I recently sat down with my old friend Blueprint to discuss his upcoming projects, his career, and the state of hip hop.Â
So Print you have been out of the spotlight for a little while now, what have you been up to?
AÂ few years backÂ I started to feel likeÂ I was pigeon-holing myself as an artist who’s known for recreating older hip-hop and I felt that ifÂ I continued on that path thatÂ I may never get to do anything different or anything that reflects the music I actually can and want to make. It’s almost like realizing you were being too safe. SoÂ I had to take a step back from some of the things that were distracting me from my music; like touring as much as I was, promoting shows, or even being out so much locally. It wasn’t really doing anything but working against my progression as an artist. In a lot of ways I had become really used to doing records and writing songs a certain kind of way. SoÂ I kind of abandoned that, but as an artist when you decide to change directions a little bit it takes time to master your new style, so Iâ€™ve been trying to master my new style.
What was the journey for blueprint, starting as a young rapper/producer to where you are now?
In the early days it was so much easier to create becauseÂ I was in groups like greenhouse, producing records for illogic, or rappingÂ on RJ’s beats. So my vision as an artist was never fully there.Â I was only really showing my piece of whatever the group needed. Now it’s a lot different becauseÂ I can say that I’ve grown into more of a songwriter and a true artist andÂ maybe taken more significant steps towards being the artist that everybody around me saw from the beginning.Â I guessÂ I had to be on my own to make that progression. As far as just doing music, I enjoy it more now than ever. At the beginningÂ I was just having fun, looking at it as something to do for a couple years untilÂ I went back to computer programming. NowÂ I look at it likeÂ I have the chance to make this my lifetime career, butÂ I need to dedicate my life to it for that to happen. So while it is more serious now itâ€™s more fun to meÂ becauseÂ I actually find more joy in music than ever. At the beginning I was also completely dependent on samples in making music, but I’m not anymore. I’ll use pretty much anything to make a beat now.
I met you at scribble jam in like 1998 or 99 and you were just dropping the greenhouse effect and illogic albums, itâ€™s been 10 years, how do you feel your approach as a label owner has changed?
As a label ownerÂ I used to view it as our job was to just get the music to distributors, stores, and writers so people could buy it. Now I look at all those things as far less important than artist development.Â I think artist development and mentoring is more important than all of those things because you can’t look at any artist like their first or second record is gonna blow shit up for them, you have to look at it like “okÂ I see something great in this person, and it’s my job to put them on a path that helps them develop into that artist”. Because if they’re a great artist then all the other things fall into place and people respond to them. So itâ€™s not about distributors or press or sales anymore it’s about the artist. So that’s changed for me. Nowadays I only want to be in situations where the artists are viewing it the same way and can be mentored and developed. It’s not a new concept by any means, because that’s all Motown did with Stevie Wonder and Rick James, but it’s been abandoned for a while. It takes two people to make it happen. I have to be willing to be extremely open and honest with them They in turn have to be open to receiving that and understanding that it comes from a place of wanting to see the best for them andÂ not just being the asshole or tyrant who runs the label and writes the checks.
During the course of conversation you have mentioned that you have started buying hard copies of music again because it enhances the experience -Â how so and what do you think artists need to do to make people appreciate the album format and the hard copy of music? do you think itâ€™s possible or is it fighting an uphill battle like vinyl?
Well, for myself,Â I think it comes down to emotional attachment versus viewing that piece of art as disposable, you know? I found that whenÂ I was regularly downloading musicÂ I had no attachment to it and my thirst for more new music just grew at a rate that was out of hand. The more access you have the more access you want and to me skimming thru an album and making a quick assessment became the norm. On the flip side,Â I found out that whenÂ I actually bought an album,Â I felt more satisfied with the experience and more excited about music in general. It slowed down the process and my hunger to just want more and more. So even ifÂ I bought a record and didn’t like it,Â I felt better about music as a whole. It might just be because by investing in something we acknowledge our place in the cycle and how important we are, and that the item has a value attached to it. I’ve bought some wack albums like everybody else, but I think that when we completely detach value from music it creates a cycle where we may never be satisfied with music because our hunger is too great. I’ve often found that the people who download the most music are usually the first people to say music sucks or say shit like hip-hop is dead, you know?Â I felt myself becoming one of those people so I stepped away and now I feel much better. Plus, I think saying everything sucks makes people feel better about downloading everything and not supporting artists. On the artist side of things the whole “mixtape” mentality hasn’t helped the situation much either.
You have a weekly party in Columbus Ohio that is a combination of live show and party, which is something that most people agree, has been missing in the underground rap scene for years. What was theÂ genesis behind this and has this approach crossed over into the way you create music?
