If one line Blueprint ever spit on a record could serve as a mantra for his career path, it might be this one from 2011’s “Radio-Inactive”:
“Make it more commercial, Print/
You probably would sell more”
But I’m eating now, so I’m like, “What the hell for?”
Blueprint is one of the most prolific producers, rappers, and collaborators in the underground scene since 1999. Blueprint has steadily churned out banger after banger with acts such as: Rhymesayers, Greenhouse Effect, Soul Position, and Atmosphere. He started out as a producer; churning out dark, head-bobbing beats for Aesop Rock and Illogic. Soon, he jumped into the rap game and honed his distinctive, yet deliberate pace, along with his elastic flows. His approach has been one of constant evolution and improvement from record to record; especially since 2011’s major stylistic turning point, Adventures in Counter Culture.
On April 20, Blueprint announced a new narrative EP produced entirely by fellow Rhymesayers veteran Aesop Rock. I got the chance to chat with him between his many projects. We spoke at length about his inspiration behind the album and the stylistic direction of the story. Read the interview below:
AltWire [Dan Kok]: So Vigilante Genesis is a story album. What is the inspiration for this story in particular?
Blueprint: I mean I’d say it’s a combination of reading comic books and having shit happen in real life that kind of makes you think about what you can do and what you would do if certain things happened, you know? So the character in the story he’s…he’s just a regular dude, you know, but he’s just kind of trying to figure out how to find, you know…I guess resolution in an environment where that’s just not possible. So, he’s trying to find a way to get back at businesses or institutions or whatever his way is of fighting. But in doing so he kind of get’s taken down the wrong road. I mean it’s a fine line between activism and vigilanteism and just, you know, thinking you’re taking matters into your own hands but there’s also the law involved. And so the record kinda goes deep into-
Random nail gun noisily falls
[laughs] Random nail gun. Yeah, so there’s that fine line, so the record kinda comes from that.
There was an event where I kind of felt like…I was dealing with this business and I felt like they kind of shitted on me. And it just gave me the idea like “Man, what do you do when you can’t get no resolution? Is this why people bust out windows of businesses?” They say a lot of employee theft is due to, you know, being unhappy with pay and things of that nature, these little passive aggressive or just directly aggressive things that people do. It made me think about that, so the story kind of came from that and from just falling back in love with and rediscovering comics again.
Are there specific comics that served as a jumping off point?
I think around 2008 or 2009…I stopped drinking in 2010, but in 2008 and 2009 I started getting back into reading again. You know I missed so many comic books; years of comics. I remember looking at some top 10 lists of the best graphic novels of all time. So I went back and I looked at the list and I was like “Man, I’m gonna try to get as many of these as possible.” So I took that list and I went back and, like, I read the Watchmen for the first time…
Yeah I read Batman: The Dark Night Returns, Batman Year One…The Sandman, some Daredevil stuff, I just started getting into more of the full length graphic novels and that kind of got me into reading again. Those stories and that whole ethic. You know, those are all people with no powers except Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen; but except him, none of the other characters have powers. It just kind of awakened me to that kind of story telling.
Yeah, I think it’s interesting, those normal people and that sort of darker bent to a lot of those comics. They explore that very fine line between moral right and moral wrong. That’s very interesting that you mention those as major inspirations for this album. Does this story also sort of toe that line between moral right and moral wrong?
Oh completely, completely it does. I mean there’s parts where, you know, the character is trying to do the right thing, but he’s not afraid to, like, cut somebody or stab somebody. [laughs] You know, whereas most guys they have that absolute thing, Batman won’t use a gun, Daredevil won’t either, he won’t kill anyone. My character doesn’t really have that. It’s not necessarily revealed in this thing, in the story, that he’s that guy. He’ll take it as far as the people who are attempting to harm him will take it.
Aside from the comic books, your work seems to have sort of a juggling of the idea of having a real respect for the art form and a real reverence for the roots of everything and where it’s taken you and a knowledge and some harsh criticisms of how that has affected culture in sometimes negative ways. Does this album fit at all into that idea?
I don’t think so. I think this is kind of…Because this record, there’s only like one song that isn’t a complete story. So this record is pretty much a concept record, as much as you can make a concept record. I kind of wanted to really challenge myself to make the record its own thing and not be like anything else in my catalogue.
As far as sound goes, you’ve also had really consistently evolving sounds especially since Adventures in Counter Culture. There was a really ethereal, synth-y sound to that and Respect the Architect ended up with more of a boom-bap thing. What kind of sound influences are gonna come into Vigilante Genesis?
Well this record was produced entirely by Aesop Rock.
That right there just changes the whole feel there. Maybe a feel I wouldn’t have gone for myself for just a standard record. But for a concept record where we’re talking about the darker elements of human behavior and vigilanteism and dealing with people, I think that his production fits it perfectly. It’s not production that he would have necessarily rhymed on himself. He would send me beats for it and there may be ten beats and I would always pick the one that he didn’t think I would pick. He’d be like “Why’d you pick that one?” So he was thinking he’d put the ones he liked the most as the first 5 or 10, and I would pick the 11th one every time. [Laughs]
So you’re saying it’s a whole self contained thing. I don’t know, is this a typical Blueprint record? A typical Aesop record? An Orphanage record? None? All?
