Derrick Freeman, Blurple Pain (DF Records)

Derrick Freeman, Blurple Pain, album cover

Blurple Pain has just about everything you ask for from a contemporary R&B/hip-hop record — great arrangements, truth-telling and consciousness-raising, comic relief, fine storytelling, memorable love songs, and tasteful instrumental work. Derek Freeman has really outdone himself as a producer here, assembling crisp rhythm sections for the R&B and jazz tracks and awesome beats for the hip-hop tracks. Buy on AmazonThe record is far reaching and holds your attention without ever coming off stupid or simplistic, always respecting itself and the inner-city subjects it talks about, which is really saying something.

The dramatic string arrangement at the opening of “Fallujah” indicates Freeman’s got serious business to deal with, and indeed he’s soon rapping, “I got some shit I gotta get off my chest.”

On the catchy “Don’t Be Mad,” Freeman enlists DJ Quickie Mart for a grooving beat built around the call and response of “don’t be mad” followed by tongue-twisting problems, like: “(Don’t be mad) ‘cause your grammy got osteoporosis / (Don’t be mad) ‘cause your house be full of rats and roaches.”

“Come Back” employs a funky beat with Sean C. and Keng throwing down over a terrific arrangement that plays with the sampled refrain from “Baby Come Back.” It’s a slow jam rap about relationship problems with big brassy bridges between the sections, leading to an outstanding trombone solo from Corey Henry.

“Slick” works off an acoustic and steel guitar intro that leads to a smooth soul groove featuring Sean C. and Keng. It’s a wonderful, Prince-like R&B ode to a woman’s beauty (“I can tell by your body you’ve always been a hottie … Lookin’ at your face, I wanna leave this place”). Watch for the strange twist in the rap.

The comedy comes to the fore on the broke lament “Short Paper,” a hilarious take on Randy Newman’s “Short People.” The strings reappear on “Grown Ass Man” and we know Freeman has a message: “I already used two life lines so I’ma keep writin’ these rhymes.”

“Deaf Poets” brings in Chris “One Eye” Williams, Antonio Gambrell, and Jaythoveen along with Mike Dillon, who adds eerie vibes to this atmospheric tale, which ends with a long instrumental coda. “To all my fallen brothers / All the Sixth Ward soldiers who lost their life in the struggle,” Freeman raps, “All the old people who lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina / This album is dedicated to you.” Freeman could have ended the album there but he couldn’t resist dissing some Romneyites while he was on the tip. The final two songs poke satiric fingers at the sameness of rich white suburbia in the country farce “Little Boxes” and in “Beau Coup Ignorant (The Final Chapter),” a put-down of rich tourists who talk out of both sides of their mouth.

Freeman can always be counted on to do something different. This time he’s made that eccentricity work for him in a big way.