Unless you keep an ear planted to the ground, you might have missed Blueprint up to now. But since 2001, the Columbus, Ohio, producer and MC has steadily built his standing in the world of underground hip-hop, as the frontman for the duo Soul Position and as a solo artist.
Blueprint's critically acclaimed 2011 album, Adventures in Counter-Culture, released by Rhymesayers Entertainment, was a game changer, blending elements of rock and electronica with hip-hop for a sound that transcended simple genre. Last month, Blueprint self-released Respect the Architect, a mixtape that puts the rapper in touch with his roots. Classic, early 1990s hip-hop elements, replacing much of the experimentation audible on Adventures, create a backdrop that lets his smooth flow and thoughtful lyrics take center stage.
Ahead of Blueprint's Thursday Riot Room show, we called him. He answered at a hotel room somewhere in the Midwest.
The Pitch: There's a very fine line between what's considered mainstream hip-hop and underground hip-hop these days. What do we really mean when we call someone an "underground rapper" now?
Blueprint: It's a very blurry line. At one point, underground hip-hop was considered independent hip-hop. If you weren't signed and you weren't being pushed by a label, you were underground. But then underground was an actual sound. The style of the music was its own thing, and it was only influenced by other underground artists, and that's when it started to separate. There are guys who are considered underground that have major-label distribution and staff and publicists and management teams. And many of these teams do better at creating awareness for their artists than a major label because they're more in touch with social media and fans. It's a very blurry line.
What does being an underground artist mean to you?
To me it means everything. Not trying to write music that is for popular culture or mass consumption — I don't write things that are for popular culture. It's not a reflection of that or about a lifestyle. It's not about cars and clothes. I don't write that. I write my story, and my story is not that. I think about myself first and foremost, and then about the people who don't want to hear that, who are tired of that, that stuff that's pumped into radios every day.
You sample heavily on Architect, which is interesting given the current climate of fear surrounding hip-hop and sampling.
I think sampling is synonymous with hip-hop. The only reason sampling is not more prevalent in mainstream hip-hop is because the owners of those catalogs are being really, really greedy right now and making it to where artists are afraid to sample. Every producer would love to pick up sampling again and do it heavily, and the way it is right now with lawsuits ... right now, sampling is going underground. The top-10 songs in the country don't have samples on them, but if you look back 10 or 20 years, absolutely the top-10 hip-hop songs had samples. I think it's something that's been driven by the owners of the songs, not necessarily the creators. I mean, I wouldn't have been able to release Architect with Rhymesayers as it is [with the samples] because they release through Warner Bros., so I had to self-release it.
I really love the song "Bulletproof Resume," off Architect. Give me some background on those lyrics.
At the beginning, it was just me wanting to speak about all the places I've been and the things I've done. There's a certain point where you have to look at your career like it's not yours. I've only been doing this for a minute and I've been successful, and every day I think, This could go any minute, and I need to be ready to go and keep going. So it [the song] kind of came from, "If I stopped right now, what would my résumé look like?"
Right now, I feel great about everything. I have to look at the goals I set out to achieve and how am I progressing along that path. One of my goals was to release anything I wanted to release, when I wanted to release it, and have a diverse catalog of music, and I feel like I've done that. This is my 12th year as a full-time artist, and that in itself to me is a big goal. When I resigned from my old job [12 years ago], it was like, "I want to try this for six months." And here I am.