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PROPS TO POPS

He may not be a young MC, but rap's old pro can still sell the swagger.

Rooting for Jay-Z in 2009 is a lot like cheering on Michael Jordan circa his late-career wheeze with the Washington Wizards. It's the classic story of an aged hero - well, 39 - trying to regain past glories in a kingdom of kids.

That said, Jay and Jordan are icons for a reason. And they were so good once that maybe, just maybe, they can be that good once more. Who doesn't want to see Father Time knocked on his rear?

That's where we find Jay-Z on TheBlueprint 3, the end of a booming bestselling trilogy. The album doesn't hit stores until Friday, but it's already been leaked on the Internet. (Check out mtv.com/music/the_leak.) If the release is not as revolutionary as 2001's inaugural Blueprint, it beats the bloated sequel. Plus it sounds both fantastic and, in a strange way, fresh in a hip-hop climate rife with ephemeral pap.

The CEO and style kingpin born Shawn Carter enlists a who's-who to help him out (including Alicia Keys, Timbaland, Drake and Kanye West, who produces the top tracks). But for the most part, the "new Sinatra" - whose wordplay is slower but still delightfully Seussian - has the kids play his old-school game.

Soul samples and live instrumentation trump digital trickery. The lyricism is key; the hook and melody are extra. On first single D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune), Jay taunts all the no-talents smirking behind Pro Tools: "I know we facing a recession / But the music y'all making gonna make it the Great Depression." Run This Town uses a wicked guitar sneer, militarized drums and a Rihanna cameo to make a tough, taunting hit. The gritty postcard Empire State of Mind (feat. Keys)runs from Brooklyn to Tribeca - a self-made man telling the story of his life.

Jay-Z knows that most hip-hop these days is spun candy, tossed-off entendres not meant to last longer than a grind on the dance floor. That's why his boasts sound prophetic, not desperate. On Young Forever, which samples Alphaville's '84 Forever Young, Jay bids adieu with panache: "Leave a mark they can't erase / Neither space nor time / So when the director yells cut, I'll be fine / I'm forever young."

ALBUM REVIEW - Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation) - Grade: B+

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The Scrabble Playlist

My almost-mother-in-law is coming to town. That can mean only one thing: battle Scrabble. Well, two things actually: battle Scrabble and bourbon. (They're symbiotic.) When conversation runs thin somewhere around the drive home from the airport, Pat and I will take to the Scrabble board, knowing full well the fur will inevitably fly over a hotly contested Triple Word Score. She routinely trounces me - and yet I'm getting closer, cockier. She once tried to enlist my almost-brother-in-law to run interference on the board, but Bob left in a rage, vowing never to return. I have a feeling I'm going to win this visit. Oh yes, I will win. In a not-unrelated matter, my almost-mother-in-law once tried to gouge out my eye with a circus bullwhip. Crack! But that's a playlist for another time.

1 D-I-V-O-R-C-E, Tammy Wynette

2 The Letter, Joe Cocker

3 Spell It O.U.T., Emma Bunton

4 T-R-O-U-B-L-E, Travis Tritt

5 Words Get in the Way,Miami Sound Machine

6 Your Dictionary,XTC

7 Spellbound, AC/DC

8 Unpack Your Adjectives, Schoolhouse Rock!

9 A Letter to Both Sides, The Fixx

10 No More Words, Berlin

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ALBUM REVIEW

John Fogerty

Album:The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again (Verve Forecast)

In stores: Now

Sunset ride: The title of John Fogerty's new album may look grammatically askew, but there's a story there. After Creedence Clearwater Revival dissolved in the early 1970s, Fogerty went solo . . . with a twist. He recorded a '73 album as the Blue Ridge Rangers, playing every instrument and covering such heroes as Hank Williams (Jambalaya). Thirty-six years later, on this relaxed, twang-centric followup, Fogerty enlists a few new Rangers to his cause, including Kenny Aronoff on drums and Don Henley on Rick Nelson's wistful rock seance Garden Party.

Reminds us of: With that beautifully broken wagon wheel of a voice, Fogerty honors down-home peers John Prine (Paradise) and John Denver (Back Home Again). But the best re-do is the Everly Brothers' When Will I Be Loved, done in fun, furious tandem with Bruce Springsteen. A Fogerty original, Change in the Weather is hamhanded politicizing and totally skippable. But if you're looking for relaxed accompaniment to a six-pack of suds, this album's a charmer.

Download this: When Will I Be Loved

Grade: B

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SONG REVIEW

INXS

Song: Don't Change

Album: Adventureland Original Soundtrack

In stores: Now

Rent this movie now! I've been gobbling up my Netflix queue lately, including a recent viewing of coming-of-age '80s flashback Adventureland, which I can't recommend enough. The flick is not just a riff on that magical decade - it's a meticulously honest reflection, and a heartfelt one at that. It also feeds into my nerdly love of amusement parks, below-the-belt humor and corn dogs. I babbled about the soundtrack when the movie came out in April, but after seeing the flick, I'm even more in love. The music perfectly mirrors the awkwardness and awesomeness of 1987, from the campy pomp of Falco's Rock Me Amadeus to the stoic cool of Lou Reed's Satellite of Love. But director Greg Mottola's greatest find is INXS's kinetic Don't Change, with its geeked-out space synths and Michael Hutchence's youthful, straining desire to get through to a troublesome paramour.

Reminds us of: The movie was filmed at Kennywood Park, established in 1898 outside of Pittsburgh, Pa. Great place. Beware the Jack Rabbit!

Song grade: A

Album grade: B+

Up next:BIRTHS

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