Blueprint is an emcee and producer from Columbus, Ohio. He was worked with RJD2 as the group Soul Position, with Illogic as the group Greenhouse, and has released material as a solo artist. His sophomore solo album, Adventures in Counter-Culture will be out April 5th. He will also soon be on tour with Atmosphere as part of the Family Tour. He sat down to discuss all of this and more during SXSW.
Scratched Vinyl: Can you explain the title of the new album, Adventures in Counter-Culture?
Blueprint: The title has got a couple of different meanings. The first one was like the adventurous part, representing kind of what I’m doing musically. Kind of taking a whole bunch of things that are not supposed to be together, putting them together. And then the counter-culture represents the wide range of topics, discussing individuality, breaking away from things that are expected of you, and then the sense of just standing on your own two and going against the grain. That’s one part of the album’s explanation. Then the title itself I got from a book called Adventures in the Counterculture by Steven Hager, the guy who does High Times magazine. I read it about seven or eight years ago, and it’s a collection of stories about a bunch of different things, and when you read them all together it had an over-arching thing and I thought that would be fresh to take and apply to music.
SV: Musically, what you’ve released so far, this album is definitely a departure from what you’ve done in the past. How did this happen? Was it a specific decision?
Blueprint: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I think I was always expanding, and doing things that were not conventional. So, the signs and the things were there in like 2004, I had an instrumental record called Chamber Music, and at the time I remember people saying it was too fucking weird and shit. And everybody was like, “What is this?” I even had a publicist that was like, “You’re just too weird for me to work.” My UK publicist basically fired me, because my record was too weird.
SV: You’d think something down tempo would go over better there.
Blueprint: That’s why I hired him! It was weird, but over there, I knew there was a stronger scene, at least at the time, with Ninja Tune and those labels laying a much more stronger foundation than was here at the time. Since then, instrumentals have picked up in the States a bit, but, in ‘03-’04, it wasn’t, and he wasn’t feeling it. So that was there, and Illogic’s Celestial Clockwork record, which was another weird record to produce. You know, I have records that I’ve rhymed on, and records I haven’t rhymed on, that were kind of weird things, and musically, at home, I just try to do as much music as possible until it’s time to assemble a record. Then I kind of start going, “OK, how do all these things fit together?” Where I’m at now, is definitely like a natural progression, especially when you consider that I started the record in 2006. At the time, I was doing a bunch of stuff that was like, the basis for Adventures in Counter-Culture, and then I had another set of songs that would have been a very linear follow-up to 1988. And it was probably going to sound like, I hope it was going to sound like 36 Chambers and Supreme Clientele. It was like, “’88? Now I’ll go after ‘95! ‘94!”
SV: The next golden era.
Blueprint: Right. Then it dawned on me that even if I nailed it, I would never be as good as Supreme Clientele. I would never take the place in someone’s heart of that record or 36 Chambers. It came at that point because it was so original, and that’s why it made it’s mark. And so while I could pay homage to it and try to revive that sound, and you know, add another notch in my belt, you know, “’Print can do this!” I felt like it would make me an artist that’s only known for that. So I had one body of work that was like that, and I had another body of work that was like this. I started to let friends hear what I was working on, and then my friends were like, “Do that shit!” You can do this shit any time, but if you put out another record like that, people may never let you do something that’s as ambitious as Adventures in Counter-Culture.
SV: Because you’ve done, well, 1988 was the bigger work, but you’ve also done a couple of themed EPs, like the Funkadelic one, so you didn’t want to be pinned down by that kind of thing.
Blueprint: Exactly. There comes a point when you really start looking around you, and you’re like, “Am I just being like all these other people? Am I just being safe? Am I just doing this record because it’s what I’m good at, or because it’s easy and what people expect, or am I going to be an artist that does what he feels is the best record that needs to push things forward?” When I really started working on Adventures, I kind of started feeling like, this is something that I don’t think anybody is doing right now. I don’t think anybody’s pulling all of these influences together, because maybe there’s only a few people who have the skill set to do so. You have to be a producer, an emcee, all these skill sets, and everyone doesn’t have that at their disposal, so maybe only a few people can do a record like that.
SV: What’s your production process like? Are you playing around with live instrumentation?
Blueprint: The live instrumentation on Adventures, that’s like the last part I would do on every song. By the end of the record, the way I would write every song is I would start at the piano, and I didn’t learn this at the beginning, I learned this about halfway through the process. I originally started writing songs by listening to records for hours, pull out a record that’s got a dope loop or melody on it, and you just go to town with that. You’re like, “All right, I got this.” Find something to chop and arrange, make it your own, I guess, if there’s such a thing as making a sample your own. But, through this process I wouldn’t sample anything at all. I would just sit down at the piano for two or three hours a day. My goal every day would be to write four or five riffs. It could be one-bar, two-bar, four-bar, eight-bar melody, and if I wrote four or five of those, maybe one would be good enough to actually push further, two of them would probably suck, one would be average and forgettable, you know?
