Soul Position: Things Go Better with RJ and Al

Justin Cober-Lake

Somebody has to take responsibility for this, and there are only two of you.

Soul Position

Things Go Better with RJ and AL

Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
US Release Date: 2006-04-04
UK Release Date: 2006-04-03
iTunes affiliate

It's hard to know who the audience for Soul Position's new album is. Blueprint starts off like he's going to get into the social commentary, but he hasn't put much thought into what he wants to say. So he's marking out his own territory or whatever, but it might not be one that sees much traffic. RJD2 does his job quite well, mixing up the soul and funk samples he's known for and, to make room for his MC, keeping himself in that background. The resulting combination almost works, but it's never able to make a statement.

Blueprint starts off strong, announcing that this music comes gimmick-free and with a sense of direction. On "Hand-Me-Downs" he explains the current state of hip-hop: "No 'young, gifted, and black' / Just guns, bitches, and crack / I react by turning off BET / And Sambo telling me what blackness is supposed to be". He quickly sets out his intention of defining a more positive sort of blackness, and especially a more palatable masculinity. Given RJ's production and 'Print's tight delivery and assertive personality, the record becomes commanding, as if it contains ideas you need to hear.

But it doesn't, primarily because Blueprint turns issues of responsibility into verbal, narrative, or juvenile games. "Blame It on the Jager", as you can guess, immediately absolves his narrator of any accountability; as we all know, whatever you do drunk doesn't count. In 'Print's case, what you do might be "weird lookin' chicks", making the song a jesting ode to beer googles. While insulting women (of all appearances) and men with sense, Blueprint hides behind the persona of a regular guy. Hey, don't take offense, these things happen.

This attitude wouldn't be quite so offensive if he didn't set himself up as a sort of street preacher, implying the authority and fortitude to deliver a real message. He furthers this attitude on songs like "The Cool Thing to Do" and "Drugs, Sex, Alcohol, Rock-n-Roll". On the first he addresses his real-life niece on the issue of teenage sexuality and the dangers of pregnancy, proposing extreme caution. He expresses his obvious concern with smartness and humor (an important element of this disc), which makes even the preachiness compelling. "Drugs, Sex, Alcohol, Rock-n-Roll" offers his young listeners another warning, but blows it with his careless lyrics. On his second verse, Blueprint uses a story of child sexual abuse to explain how a girl grew up to be a lesbian. Instead of offering analysis on anything (or even providing a character sketch), he indulges in homophobic shocker. He could offer a complex narrative, but chooses to turn trauma into a punchline.

A similar structure drives "Keys". In this story, a jilted lover commits murder, but he's unable to escape the police when he loses his car keys and can't drive away from the scene. Blueprint tells him, "You'll probably get the fuckin' chair / 'Cause you lost your keys". It's an attempt at a narrative twist, but its emblematic of the album's abdication of accountability. The character faces charges because he committed a crime, not because he lost his keys (much like the drinker in "Blame It on the Jager" ended up with a woman he didn't like because he got drunk, not because the Jager caused something).

If this lack of responsibility came on a party album, it would be more forgivable, but it comes on a disc bookended by, and punctuated with tales of moral certainty, ambition, and pride. Rather than the careless tracks sounding like harmless asides (even if they didn't make up a fair amount of the album), they come across like an MC wandering. Blueprint doesn't lack concern for people, despite how it seems at times; instead, he doesn't trouble himself with sensible -- or sometimes sensical -- lyrics. And that might be even worse.


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