Soul Position

    Things Go Better with RJ and Al


    From the looks of the album cover, RJ and Al look like they want to sell you a car or perhaps a lawnmower. Despite the jovial cover, this album comes off as almost entirely serious, which is all well and good until you hear some of the most misguided pontification ever laid down on a hip-hop track.


    The production is provided by RJD2, who should be embarrassed for making funky energetic tracks so effortlessly. He indulges his cinematic side a bit on the intro, with strings brought in leisurely, and the sounds of a booming thunderstorm caving in on the listener. Goofy cover or no, things get serious in a minute. Whether he’s scratching a trademark Flavor Flav shout into the hook or laying down horn blasts amidst strumming guitars or thumping drums, it’s hard to fault RJD2’s abilities. Things go better with RJ’s barbecue sauce, rich and soulful enough to smother nearly any dish with its sumptuous goodness.


    If only Blueprint’s brisket could be a little leaner, with that bit of burnt edge that brings the flavor of the meat to a sharp punctuation. His 1988 album, released in 2005, split critics: most dug its throwback aesthetics, but some were left strangely disaffected. Blueprint (whose birth name is Albert Shepard; hence, the title of this album) has capabilities, no doubt, but he sometimes overreaches those skills. At his best, as on Soul Position’s previous album, 8 Million Stories, he can switch between serious and comic, relaying anecdotes or freestyling without hesitation. At his worst, Blueprint trots out the same tired rants of staying true to himself, as on “No Gimmicks,” a statement track that shows our beleaguered emcee eschewing midgets on stage, hip-hop jazz fusion, and throwback jerseys. Sure, throwbacks are played out, but why’s he gotta hate on height-challenged hype men?


    So an indie emcee gets a little defensive; it’s not the first time. Elsewhere, we get to hear Blueprint offering some of the worst parental dating advice ever, proffering to a hypothetical teenage girl that she pretend she goes to church, practices abstinence, and has big burly brothers who will beat on any boyfriend who gets out of line. If said boyfriend sticks around, then maybe he’s worth the time. The album’s worst (and by that I mean best) unintentional comedy moment comes with “Drugs, Sex, Alcohol, Rock-n-Roll,” the worst anti-substance abuse hip-hop track since EPMD’s “You Had too Much to Drink” (the best being, I suppose, De La’s “Say No Go” and Blackalicious’s “40 Oz. for Breakfast”). Our protagonist starts drinking at age twenty-one (a few years later than most of us), “starts keeping alcohol in his refrigerator” (!) and, just as Blueprint describes the best part of alcohol (feeling “more confident/ finally had the nerve to talk to chicks”), anonymous homie gets a termination letter. Blueprint sounds so vociferous on the last note of the verse that it’s hard to imagine he’s serious, and on the second verse, when a female victim of sexual abuse turns to lesbianism (!), it’s hard to know what to think.


    I’m not saying Blueprint lacks talent. He flips a few interesting bits of wordplay on “I’m Free” (free love leading to free clinics, the notion of freedom in this consumerist land of ours), and he has some positively poetic moments in the moderately interesting twist at the end story of “Keys,” with a “gun clappin’ off and on to the music/ The gun plays a murderous metronome.” “I Need My Minutes” injects some much needed humor. Blueprint’s slowed, double-time flow, sounding like Ludacris on codeine, talks about cats draining his Verizon wireless time. Word, Blueprint — peeps need to call at night or on the weekends.


    Unfortunately, if you’re going to talk serious on your first track about not calling women bitches, and then spit “Blame it on the Jager,” a beer-goggles anthem that J-Zone has done better about three times already, then maybe you need to throw out the high-minded talk, stick to the freestyles and not waste RJ’s production work with bad armchair psychology.


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