer: Kanye West

It’s arguably still Kanye West’s magnum opus as a producer. A diss track can either be immortalized or forgotten solely on the beat selection. The choice to build off a grungy, furious rock anthem proved to be an ingenious decision for both West and Hov, as it would forever re-route the course of the Mobb Deep way and propel Nas to break his cycle of disappointing albums and reemerge with Stillmatic, which was propelled by the “Takeover” counter, “Ether.” The rest, they say, is history.

Stanley Clarke – “Got to Find My Own Place” [used on “Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)”]

Producer: Just Blaze

A record like “Breathe Easy (Lyrical Exercise)” is concrete evidence of why older Hip Hop artists/fans can get so frustrated with the newer crop of rappers (even though there are more options than ever not to be bothered). Jay Z paralleled his rhyme schemes, similes and metaphors to the everyday gym workout, leaving no doubt his mind was a step above most (if not all) of his peers. Its production utilized only the first five seconds of the Stanley Clarke record, proving it doesn’t take much to create a Hip Hop classic.

jay z the blueprint back cover

Photo: Jonathan Mannion

When CDs Sold: Rumor has it The Blueprint classic couldn’t even be stopped by Bin Laden. Released on September 11, the album sold 420,000 copies in its first week amid the tragedy.

Gypsy – “Don’t Get Mad (Get Even)” (used on “Hola’ Hovito”)

Producer: Timbaland

Hold up. Nah, mu’fuckas. Y’all mu’fuckas ain’t gonna keep carrying on like this song is the weak link, mu’fuckas. Jay Z flexed his muscle and drew the line in the sand, even with the ill-advised “better than B.I.G.” quip. Timbaland’s borrowed bassline with his own snare loops and celebratory keyboard chords made “Hola’ Hovito” rider music and a party starter, all in one jam.

Crash Crew (Disco Dave and the Force of 5 MC’s) – “High Power Rap” (used on “Girls, Girls, Girls”)

Producer: Just Blaze

One of the signature hits from the early New York City rap group is more recognizable in classic cuts from SWV and De La Soul but trust, its inspiration was key to the song’s creation. Slick Rick, Biz Markie and Q-Tip may have made the “girls, girls, girls” chants pop but it was Disco Dave who first uttered the infamous phrase on a record.

Bobby Byrd – “I’m Not to Blame” (used on “U Don’t Know”)

Producer: Just Blaze

One of the most triumphant samples of all time was used on one of the most triumphant Hip Hop songs of all time. At the time, Jay Z was caking from rap money, Roc-a-Wear residuals, and a host of other business ventures that would eventually bleed over to sports apparel and management and nightclubs. But when he spouted off his riches on “U Don’t Know” (“One million, two million, three million, four”), everyone from the brokest college student to the single mother could sing along in proud unison. Just Blaze made it happen with what can be called his magnum opus as a producer. Who said Godfather of Soul James Brown was the only Famous Flame to spawn an eternal Hip Hop record? Respect.

Stream Jay Z’s The Blueprint exclusively on TIDAL down below.