(Rhymesayers; 2005)

By Chet Betz | 5 April 2005

Blueprint’s rapped for Rjd2. He’s produced for the Illogic. He’s been the best man accomplice for some of the finest talents in contemporary hip-hop, and now he’s releasing his solo debut… that Wherehouse Music had filed under their fucking “dance” section.

Further implicated by the record’s throw-back sounds, indignation riddles the lyrics of 1988. More pointedly put, Blueprint’s hungry. He’s hungry to break the confines of bad distro, to capture and correct the fronting press, to wake up all the underground fans who sleep, or who are too busy trying to blunt themselves into liking that “Bus Ride” single. With a fistful of vinyl clenched above his head, Print’s hollering at backsliders to visit his hip-hop revival.

The earnestness never comes off forced or false, but it can be a bit wearisome when every other rhyme seems to be slipping off a wack-intolerant soap-box of D.I.Y. ethics, even if the lines are passionately delivered and entertaining: “Too many independent acts sounding the same / popping shit on the Net to get a name / Give props to each other, sit around and complain… You need to understand that I’m not new to this / You rap for two bars / I know all your influences.”

Message accounted for, a fun and playful spirit’s what’s really behind Print’s simple wit and exaggerated cadence flow, a style he’s continually refined since its true-color showing on “Break Bread” off Illogic’s Got Lyrics? (2001). In the last act of 1988, Print revisits the relationship hi-jinks of “Jerry Springer Episode” by bringing the funk with “Big Girls Need Love To” and “Where’s Your Girlfriend At?” Print’s technique on the mic, though, shows the most progress in the quick rhythm-tweaking of “Anything is Possible” and the baring of emotional inflection on the second verse of “Liberated,” a performance that dramatically one-ups the final words of Soul Position’s “Share This.”

While his approach to the microphone still develops promisingly, it feels like Blueprint has already arrived as a producer, and 1988 astoundingly maintains his versatile high-bar performance. Print’s use of space and sound placement rivals that of any other producer in the game, and his gregarious mixing makes each distinct element sound full and rich. The diversity of the beats indicates an endlessly creative yet focused mind, one that refuses to rely on the same gimmicks (except, perhaps, for Print’s signature delay-chains) while finding a way to make each experiment really work. The introduction, “Tramp,” and “Fresh” sound like vestiges of a Radio Raheem mixtape; “Tramp” bangs off a rattling drum, a four-step descending guitar, and a Superfreakish wheeze of the title; “Fresh” puts a slight echo-chamber effect on some ill beatboxing, makes that the backbone, and dabs in small touches where appropriate.

And while Raheem might not have known what to make of the dark, 21st century tones of a beat like “Boombox,” the whole song’s basically homage to him and the essential power of hip-hop to rock the block. Blasting off his shoulder, this is music with the sheer sonic force that could have saved Radio from his fate. And if “Boombox” didn’t do the trick, then perhaps its immediate followers would succeed. “Trouble on my Mind” reloads and chugs out scratches and claps and drums while periodically squiggling in horns and electric axe solos. The rocketing, Reagan’s Star Wars second act of 1988 really takes off, though, with the deafening flare of “Lo-Fi Funk,” which only disappoints in that Aesop Rock, whose spitting could make bazookas out of speakers over this beat, is restricted to the hook.

There’s a sublime delicacy to Blueprint’s touch on the title track and “Inner City Native Sons,” meditative music that takes cool loops and breathes before stretching with samples as brief as yawns. Print synthesizes this blue mood with the hard aspect of the “Boombox” / “Trouble on My Mind” / “Lo-Fi Funk” suite by concluding the record with “Liberated,” pulsar-warped chimes giving sharp edges to a song that’s a rap artist’s twist on the break-up mope.

Will Rhymesayers distribution and PR help satisfy Blueprint’s hunger? His music certainly deserves a wider audience. These songs are enjoyable and beautiful and pure hip-hop --- glittering, hard diamonds that hopefully won’t get buried in the underground scene’s mounds of coal.