One year ago, Blueprint and newly crowned super-producer Rjd2 paired up on Rj’s stellar album Deadringer. The results were lukewarm; while nothing to scoff at, “Final Frontier” was easily overshadowed by other more amazing tracks on the album. Unlimited, an EP released by the duo under the moniker Soul Position, gave the world a small dose of the possibilities between these two, and that fleeting taste has evolved into 8 Million Stories, which, plain and simply, is one of the year’s best hip-hop albums.
One of the few knocks on Deadringer was the lethargy of the tracks that featured emcees, so a crucial question remained for Stories: Could Rjd2 meet expectations for a full length backing an emcee? He brings his trademark beats, combining vintage sounds with more contemporary elements to anchor the album, but he absolutely opens the floodgates on Stories. Exchanging the sample-heavy sound of Deadringer for more instrumentation and an astounding amount of melody, his production adds a much needed yin to hip-hop’s testosterone yang.
Sublime production from Rjd2 is to be expected at this point in his career, but the album’s most pleasant surprise is the way Blueprint refuses to be pushed into the background. From the cathartic self-exploration of “Share This” (“Tilted, my flowerlike childhood wilted when my innocence was uprooted / Plus the water we gave to it stayed polluted like the veins of cocaine users / My bloodstream’s still a little murky”) to the hilarious storytelling of the lead single “The Jerry Springer Episode,” (“She had an attitude of monumental magnitude / Couldn’t take her anywhere without the broad acting rude / Even with your family she had no gratitude / I took her to my mom’s crib, she started snapping on the food”) to the playground nostalgia of the “Candyland” interludes (“Fat Albert, Flintstones, Force 5, Foghorn Leghorn / G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters, Gigantor”), the album becomes a showcase for his versatile styles.
Blueprint sets the tone, touching on subjects from hilariously dysfunctional relationships to the social role of today’s hip-hop artists; Rjd2 follows suit with a beat for every mood. While Print speaks on the absurdities of the 9 to 5 grind, Rj samples Office Space, the most revered film of the overworked and underpaid (as well as one of the most underrated flicks in recent years). When Print shifts his attention to the limitations of inner city youths, Rj offers a fittingly claustrophobic descending chord progression. Always working on the same page, the pair succeeds on nearly every level imaginable. The two cover nearly as much ground as Mr. Lif’s I Phantom, but less as prophets of doom than as keen observers, pointing out the idiosyncrasies of modern society, yet always maintaining hope. And these keen observers can rock.