SV: You just gotta play the percentages.
Blueprint: Exactly. Play the percentages with everything. And it’s not that different than, like doing beats with samples. It’s just that, you know, you have to do a lot more. You can work a little faster. Listening to samples just fatigues your ear, and sometimes you’re not sure you’re being one hundred percent original. When I was writing melodies, and “Radioinactive” is a perfect example of that process - the song starts with the piano, then it switches to guitar, and full arrangements play out. That song was written pretty much how it is. When I wrote that piano riff, I was like, “This is fucking cool! Maybe this is strong enough to expand on. Originally, I had it as an all synthesizer song, and I was like, I think I was watching Purple Rain or something, and I was like, “I’m gonna make this sound like a fucking Prince song.” So I switched the synths over to guitar, had my guy come in and do guitar overdubs, then had drums with crazy reverb, crazy ’80s. That’s kinds how it went.
SV: Lyrically, how did you work on this album?
Blueprint: I cover a lot, man. A lot of it is just like, I mean, there’s still stories on there. Throughout time, I’ll be telling stories, so I’m still telling stories, just in a different way. Like, some people are crazy about the stories, like the “Scared” one with Jake One, or “Keys” on the Soul Position record. People like those stories with twists to them. On this record I still try to tell stories, but I try to use less words and be more effective, so like, “So Alive,” is like still telling a story, but way less words. I didn’t have to say as much to get the story across. And that’s kind of what I’m trying to do. There’s still a lot of personal shit that’s going on with the record. There’s a song called, “The Clouds,” where I just talk about, it’s an observation where I just had days where I would go to the airport and watch planes take off and stare at the clouds. It’s kind of like me, going through that process and looking back at myself at how my career - how I’ve messed up certain things, there’s certain things I’ve fixed, but the clouds are still there. The sky’s still the limit, you know? That‘s a personal song. There’s a song about my sister passing, you know, at the very end of the record, called “The Other Side.” There’s a song called "My Culture," which is about all the mysterious deaths in hip hop, and how it’s like, we don’t even bat an eye at anymore. It’s like, “Oh, another rapper died? Another rapper in jail? Whatever.” You know? It’s the unfortunate culture of this shit.
SV: That’s something that’s been present in your music throughout your career. There’s been this concern about the potential of hip hop culture versus what it actually is.
SV: How do feel about the current state of hip hop, what is being done and what can be done? If that’s not too big of a question.
Blueprint: I don’t think it’s too big. To be honest, I’m optimistic about where hip hop is at right now, for a few reasons. Production-wise, I think it’s in an amazing place. Like, as a producer, I’ve never felt more motivated by the advances in production. There are so many things I hear every day. You know, hip hop - it used to be this real exclusive club of producers. “Oh, you know, I can’t tell you where I go looking for records at!” Now, because of all these things being put out there, the knowledge is increased everywhere, and that’s raising the bar. Because now you can’t rely on being exclusive, having an exclusive drum lick. No, you have to make a really good beat now. Whereas before, it’s kind of like you had the deejays who were like the crowd pleasing deejays, and then you had the guys like DJ Clue, who would just yell, “Exclusive!” and play something that no one else had. And they would be way up there! How come Pete Rock doesn’t get to rock on the radio? Hip hop used to be like that. For producers, as well, you had exclusive guys. That era is dead. Now it’s about: Everybody’s got good drums. Can you make a beat that’s hot? What’s your excuse for making a beat that sucks, when all this shit is readily available to you?
SV: With the Internet available, and equipment’s cheaper...
Blueprint: Yeah, man! You don’t know something? Google that shit, man! There’s no reason to be whack in this era! “I don’t know how to fucking chop a sample.” Come on, man! There are twenty videos that tell you how to do this, you know, blogs...everything’s out there. And so, in addition to that, as technically as far as rhyming, the bar has been increased on that significantly now, because there are more people doing it. The thing that’s being sacrificed now, is there’s almost too many things coming at the consumers now. Because it’s so easy to make. You know, there’s this quote that says, “The abundance of any resource causes a deficit of another.” In this case, it’s like, information. Abundance of information causes deficit of attention span. So as you get more and more information out there, people’s attention spans - that’s what sacrifices at the expense of the artist. People just can’t pay attention to all of it, so you really have to be unique and distinctive. I think that’s a little disheartening sometimes, but maybe it’s a net gain because now you have to do more to stand out or be more of a real artist. You can’t just say, “Oh, I can rap,” and have a career like you could back in the day. And I think that’s good. I think, now, my main concern with the industry is the diversity of voices and content. I still think that because we have so much more of a forum, that’s so immediately accessible, people’s attention to content is going to slip. People are still kind of getting by on style. I don’t know if they don’t understand our power of words, and for some people I would say that’s definitely true. There are times that I don’t understand the power of words. So I put something out there and the energy is all fucked up, and it’s like, “I didn’t mean to say it like that, I meant to say it this way,” and that may be some of it. But I think that’s going to catch up. I do think that hip hop’s in a pretty good place. I feel like the power is shifting away from these big major entities to the people. Which to me is like the blogosphere. Which is like direct contact with artists. All these walls that existed between artists and fans are being broken down. I think that’s ultimately good, you know?
