An Interview with Blueprint

As the bio on Weightless Records states, “Blueprint rhymes. Blueprint does beats. He is from Columbus, OH. He started a label called Weightless Recordings in 1999.”

In October, 2008 I had the chance to sit down with Columbus, Ohio based Hip-hop MC and Producer Blueprint for an interview while he was in town with Atmosphere on their tour stop at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC. Thirty minutes later, we’d covered his collaborations with RJD2 as the group Soul Position, the state of the music business, his new album on Atmosphere’s Rhymsayers label and his new instrumental album, “Sign Language,” set for release on his on Weightless label on March 3, 2009.

Michael O’Shea: So how’s the tour going?

Blueprint: Great!

MO: Good answer.

B: The rooms are packed every night, an hour after doors most of the shows are packed. It’s good, well attended. I think I’m doing a really good set. I put more time into this set than usual to make sure I was prepared and playing the right songs. I feel good about it so far.

MO: What are you playing?

B: Strangely enough I’m not playing any new material. I’m only playing one song off of my record that’ll be out next year. I’m trying to do what I consider to be, within my catalogue, maybe “the hits.” But I’m also not doing as much Soul Position stuff. Because I realized I never really did a tour with “1988” where I concentrated mostly on that and that body of work and, since I’m out here and I know I have a new record coming out next year I kind of want to back off doing so much Soul Position material during my set.

MO: You’re a busy guy, so what are you working on currently? You said your next record is coming out on Rhymsayers, right?

B: Yeah, it’ll be out, hopefully, first quarter of 2009. That record’s been done for six-eight months.

MO: What’s it called?

B: “Adventures in Counterculture.” It’s been done for a while. I started working on it around 2006. I went through a lot of weird changes during that time technically.

MO: In an interview with “Art of Rhyme” you said it was something of a departure from what people would expect. You said that listeners of underground hip hop tend to be rather eclectic in their musical tastes, listening to everything from TV on the Radio to Radiohead to Arcade Fire to yourself. You also did an album that was made entirely from sampling Radiohead. Can you elaborate on your thoughts on the inter-genre work that you’ve been doing and how does your next album fit that theme?

B: The guys that I kind came up with, we were influenced by music of the 80s and 90s. Rap music, pop music as well, particularly the 80s music. But if you listen to a lot of underground music, something that’s happening with it that I don’t like, and that I think the fans are starting to be bored with, is you start having underground artists who only listen to underground artists. And so it gets caught in this really, really derivative phase. I think people could make a more interesting record if they listen to everything, as opposed to “I’m going to make an underground rap record, but I’m going to listen to Immortal Technique, Blueprint, Sage Francis and Atmosphere and I’m going to listen to nothing but that for six months and then I’m going to spit out a record.” And I think that’s what some guys are starting to do. And you can kind of hear how, as they do that, you can see how they’re dividing up the crowd. Whereas maybe in some way we caused it by creating this sub-genre, I think it shouldn’t always sound like we sound. It should be about good music. Music that is an alternative, not alternative like alternative rock, but just by its strict definition of being an alternative to that shit that’s on the radio every day. Because we obviously aren’t doing that kind of music, I think it should be an alternative, but it shouldn’t necessarily be so internal. Because one you start making it like that, you’re just regurgitating shit and fans get bored and they’re like “You know, I’ve heard the same record twenty times. If I want to hear this shit I can go buy that Blueprint, Sage or Atmosphere record.”

MO: So who are you listening to? You’ve obviously been influenced by bands outside of the hip-hop genre who aren’t necessarily influencing your music on a conscious level at the moment, but what bands are influencing you on that subconscious level?

