An Interview with Blueprint

Zilla Rocca chats with Blueprint about his new LP, 'Two-Headed Monster,' reading habits, and seeking advice from friends.
By    June 4, 2018

We take great rappers who also happen to be great producers for granted. Roc Marciano, Evidence, El-P, KA. Is it because they rap too well that we forget the beats are home made and just as official? When you have the ability to rap and make your own beats, it’s great because you don’t have to sift through pages of links to “Type Beat” type beats. But, as I’ve asked other rappers/producers on this site like B. Dolan and Aesop Rock, isn’t it a bit of a drag to have to sit there by yourself to be inspired with the beats, and then—oh my GOD—have to sit there again by yourself and write a song to it?

Blueprint does not share these concerns. His latest album title, Two-Headed Monster, should be his LinkedIn profile header—the guy really wants you to realize, after dozens upon dozens of albums released, that he makes the beats too, goddammit. Firmly naming his album after his dual master skills in hip hop is unique but also just good branding. Q-Tip was making timeless beats for almost twenty years before holding an MPC on the cover of his solo album, The Renaissance, in 2009. Print made EPs flipping Radiohead, Funkadelic, and The Who and dropped a fully instrumental album called Chamber Music back in 2004. Here he is now, making podcasts and films, and people are still hitting him like, “Damn that beat was crazy, who produced 1988?”

These are great problems to have. After Blueprint finished up his tour and press run for his film, King No Crown, he went back to the lab to channel Diamond D and Large Professor on Two-Headed Monster. It’s a classic Blueprint album—funny and honest (“Nice Guys Get Ignored”), holistic with a punch (“Be Like Water,” “Health is Wealth” with Supastition and Mr Lif), mature but not washed (“Don’t Look Back,” “All Shock, No Value” with Aceyalone). Blueprint spends his weeks motivating artists with his very necessary podcast Super Duty Tough Work with Illogic, but Two-Headed Monster is here to remind them that they need a bigger budget to cop a feature and a beat. —Zilla Rocca

You and Illogic do the podcast Super Duty Tough Work every week and I love it. I was thinking about how you’re in an interesting space where you’re a three-headed, or four-headed, or five-headed monster, between books, podcasting, filming movies, making beats and rhymes. So how did you make the distinction now between using concepts for an album and doing a podcast every week? I feel like there’s five or six concepts on this album that could easily be podcasts.

Blueprint: There are topics that could get on a podcast and be expounded upon a great deal. But what I’m finding is that the lines in terms of those kind of topics is getting blurred. Because we’re covering so many topics on the podcast, and we’re still making music this whole time, I’m just drawing from all of it. The only distinction is that when I hear a piece of music, that kind of pushes me into a certain direction. That’s kind of where I take a concept that might’ve been something for the podcast and I write.

It was definitely something where now, they kind of overlap a bit because we’ve been doing it for a while. But it’s something like, whatever I’m going through, and I hear a beat at that time, then I’ll probably write a song. But if I’m recording a podcast that day, it probably would have been a podcast topic.

Was there any point where someone wrote in a topic and you were like, “Yeah, that’s too juicy for me to just talk about with Illogic. I got a beat today. I’m gonna cheat and put this on the album.”?

Blueprint: Yeah, not yet. That hasn’t happened yet. I do keep a notepad full of all the topic suggestions we get. It could happen, it just hasn’t happened yet.

Why did you want to do an album called Two-Headed Monster now? You’ve been a two-headed monster from the beginning.

Blueprint: I still experience quite a bit of people who are my fans but sometimes they have no idea I do beats.

Are they your fans then?

Blueprint: That’s what I’m tryna figure out. They’re like yeah, I love this record and that record. Did you do this beat? Did you do that beat? Who produced these Illogic records? And I’m like, ‘Bro, I did all that shit’ [laughter]. But, I don’t know if it’s just people who are newer to me, and I guess the longer you go you start picking up newer people I guess. Maybe I’m getting to that stage where the podcast and other things are bringing people towards my music again. Or maybe it’s, I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who don’t know how serious I’ve always been about production and how many albums I’ve produced.

