Columbus rapper/producer Blueprint has spent over a decade being one of the most consistent and prolific names in underground hip-hop. This month, he celebrates both the release of his new album King No Crown on April 28th, as well as the 10th anniversary of his solo debut album 1988.
We spoke to Blueprint about how his approaches differed between these two projects a decade apart, as well as discussing some of the legends of his unreleased music surrounding his career, including a never-heard completed project from a supergroup that also boasted the late Eyedea, Illogic, Aesop Rock and Slug from Atmosphere.
OC Weekly (Chaz Kangas): What's really unique about King No Crown is how there's no silence in-between tracks as one sound blends into another or into an interlude in the soundscape. What inspired these constant sound?
I was inspired by a lot of old rock records. I think the first time I really, really heard it done was on an old Moody Blues record. I just remember thinking, there are no real rules. It was a record that blended [songs] seamlessly from one to the other. It made me realize you don't have to do the start-stop thing that's so prevalent in songwriting. I first heard it many, many years ago, but didn't think about doing it until a few years back. Now that I understand how music is created in terms of key, finally I can put these things together. They all flow naturally because I have more knowledge of music now to pull it off.
Did you begin creating the album knowing you wanted that element, or did it all happen organically?
It kind of happened organically. It started with one or two songs, and once I did it on one or two songs, the question became could you pull this off for a full album? I just tried to make as many songs as I could, and when I saw an opportunity for two songs to come together or thematically for two things to come together, I went with it and tried it. Certain things worked perfectly, anything that didn't work in that context I set to the side and revisited it later. Over all, I was able to make it work the way I had envisioned it.
The final track on the new album is your tribute to your late longtime friend, contemporary and collaborator Eyedea, where you mention the challenges and ultimately having to grieve through song. Had you attempted to write a song about him before?
I never wanted to write the song before. I tried to blog before on the first anniversary he passed away, I never thought to write a song. When he passed, other people were writing songs, but no-one on [Eyedea and Blueprint's label] Rhymesayers were writing songs. I think it's because everybody on Rhymesayers was a little too close to speak on it or comment on it. It still hurt a bit too much. I didn't think to write a song until years later, it took some time to process it. I knew I was going to eventually have to talk about it, and that's not just a music thing, that's lin ife. When someone passes, you have to mourn them properly, and accept it and speak on it, and writing a song gave me that opportunity.
With 1988 turning 10, it's interesting looking back on 2005 and hearing your album really being the first to call out the over-saturation of rappers in the underground hip-hop scene and their influences being glaringly obvious. Do you think that's still an issue today?
I think the issues are still prevalent today, man. You know, any scene is like that. We started a scene, and when you look at who Slug is influenced by or MF Doom or whoever you choose, say, Madlib, we all had our influences, but we never tried to sound like them. What we started seeing around 2004 was people were creating their style based on just listening to us, to where it started feeling really weird where I'm hearing artists sound like what it would sound like if you only listened to Sage Francis, Blueprint and Murs. That's when it started feeling weird to me. Not that you can't be inspired by us, but I like to believe no-one sounds like us. It's weird when you inspire people to sound like you, and not take the energy you inspire to be the best versions of themselves.
It's more prevalent now than ever. With all due respect, it's no coincidence that a Joey Bada$$ or Your Old Droog or a Action Bronson, people you can clearly hear their influences, are as successful as they are. Obviously they're all dope and they're talented, but from the moment you hear them, you know exactly their influences and people don't trip as much as they did when we were coming up. Today, people don't analyze you just as much for that. It wouldn't surprise me if the climate moves more in that direction. It's not just a music thing. You start out in any field, and you have this unpredictable wild wild west thing and people love it at that time, but then as more people come into it, more institutions are formed, the practitioners of that artform become homogenized a little bit, and people move more toward the center. Not to say there aren't super original guys out there. Hip-hop as a whole, there's more talent now from all sides. The rappers are better, the producers are better. The originality part is the only part I have issue with now.
Looking back on 1988 now, is there anything about it you would do differently?
Nah, I have no regrets about that record. I studied styles a lot before I did that record. I rode around with cassettes that came out in 1988 in my car for months, just getting into the vibe. It didn't really hit me until Rhymesayers asked me about the ten year thing. I still perform it and people get excited. The only thing I slightly regret is that it came out slightly before YouTube started popping. A year or two later, if I would have had just one or two videos off that record, I would have been early into the YouTube space. But no regrets about the record itself.
While we're on the subject of that era, let's address two urban legends. First, is there really an entire alternate version of Things Go Better, the second Soul Position album, that was recorded but had to have beats changed due to sample issues?
No, not all of it. There were sample issues on that record, maybe two or three beats where I think there was an issue Rhymesayers has questions of. That was the first record, if I remember correctly, that we had to turn in a sample list. Prior to that, we could sample anything and no-one would trip. By the time that came out in 2006, independent guys were getting sued for samples as well. But, we didn't have to re-record the whole thing. Only one or two things.
Second, is there much in the way of unreleased Orphanage [Blueprint's supergroup with Eyedea, Illogic, Aesop Rock and Slug of Atmosphere] that might still see the light of day? There are a handful of live performances of songs that don't have studios versions currently in circulation.
We did a whole album. As far as I know, everybody in the crew has it on cassette tape. I might have one of the better dubs of it [where] I actually ordered it like an album. But, we spent a week up there [in Minneapolis] and recorded 10-12 songs. At the time, there was a lot of pressure from being a supergroup with The Weathermen and Indelibles popping up around then, and we didn't want that pressure to put out something. We're just dudes, we're just boys. We didn't want to put out this thing and have that pressure. But, it's a real thing, we all have it. I think it may see the light of day because, as time passes, it's one of the last bodies of work that has Eyedea on it that has not been heard. That reason right there could possibly be the reason it might come out. It might sound like a dusted cassette when it comes out, but that's probably for the best. It's got some shit on there that's crazy. Me and Ant split the production.
You and Ant split the production?
Yeah, I brought my MPC out there. Ant did half of the beats and I did half. We recorded it at [Eyedea]'s house. It's the by-product of me, Slug, Eyedea, Aesop and Illogic hanging out for a week, writing and recording everyday. That Orphanage freestyle session only exists because that was at the end of the week that we were recording. We were all in town and they had the radio show so we said, we're all here anyway, let's all go to the show and freestyle. But that freestyle only existed because we were in town for that album. We sat around everyday, wrote and recorded, there's a lot of interaction and trade-offs. We it started looking like it wasn't coming out, I felt disappointed. I felt I was killing it, but that's what you do. You do a lot of stuff as an artist and a lot of it doesn't come out. Especially the more people you got involved, sometimes things come out, sometimes things stick and you don't know what to do, but I don't think that album is permanently shelved by any means.