Blu exists as the underground version of what Lupe Fiasco should be. That is, he writes positive-parsed raps that the everyman is meant to be able to relate to. The Cali rapper goes about his rap business without resorting to the incessant whining that has become a trademark of Lupe’s career, too; so while Lupe gives off the impression that he’s frustrated about never hitting the same superstar heights as his pals Kanye West and Pharrell Williams (despite monumental success with Lasers), Blu seems content with his place in Hip Hop. It’s a realization that imbues the California-based rapper’s music with a certain nourishing humbleness, but it also means that at times Open, his fourth solo full-length project, comes over like nice guy rap – wholesome but unspectacular.

Blu, whose most lauded project to date handed over production duties to Exile, is behind the boards for all 14 tracks on the album. He favors tightly-wrought beats crafted from jazz licks and stabs of brass. At best, he taps into the spirit of the Native Tongues sound without aping Tribe’s vibe; the uplifting “GottaBeFree” is the album’s stand-out, managing to drum up feelings of self-motivation without coming across as preachy. But too often Blue fails to provoke a reaction with his music. So “RememberMe,” which is Blu’s attempt to look back and pay tribute to Hip Hop acts that inspired him, misses in its attempt to hit a nerve of nostalgia. Instead, it ends up sounding like a well-meaning but emotionless list of some groups he just so happens to like, set to a beat that meanders. It’s music to drift off to, whether you want to or not.

And that’s the issue with listening to Open: You know that it’s good, worthy Hip Hop; you know that Blu’s lyrics are well intentioned. But by the end of the album you’re left thinking you’d prefer Blu take a note from Lupe’s playbook and surround himself with a few charismatic douchebags and kick a toast to the assholes.