Artist: Soul PostionTitle: 8 Million Stories Rating: 2 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Jason Newman
When Columbus, Ohios RJD2 released Dead Ringer, his first major label record, in July of last year, the album became an immediate critical success and had many instrumental hip-hop lovers putting him on par with the grand poobah of the genre: DJ Shadow. Drawing on similar-sounding rare funk and soul samples, Dead Ringer was in the same league as Shadow, but remained unique, both among songs and compared to other records.
While mainly instrumental, the album was not without its guest emcees. Clevelands Blueprint, the emcee heard on Ringers Final Frontier, serves as the Guru to RJD2s DJ Premier on 8,000,000 Stories. With his confrontational voice and long sentences, its not hard to see why Blueprint joined up with Atmosphere on the Godlovesugly tour. At times, Blueprints voice sounds eerily similar to Slugs (or is it the other way around?), and with every head having some opinion on Slug, Ill leave it up to you whether thats a positive or negative when listening to Stories.
Lyrically though, Blueprint mainly eschews talks of relationships, but manages to run the gamut of topics ranging from the shittiness of a 9-to-5 job (The less-than-cleverly titled Fuckajob) to the joys of temporarily escaping reality (Just Think) to social commentary. The latter, the lyrical standout track Run, is one of the more powerful ideas presented in hip-hop recently. Starting with the chorus of Look before you leap, walk before you run/run from anything that threatens peaceful existence Weve been running from day one/Never even thought to ask why or what from?, Blueprint goes on at length about the concept of running away from the negative, a thought often overshadowed by others who emphasize confrontation. His words sound emotional and heartfelt without coming off as cheesy.
While social consciousness can be found all over the album, he balances the scales nicely by borrowing a page from the Book of Blackalicious, Verses A-Z (Check Gift of Gabs nothing-short-of-brilliant Alphabet Aerobics on the 1999 A2G EP if you dont get it). Using the same Primo-esque strings-dominated beat on three tracks, (Candyland Part 1, 2 and 3) the emcee reminisces about cartoons, grade school events and candy, respectively. Nothing that will redefine hip-hop, but they do serve as fun, Ahhh, remember that shit?, breaks between the more serious songs.
Musically, the overwhelming, yet incredible, Share This should be given to every aspiring hip-hop producer. No, not to copy the sound and dilute the already watered-down state of hip-hop. But to show that with a little creativity, the beat and instrumentation can constantly switch up yet always sound hot. On a five-and-a-half minute song, virtually no two 8-bar sections are ever the same! How can you not respect that? Starting with a dark piano loop and stuttered drumbeat, the beat morphs into a minor symphony of Earth, Wind and Fire-sounding horns, harps and guitar samples, calming down to just bass and cymbal before ending on a skittered electronica beat. Oh, did I mention the bongo solo? And the synths?? And the you get the idea.
Sadly, Share This is the exception to the norm on beats. Its not like the other beats are bad; fans of Dead Ringer will still enjoy the mix of horror movie-sounding organ, soul vocal and guitar funk samples and old-school funky drum beats heard on Stories. But knowing what RJD2 is capable of, you wish he took more chances as on Share.
Overall, 8,000,000 Stories definitely has its high points on both the lyrical and musical front. But the whole is weaker than the sum of its parts. Blueprints style, while hot as one track of a diverse album, feels incongruous with RJD2s style over the course of an entire record. It feels as if RJD2 and Blueprint had both worked separately on their respective parts for a while to make it nice, and while both succeeded individually, listeners will probably be drawn to one part or the other. Whether this is enough to make the album successful, only time will tell.