Rapper/producer Blueprint has been on the scene for a while, first gaining something approaching a wide audience in 2002 when he rapped on “Final Frontier”, a track off of RJD2’s still great Def Jux debut Deadringer. Since then he’s more than kept himself busy, as one half of Soul Position alongside RJ , one half of Greenhouse Effect alongside Illogic, and with his many solo albums released on independent hip-hop stalwart Rhymesayers, (seriously, Deleted Scenes is something like his tenth solo full-length).
‘print started out as something like one of the quintessentially “real hip-hop” acts so common at the turn of the millennium; not exactly a throwback artist, but his first album was called 1988, and he’s never been at all shy about criticizing the state of the game. He remains critical here on Deleted Scenes, dropping lines here and there about the fakeness of the current state of play and his ability/duty to rise above it. Overall, though, the lasting impression here is of an artist thoroughly rooted in hip-hop chomping at the bit and trying forcefully, for better or for worse, to pull himself outside of its parameters. It would be an odd look for a rapper who seems so beholden to more traditional hip-hop values if his lyrics weren’t so earnest and clearly genuine.
It’s production-wise that Blueprint really attempts to broaden his pallet, and the results are, to say the least, pretty mixed. When he plays things relatively straight, as on the album’s pretty great earliest run of tracks, (particularly “Takin’ It” and “The American Dream”), his gentle experimentalism allows for rap tracks with a nicely individualistic, space age streak, providing a subtly aggressive backdrop for Blueprint’s locked-in-the-pocket flow. Sometimes hiss explorations further out of the box also hit a sweet spot, as on the weirdly funky jam-band rap of the Zero Star-featuring “Bartender”, probably the best track of the whole set.
More often than not, though, they let him down, as on the albums particularly weak middle section. Here, Blueprint tries his hand at anthemic indie-rock infected dance on “Bells and Whistles” and a blues inflected jam called “The Mask”, neither of which prove to be a good look for him. It feels a little harsh to criticise a musician so clearly trying to stretch himself, but he’s simply better at this rappin’ stuff, which there is of course no shame in. He also has a worrying predilection for weak R’n’B choruses, which seem to crop up on almost half the tracks, crooned by interchangeable vocalists and usually consisting of little more than one or two repeated lines. They just feel unnecessary.
Lyrically and vocally, too, Blueprint is clearly trying to push himself. He spends some time here singing, and he’s not actually half bad, (though he’s probably still a better rapper). Lyrically he’s generally less focused now on battle raps and critiquing modern hip-hop than he is on spitting modern parables of love and childhood reminiscence. His forays into these weightier topics are fine, perfectly serviceable and inherently likable given Blueprint’s affable demeanor They lack much real depth or insight though; this may seem like a churlish comment, but these are things that you end up yearning for over the course of such a seriously minded hip-hop record. Still, consciousness is always a nice thing to hear, even if it isn’t perfectly executed, as is a little playful sonic experimentation. For that reason, this album is definitely worth a spin or two, even if they won’t necessarily be repeated in a hurry.