Indie rapper Blueprint on consciousness and entertainment

Firstly, warning: Columbus, Ohio indie hip hop troubadour Blueprint is not coming to Montreal, quite sadly. He appears tonight in Ottawa with Atherton, Philly Moves, Fresh Kils and Mad Dukez on the last date of an Ontario tour, and if you hightail it the hell there right now, you might just catch them.

For a period in the mid-’00s, the producer/MC was a staple of the many Rhymesayers tours that came through town. From Eyedea to Slug to Brother Ali and amid countless other labelmates on any bill, Printmatic served up rhymes, jokes and a hell of an act to follow every single time.

Blueprint, photo by Cory Piehowicz

Firstly, warning: Columbus, Ohio indie hip hop troubadour Blueprint is not coming to Montreal, quite sadly. He appears tonight in Ottawa with Atherton, Philly Moves, Fresh Kils and Mad Dukez on the last date of an Ontario tour, and if you hightail it the hell there right now, you might just catch them.

For a period in the mid-’00s, the producer/MC was a staple of the many Rhymesayers tours that came through town. From Eyedea to Slug to Brother Ali and amid countless other labelmates on any bill, Printmatic served up rhymes, jokes and a hell of an act to follow every single time.

Running Weightless Records and producing other MCs while trying to balance his own art with life on and off the road didn’t burn ‘Print out, but he has now put aside the label’s day-to-day in pursuit of fulfilling his obligations to self.

With a new LP, Deleted Scenes, out last month on Weightless, following last year’s still-misunderstood sophomore Adventures in Counter Culture, ‘Print took time out on a tour stop in London, ON (on American election day) to talk music, performance, comedy, politics, self-discipline and upcoming projects including a sure-shot new Soul Position album with longtime co-conspirator RJD2.

We start off discussing his recent laptop crash (the fallout from which slightly delayed our interview that day), and in asking if he lost anything valuable, I first learn that he is working on three books.

Darcy MacDonald: I didn’t know you were a writer! What are you writing about?

Blueprint: One of the things I was writing about heavily was a book about how to become a great live performer; trying to summarize a few things I’ve learned over the years and put in format where people can actually kinda take it, and get some use out of it.

DM: That’s so cool, and I was gonna actually sorta say this to you at some point, so nice segue: you are up there among the most entertaining rappers I have ever seen live. Ive seen you a few times, and one show particularly stands out to me. You were up here opening for Eyedea & Abilities and it was like half a fuckin stand-up show.

Print: Yeah! (laughs)

DM: I remember leaving and saying out loud, Not only was that a great rap show, it was one of the funniest stand-up shows Ive seen. Did you ever think about becoming a comedian, or is that all just part and parcel of who you are?

Print: At that period of time I was heavily into comedy. Around 2004, 2005, I was kinda studying comedy, but more just like, wondering about the science behind it so I could apply it to the stage. I never actually performed any comedy but I was going to amateur comedy nights in Columbus once or twice a week, just hanging out and learning and studying the craft from that perspective. So in that period of time, around 04, 05, when you saw me, thats when I was at my heaviest into comedy and trying to transfer that into hip hop. It was a great experience man, it taught me a lot. Just even about writing, I have a whole new appreciation for comedy.

DM: Its been a long time. When was the last time you got up to Canada?

Print: Last year. I think we only did two or three shows, and it was with Evidence and Atmosphere. I think we did Toronto.

Its something that, for years, I would be on tour and things just wouldnt work out, or whatever. And its changing now, to the point where I am trying to make a conscious effort to get up here more. I mean even this run is a big thing, just as a whole process which, a lot of it is me even crossing the damn border without being fucked with. All my paperwork is right now, though. I got like a carrier code that stops me from getting harassed about my merchandise and customs and shit. Everything is cool now, so I think now I can at least get here once a year, hopefully twice.

DM: Lets talk about some music! I read one review of Deleted Scenes and it was going out of its way to say that, contextually, it wasnt the same as Adventures in Counter Culture, and having heard the album once through I dont get why they stressed that. I know you work hard at your music, and there was a fairly short gap between these albums. How do they reflect each other?

