An Architect's Legacy: an interview with Blueprint

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In the opening verse of “Oh Word”, first song on the upcoming Respect The Architect record, Blueprint ponders “when brothers gone learn / Weightless is long term” in between airing out history and updates since his Adventures in Counter-Culture record in 2011. Since 1999 when his crew Greenhouse Effect dropped the Up To Speed EP, Blueprint has been building out the Weightless Recordings label, which has survived the ups and downs of many careers in the Columbus music scene, including his own.

Later this month, Blueprint will release Respect The Architect, a traditionalists' wet dream of concise, hard-hitting boom bap. The record clocks in around 30 minutes, which is intentional as Blueprint had the brevity of records like Illmatic in mind while crafting it. In his mind though, Architect is not for the old fans as much as it was for himself, music he needed to make in order to be happy—an emphasis he makes on “True Vision” with the refrain “I do this for myself, man / I'm a musician”. It's a title he's only felt comfortable taking on after the experience gained from the release of Adventures.

What was your mind state going into Respect The Architect?

It’s a weird story. I had done the Adventures [in Counter-Culture] record. It was dark and I was going through some stuff after losing a family member in 2012. So after that I got to a place where I didn’t want to make anymore dark shit. The personal part of it fed into me asking myself what do I really want to get out of this shit.

Not in terms of profession or financial things, but more like emotionally what do I need music to be for me right now. It put me in a place where I was like ‘I’m going to do something that makes me happy’ and takes me out of this place of… it’s okay to make dark music when you’re happy, but when you’re unhappy that shit is wack.

I had an opportunity to do it. I finished a couple songs and felt like finishing it, making something that really reflects where I am now. There were a couple songs I thought about putting on there that were a little bit darker, but as it got closer to finalizing it I left them off. The shortness isn’t because I didn’t want to make it longer. I just wanted people to feel good when they listen to it.

I feel like this is a return to your past work, it has a feeling that could be dated back to the Up To Speed EP with Greenhouse Effect. Do you feel the same way?

Yeah, definitely. It’s funny. Me and Swamburger of Solillaquists of Sound have a running joke. People heard “So Alive” and thought shit was sweet, that I think I’m too good to make a boom bap record anymore like I’m too pretentious or sophisticated now. But really simplicity in all art forms is the hardest thing to do. It’s really hard to make a good song that’s simple. Anybody can throw a hundred instruments into something and make it sound like a collage, but after doing Adventures In Counter-Culture I learned there’s still something to be learned from straight forward music. That’s why I chose to look back onto that style.

You want to cut critics off at the pass who may view this record as recoil after putting out a record that perhaps exposed you too personally?

Some people might say that, but the way it’s going to unfold this year—as far as the music I’m going to release by the end of this year—they won’t be believing that.

I’ve got a couple other things that are done as well that I’m going to release and they don’t sound like Respect The Architect. I know I can do really progressive stuff whenever I want to. It goes back to the conversations you need to have with yourself every now and again. You have to realize sometimes you’re creating music with an agenda. You can satisfy your agenda and still not achieve what you really wanted. I try to be careful about having a technical agenda when I create music. People will say this is nowhere near Adventures In Counter-Culture, but I don’t think they can deny this is a good, strong record. It does what I set out for it to do. By the time 2014 ends it will make perfect sense.

Did you listen to your old stuff or any old 90s records that you hadn’t heard in a while to get yourself in the proper headspace to do Respect The Architect?

You know what’s funny. I’ve had this idea to do this record for at least four or five years. It kind of came together as I was making beats for other people. At least half the beats on there were offered to somebody else and they’d say, “nawwwnoidon’tknowaaa.” [Laughs] And I’d say alright, then I’m gonna rap to this shit then.

That’s how the “Overdosin” song came about. That was a song where I literally made the beat and was like ‘yo Illogic, you would sound so dope over shit like this. No drums. Soul sample. 808 in the back. This is you!”. He’s like, ‘nooo I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

So my first eight bars of that are talking about him. “It sounds so bugged my fam don’t want it / there’s not drums, man / I can’t flow on it.” So I played it for him and we just laugh about it. He’s like, ‘ah, you got me. I did sleep on this one.” [Laughs]

How is Adventures in Counter-Culture aging for you?

It’s an interesting thing, man. It depends on the day. Sometimes I realize my agenda in it. There’s a big lesson in that. But I achieved what I set out to do, to make some shit that challenges everything, defies genre, and shows everything that I know about music. I achieved that goal. I do feel like I wish it would have had a larger impact than it did.

At the same time, looking back now I kind of understand that whenever you do a record like that, it’s really hard for it to have an impact because it shows so many different things. If no two songs sounds alike in a sense you’re showing versatility but in another sense you’re removing the foundation of which people have come to identify your sound. That part is something I didn’t even care about. I knew it was a risk, but I did it anyway.

