About halfway through "No Gimmicks," the first substantial cut on Things Go Better With RJ and Al, rapper Blueprint states firmly that, among other things, Soul Position followers will get "no make-believe beefs, no shootouts in the streets." That's typical of this uncompromising Bay Area duo. Blueprint and his partner RJD2 have never had any interest in mirroring the hip-hop mainstream in their art or in their actions. There's no ham-handed thuggery, no predictable bows to the latest club sounds. Better still, Blueprint knows to lighten up and layer in some humor, even when he's educating folks about the history of African American music, encouraging young people to seek the higher ground or exposing the emptiness of bling culture. And thanks to RJD2's deft sampling of orchestral music, the ear-candy factor on Things Go Better With RJ and Al remains high.