B: I moved back to Columbus in 2004 and Columbus is a real unique scene in that in the rock community there and in the hip hop community there, a large amount of the artists, we drink together, we party together, we’re always at the same places and we play inter-genre shows. Most of the people on our label will play shows with bands. Just because we’ve done so much that we’ve gotten as big as we can with the hip hop shit there. After a while, you start to spill over into other scenes and maybe you’re doing instrumental shows or an electronic show. You just don’t want the same thing over and over, so there’s a lot of local bands I started listening to maybe 3 or 4 years ago that I’ve done shows with and am good friends with. Brainbow is one of them, I did a show with those guys. There’s these guys called El Jesus De Magico that I listen to and I did a show with them. They’re on a label called CDR, Columbus Discount Records, and they’re kind of like Weightless on the rock side of things. But there even more of a boutique label because they don’t even put out a lot of stuff on CD. They do a lot of 45s and have a singles club they just launched that was subscription only and they did 250 subscriptions and they sold them all in like one day. It’s one 45 a month and you get them for a year. They’re really a boutique label in the way that I kind of want Weightless to be in the future, and I’m gonna try to do some things like that next year that I think will take us there.

MO: Weightless announced in September that you’re selling stuff online and having digital content now. How has digital content and actions such as Radiohead selling their stuff for free online affected owning a label like Weightless?

I think if you’re always forward thinking, it doesn’t affect you at all because the fundamentals of being an artist or being a successful artist as an independent artists are still the same. It’s still do a great record. It’s still get on the road in front of people. That’s how independent artists have been doing so well. They do good records and they go on the road and they get in front of people. And I think that that is something that will never change. So if you really look at it, maybe those avenues are gone, the quick CD sales, but what’s still there? You still have touring, you still have merchandise and other ways. You still have licensing, tour only CDs and things that are not readily available and you have to take advantage of these things. You just have to find other ways to do it. Even then, there are kids who download everything but will come to a show and buy the vinyl. I think vinyl is going to start coming up. Honestly, as an independent label owner, I see the future as being no CDs. I see it as being vinyl and MP3s, that’s it. Within a year, I’d like to move Weightless to that model. I don’t know who’s using that model, but I see that as being the future.

MO: That’d be my guess, as well.

B: I think the vinyl is still touch and feel.

MO: It’s the physicality of the objects. It’s like with Atmosphere’s Deluxe Edition of their last records where they had the whole book and everything with it, it was a lot nicer than just the jewel case.

B: Yeah, you can get the jewel case anywhere. And then the art has to make more sense. If you start thinking about vinyl, that’s when I think artwork was in its heyday. You look at the foldout stuff they were doing in the 70s, the packaging was as important as the art, as the music, itself. I think we have to get back to that. Not necessarily forget the CDs, I don’t see that as being the future in 5-10 years, but I do see getting the music out there and getting the artists on the road and doing good music as always being the future.

MO: How did Weightless come to be? You seem to have a very do-it-yourself ethic, you’re a producer, you’re an MC, you run the label that puts out a lot of your stuff. Did that develop as a conscious thing where you wanted to have complete control or was it out of necessity?

B: It was necessity. We were in cities and states where getting signed just wasn’t a possibility. All the records we put out were things that we had sent out and never heard back from. We sent them to the guys in New York and the guys in LA with mix shows, we sent them to these people and they never responded. We sent them to all the labels and they were like, no. There was really no future, but, at the same time, it made us change. It was necessity. We said, okay, well us getting signed is not really a possibility, so why don’t we just put out our own music? We were recording and guys wanted to do shows and we were part of the scene, and I was like, we’re not doing any shows until we have something to sell. Because I always hated going to shows, seeing something amazing, and not being able to leave with that and put it in the car and listen to it on the way home. That’s my connection with a lot of music.

MO: Is that how you got into producing?