I don’t think it’s either. I think it’s gonna be something new unto itself. I think he just put out a new single from his latest record and, I mean, the stuff that we’re doing on this project doesn’t sound like anything on his record. And theres a reason, and the main reason is that when you’re telling stories, you have to make sure that the music is kind of a backdrop. It’s almost, like, the same philosophy as when people are scoring movies. When they score movies there not choosing the music that bangs, you know? There choosing the music that complements the mood of the narrative and that’s kind of what I chose in his production every time. I chose pieces that completely complemented the narrative, but they wouldn’t necessarily be beats that you would hear and say “I’m gonna write a rap song talkin’ shit” you know? It’s perfect for what I’m doing but it doesn’t necessarily fit anything that we’ve done prior.
Is this the longest full project you’ve worked with Aesop on?
Yes it is.
So what was it like to come together with him on something so highly conceptual and really ambitious?
The production part for him was probably…that was probably the easiest part. The difficult part was for me to make sure I had the story and the vision and was choosing things that could make the story sound right. Not repetitive, not sounding like his stuff or my stuff, not what people expect from us. That was the biggest challenge. I mean as far as his working attitude, Aesop is the consummate professional. He’s a guy that wakes up and does music all day. If you call him up and say “Hey I need a…whatever for this” he’ll probably get it back to you within an hour. That’s the kind of musician he is. He doesn’t play basketball or play chess, you know…[laughs] He doesn’t go to the bar, watch MMA, he doesn’t do that shit. He just is into music, he’s that kind of guy.
You’ve both had absurd turnaround times on stuff lately. Like, coming out with consistently one or two projects a year since Adventures in Counter Culture in 2011. What do you think it is about you guys that makes you so able to do that?
If I had to guess I would say that it’s the fact that neither of us drink. [laughs] That’s my first guess, I think sobriety. Cause when I was drinking I couldn’t turn around records as fast, I’d be sitting around second guessing myself for about a year having something great. I thought like “I’ll just do it when I’m inspired.” Now it’s like, “Aw, let me just finish this. Let me just dedicate more time to it.” That was my turning point. And as far as I know I don’t think [Aesop] has really ever been a drinker…as an artist those things kind of help loosen you up at times, but then they kind of have a diminishing return after a while.
I think it’s interesting you mention second guessing. Is it that you’re more confident with what you’re putting out? Or have you just learned to not second guess and just put it out because thats better than waiting until it’s perfect?
Exactly, because there’s no such thing as perfect. I’ve had situations where the music I’ve worked on for the least amount of time has been the most well received and the music that I’ve sat on forever trying to make it “perfect” has been the least well received. And in my mind I knew that because I’d worked on this thing for a long period of time that everyone else would see that or hear it. But that’s not always the case, you know. I think that as you do it longer and longer you kind of understand that more and more that just because you worked on something forever doesn’t mean its good or it’s gonna hit the people. They don’t necessarily know that backstory, they just know the finished product.
Right. So one of my big questions is that with Aesop handling the production and you taking the MCing, those are not the roles that each of you found notoriety for early in your careers. Twisting that and putting him on production and you on vocals, it seems like it might be a surprise to some. Is that something you were actively thinking about?
I mean, I think for me and Aesop, I’ve known him for so long that I feel like as a friend and as a fan I’ve watched him progress as a producer over the years to where I remember when he was afraid to do beats, he’d maybe do one beat. Then he went to where he was like “I’ll maybe do 3 or 4 and let Blockhead do the rest.” And then he’s like “You know what? I actually produced this whole record myself.” And he’d send it to me early and I’m like “Yo man, this is great. You’ve got it.” So I think that I always saw his progression from a technical standpoint even though, like you’re saying, he was known as an MC first and foremost and his production was secondary. And my role was different, I started in the background producing Illogic and Greenhouse records, then as an MC I started making a name but people still know me as a producer primarily. So my choice in that sense was, like, seeing how far he’s come and seeing how dope he is as a producer and just what he can create, I thought he could perfectly complement what I was doing. But I knew that technically he was there, and I thought this was kinda of an interesting take on what people know of us.
Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting take, whether you were intentionally trying to step outside of those expectations or not, I think it’s a cool flipping of the script.
And you have the first single out today right?
Yeah, I just posted it about 30 minutes ago.
Awesome, I’m gonna go check it out right away. I can’t wait to hear what it’s all gonna sound like.
Well I’m sure you are busy getting everything together and probably working on the next thing already. But you know I’ve got my preorder in and I really can’t wait to hear what you come up with.
Awesome. Thanks man, I appreciate that. And we’re working on a new Soul Position. I mean, it’s pretty much done, I just have to rerecord a couple things.
I can’t wait to hear that too.
Yeah, so this might be another year where I actually get out two big records.
That sounds great. Well thanks for taking the time, man.
No problem, thank you.
Here is the first single from Blueprint’s upcoming Vigilante Genesis EP, produced entirely by Aesop Rock. Vigilante Genesis comes out May 27th.
Photo Sources & Credit: printmatic.net & weightess.net