Album: Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3 (Atlantic)

His main subject may still be himself, but Jay-Z tackles it here with a renewed vigour and freshness.

Sure, there are reams of material about how rich and successful he is ("Men lie, women lie, but the numbers don't lie," as he observes in "Reminder"), how ahead of the game he is ("If you drivin' it, we drove it"), how his ambition overcame the disapproval of teachers, critics and haters, and most engagingly, over an adaptation of Pachelbel's Canon in "Young Forever", how being a legend will enable him to remain forever young; but there's a wry, tongue-in-cheek modesty to his self-assessment in "Thank You", and an uncharacteristic generosity accorded fellow rappers – even his one-time arch-enemy Nas – in "A Star is Born". Meanwhile, underneath everything lies a layer of dry, ironic wit: not only does he take a tilt at that modern destroyer of vocal character in "DOA (Death of Auto-Tune)", amusingly claiming that "this ain't for singalong, this is Sinatra at the opera", but he sequences the track so it's followed by one featuring contributions from Rihanna and Kanye West, no strangers to the device in question. And it's always good to hear a rapper of his stature speaking out about the futility of hip-hop's misplaced culture of revenge and criminality, as he does on "What We Talkin' About".

Download this: What We Talkin' About, Empire State of Mind, Young Forever, DOA, A Star is Born