I’m always like ‘Yo man, that’s my first love. Before I was rhyming heavily, I was into beats heavily.’ I could do that. But the other part is that I wanted to make a record, after the King No Crown record, we had the Vigilante Genesis record, and you couple that with the van accident [from July 2015, when Blueprint, Supastition, and DJ Rare Groove totaled their tour van]. I was like, ‘You know, I just want to make a straightforward rap record bro.’ Like, I just want to make something that’s fun, kinda upbeat, and just positive again. Not that those records were negative, but they were dark. I kinda wanted to do something like that, and this presented itself like, ‘Yo man, I kinda wanna go into this to pay homage to the cats who do both, and let people know I do both again.’

I remember there was something you said either last time we hung out, or on one of the podcasts, but you said at some point that there are certain albums you have to make for your catalog. I always thought that was really interesting. So did you apply that for this album?

Blueprint: Definitely. I definitely applied it to myself. You gotta balance your catalog, I always have believed that. You can’t just think, ‘Well, I’m feeling down this year, I’m brokenhearted in 2015 so I’m rapping about that. 2016 I’m gonna keep doing that, but slightly different.” It’s like, ‘Yo man, what about your fans, what about the other things you’re good at in terms of self-expression?’

I don’t have to make one kind of record because I’m good at other things. Some people like to hear light-hearted funny stuff that makes them laugh or smile. I have songs in my catalog that I still play that are fun shit. So I don’t have to get caught up on this serious shit all the time, so let me just take a minute and balance this thing. Plus, I was feeling this because of you know, like I was saying, because of everything going on around me socially, I wanted to make something lighter. But then looking at the catalog I said, ‘Okay, I think it’s time for me to do something that’s a little brighter.

What about the idea of doing the record that is opposite of the times we’re in? Because of the podcast, you’re kind of like a thought leader now to some people. You’ve never been an overly political cat, but to make an album where you’re not going in and talking on it. Did you have to catch yourself? Or did you go with the flow and it didn’t happen?

Blueprint: I knew that. The goal is to always go against the grain, and sometimes going against the grain means that if everyone is on some super political shit, then the best way to kind of approach it is to not do the same thing as everyone. Even if everyone is right, then if everyone is doing it then that’s the status quo. I always want to stay away from that. If everyone is making some weirdo Anticon shit, no emotion, then okay, I’m coming with the 1988 shit. My career has been full of that.

Even the Adventures in Counter-Culture record, the timing of that with everything around me, it really stood out. Because I didn’t do what everyone else was doing. But yeah, definitely, I’m very conscious about not just repeating what everyone else is doing and making sure I don’t fall into that trap. Also, because I don’t want the music to sound dated. That’s a big concern. Once you’re dealing with politics, you gotta know that in maybe 5-10 years from now, somebody might listen to that record and maybe the content will be lost.

Between my friends and I, none of us have the quintessential “that’s my favorite Blueprint record.” I love Greenhouse’s Electric Purgatory 2, the first Soul Position record, 8 Million Stories. Those are my go-to when I want to hear you. Is that a good thing rather than everyone having that singular album they want from you?

Blueprint: I think it’s got something to do with having a career that’s lasted a while, but I also think it’s like the way I’ve done records, like we’ve talked about, I’ve tried not to make the same record twice in a row. I think it’s a good thing man. I’ve noticed that I have fans that are kind of into segments, almost like eras of Blueprint. Some fans they’re like, their favorite shit will be 8 Million Stories and 1988. And then I have a different set whose favorite shit will be Adventures, Electric Purgatory era. You know, dark, synth-y, weird shit kinda. Then there are people who like 1988 and Respect the Architect. They just into the specific style. And then we have cats who’re like, “Yo, we just like the classic Weightless shit and that style so whenever you do some shit like that.” There are distinct eras.

