Darrell Ford
staff writer
April 27, 2006
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Things Go Better with RJ and Al Things Go Better with RJ and Al
April 4, 2006
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Rock Music Reviews
Soul Position
Things Go Better With Rj and Al

Dear Rj and Al,

Just wanted to let you know I got that new cd. On "Things Go Better" I remember you said you liked the fan feedback from 8,000,000 Stories. I thought I'd try to offer a little on what you've offered up this time.

First of all, let me remind you both that I love what you've done in the past. Rj, Deadringer still makes the regular rounds in my cd changer during road trips. Knowing you were doing production on several albums was what sold those records to me. And Al, 1988 brought me back to hip-hop I never had the chance to catch on the first go around. I don't think I need to explain to you why "Boom Box" may be one of the best excuses I ever had to buy a better sub.

As far as Things Go Better… tracks, let's look at it by the numbers. "No Gimmicks" is a great statement of purpose. The militaristic snare and the slow crescendo of strings lend grandness to the message. Blueprint presents a litany of problems plaguing hip hop – "no slogans, no twenty inch rims rolling, no gold fronts, no publicity stunts, no make believe beef, no shootouts in the streets." As far as that goes, the song is great. I'll even let you get away with saying claiming to be "just the best producer and the best emcee" on a track describing the faults of our culture because, without more, that's the type of ego hip hop is supposed ot exude. But Print says "no calling women bitches just to prove I'm a man" only a couple of songs before he commits that very sin, leaving me to question whether this track is, in fact, just a gimmick. Two tracks later, on "The Extra Mile," the lyrics revolve around the same issues and RJD2’s throwback beat is almost wasted. Why even bother restating yourself on such a short record? You imply that you’re here to fix or save rap and we expect that from most underground artists. Most fans are listening closely enough that we could write dissertations based on your lyrics – we seldom need to be told anything twice.

"Blame It On The Jager" and "Keys" are part of the way to save the music, if that's really your aim. Rap on the radio rarely bothers with falls anymore, and "Jager" is really the kind of track you wouldn't mind hearing in the club. Unfortunately, this means Blueprint can say things like "when you see me with a girl it’s nothing less than a seven, but every now and then I go out to the club and wake up with a girl that looks like Dave Letterman" and most listeners won't remember what he was talking about by the time the next track starts. That next track is "I Need My Minutes," a familiar dirge about, well, needing to protect your daytime minutes from inconsiderate girls, friends, and fans. It's a tolerable shot at a culture currently saturated in Verizon and T-Mobile commercials, but feels like the songs you were railing against when Things Go Better started. [At this point, I recall the message I thought was supposed to take from "No Gimmicks."] Thankfully, "Keys," even with its simple looped horn, allows Blueprint to do exactly what an emcee should do.

"I'm Free" is commendable for its message [that freedoms we have actually trap us], though using the word free in almost every line becomes grating after a while. It doesn't hurt that the funktastic beat and rock guitars speak to the importance of freedom. "Keep it Hot for Daddy" isn't perfect, but I wouldn't mind meeting a woman like the one you described. I'm glad to see I'm not the only person in the world who thinks it's romantic to "fall asleep Friday night staring at the moon and wake up Saturday morning watching cartoons."

I honestly can’t listen to “Priceless” or “The Cool Thing to Do” without wondering why they seem so uninspired. The anti-sex/baby missive to your niece is sentimentally appealing, but Print, you sound disinterested. “Priceless” suffers from a lackluster hook, though the backdrop of high flying trumpets warrant multiple listens anyway. In the home stretch, “Drugs, Sex, Alcohol, Rock-n-Roll” slathers classic rock guitars over space age synth for a fairly addictive backdrop. The only problem with this track, Al, is that it’s impossible to tell whether the abused girl’s turn towards lesbianism is meant to be shocking (because it isn’t anymore) or a punchline (because it’s not funny). I hope in your reply you’ll explain to me how the alternatives I’ve reached form a false dichotomy. [I will say to your credit that the alcohol addiction and abuse discussed aren’t often the focus of songs, underground or mainstream. So kudos for that.]

The album's titular closer is what I was hoping for from every song on this release. The production is heavenly – this beat is easily the best on the record. I’ve heard better lyrics from you, Print, but the song is honest, personal, and vulnerable. That’s what helps underground records into classics. You don't need to save hip hop. But if you’re going to make the effort, make more songs like this.

All in all, I have to say I know you could have done more with the record. There are flashes of the greatness from past releases, but by and large the record isn’t at the level I hoped it would be. [Don't take this personal. Write back soon.]

Best,

Ford

Release date: April 4, 2006
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Rating: 4.2 / 10

On the web: http://www.rhymesayers.com/aDetail.php?aId=12&cT=Bio
[RMR]