Blueprint Interview

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.

Review: Atmosphere live at Stubb’s

Atmosphere performed at Stubb’s, Monday, May 2 in Austin, Texas. Opening for the indie rapper were other Rhymesayers members, including DJ Abilities, Sab the Artist, Grieves and Budo and Blueprint.

Gregory Keltgen, better known as DJ Abilities, is well known in the Midwest for being one of the best battle DJs in the local scene. Along with working with the late Eyedea in Eyedea and Abilities Keltgen has made a name for himself as a talented DJ. Sab the Artist brings hip hop back to the age of just having fun. Originally starting off with the name Beyond Sab co-founded Rhymesayers Entertainment and has helped in making the label what it is today.

Grieves and Budo are a duo that pushes the boundaries of hip hop. Multi-instrumentalist Budo provides soulful horns, keys and guitar, while Grieves raps about the difficulties and joys of being on the road and back at home. Blueprint is a critically acclaimed rapper who has released his latest album Adventures in Counter-Culture. Blueprint manages to remain innovative, combining synths, keyboards, drum machines and his own unique rapping ability to create something that is fresh and enjoyable.

Atmosphere should be a name that everyone knows. Take a listen to songs such as “Say Hey There” or “Trying to Find a Balance,” and you will understand why Atmosphere is at the forefront of independent hip hop. Comprised of rapper Slug (Sean Daley) and DJ Ant (Anthony Davis), along with touring members Erick Anderson (keyboards) and Nate Collins (guitar), Atmosphere is a combination of Slug’s introspective rapping style and the soulful sounds of contributing band members.

Sab and his brother and DJ Ganzobean got the party started.  Charismatic, fun and enjoyable Sab had people moving along to his rhymes. Sampling Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks,” “Lookin’ at Girls” was a nice treat as Sab rapped about how he cannot stop looking at girls. Sab the Artist started off the night right with their good-natured rhymes and party-friendly beats.

In between sets was DJ Abilities, who combined samples from Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” Beastie Boy’s “Paul Revere” and the ever so famous “Bed Intruder” song. Fans were impressed by DJ Abilities’ turn tabling and mixing of fan-favorite samples.

Grieves and Budo immediately pulled everyone in as they started with “Bloody Poetry.” Producing soulful keyboard and trumpet sounds Budo was switching instruments every second while Grieves laid down his rhymes.

Following Grieves and Budo was Blueprint who kept the energy high. Playing songs off his latest album, Blueprint had the crowd going absolutely wild with synth-heavy songs such as “Automatic.” Add in a bass player and a DJ, and you have an even more enjoyable performance. Blueprint’s performance became even better as he strapped on a keytar and went into “So Alive.” Showing off his skills as a keytarist, Blueprint moved around while singing “so so alive” during the chorus. Smiling at the audience Blueprint began playing “Radio-Inactive” on the keyboards. “So thank God for every fan, every single listener,” rapped Blueprint as he pointed out to everyone in the audience, the crowd producing a loud scream that brought an even larger smile to Blueprint’s face.

Up next was the one and only Atmosphere who began the show with “Until the Nipples Gone.” Instantly everyone was jumping and clapping as Slug and the rest of the group immediately took control of the audience. “Hello Austin, Texas. It’s Atmosphere,” yelled Slug. Going into “Between the Lines,” Slug had everyone saying the chorus.

“I like when the lights are low, because I can’t see any of you. We are all the same,” said Slug as the group went into “Sunshine.” The group did not miss anything, and Slug’s rhymes and charisma only made this fan-favorite song that much more enjoyable.

Slug then threw another one at us; Anderson and Collins played some improvisational parts before laying down the groove to “Puppets.” “Cut those strings,” yelled Slug as he went into the first verse.

Keeping the energy up Anderson started playing the piano part for “God Loves Ugly,” and the crowd yelled. Ant was bobbing his head and really getting into it with one cigarette in mouth. “God loves ugly,” shouted the audience as Slug smiled. “Go to sleep my little time bomb,” yelled Slug as the lights dimmed and the crowd continued screaming.

“Y’all are too live for me. I’m actually intimidated now,” said Slug. With Ant and Anderson walking offstage, Slug and Collins went into “Guarantees.” “My shorty got caught smokin’ weed at a concert, Nicki Minaj is a mother effin’ monster,” rhymed Slug smoothly and without thought, making audience members laugh at his reference.

“Right now we are all a community. We are family. You came here tonight to take your mind off problems and have a good time. It’s a beautiful thing” said Slug as the group went into “Lovelife.”

Yelling “Atmosphere” and “Slug,” the group came back onstage and gave an encore that left the audience satisfied. Collins started off “Trying to Find a Balance” with the whole group following suit. “In the days of Kings and Queens, I was a jester,” sang Slug as everyone in the audience and the balcony replied with, “treat me like a God, oh they treat me like a leper,” during the chorus.

