To say that Albert Shepard, better known as Blueprint, is just a rapper, would be an understatement. His music pushes boundaries, combining influences and sounds that have recently gained acceptance in the realm of hip-hop.
Founder of Weightless Recordings, and a part of Rhymesayers Entertainment all-star roster, Blueprint has paid his dues to get to where he is now. This road has not been easy though; battling with sobriety, and the desire to challenge the “conventions of what hip-hop is,” as Blueprint puts it, led to a five-year hiatus, where Blueprint developed a new aesthetic on creating music. The end result: Adventures in Counter-Culture, an innovative, unconventional approach.
A personal and artistic transformation, Adventures in Counter-Culture showcases Blueprint’s abilities to weave together synths and drum hits, while using intellectual and progressive lyrics. MVRemix talked with Blueprint about this change, support from Rhymesayers, sampling, touring and the newfound electronic R&B sound that Blueprint had crafted way before Kid Cudi or Drake were around.
MVRemix: Adventures in Counter-Culture was not only a musical journey for you, but it led to you improving your life in various ways. How did the process of making this album help shape you into a better person, and a better musician?
Blueprint: Well, when I first started working on the album I really had no idea about the time and scope of what I was trying to do. I understood that I was going to be bringing together a bunch of different genres of music, but I was really unaware of how difficult of a task that would be. So as I got deeper and deeper into the process it started to hit me–that there was no way I was going to finish it and make it the album it needed to be unless I stopped doing a lot of things I was doing.
So, socially having something that ambitious kind of forced me to take a step back from a lot of the social things I was a part of, and since most of it wasn’t good for me anyways, it made perfect sense. Things I was doing like drinking almost every night, and staying out until 4-5 am–that had to stop. But, the hardest part of quitting that lifestyle isn’t really quitting itself, it’s finding meaningful things to do with your time, so you wont go back to doing it all over again. So, I started working out and riding my bike more. That led me to eating better because I wasn’t going out every night. Because I wasn’t going out every night I had time to start reading again, so I got a library card and read tons of books. All those changes allowed me to put 100% into music again, and not get caught up in the distractions–but they also made me a better person.
MVRemix: When I reviewed your album, I noticed there were certain sounds that definitely reminded me of Kid Cudi, Drake and the more synthy, electronic R&B sound you hear in some of the big hip-hop artists nowadays. You had developed this sound way before any of these artists were even known. Were you skeptical at first of how the sound would be received/ were you reassured when artists such as Kid Cudi, Drake, and even Kanye, became popular?
Blueprint: When I first started Adventures it was 2006, it was before Cudi and Drake really existed, and before Kanye had put out 808’s and Heartbreaks, so at that time there was literally nobody doing that and no frame of reference for what I was doing. I could see where the music needed to go, but it was difficult to get people around me to really understand it because there was nobody doing it back then. Plus, this was right after I had put out the 1988 album and the Soul Position album Things Go Better with RJ and Al, so it was a very dramatic musical change for some people. I believed in what I was doing but there were definitely times where I wasn’t sure it was going to work out, so it helped a lot that Cudi, Drake, and Kanye did what they did because they definitely made it easier for me. For the first time, where I was going actually made sense to some people who didn’t get it before because even though Kanye, Drake, and Cudi aren’t doing what I’m doing, they are singing and rapping, and that’s a necessary frame-of-reference for some people to understand what I was doing.
MVRemix: Your philosophy now seems to be, more instrumentation and less sampling, which can definitely be seen on your latest album. Did this mainly develop through wanting to just go against what you were comfortable with doing, or were there artists who also influenced you to move in that direction?
Blueprint: I think it developed mostly because everybody around me was getting sued for samples, and I realized that if I didn’t have any other way of making a good beat then I would probably be next! I started working on doing beats without samples around 2005, actually right after the 1988 album came out, just experimenting and wanting to do something different, but also knowing that my future as a producer could be dependent upon my ability to adapt, and have more than one style of production.
MVRemix: I read in another interview that you had been getting into Kraftwerk, which is a great band. Did their electronic sound have any influence on the songs you wrote?
Blueprint: I don’t think Kraftwerk influenced any specific songs on Adventures in Counter-Culture, but they definitely influence and inspire my instrumental work. They were the first group that made me realize I needed to study to really gain an appreciation, and understanding of electronic music. A lot of people think of electronic music as just dance music, but the history of it has always been a lot more than that.
MVRemix: After a five year hiatus, you came back stronger than ever. Was Rhymesayers supportive of your new sound?
Blueprint: From the beginning they were very supportive. They never told me to go back to my old style, or to do something that would be easier to make or market. They only wanted me to take the music as far as I possibly could.
MVRemix: There seems to be a gap in hip hop where some artists still rely on samples, while others create their own beats/ melodies. You have The Roots, N.E.R.D. and artists on Rhymesayers, including yourself, who seem to want to have their own sound, without relying heavily on sampling. Do you think sampling stifles an artist, or can it help them in a certain way?
Blueprint: There are certain artists who I think just need to have samples in the beats. Cats like Ghostface, MF Doom and the Wu-Tang–cats like that. I think those guys are stifled by not being able to sample as much. But, there’s also a group of people who can create something really unique without it. I think prior to Adventures in Counter-Culture, I was headed down the path of being completely reliant on samples, which is really hard to reverse once you hit a certain point. So, my goal as a producer was to be good at both styles, so that I didn’t have to rely completely on sampling because the sampling laws are getting ridiculous, and artists are getting sued right and left. I’m not at the point where I can afford to pay a lawsuit, so I’ve gotta be careful. Although I can’t really sample like I used to, I still make beats using samples all the time, so I’m still into that style–I just cant do it for myself like I used to.
MVRemix: How has the fan reception been? When I last saw you perform in Austin, everyone was digging it, and I definitely enjoyed your Keytar skills.
Blueprint: So far the reception has been great. Austin was a really good night, and one of the best nights of “The Family Sign Tour.” I’m really happy with how people have responded to the album so far.
MVRemix: Besides working with Rhymesayers, you also have your own label, Weightless Recordings. Are there any new projects going on with either Rhymesayers/ Weightless?
Blueprint: Because of the time I’ve had to dedicate to the new album, I actually haven’t had any time to spend on Weightless this year. The next release should be an instrumental album by producer Latimore Platz, but we’re not sure when that’s going to drop since it’s not completely done yet. Maybe after that we might do another Greenhouse EP and album with Illogic.
MVRemix: Where do you want to see yourself in not just hip-hop, but in music as a whole as you continue to grow as a musician?
Blueprint: As a musician, my goal is to just keep pushing as far as possible, and challenging the conventions of what hip-hop is, and to keep making better and better music.
On album and live, Blueprint delivers a performance that is raw and powerful. One can only imagine the creative thoughts floating in Blueprint’s mind, and if he remains on the road he is on now, hip-hop will continue to change, widening the spectrum, and reinventing a realm that we all have become complacent with. Different, confident and innovative, Blueprint is the breath of fresh air hip-hop needs, and trust me, you will be thankful for it.