B: I got into producing before then. I used to DJ originally. In college I had a radio show for like five years. I started my sophomore year and then by my junior year and up I was on like Friday nights 10-2. I had an amazing slot for hip-hop in a city where, for a year or two, I didn’t have any competition, there were no mix shows in the neighboring big city. And then in the last year this big, huge power station came on and was doing really good mix shows and that kind of hurt me a little, but even then I was still doing mix shows and DJing parties, weddings and sixth-grade proms. I would play radio stuff then that people wanted to hear, but on my mix shows it was all independent hip-hop. I was really big into the 12 inch thing, like the old Fondleham records, the old ABB records, when it was 12 inches and albums weren’t as popular then, independent hip-hop was all 12 inches then. And it shifted around ’97-’98 to people actually putting out records, which was better. And so that was how we started. I didn’t have anybody to make beats, so me and my crew, which was all the Greenhouse dudes, we all went to college together, would just freestyle all the time and go to places. I started getting into record collecting after I started DJing, ’cause, you know, college radio stations got the most amazing libraries. You start going through that stuff and you start taking a record home here and there, you’re listening to it all. I bought a drum machine and I would just loop things with a tape player and my hands. They call them pause mix-tapes, but I couldn’t even do it like that. I would just play the drum track and then I would just scratch the record that I wanted to sample overtop of it to that tempo and then I would just pause it, wait and play it again. And then I would go back to the same thing, it was almost like karaoke, actually I did it on a double-deck karaoke box, and then you play it, put it over there again, fill in the gaps, and you do that about twenty times and you’ve got a real beat. After that I just saved up my money, maxed out a credit card and bought a sampler for real. That’s how I got into production.

MO: What do you think of digital music production, as far as how computers have completely changed what you can do especially with regard to how accessible it’s made it to people?

B: Ultimately, I think it’s good. There’s some people who are completely against it. I’m not against making music in a digital format, on your laptop on your PC. I don’t think anything’s wrong with that. I do think that there’s something that, in terms of engineering, it can lack. Sometimes it can sound really thin and not real. Guys rush to get those programs but they don’t really train their ear. You can do it with the same program and it can sound completely different. Someone with a good hear who is experienced will know that it has too much treble and in the digital realm that strips a lot of things out. It’s way more accurate and way more harsh on the human hear. Just because it sounds clean doesn’t mean you feel it. I think that’s the problem with digital music. It’s not that you’re composing in a digital way. I think composing digitally is the shit. I love it. Moving from the MPC2000 to the PC I’ve been able to do so much more stuff, move so much faster, able to catalogue more of my music in a much more organized way than I ever thought I could. And I really think eventually it’s gonna be unavoidable. Even then, an MPC is still digital, it’s just got a real feel to it. It’s a physical machine, it’s almost like a drum machine, and so it does have some physicality to it. I mean, I think it’s the future so people better get aboard now because it’s not going anywhere. It’ll be just like anything else. You look at DJing and the transition Djing is going through. When programs like Serato final scratch came out and people are all like “Ww no, that’s cheating. That’s fucked up, how can you do that?” People will really against this program Serato for a while, and maybe I myself was as well, for a second. But then you look at it, a DJ is still going to need skill. You still have to have a knowledge of records to mix and to rock a party. No program can rock a party for you. It can’t teach you that playing this song after that song is a great combination, because that comes from reading people, from crowds. And that’s the thing that doesn’t change. And I’m kinda into it because I always DJed and so me and my DJ Rare Groove have a different kind of connection. I can always communicate on his level. So really, Serato just gives me more ideas than I had. There were a lot of limitations with vinyl, most of which were financial. If we went on tour, we would have to pay for test pressing that could cost $400-$500 a piece. You get three copies of this record, what happens if you scratch two? And they would invariably get scratched. So what? Then you spend another $450? You can get Serato for $450 and put all these wave files in there and do it at once. We would have 60-100 records for our set that we would go through, an entire crate. One record might have one little phrase he scratches, but what happens after 10 weeks of scratching that phrase on that same record? It’s worn out, you can’t use that anymore. So then you’ve got to run around a city, somewhere like this where you don’t know the record stores, call people “Hey, we’ve got to get that scratch because we messed up that record last night.” So then half your day is spent doing that and it’s just not good. I like it. Ultimately all those things filter themselves out. There will be a few people come out and technology-wise they just kill it. They’re doing things you didn’t think were possible. I think a perfect example of that might be like a Diplo kind of guy. Technology-wise, he was that hybrid DJ that kinda got out there and started doing the craziest of crazy mash-ups that you could’ve never heard together if he were limited to vinyl. But once you’ve taken it to that realm, then he can take it somewhere completely different, like him or who’s that other guy? Girl Talk, or something?