Ending their performance with “Yesterday,” Atmosphere could not have chosen a better song. Intimate, heart-felt and perfect, Slug’s delivery was just like how it is on the recording. Sending chills down my back Anderson’s piano part was right-on, its soulful, happy sound underneath Slug’s rhymes about missing his father. “I thought I saw you yesterday, but i knew it wasn’t you, cause you passed away, Dad,” rhymed Slug with so much conviction it could be felt.

From working at a record store and doing overnight shifts to support his son to playing sold-out venues, Slug’s experiences can be followed through his music. Knowing that he would not be where he is without the support of his fans, Slug makes sure that every one of his fans gets either a picture or a handshake. “Get ready to have fun tonight,” said Slug as fans entered Stubb’s, a smile on his face as he walked up to fans who wanted a hug, picture or both. This is what makes Atmosphere great.

Creating enjoyable music, giving their fans a good show and actually interacting with their fans is what made their performance much more intimate and entertaining. As Slug said, “we are all family.” The faces of teenagers and adults smiling as they exited Stubb’s shows that Atmosphere did not disappoint their “family” in Austin. Atmosphere is the life of the party, regardless of bad weather.

Blueprint Adventures in Counter-Culture album review

Albert Shepard, better known as rapper Blueprint, is a force to be reckoned with. Starting out in 1999 Blueprint has since risen in popularity being signed to independent Hip-hop music label Rhymesayers Entertainment, the home of other well known underground acts such as Atmosphere, MF Doom and P.O.S. Releasing his latest Adventures in Counter-Culture Blueprint’s delivery remains strong in both his rhymes and his production.

“Who’s got the biggest clique? I could give a shit, I roll so heavy solo you can probably feel my steps” rhymes Blueprint on “Go Hard Or Go Home (Printnificence).” Backed by eerie strings and symphonic parts this track compliments Blueprint’s hard vocal delivery as he talks about wanting to make the perfect beat and alluding to rock icon Jimi Hendrix.

“No offense, I ain’t listenin’ man. I came here to kick it not to hear your shitty band” rhymes Blueprint over production that sounds like it came from a Super Mario game in “Keep Bouncing.” Talking about drinking and being constantly drunk Blueprint’s rhymes go well with the free-flowing video game sounding synths.

“My Culture” talks about events that have occurred in the past and present over an electronica dance beat with gospel vocals. “Some of these rappers only rap about a home and a broad because they don’t know what’s happening at home or abroad.” Reflecting on the deaths of rappers Tupac and Biggie and international problems Blueprint’s “My Culture” stands out as a track that implies that the world is a violent place and “Time is short.”

Taking some cues from fellow Rhymesayers labelmate P.O.S. Blueprint’s guitar-heavy and snare drum-filled “So Alive” is a departure from other songs on the album. Exchanging his rhymes for singing this track sticks out in a good way. “So so alive” sings Blueprint over a punk sounding guitar part.

“Radio-Inactive” begins with a calming piano part followed by guitar parts and Blueprint’s rhymes. “And while I may not get the same hype as the next man, everything in my life is going according to his plan” rhymes Blueprint over production that is tinged with Ratatat influenced sounds.

The 1980s sounding “Fly Away” has some really creative sounds along with some good delivery from Blueprint. The electronic drums and synthesizer parts sound like something coming out of an A-ha track while Blueprint’s singing flows smoothly over it. “Spread my wings, take flight. Fly away” sings Blueprint.

“The Rise and Fall” is a combination of spacey sounds, groovy drums and string parts with Blueprint’s rhymes talking about a failed relationship. “Though you had it all, right up in your palms. Forgot until its gone, the rise and fall” sings Blueprint. A very relatable song those of us who have experienced love and its aftermath can relate to Blueprint’s story of not knowing the value of somebody until they’re gone.

Sounding like an Animal Collective track with its electronic drums and psychedelic sounding synth part “The Other Side” is the epitome of Blueprint’s experimentation on this album. “And today we celebrate your life. I’ll just wait til’ I see you on the other side” sings Blueprint over trippy synths and a carousel-sounding keyboard part.

Adventures in Counter-Culture shows Blueprint experimenting with synths, keyboards and drum machines, creating a new, experimental sound that may take some time to get used to. There are some tracks that lack the same creativity as those listed, but the album overall is listenable and shows that Blueprint can experiment and move out of his comfort zone, and still create an enjoyable album. Taking cues from innovative artists such as Kid Cudi Blueprint’s experimental sound blends well with his vocal delivery. Intelligent and creative this album is definitely worth checking out.