Inspired by gritty comic book stories, Columbus rapper Blueprint has created Vigilante Genesis with the help of producer Aesop Rock, and it’s an entirely new direction in storytelling for him. The world of the album feels like the dark realism of Frank Miller and Alan Moore with a cynical superhero element and an ending that hardly feels like resolution at all. Blueprint has switched his style up consistently since he started, but a concept EP like Vigilante Genesis is something he’s never done before, but matched up with Aesop’s beats it seems to be right in his wheelhouse.
The album has a darkness throughout and the production choices are industrial and gritty adding to the story’s atmosphere. Blueprint’s tale revolves around a graffiti artist/vigilante who conceals his identity with a gas mask and isn’t afraid to resort to violence. It’s a harsh story dealing with the hero’s views on greed, gang mentality, the computerization of culture, and the cycle of violence and crime in many parts of America. The title track serves as an introduction but there’s not really an ‘origin story’ just like there’s no real ending. Blueprint drops us into the middle of a story and pulls us out on a cliffhanger.
The story itself centers on the hero’s search for two criminals who he previously stopped in an attempted rape. The criminals then murder a different graffiti artist mistakenly thinking they are getting revenge. The hero blames himself and goes on a mission to find the murderers. He witnesses terrible things and in his attempts make things right he finds that his efforts aren’t making much of a difference. The cycle bad people doing bad things to other bad people keeps going and the hero can’t fix it all. It’s a characteristic shared by dark comics like Watchmen and Sin City. You can really picture the story living in comic panels just as easily as it works in music.
The biggest criticism I have of Vigilante Genesis is that is feels like a teaser a lot of the time. The story has a semi-complete arc, but the world and the character beg to be developed more. There’s not a single hook to be found on the album so it’s hard to get really hooked in to the music at times and it seems like it’s barely started once it’s over. Maybe the cliffhanger ending is indicative of this being a continuing larger story, but as a standalone piece, there just isn’t enough of it. It’s like issue one of a comic series; it has you hooked on the premise but it’s just starting to scratch the surface of the real story.
Production-wise, Aesop Rock delivers solidly balanced beats that aren’t too basic but also don’t get in the way of the story. Blueprint said that he picked the instrumentals more to facilitate the story than to create an album of hard hitting bangers and it does show here. “Tears Of A Drone” takes on a robotic quality as the hero analyzes the over-saturation of technology while “The Watering Hole” is exactly the kind of music that would play in a dive bar in this gritty vigilante movie. Each track’s instrumental effectively adds to the intended mood.
On the whole, Vigilante Genesis is a successful new idea from the Ohio hip-hop vet. Blueprint has become known for constant innovation and evolution and storytelling suits him. It’s a compelling album and leaves you wanting more. Way more. A Vigilante Genesis EP series would be awesome and could maybe push Blueprint and Aesop Rock into new unknown territory in their careers. But Blueprint isn’t one to stay in the same lane for long so if this is just a one-off I’ll be a little sad, but it’s a solid EP all the same.