MO: He actually just played here last week.

B: Oh really? Yeah, like the stuff they’re doing, they don’t even consider themselves DJs with what they’re doing. Which is kinda good, since what they’re doing is beyond what any DJ can physically do, but if you just want to rock a party, that shit’s tight. And that’s what they’re doing, they’re rocking parties. So, ultimately, I don’t have a problem with it.

MO: What’s going on with Weightless right now? What can we expect from them in the near future?

B: We’ve got a new Illogic record coming out in 2009. I’m probably going to put out an instrumental record, hopefully at the beginning of 2009. That record will probably be the first one I try the vinyl and digital only, no CD. I think that’s gonna be where I test that out at.

MO: What’s that one going to be called?

B: Sign Language. And it’s been done for a while, but I’ve just been trying to figure out when my next solo record was coming out before I could put this out. I wanted to put this out a little bit before it and then put it out in a way that doesn’t compete with what Rhymesayers is doing with the CDs and the marketing of that. It’s not a record where I’m rhyming on it so it’s easier to put out before my other stuff comes out.

MO: How did you get hooked up with Rhymesayers?

B: They were doing the same things we were doing at Weightless in ’98, ’99. Back then we were selling cassette tapes. They were touring in ’98, ’98, not big, but they were coming to Columbus, Cleveland and getting 30 people out. They would come to Cincinnati where I lived for seven years and I was from Columbus so I was connected to both scenes really strongly, so whenever they came there the promoters would put us on to open up for them. So in the course of maybe six months they would always have Greenhouse Effect and Illogic. So we would all just mash out. We played with them in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Chicago, we just were crossing paths all these places. They were kind of building the network. They were really the first unit touring the Midwest, going to alternate markets that people don’t go to. Like in Asheville. People would go to Chapel Hill, they wouldn’t go to Asheville. Rhymesayers was the first people doing that. And through Greenhouse and Illogic doing that in Ohio and Louisville every now and again we kind of came together and became friends at that point. Through that, as I was recording, we would exchange tapes. There was a core group of guys, me, Idea, Illogic, Aesop, all the Adams Family and all them. We were all cool in ’98, ’99. This was when Rhymesayers was only Atmosphere overcast. There wasn’t even an E&A record at that time. Idea was Slug’s hype-man and Abilities was Slug’s DJ. And so that’s how we all got tight. And we would all just exchange tapes, all of us, kind of on the same path. I met the Adams Family guys at scribble and me and some dudes from Greenhouse went out there and hung out with them and did music with them for a while. You would just see guys doing that then, before the scene was really how it is now and these labels are big.

MO: How do you feel about the importance of artistic communities in small locals? That’s obviously been influential for you.

B: I think it’s really important to really know what’s out there as an artist. Because the wild thing is that, if it wasn’t for that, then Greenhouse and Illogic have no idea there’s a Slug and Idea out there. And they don’t know we’re here and they come to Ohio and they’re like, “Oh, shit. These cats are tight. Let’s fuck with them. Let’s play a couple shows with them.” And then we find like “Oh, there’s some cats who are kind of like us in New York,” you know, Adams Family, and all these things get built up and then we’re all doing things together. And then you have Hangar 28, part of Adams Family, you have Aesop Rock going to Def Jux, you have Soul Position going to Rhymesayers. That’s kind of where that all started, from that community. Most of those artists were in the same community. You can even go back to the Megahertz from Columbus.

MO: So you’ve known RJD2 for a long time?

B: Yeah, yeah.

MO: Are you guys planning on any more Soul Position records?

B: Yeah, my record’s done and it’ll probably be out first quarter and he’s trying to get his finished to get it out first quarter. And then we were talking about going back into the lab during the middle to end of the year. I’m gonna have him working on production for it. Hopefully we’ll have it out next year.

MO: I appreciate it, thanks for talking to us. I’ll let you get to playing.