For the uninitiated here’s a quick background on Soul Position. “RJ” is RJD2, one of the top producers in underground hip-hop today. He’s done great albums on his own like “Deadringer” and “Since We Last Spoke” as well as dueting with hip-hop all stars like Aceyalone on “Magnificent City.” His beats are so damn fat ESPN has used them in promos for the NBA. “Al” is Blueprint, a top underground producer in his own right who revels in elevating the art of rhyme with sophisticated solo albums like “1988.” The two first came together to form Soul Position on the “Unlimited EP” and each release has been heavily anticipated ever since.

“Things Go Better with RJ and Al” is not just a cute album title meant to imitate a cheese commercial, it’s the literal truth. Any time either of them is involved in a project it immediately increases the value of said project to hip-hop heads, so putting them together should not just be better but THE BEST THING EVER. They certainly don’t waste any time proving it on the aptly titled song “The Beginning.” RJ provides a majestic musical entrance that sounds like the score to a major motion picture, and subtly transitions it into the album’s first rap song “No Gimmicks.” Blueprint’s rap style has always been no-nonsense life stories combined with an unadulterated love for hip-hop music and culture, so even though it’s cliche to vent about the mainstreaming of hip-hop and how it’s been dumbed down in the process you can hardly blame him:

“No major label power moves, no costumes
No… no broad on my album with the fat ass
No wardrobe malfunction, no power lunchs
This is it, no limits, no gimmicks
No slogans, no 20 inch rims rollin
No gold fronts, no publicity stunts
No make-believe beef, no shootouts in the streets
This is it, no limits, no gimmicks
No MTV Cribs, no crib at all
No out of shape fat boys telling you how to ball
No pimpin a ride, no ride to pimp
This is it, no limits, no gimmicks”

Et tu, Fat Joe and Xzibit? Well I can’t front since both of those artists get a pass from me, but it’s just such a damn shame to see everybody copy what worked for them instead of trying to come up with their own shit. THAT is what waters down hip-hop more than anything – lack of originality. You can’t say that about RJ and Al, because their album is a plethora of sounds you’ve never heard before and rhymes that offer you so much more. The topic matter ranges from the somber to the silly; the latter of which can be heard as Blueprint decides to “Blame it on the Jager.” If you’ve never had this vile (but highly intoxicating) beverage before, let Al break it down for you:

“Somebody told me to aim for the sky
Cause even if you miss you’ll still be among the stars
True, but much harder to apply
when it comes to meeting young ladies out at the bars
I won’t lie, I get a nice amount of love
So when you see me with a girl it’s nothin less than a 7
But every now and then I go out to the club
and wake up with a girl that look like Dave Letterman
You know me, I’m a homebody
So when I do hit the club I ain’t hard to catch
On the dancefloor, spillin my drink, throwin ‘bows
Doin old school dances like the Smurf and Cabbage Patch
One shot two shot three shot four
Somebody shoulda stopped me from drinkin any more
When I was sober that broad looked like Al Gore
Now she look a lot more like Demi Moore”

And on the serious side you can find RJD2 digging into the vaults of old school rock funk and giving Blueprint a fine backdrop for “I’m Free.” The title seems simple but for Al it’s actually more of a question than a statement:

“Tryin to get a free mind, in these free times
But I only feel free when I freestyle
Any other time, money’s on my mind
Can’t be free when I’m a slave to free enterprise
Some of us don’t get it, we think it’s copacetic
Got some free love and ended UP in a FREE clinic
Some free medicine, a free prescription
Some people think bein free means bein unprotected
It ain’t right to me, somebody lied to me
When they said that the best things in life are free
It don’t seem to be that cool bein free
Cause man brings anything free to its knees
We cut down trees, ’til everything’s extinct
Then build free-ways over where they used to be”

You might get the idea that Blueprint is preachy and too smugly liberal for his own good (a rapping version of Bill Nye) but in reality he’s not pushing an agenda at all – he’s just a man with a lot of things on his mind he wants to share with the listener. Al’s humble rap style makes him both accessible musically and approachable lyrically. It’s not his goal to bash you over the head with a verbose style or to display triple time dexterity, he just aims to get his point across simply and effectively. It’s even more effective with RJ supplying great beats, from the horny-horn filled funk of “Keys” to the swinging jazz of “Priceless” to the 1980’s hip-hop throwback of “The Extra Mile.” To say “Things Go Better with RJ and Al” is as great as some of their earlier work would be an overstatement, but to say it’s a dissapointment in any way shape or form would be a colossal lie. If it’s not already in your permanent rotation for 2006, pick up a copy at your local music retailer and it soon will be. Things do indeed go better with Blueprint and RJD2 in your ears, because they recognize hip-hop’s limitless potential and never insult their audience.

Soul Position :: Things Go Better with RJ and Al
9Overall Score