I applaud Rhymesayers for letting me do the record. I don’t want to sound like I’m bemoaning it or begrudging it. It did open me up to a lot of people that never would have heard of my music. It’s like I have two different careers with two different fanbases; pre-Adventures and post-Adventures.

What are some things present now in your life, in post-Adventures, that you didn’t have previously but exist because of that record?

I think one thing is I would say before Adventures I was a rapper, after Adventures in Counter-Culture I was an artist. I believe that after it came out it gave me a lot more leeway to do pretty much anything I wanted to do. I showed enough versatility on that record to where any style I want to do people will be more receptive of it now. I didn’t have that ability before.

That’s what I’d hoped for. Is that people can expect me to be ambitious now.

Are you still under contract with Rhymesayers?

I never had an actual paper contract with Rhymesayers.

So it was just a one album situation?

Whenever. Whenever I think I have something made that they would want to do and will work in that system, I take it there and see what’s up.

Did you always see Respect The Architect as a Weightless Recordings project?

The simple reason that I did was because of the samples on it. I knew there was no way in hell they could release that record. There’s so many blatant samples on there like Diana Ross and Kool and the Gang. The chops are good, but it’s such a sample heavy record there’s no way they were gonna do it. I didn’t even have that discussion with them. I know them well enough to know what things I can get away with sampling-wise.

The platform thing… you know, it’s a real thing. There are different rules there and it’s their platform.

When did it resonate with you that building your personal platform was susitainable and could work for you?

I’d say around 2010. Around 2010 was when I released the Blueprint Who? EP and when I started writing about quitting drinking. I was just seeing how the response to my writing there was translating into traffic. I knew Adventures was coming out in 2011, but in 2010 I was already determined to build my platform.

Now that your career has longevity, what are some of the things you’ve picked up in sustaining it?

That’s a weird one, man. Sometimes I can’t believe it, man. I’m just like ‘wow’.

What I’ve learned is be someone who invests as opposed to exploits. If you look at a lot of artists in terms of how they handle their business, they’re out to get the money as fast as possible and get the hell out of there whether that business dealing was a success or not. I invest.

For example if I play a show in a small market I may come into that market and do it for a door percentage the first time or a have a really low guarantee, but a huge back end if it goes well. These are things that reduce the risk for everybody in and makes it more of a partnership where everyone is a part of the reward and risk for the show.

A lot of artists won’t necessarily do that because they look at it like ‘if they don’t have my x-amount of dollars I’m not playing here’. So they skip that market and don’t play at all or they play that market, get paid what they wanted, the show loses money and they never get invited back again. That to me is exploiting. It’s like you’re cashing out. I’ve chosen not to cash out, but to invest. Now when I want to do a 50-60 date tour I can make it work financially because I haven’t built my thing around sticking people up and taking losses. It’s not a one tour thing, these are places I want to continue going for the next whatever. There’s guys who promoted my first shows in 2002-2003 and they still invite me back.

A little ways back there was early word of a new Soul Position record in the works. How is working with RJD2 again progressing?

We’re done recording. We’ve got maybe 15 songs recorded, put together a rough album assembly. We’re way further than most people know we are. Now, we’re picking the best songs and I’ll probably re-record a few of them, just tighten them up, and I’ll try to turn it all over to RJ before I go out on tour.

Who initiated the ‘let’s do another record’ conversation?

It was weird. I don’t think it was either of us. He got a call about doing a song for a beer commercial. They wanted a song about summer time or some shit like that. He called me because they wanted a rapper on it and asked if I would be interested.

I was like, ‘yeah I’d be interested, but you know I don’t drink, so I’m not gonna make no record just about drinking’. They were cool with that. It was just a contract gig and then I don’t know what happened. We just kinda said, ‘that was cool, man. you want to do some more song?’

We’ve had conversations about everybody’s expectations. There were times where neither of us could do the record because of what we had on our own agenda. RJ had points where he probably wanted to work on the record, but I couldn’t because I was working on Adventures in Counter-Culture. A lot of it had to do with me knowing if I don’t put out solo material I’ll always be in the shadow of my Soul Position stuff. I needed my career to not be dependent upon Soul Position’s success.

It sounds like heads are in the right place to return to the project.

That’s more important than anything else. With he and I, we are to an extent thinking about our legacy with the other records. We both agree we’d rather not do it at all than not put out something that’s not as good as or better than our first two albums.

Anything we’ve not covered?

I might also have an EP that Aesop Rock produced coming out this year. We’ll probably get someone else to mix and look for a home for it. The music itself is done.

Blueprint's Respect The Architect is out April 22 on Weightless Recordings.