“It’s Not Up to You to Choose What People Respond To”: The Creative Life of BLUEPRINT
Columbus, Ohio author, rapper, and producer Blueprint’s career hasn’t always gone as planned. But after 18 plus years in the game, he’s learned to embrace the unpredictable life of a recording artist. “It’s not up to you to choose what people respond to or what they hear first,” he tells me. “You can’t control how some things happen.”
From his earliest years as a musician, Blueprint’s career has been an embodiment of this philosophy. Though many people now know him as a rapper, Print’s earliest focus was beatmaking when he joined the Columbus rap group Greenhouse in the late 90s. “I was attracted to production first and that’s the weird thing about my career,” he says. “I wasn’t the best rapper in the group, but we needed somebody to do beats.”
Even though his skills on the mic improved with time, Blueprint still saw himself as more of a beatsmith than an MC after Greenhouse released it’s first EP Up To Speed in 1999. “Back then I never even considered having a solo career because I wasn’t as interested in rapping as I was production,” he says.
That all changed when he and fellow Columbus native RJD2 formed Soul Position and released the Unlimited EP in 2002 and 8 Million Stories in 2003. With RJD2 taking over production duties on both projects, Print was able to reassess his lyrical potential. “When the Soul Position thing kind of took off, it was like, ‘Oh, you have a future as a rapper. You don’t have to necessarily be behind the boards for other people all the time. You can still do that, but as an MC, people want to hear what you have to say. So continue to do it.”
“It’s not up to you to choose what people respond to.”
After many years of making beats and rapping over them, Blueprint’s diverse skill set has allowed him to create the perfect sonic backdrop to convey his message. In his eyes, some of his best-known work wouldn’t have translated if he’d let someone else carry the production duties. “It’s really hard to articulate the production thing to people who have signature styles,” he says.
Blueprint points to 2005’s critically acclaimed 1988 as a perfect example of how he alone was able to best bring his vision to life. Without access to an elaborate recording studio, Print set his bedroom up for optimal productivity so he could get to work as soon as the creative spirit moved him. “When I was making that record my bed was sitting in the middle of the room, my MPC was right next to that, and there were records on the floor from wall to wall,” he says. “I knew those records better than every other record that I had ever owned.”
Having an intimate knowledge of his vinyl collection and a clear artistic vision helped Print capture a sonically gritty feeling that no producer-for-hire could have. “I was listening to a lot of 70s rock and a little bit of jazz,” he says. “With a lot of those records, I didn’t necessarily have to dirty them up any more than they already were. I stayed away from things that were super clean. It just sounded like what I was looking for.”
Blueprint’s refined understanding of how to capture the desired sound for each new project has made him hesitant to relinquish production duties to producers besides RJD2 on their collaborative Soul Position projects. “Everybody can’t make a record like 1988 or maybe they can’t make a record like Adventures In Counter Culture,” he says. “They have a style. If I try to tell them, ‘This is what I’m looking for’ or ‘Do this style’, we’re gonna clash.”
“My bed was sitting in the middle of the room, my MPC was right next to that.”
In addition to giving himself permission to pour his creative energies into both rapping and producing, Print has also learned to harness his unconventional workflow for his most recent projects. “I’m not a guy who works on music every day,” he explains. “I might only work on music once every couple months. I routinely take periods off of music.”
The decision to give himself extended breaks from recording has prevented burnout and given him time to work on other creative endeavors. “During those times I’m not working on music I might do other creative stuff,” he says. “But I don’t work on music because I don’t want to get too burnt out or too deep into that thing to where it causes an imbalance in my life.”
Print may strive for balance, but his workflow is tenacious when he does decide to tackle an album. “When I do work on music, I work on music pretty hard,” he says. “In 2016, for example, I probably only worked on music for two months out of the year. But then once it got to November and I’d spent all that year thinking about it, I made a whole album.”
Learning to channel his creativity into intense, shorter blocks of time has been a refreshing and freeing experience for him. “It took the pressure off. I made it in the moment,” he says. “For that six to eight weeks I just sat there and I’d write a song every couple days. Make another beat I liked, pick another beat I liked, and sequence it. Then write another song.”
“It’s like sex. Don’t do it for an hour just because somebody told you an hour is what it takes.”
This may be his preferred method at the moment, but Blueprint is quick to encourage other artists to do what works best for them instead of striving for a one size fits all model. “Everyone isn’t like that,” he says. “But I’ve learned to be like that over the years because it’s helped me ensure that I have breaks to do other things to keep the balance in my life.”
With the release 2016’s Aesop Rock-produced Vigilante Genesis EP, three published books chronicling his experiences in the rap game, and his Super Duty Tough Work podcast in full swing, Blueprint seems to have his formula for success pretty well mapped out. “Just focus on productivity and not so much in putting in x amount of time because you heard so-and-so say that’s what they do. It’s like sex,” he says with a laugh. “Music is like that. Creativity is like that. If it takes you 15 minutes, everybody’s happy. Don’t do it for an hour just because somebody told you an hour is what it takes.”
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