Good luck dissociating the term “blueprint” from Jay Z when it comes to rap. Three separate albums bore that title during Hov’s illustrious career where he rapped about all things from pushing to pimping, retirements to returns, Blue Ivy to Basquiats. However, Blueprint also refers to Cleveland, Ohio rapper and producer Albert Shepard. Blueprint is known as part of the groups Greenhouse Effect and Soul Position (which also features producer RJD2). However, his latest album is his fourteenth solo release, Respect the Architect.
With Blueprint the person, you’re more likely to hear about the brushstroke technique of Basquiat than the boast of owning his work. Using “thinking man’s” as an adjective can be anything from disingenuous to dangerous when it comes to describing things, but there is no doubt a density to Blueprint’s lyrics that postures with sophistication. Delivered with a formidable, if unspectacular, flow—take Black Thought and pitch him down a couple steps—Blueprint’s bars have a scholarly flair. “So much more than a rapper/they only write rhymes/while I’m a writer that uses rap to capture the times,” he declares on “Silver Lining,” clearly defining himself as more of a historian than someone caught in the hustle. On “True Vision” he goes on to declare, “I do this for myself, man/I’m a musician.” The emphasis on “musician” borders on being disdainful toward whomever he is addressing.
Being the smartest guy in the room isn’t always a good look though. Certainly a passing reference to Robert Frost can be clever (“bigger fences make better neighbors”), but perceived superiority can get ugly quickly. At the end of “Silver Lining,” Blueprint references a Charlie Rose interview with Sting on inspiring hope through music and delivers the line “people turn to us to hopefully escape from that,” very willingly including himself in that “us” next to the legendary Sting. On “Perspective” he gets overly preachy with the “we’re not so different” message through a laundry list of overlooked tragedies. “Bird’s eye view/it’s beautiful up here,” he states–and it often is from a high horse.
That’s not to say Blueprint isn’t worthy of praise. His production is immaculate, challenging, and at times downright disorienting. “Overdosin’” lacks any real “beat,” but supports a track nonetheless and best shows the potency of Blueprint’s skills. He is also able to use vintage vocal samples (“Once Again”), sappy orchestral string arrangements (“Silver Lining”), and incidental conversations (“Bulletproof Resume”) with equal ease in order to provide a diverse set of sounds on a brief record (there are only eight songs). With such strong tracks, it’s a little disappointing that the guest verses never reach above average. Describing what Count Bass D does on “Once Again” as spitting would overstate the energy expended and Midaz the Beast’s verse is too topsy-turvy to gain traction (though enormous credit for his Jon Koncak reference). Blueprint is never at risk of being outshone, which perhaps was calculated.
During “True Vision,” Blueprint makes a passing reference to the much-heralded book “48 Laws of Power.” The first law is to make those above you feel comfortably superior. Blueprint’s mastery of production and ability to fill out some thought-provoking bars don’t concede anybody’s superiority, let alone their comfort. That respect is reserved for those on his level. Remember, he’s the architect.