Don't worry about that album title. The first bit of good news about producer/MC Blueprint's solo debut is that it doesn't wear any tribute-to-1988 conceit on its sleeve, so you're not subjected to stonily significant beat re-creations or nostalgia for a time when hip hop meant something. It's a bad business, isn't it, repeatedly enshrining a year that just wants to be left alone? I'm sure if you asked them, '55, '64, '77, and '91 (the significance of which I'm still not totally clear on) would mumble some deprecating comment and then return to their engrossing Sin City conversation with the bartender. And '88's no different, just way more excited to see Are We There Yet? and XXX 2.
When Blueprint does rip some old rap shit, it plays more like subconscious references he barely realizes he's putting in. For instance, there's a nice three-song stretch ("Tramp," "Boombox," "Trouble on My Mind") that, if you're conversant with Salt-N-Pepa, Do the Right Thing's Radio Raheem, and Chuck D's awkward opening cadence on "Welcome to the Terrordome," you may lift your eyebrow in smug recognition and then sit back to enjoy the finely wrought beats and involving narratives. But see, none of those are from '88. Dude's a self-conscious perfectionist, no doubt, so he never spirals out of thoughtful craftsmanship into laugh-out-loud comedy or mind-bending sociology or body-flipping beats or whatever else you expect from your hip hop, thanks to 1988 or no. Yelling about women stifling his artistry in the not-at-all-sexist final verse of "Liberated," 'Print sounds eerily like Eminem in "Kim," only more petulant and not as scary. You never doubt that this is his job and not his life.
It's always nice to have an exception, and on the rakish "Where's Your Girlfriend At?" Blueprint gets to be the baddest motherfucker with a pad and a pen. Over a walking bass shuffle that sounds like Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock's "Joy and Pain" (courtesy the title year), he admires your girlfriend from a distance, invites her over, sits her down on the couch, and tells her all about his peerless rhyming skills. His breakneck flow lifts into the stratosphere, and there's a bari sax on the chorus! When a song sounds this good, who cares what happened 17 years ago?
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