Well, my dudes and I started the weekly in memory of our dude Daymon Dodson aka “so what” who passed away. We called it “so what Wednesdays”. Daymon used to host the Bernieâ€™s open mic that DJ Przm (rest in peace) used to do and he was the best host in the city. He made it about the djs and the crowd and people responded to that, so as a host I try to do that.Â I think the whole vibe of our weekly was created by what we knew of him in life and how we felt things should go in respect to that. There’s no way you can completely sustain a weekly playing underground rap records the entire night, and just throwing a straight-up party was something that I dont think anybody wanted to do. So, we met in the center and created a weekly based around the music and it was ok to dance or act a fool. No open mics or rappers spittin their mediocre freestyles all night and only one performance each month. So even after we had a performance people would come out and party.Â I have to give everybody involved with it credit becauseÂ I was just the host and the big name attached to it but it wouldn’t have come together without DJ Detox, Wes Flexner, and Pos2 & Raregroove who each dj’d at it for a while. After two and a half years we actually ended it in march but it was a really good time, especially for a Wednesday night.
I know I had a blast when I was in town.Â You mentioned Raregroove.Â When we met he wasn’t part of the team, how did you guys link up?
I met Raregroove around 98 or so right when afterÂ I had moved to Cincinnati from Columbus and started checking out the hip-hop scene there.Â He had moved to Cincy from LA and was spinning around town a lot so we met thru the scene.Â We would always chop it up on the phone about beats and breaks and I used to tell him that if I ever did anything solo that he would be my DJ.Â Around 2003 after the first soul position tour,Â I reached out with him to be my touring DJ and he’s been my DJ ever since.Â We’ve been around each other so much and know each other so well itâ€™s like we’re brothers now.
It’s no secret that hip hop has been suffering over the past few years both in quality and the business side. It seems to be out of touch with society as a whole and for what has always been a youth culture it seems horribly out of touch with whatâ€™s going on with the kids. What is your take on this and do you think there is a silver lining?
On some real shit, I think the problem with hip-hop is the adults, not the kids. When you look at whatâ€™s being played on the radio its people who are 40 years old in these positions of power. Grownups dont wanna act grown up, and still wanna look cool not understanding that they are examples. I’m not sure the kids have a voice in hip-hop right now, and maybe thatâ€™s why we let hip-hop get run into the ground. I think the silver lining is the entire collapse of the record selling major-label industry. I think that shit is great. Because now all the suddenÂ MF Doom and Jim Jones are playing the same rooms on concertÂ and all the sudden Atmosphere and Kid Cudi are on an even playing field. It isnâ€™t about which label throws the most money at an artist or buys the most time on the radio. It’s about music now and the connection with fans. Hopefully the majors will go back to actually finding artists who are unique and dont sound exactly like 10 other artists. Maybe some of these major label rappers who do horrible shows with 10 hype men on stage will get back to doing good shows because it will be the only place they can get money.
Where do you see the music going over the next few years and where do you see yourself and your label fitting in to that mix?
Right nowÂ I think because of peoples increased appetite for new music theÂ labels and artists have to respond to that. You canâ€™t just be an artist who drops one album ever 10 years and think that itâ€™s going to do everything you need it to do. So I think having a really high output is going to be very important as an artist. yeah you can create 10 good songs, but can you do that 2-3 times in a 2 year period because you might need to just to create and sustain the buzz. SoÂ I think labels will become more nimble and start recruiting artists who can excel in that environment. Someone like a madlib or dilla type of producer who can do 3 good records every year because they’re disciplined enough to stay in the studio and really work on their craft. That skill set is going to be really importantÂ in the future. I’m not sure where our label fits into this, but primarily we want to still be the home for good Columbus hip-hop artists and hopefully mold some new artists. I’m sure our model is going to change next year in terms of physical product. maybe we will actually become “weightless” and abandon it all together, you never know.
You have told me how you have started to focus on doing more local and regional touring, which isÂ I think something that most artists can do to start developing a following. How do you go about setting up these tours and where did the idea come from? I know you mentioned working with local college hip hop promoters, how did you manage to work up the connections to put this type of thing together?
I think the idea for regional stuff came around 2004 or 2005 when we started getting requests to play a lot of smaller Ohio markets like Toledo, Akron, Youngstown, and Athens. We were playing Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati already but had never really played anyplace smaller. So we started what we called the Weightless Invasion tours, which were basically us trying to squeeze in as many Ohio shows into a week as we could. As a whole they always went pretty good, and allowed us to get into markets that are in our backyard that we never would have thought about playing before. SometimesÂ I meet cats at shows in one city, like Cleveland, who also promote shows in Kent and they will give me their info and I’ll just reach out to them later about doing a date and trying it out. Sometimes we try to do those tours before our big tours because it helps us get our set together and to get back into the routine of touringÂ and we still get to sleep in our own beds almost every night.
There are a lot of artists on philaflava that are trying to figure out how to make a living as an artist what advice do you have for them on the following:
Recording – Dont spend a ton of money on this up front. Start recording as cheap as possible and focus on writing good songs.Â A good song is a good song even if the recording isnâ€™t that great.
Labels – Figure out exactlyÂ what you want a label to do before you step to them and define exactly what you bring to the table besides a ton of raps.
Touring – Do it as cheap as possible and you will always be good and make sure your stage show is polished or you’re wasting your time and money. By polishedÂ I dont mean your beats are loud and clean,Â I mean your set is designed to win people over.
Merch – Don’t play a show until you have something that people can walk away with. If you already got aÂ CD then itâ€™s time for t-shirts. Never give up on your album just because it came out a year or two ago. If it was good then, it’s probably good now. Get it to the people.