The spirit of Blueprint’s Adventures in Counter Cultureis encapsulated in the title of its second track “Go Hard or Go Home.” There’s simply no room for compromise with Blueprint: you’re either all in with his searingly honest, almost aggressively direct lyrics or you’re out. But if you’re out, you’ll pass on one of the most ambitious hip hop albums of the year (and yes, I know it’s only May).
It opens with a fragment from an interview in which Blueprint (presumably) is praised for having ‘the ability to pull a different sound than most people in rap are willing to do.’ And to be fair, that’s exactly what he sets out to do on his second album. As he makes clear on “The Clouds,” “I ain’t about to do the same album, different year. I used to be in the that line, now I’m steering clear.” This time round he’s firmly in control of his own destiny; Blueprint’s second LP is entirely self-produced and the lyrical content comes straight from the heart. “This is soul music, I put my soul into it.” Well, nothing remarkable about that, you’d be forgiven for thinking. But it’s the expression of Blueprint’s ambition that’s noteworthy.
Adventures in Counter Culture is a prime example of what a hip hop album that wants to break new ground should sound like: it absorbs diverse influences from garage rock to synths borrowed straight from the Gary Numan (“Fly Away” even sounds like a Little Dragon beat), throws some fat drums behind them and turns it all into something new. It’s not exactly rocket science, but in the current climate the quality, and variety, of the beats on display makes Blueprint stand out a mile.
“Welcome Home” is a beautifully sung (yes, sung) torch song with a John Frusciante style guitar line that would get lighters in the air at any festival, “So Alive” brings the Chemical Brothers to mind for its kitchen sink approach to rave, pitting swirling electronics, big beats and crunching guitar chords against each other, while “Radio In-Active” strips down to a basic piano and guitar line, allowing Blueprint’s voice to amp up the tension. Of which there is a lot. It’s magnificent, so good in fact that you believe the man when he tells us that he’s the reason his fans don’t turn the radio on.
It’s the sort of statement that there’s also rather a lot of on Adventures in Counter Culture.” The kindest way to put it would be to say that Blueprint is simply aware of his gifts as a MC and he’s keen to let you know just how good he is. And he is very good, especially when he doesn’t confine himself to bragging and boasting. His strength lies in his honesty; whether it’s detailing his relationship with alcohol on “Keep Bouncing” or addressing the ills and injustice that hip hop endures on the epic “My Culture.” He dispenses wisdom, and provokes thought and debate in equal measure.
It doesn’t always make for easy listening, and unfortunately Adventures in Counter Culture fizzles out rather than going out with the bang it deserves, but it does go out on Blueprint’s own terms. And quite clearly there’s no other way he’d have it. It’s not a perfect album, nor is it always easy listening, but its imperfections make it even more of a human album from a rapper who’s at its best at his most personal. You may not like everything that comes out of Blueprint’s mouth, but you’ll sure as hell respect it.