A few of you may know of his work with Greenhouse Effect, and RJD2 (together they’ve released music as Soul Position), or his infamous verse from the song “Time to Unravel.” It was through these projects that I became a fan of the MC/producer known as Blueprint, and I have been eagerly waiting to hear him do a full project where he combines his love of carefully-written rhymes and moving beats and productions.

“1988” honors one of the more celebrated years in rap music, when in the days before MP3’s, and even in an era when hip-hop on compact disc was secondary for the record industry, it seemed that one could wake up every Monday knowing there would be great music to come the next day. Blueprint takes his love of that great time in music and makes that not only his point behind this album, but in life itself. When one listens to the “Introduction”, one might think that this will be 60 minutes of a trip to retroville. This is far from the case, because when we hear that it is “fresh… for ’88, you suckas”, we are moved to 2005 and we get to hear the Book of Blueprint in audio form.

The kind of album I like to hear is when, after shutting out the rest of the world, you put yourself in the world of the artist and allow them to manipulate a world in your head through words and sounds. Such as the first single, “Boombox”, where a slowed down movie sample leads into something that could be called a gangster tale of a different generation. Before iPod’s isolated the listener from the world, the boombox was a way for the holder to tell the world “this is the tape I just bought, I want you to hear me”. Before you walked out your door, you made sure your boombox was well dressed:

“Some cats decorated theirs with hand styles and stickers
I decorated my piece with Polaroid pictures
Extra bass boom so you know I ain’t frontin’
Tinted deck with a missing pause button
A pocketfull of tapes from the latest mix shows
With one in the deck ’cause the door won’t close
I might get it fixed when I get some cheddar
Auto-reverse, one side sounds better
My pulse meter pulsates when I play my jams
My equalizer got 32 bands
This cat try to battle, he didn’t know me
I drowned him out with my tapes on Dolby
Plus, I only had the volume on 5
God forbid, he really woulda tried to get live”

With the weapon of his battery-powered blaster, Blueprint confronts another boombox gangster but he is more than ready to give him a few shots to the metaphorical dome:

“Some cat bought the same model and thought he was equal
But he lost the battle ’cause he couldn’t freak the EQ’s
He shoulda known better than to battle me
He dug his own ditch with them Ray-O-Vac batteries
Now he mad as hell
I told him not to come back unless he had some Duracell’s
My boombox: fully equipped
With a microphone jack whenever cats want to spit
Whereever I’m at, the B-boys follow
My box turns bus stops into the Apollo
I give you 15 minutes of fame
And had a downtown sidewalks looking like Soul Train”

In the end, hip-hop is not about what’s in your wardrobe or how much diamonds you have on your fronts. Materialism, in a better world, should be based on the quality of your material, and not the costumes that makes many rappers the equivalent of musical Ronald McDonald’s. In “Lo-Fi Funk”, Blueprint grabs the mic from those who shouldn’t even hold it, and just like the loop behind him, he confronts the listener and with a barrage of lyrics, dares the other person to not cry. Each word and line comes off like freshly pulled onions, and with the funk of a familiar beat, your eyes may water at the fumes he creates. Once the weeping begins, Blueprint digs deep and finds a packet of wasabi to smear:

“I hate most commercial rap, and the labels are selling it
Almost as much as I hate the president
What kind of world are we living in
When you kill Martin and Malcolm, but you let this coward live
They killed 2Pac, forgot about Will Smith
They killed Biggie Smalls and left us with Limp Bizkit
Like we would be too dumb to know the difference
They both knew it was coming but we didn’t listen
So people think because I rap, I’m not supposed to hate
I gotta be a role model and motivate
But it’s hard when you see dudes you know are fake
All you ugly rappers need to go home and comb your face
Your skin is unhappy and your teeth look nappy
The dandruff in your hair got you shirt shook badly
Your facial hair is all mangy and patchy
And your bloodshot eyes look like it got acne”

If this album goes back to any aspect of the golden era, it goes back to when listening to an album was an experience. “1988” is an album experience, where you can listen to the songs individually, but is best when you consume the music as a whole. Just as Blueprint makes you think he’s all too serious about his rhymes, he offers “Big Girls Need Love Too”, and brings to the forefront his love for thick ladies and still having love for those women who feel they need to be too skinny because of peer pressure. If he’s not looking for rotund honies, he may be busy asking you “Where’s Your Girlfriend At?”

What I’ve always liked about Blueprint the rapper is his lyrics and flow, which changes up with each song. There are times when he comes off with confidence, other times it feels like he’s opening his heart and pleading in a vulnerable manner, at the same time knowing that the motivation to rap that way is merely for you to effectively decipher his messages, which are as clear as day.

What I’ve always liked about Blueprint the producer is that he compliments the words with beats that perfectly go hand in hand. While it can be a challenge to produce for others and hope that they will compliment your production skills, it is a bigger challenge to do both and be able to execute it and make it work. Blueprint knows himself, so Blueprint makes beats for Blueprint’s lyrics, and Blueprint rhymes in a manner that also puts Blueprint’s music on a higher level.

A true original not to the game, but to rap music at its best. It’s a challenge to risk releasing an album knowing about the so-called expectations, but I think Blueprint is bypassing that, simply wanting to release a record with a lot of passion, power, and an underlying sense of humor that is meant to suggest fun, to be able to hear this and smile, knowing that what you just experienced sounds and feels good. In a world where others manipulated the standard to suit their needs, Blueprint goes back to the origins, the thoughts and planning which lead into the actions. He goes back to a time when there was no standard and no limit, when “go for yours” meant supporting the next man towards musical supremacy. He then comes back and proves that the initial spirit which sparked so much great music has never stopped being felt. Perhaps what he’s trying to do is, to paraphrase a well known lyric, set them straight, you know, because there’s no half steppin’. Word, are you ready?

Blueprint :: 1988