I was thinking “Two-Headed Monster,” the actual single, you have the El-P line in there, ‘I produce, and I rap too.’ I remember when you were in town we were talking about Large Professor when it comes to all-time two-headed rap monsters, and all them dudes like RZA, Diamond D, Evidence. Have you ever chopped it up with them about the balance they strike between writing rhymes and just listening to samples by yourself to make beats? Do you ever relate more with the two-headed monster type of artists?

Blueprint: What’s weird is that I do, but I’ve never really talked to them about the balance, you know. Other than us agreeing that its pretty hard to strike sometimes, and it’s easier to disappear to make beats, to be antisocial. But I’ve never really talked to them about balance. I probably should, they probably got some views for me.

I go through my phases with it now, and I’m kinda going through another phase where I’m super amped about making beats again. I wake up and I’m on some try to make four or five beats a day, try to learn the shit again. I feel like I’m going to do something super ambitious in the next year, I don’t know what, but I just feel like making beats is new all of a sudden. I haven’t really talked to those guys. I’ve never talked to El-P about doing both, even in the brief times we have talked. I toured with Evidence, we never really talked about it. We sat in the van everyday for 10 hours a day, never talked about it. Talked about everything else. When you’re on tour you talk about the most random shit, and we never talked about that.

What records did you play a lot while making this one?

Blueprint: I was playing a lot of DITC, a lot of Gang Starr.

I knew it, I knew it. It felt like DITC.

Blueprint: Especially like that “Night Writers” track, that sample. I was coming across loops like that. But I was also thinking of DITC and Gang Starr in terms of bringing back those scratch hooks. I’ve only done that on a couple songs. And I was like damn, I need to do that again. I think that I did it on one song on Respect the Architect with the cuts, and I could actually do this on more songs if I mapped it all out, took my time with it, finding the phrases and everything. Those records, the whole DITC catalog, and all of the Gang Starr records were what I was listening to.

I love DITC. They were a secret, just a loosely affiliated group, who outlasted of Big L’s passing and Fat Joe’s explosion in popularly. But they’re still bumping out projects. Showbiz recently released an album, and OC and Lord Finesse had an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Blueprint: I was listening to them randomly. When I was in Florida last month, working on some music videos, me and Swamburger from Solillaquists of Sound, and I’ve never heard him bump that shit before. Somehow me and him were up at 4 o’clock in the morning, and we ended up stumbling on those Showbiz and A.G. records. That Full Scale record? Whew.

That joint was crazy.

Blueprint: There’s that one song on there, I can’t remember, it got that piano loop [hums it], and then it breaks down.

Oh, that joint “Spit.” A.G. goes off on that shit. You could always like, I remember Tony Touch, 50 MCs mixtape, Eminem rhyming on that beat. Like Slim Shady, first album Eminem on that beat. And I was like, Eminem will never touch a DITC beat for the rest of his life.

Blueprint: That shit is such a classic. Such a great record.

And A.G. still puts out tons of stuff.

Blueprint: And he can still rap. He’s getting better.

How did you decide to put Slug and Wordsworth together on that song “Night Writers?” That’s a pairing. People get Slug as the superstar guest, they get him by himself for the blogs and features, for the press people. But you were also like, ‘I’m getting Wordsworth on this shit!’

Blueprint: I really wanted people who would actually write. People who would write really dope shit. People who understand writing. Wordsworth is such a great technical writer, I’ve wanted to do something with him for a while. I met him maybe, 2012, when I first started going to Florida and doing some tours down there. He lives in Ft. Myers or some shit. I was like, ‘Dude, why are you living down here?’ He came up after the show and we’ve been cool ever since then. We keep in touch. We were working on that song, I got Slug on it already.

