If Blueprint & Illogic are nine-to-five rappers, "Bend But Don't Break" is their coping with a Wednesday by airing their grievances better than the rest of us.
After at least 15 years of on-and-off collaboration, Columbus, Ohio emcees Blueprint and Illogic have finally paired up for another full-length album as Greenhouse. Fresh off a characteristically dense record with Manhattan beatsmith Blockhead, Illogic’s teaming up with Blueprint may be a little more accessible to casual fans while maintaining the career-long and organic working relationship that the two are known for. Despite the fact both artists emerged collectively in the late ‘90s as a part of Greenhouse Effect (alongside emcee Inkwell and now deceased DJ Przm), their solo work has also been sporadically co-dependent (Illogic’s own debut was entirely produced by Blueprint and released on the fellow Ohioan’s Weightless Recordings). Still, and even with the calculated releases the pair dropped all the way up until 2011, Bend But Don’t Break may serve as an easy entry-point as much as it is an album for diehard fans.
Even to first time Greenhouse listeners, Blueprint and Illogic obviously work well together. Their rapping styles are complementary as much as they are safely apart. It helps that they’ve chosen not to fall into the trap of fast paced, tag-team antics and let each other sit on either side of the track as well. Illogic’s chronically dense bars are always followed or preceded by Blueprint’s more laid-back style and immediately digestible rhyme schemes. Despite their differences, there’s a common matter-of-factness to their approach and delivery that’s obvious throughout.
The album kicks off with the eerie synthesizer introduction from “This Is It,” which quickly collapses into the beat’s tight drum pattern and spacey chords. The song’s verses mostly function as a boast of skill and general industry prowess (Illogic raps: “We shit full-lengths you’re at your first album release”). The next song, “E-F-F-E-C-T,” features an infectious, drone-like bassline only interrupted by a cymbal crash and the occasional turntable cut. In some ways, “E-F-F-E-C-T” solidifies the tone of the album: neither ‘Print nor Illogic are at their philosophical peak, but their industry raps (woes as much as celebrations) are rewarding in their own right besides acting as an entry-point to larger realizations. The record’s title track offers up a distorted and extremely simple riff as the beat’s backbone; by this point (four tracks in) Blueprint has also established the sound that is responsible for all but a few outlier beats. “The Web” ends up as one of the album’s most streamlined efforts and also acts as a nice shift in approach (the beat’s progression and general layering are sure to make ‘Print’s sometimes-partner RJD2 proud).
The album carries a somewhat unsettling vibe throughout, and its best attribute may come in a sequencing that provides an ebb and flow feeling until the last track. The littering of short, “give me more” type interludes at the end of several songs also plays well. In general, ‘Print’s production manages to strike a focused line without getting too caught up in redundancies even though most of the tracks are built out of a shared formula (the penultimate track is the first truly tiresome moment). With clever and immediately catchy loops like on “Willing To Bleed,” the producer shows off his range a bit more clearly. That song also features quintessential Blueprint catharsis in lines like the following: “Waitin’ on inspiration but it take too long / People like ‘Print just make what you made before / But it hurt too much so I really can’t no more…” While Illogic’s verses are a little less immediately tangible, his incessant poeticism and probing rhyme schemes instantly beg for repeat listens, even with two bars Illogic manages to squeeze an unconventional AB / AAB rhyme pattern into a weighty political declaration on “Microwave America:” “Covert actions with overt consequences / Genocide works the fastest when compassion lacks incentive.”
Truthfully, neither ‘Print or Illogic have topped their own recent solo work with Bend But Don’t Break (between Illogic’s Capture The Sun and ‘Print’s 2011 album Adventures In Counter-Culture, that would be a tough feat). And while the album may not be overly ambitious in its scope, it’s a steadfast effort that almost never misses a beat. After looking at the pair’s upcoming tour (or the recent video for their single “This Is It”) it’s obvious that each has built a career out of nonstop, direct-to-fan grinding. And in a celebration of an utter lack of gimmicks, Blueprint dryly raps “I ain’t a gangster I’m a regular man.” If Blueprint and Illogic can be considered nine-to-five rappers, Bend But Don’t Break is their coping with a Wednesday, they just air their grievances so much better than the rest of us.