Print: Its almost like one is the opposite side of the other, to me. Adventures in Counter Culture was a huge undertaking, where I wanted it to be stylistically…to have a lotta stylistic variation. I wanted it to jump, and move all over the place, almost to jar the listener to where it hit them with a lotta unexpected looks. You know, when you make those stops instead of turns, sometimes you can either lose people or people can be just kinda not havin that.

So Deleted Scenes, to me actually, has a much smoother transition throughout the record. I think thats why those songs were not put on Adventures. For Deleted Scenes, all those songs were recorded during the same sessions, but they didnt fit Adventures because they didnt have that jarring, that thing that makes people say, Holy shit, what was that?!? But when you put all those moments together on Deleted Scenes, it makes perfect sense.

DM: Having heard it only one time, I gotta agree that smooth would be the way to put it. But I really like Adventures man. Critically, when it came out, I heard all kinds of things and had my own opinions, but I felt you got unfairly knocked around for it. But I did think that it was an album that almost demanded that you really be into music.

Like, I am into music and I am into what you did with it because I know youre a guy influenced by a lotta different things. But at the same time I felt that it was misunderstood, that if you just wanted to hear boom bap music and the listener wasnt willing to take a risk with you, that a lot of people sorta didnt know what to make of it. Ive wondered how you felt (about those reactions.)

Print:  I agree completely. I think what I was up against on that album was the mystique that I had created on (2005s) 1988. Because with that album, a lotta people thought that my path was to be a crusader for the old-school of hip hop, or traditional hip hop. 1988 was a concept record in itself as well, but many people didnt actually just look at it like it was me executing a concept, and my early influences. They looked at it like this is me saying exactly what I am and who I will be forever. And so the toughest criticism I saw from Adventures came from people who were the most staunch fans of me being like, the guy who represents conventional hip hop and things of that nature.

I understood that that would be a hurdle that wed have to climb, but I didnt necessarily…I think all in all, if I look back on it, yeah, if youre a boom bap guy, maybe, like youre saying, youre not a music fan.. Youre a rap fan. And rap fans, they dont get it because they dont understand what music fans actually listen to all day. (laughs)

Adventures, to me, summarizes the musical interests of what I like to call the iPod generation, and not the boom bap generation. The iPod generation will listen to Arcade Fire, you know, then fuckin MF Doom, then theyll turn around and listen to, I dunno, LCD Soundsystem. The iPod era, to them, their identity is not gained through allegiance to one art form. Its through knowledge and familiarity with all art forms and genres.

And so, its funny, because the 1988 album is so opposite. Its saying, okay, this year is to be held above all other years. So with Adventures, I was almost challenging or bringing down something that I had created, and many of my fans didnt really get that or understand what I was trying to do. And I picked up a lot of other people that I wouldnt have if I had made another boom bap album.

DM: Do you find the newer material is better received overseas?

Print: Im not sure man, it depends. There were certain places we went to on a Rhymesayers tour last fall where I definitely think I was stronger. Germany, I think England, were definitely a little stronger for me. But then there are places that, even on a Rhymesayers tour, if I perform Final Frontier off of (RJD2s 2001 solo debut) Deadringer, it would be more popular than any other song that any other performer would play that night! It was weird man, Final Frontier is more popular than any Atmosphere song in Europe, or any Brother Ali or Evidence song they could hear.

But the new stuff, Im not sure. I think it was something they started to embrace. Like, I think France just got me completely. But it was hit or miss, I never would know, with the old and the new material, how to play it, you know, how heavily to lean toward new stuff or the old stuff. Im definitely not gonna say that they are behind or ahead of us, because theres places here where I find the same thing. There are places that completely get me, and then sometimes, depending on the state Michigan, Minnesota, Texas. There are certain places that get it and certain places that dont know what the fuck Im trying to do. Im still happy, I can still kick it!

