Chamber Music

(Weightless; 2004)

By Chet Betz | 16 November 2004

Brave artists who drop albums into the small, small world of instrumental hip-hop face a number of challenges. On the sunny side of things, they don’t have to worry much about a host of competition, but that has its reasons. How does the intrepid producer avoid having their music labeled techno/dance/chill/house/Eurotrash music? Seriously, nobody wants that. Does the narrow-mindedness of the genre Gestapo force the creator of instrumental hip-hop to give the bass extra weight, keep the drums locked in time with loops tight, and sample little to nothing outside of '70s soul, funk and jazz? Um, pretty much. That’s part of why most heads loved Rjd2’s Deadringer (2002) and scratched their heads at Since We Last Spoke (2004).

Then there’s the issue of how to stand out from DJ This and DJ That. One solution: don’t add a DJ to the name. Shadow’s one of the only cats to have gotten away with it. Addressing the previous problem of how to stretch instrumental hip-hop beyond the immediate classifiers, well, yeah, Mr. Producer should probably have some heavy bass, nodding drums, and afro-influence. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to have all those things at the same time to the exclusion of other elements. And just to make sure that nobody starts calling it downbeat, Mr. Producer can cheat and throw in a few rapper appearances to put the genre Gestapo solidly on the right track.

Now let the world take note of Blueprint--no “DJ” for superfluous prefix, he’s got guest rappers, and on the first proper track of Chamber Music, his debut instrumental LP, he warps his earth-quaking drum hits with stutters, snake-charms, and signals from the void of space. The track is “Mr. Hyde,” and as a testament to the potential of a rising underground producer like Blueprint, it’s nothing short of monumental. Blueprint himself raps passionately on the topic of his artistic methodology over the squawking rock guitar and cymbal-riding of “Mission Statement.” The statement’s clear; Blueprint’s not about to fade into the instrumental hip-hop gray.

Chamber Music both reaps and pays when it adheres closely to this credo. It reaps most notably on “Mr. Hyde” and the tracks featuring rappers. “Small World, Big Plans” has Vast Aire spitting methodically over a synth-stuffed banger that reworks plastic crunk-type production into something angular and layered. On “Encounter” Blueprint takes his beat on a slinky crawl through the cemetery and devolves a woman’s voice into creepy baby talk before Aesop Rock jumps in and rhymes more cryptically than usual; the song wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on DJ Signify’s Sleep No More (2004).

“Sacrifice,” featuring Illogic, sounds quite unlike anything off the past Illogic albums, all three of which featured production entirely by Blueprint. The closest cousins might be the excellent “First Trimester” and “Time Capsule” songs from Celestial Clockwork (2004), but even so, “Sacrifice” has a much looser and more foreboding feel. The first half of the 7 ½ minute “Pendulum Master” blurs along with impressive electro-fried textures before decelerating into a mellow piano loop groove, allowing WindnBreeze to touch the microphone. On this album, as well as in his past work with Illogic and Greenhouse Effect (not to mention the stellar “Intricate Schemes” beat for Cryptic One), Blueprint has proven himself one of the great current talents when it comes to backing emcees with fitting beats.

Chamber Music pays for its creed of individuality when Blueprint’s indulgence results in instrumentals that begin to meander and stagnate around the three and four minute marks--only to be saved too little, too late by interesting additions in the final minute codas. It’s difficult not to respect Blueprint’s refusal to rely upon hard-hitting drums and attention-grabbing samples, but he fails to compensate with sufficient dynamism in the middle acts of his compositions. Nonetheless, every track still works as an accomplished hip-hop variant on that which the album’s title proposes.

Well, almost every track works. When Chamber Music outright forsakes its meditative and singular credo on utterly disposable intro and outro tracks and the six minute porn groove of “Hot Sex,” it falls flat on its face. In fact, Chamber Music doesn’t really pull itself back up after the “Hot Sex” slip until it reaches “Sacrifice.” With these flaws and the privation of hip-hop fire in certain passages, Blueprint’s mood piece leaves plenty of room for the magnum opus that can rightfully be expected of him. It would seem that his stars and planets are in the process of aligning; he’s got the name, he’s got the style, and he’s got the right friends on the mic. God, let lightning strike, and let Blueprint capture it before history relegates the list of instrumental hip-hop classics to the length of one sticky pad page.