SV: It’s no longer the situation where you have to be on a major label to reach people.
SV: It’s like that access is a lot easier.
Blueprint: Yeah, man. Some artists thrived on that. They had these elaborate systems like corporate America. You can’t just walk in and fucking talk to the CEO - you gotta get with this guy, who’ll get with that guy, all these things where you’re like where it’s all this shit just to get to one place, and it’s like, man - you don’t need that shit anymore. Someone can say, “Here’s a record, the record is dope, check it out.” If people like it, it spreads. Word of mouth has taken on more importance than the conventional press. The guys who you’d mail your album to six months in advance and maybe they write about it. And maybe they dis it.
SV: And it makes or breaks you.
Blueprint: Like one review would make or break you! We’re not seeing that any more. We’re seeing people decide, and now corporations have to adjust, which I think is kind of fresh. But then they’re going to start cheating, which is ultimately what they’re going to do, you know? Like planting people, to say, “That shit’s dope!” when it’s terrible.
SV: Are there any artists that excite you today?
Blueprint: I don’t know if there’s any one artist, but there’s groups of artists. Like the stuff those cats out at Low End Theory in LA are doing, like the Glitch Mob dudes. I like those dudes, like Flying Lotus, Daedelus, all those guys that are doing that production shit. I was like man, when I was doing instrumental shit in ’03, ’04, I wish there had been that kind of structure for it, because then it was like Shadow, RJD2...
Blueprint: Right? And there was no place for those guys to go and have a community of guys playing and creating that energy, and I just think that it’s changed and it’s beautiful to see. I really like that scene because it inspires me to do it again, whereas before, that was always my passion and curiosity, music, instrumentalism, but I think there was never enough outlets for guys like me. Now it’s good to see that that scene is forming and it’s taking it’s own, you know, form and going - It’s beautiful.
SV: You’ve got the tour with Atmosphere happening. Are there any other projects that we should looking for?
Blueprint: Right now, I don’t know what’s going to happen this summer. I’m going to continue touring as much as I can. This tour, now, and the one next month, and the record itself, has made me reinvent how I was doing the stage show. Which is kind of good, you know? Now I just want to play a lot.
SV: What is the stage show for this tour?
Blueprint: Right now I’ve got a bass player. The record has a lot of heavy bass lines, you know, so I’ve got a bass player with me. I play keys a little bit during the set. I’ve got effects pedals that I fuck with sometimes. I’ve still got the deejay, the backbone, but it’s a little more orchestrated now.
SV: It’s still DJ Rare Groove?
Blueprint: Yep. Still deejaying. But he’s got things to do that are more musical, as opposed to how we used to rock with just two turntables and a mic. Real interactive with the crowd, a lot of back and forth. Now, it’s a fucking show. And that pays tribute to the record, I feel. So I just wanna keep going this year. I don’t want to take any breaks from doing music, at all. Granted, this wasn’t really a break, I was working on the record, but people are like, “Print? Where the fuck you been at?” And I’m like, “I’ve been working my ass off trying to get this to happen.”
SV: Well, there have been a lot of EPs, Greenhouse, and all that...
Blueprint: They don’t care about that. They’re like, “Where’s the real album, bro?” I wanna put out another record next year, so this summer I’m prepared once I get done with Atmosphere, to get back in the lab and really go to work like I did as I was finishing up Adventures in Counter-Culture. And just see how far I can push this solo thing. I don’t really want to do any side projects or anything. I’m not committing to any Greenhouse or Soul Position records yet. I’ve been putting out records for nine or ten years now, and I’m only on my sophomore album. It doesn’t make a lot of fucking sense. I need to like, actually, concentrate on myself, for the first time in my career. I’ve been doing all these damn records, I’ve never been like, “OK, the next two or three years, I’m going to see how far Blueprint can come, if he just focuses on his own shit.” Adventures is just maybe the tip of the iceberg of what I can do.
SV: This is going to be in the opposite direction of what you were just talking about, but it’s a question I like to end on - If you could work with any three artists, who would they be?
Blueprint: Thom Yorke...I’d like to pick the brain of the guy who does production for Portishead. I’d like to just sit with him during a session and ask him questions, like, “How do you get the drums to sound like that?” And I’d like to work with, probably a weird female vocalist, maybe the girl from St. Vincent.
SV: Annie Clark?
Blueprint: Yeah, she’s amazing!
To find out more about Blueprint, visit: http://printmatic.net/