DM: What are you doing live on stage these days? What did you do last night, for example?

Print: On stage I actually play keys now, I have like a pedal to perfect stuff. I have a guitar that I play, a video game controller. On most tours I have a bass player with me, but hes not on this run, its me on keys.

DM: Is it easier that way to get some of the newer music over, so to speak? When the crowd sees you interacting with music, does it add a sharper element to it?

Print: Oh, definitely. When people see it in a live setting, they can get the vibe that I am up there, playing. Im not there like when I say this, you say that! When we started touring it last year I made a conscious decision to not even talk to the crowd. I talked to them at the beginning, and I talked to them at the end. But in general, I wasnt talking. And it would be a completely different experience because people are so used to rappers coming out and trying forcefully to get you into their show. I was more like, this is my art, Im gonna share it with you, if you get it, cool. If you dont, fuck it, Im gonna play it and do this shit. And I felt that that approach completely worked with that record. It reinforced what they record was about.

DM: Shifting lanes a little bit, is it weird not to be in the U.S. on election day?

Print: Its refreshing! To not be…you know, I live in Ohio and thats one of the battleground states.

DM: How do you think its gonna go down?

Print:  You cant call it. You know, obviously, how Ohio influences the vote pretty much determines the election. So theres a lotta cheating going on, a lotta heavy politicking going on. You never know man.

DM: I would never call you a political rapper but you say what you think and certainly there have been moments where you spit everything from party shit to everyday life shit. But having not heard the new album (extensively) lyrically, would you say it’s more political, or where does it fit in this day and age, or in these times? How does it fit in the context of whats going on in the world right now?

Print: Well, like youre saying, I dont know that Ive really attacked the political thing. I know more than Ive spoken on record. Its a tricky thing, you know, Ive spoken about things loosely but I never completely went in on it. Im working on a record right now, my next album, which is about 80 or 90 per cent done, and that one definitely has a more political edge. Its a lot more heavy in the social commentary than anything Ive ever put together. As I become…I dont wanna say more secure…but when I stopped drinking, I started changing my perspective and my engagement. Once you stop drinking, youre pretty much awake and there are no buffers anymore.

So you might as well just do the honest thing. Like, hey, I see everything now, I might as well comment on it! As Ive eased out of the haze of alcohol and shit, Im ready to be active and engaged. So Im not necessarily political, but I would say that my music is personally political, as far as how we engage with each other. But I definitely have not been overtly political in terms of the poltical process, or the government, or our nations interaction. Not like I am on my future stuff.

DM: I dont wanna get too personal man, but youve given up drinking. I guess I understand what tour life can be like, but is it something where youre like enough is enough, or its time to chill out?

Print: Im done completely! Im two and a half years sober now and as far as I can say, I dont plan on ever drinking again.

For me, it was a cold turkey decision. I was like, fuck this. Woke up that day, I was like, Im not drinking no more. Ive had it feeling like this. Im tired of not feeling like Im living up to my full potential, as an artist and a person. You wanna be somebody you can be proud of, and if you got a bucket list, you wanna spend your life attacking that motherfucker, not just putting it off.

DM: One hundred. So what are the chances of another Soul Position record, I gotta ask?

Print: Highly likely! I mean, we started already about three weeks ago, working on a new record, and were about 10 songs into it now. We had already announced it.

But before that (between respective solo albums and tours) it didnt happen because our schedules just didnt align right. But now our schedules all around are aligned perfectly and were both committed to doing it. We did that song that leaked maybe a month or two ago called The Good Life and that was like the first song we had done together since 2006. It was part of some kind of project with a beer company but it leaked all over the place.

After that, we was just talkin about it, like lets just do it. So RJ sent me a bunch of stuff and I started writing maybe two, three weeks ago and I wrote like 10 songs. I hope to write 30 and then maybe release an EP and then another album. So it should definitely be out next year, I dont think theres any reason it wouldnt be. Ive been sitting down knockin em out, one or two a day, no problem!

Leave a Reply