Slug and I have done mad songs, but none of them have appeared on each other’s albums, for whatever reason. Even that joint that came out a few years ago with me, him, and Aesop Rock, “This Lonely Rose,” that song was supposed to be on the [Atmosphere] album, but then they had changed the stuff on their record, so they just dropped it as a single. There’s been mad songs like that where I was literally supposed to be on the record, but it didn’t work out. I was like man, let me just do something with him where I’m pretty confident it’s going to be on the record and that’s how that song came about. He got on it, and then I reached out to Words and asked him about it, took it to him. He wrote his verse in like a day, at the most. The next day I had his whole verse. That’s how that came about.

When you got Aceyalone on “All Shock, No Value”—what’s funny is that he’s a dude that I’m too young to have caught on during his first wave. But he was always highly respected, a highly talented cat. And I was listening to him on your album thinking, “Yo, Freddie Gibbs got his whole flow from Aceyalone.”

Blueprint: A lot of dudes on the West Coast pioneered a lot of styles, a lot of flows. Like Acey. I remember when I was in college, getting out of college, his first album came out. I remember I was a DJ at the time, and I got serviced with the record. I had heard about it on the internet, and then it just showed up at the radio station. I was the only person there with a hip-hop show, so I’m the only person who knew what it was. I was all over the forums, all up on every independent 12-inch back then. I was an avid collector of all that stuff. That record was so different, but I would play the hell out of it. This is before I was seriously trying to make beats or do it.

He’s always had that thing to me where it’s like, “Oh shit, its Aceyalone.” Whats crazy is that I toured with Abstract Rude a couple of times, but I had never met Aceyalone, even though they were in the same crew. Me and Ab were mad cool, but I had never met Acey. I think I met him after me and Ab got done. We never really kept in contact. One day I was posting on Twitter, a few years back when I was like, ‘I’m gonna make 3-5 beats a day.” And I would just post about it on Twitter like, okay, I made three, I made four, two are good, one was wack, two average. And one day I posted like, “Yo, I made something crazy” and then Acey fucking tweeted me like, ‘Yo, send me some shit G!” and I was like, “Oh shit! Aceyalone’s asking for a beat!” So, I was like let me not rush, so I just took a day and made sure I had a nice joint that would fit him. I’ve always wanted to do beats for him.

I wanted to do something first and foremost that I thought he would sound incredible over. And so, I picked the beat and sent it to him like, “Yo, here you go, let me know what you think.” And then he sent it back like a day or two later, like, “Yo, check this out.” I was like, “This is sick,” and he said, “I want you to get on this too though.” At that time, I was like, “Yo he just wants a beat,” but he was like, “Hah I want you to get on this too.” So, I wrote the verse, sent it to him and he was like, “Well shit, I don’t really got nothing coming out, so why don’t we put this on your record?”

That’s ill. Did ever you feel any quiet competition with Acey? After you did Soul Position, he did Magnificent City with RJD2.

Blueprint: Nah, not at all.

Come on man, you weren’t like, “Come on RJ, why’d you give him that beat on Magnificent City?”

Blueprint: Here’s the thing, I heard all those beats first. Every beat on that record I heard first and had the opportunity to use. We were doing Things Go Better with RJ and Al at the time. So, all the beats he chose on his record, I thought they were dope, but I didn’t think they fit what we were doing on Things Go Better. It was never like that, it was like I’d heard a beat and was like, “That doesn’t fit where we’re going with that record.” It was never a competition, it was like, “Damn, why didn’t you let me get a feature on his motherfucker?!?”

Off-topic, Kanye saying wild shit is now something we have to focus on, even though he’s a very proud non-reader of books. How do you make time to read amongst all your activities?

Blueprint: I don’t do a lot of reading for fun, I’ll say that. I wish I could. The last thing I read for fun was a Batman graphic novel. One of those 200-page joints. I can’t remember the name of it. I don’t read a lot of fiction. I wanna read more fiction, I just don’t get to. Batman: Knightfall, that’s the name of it. It’s like 700 pages, the whole series pretty much. That’s the last thing I read for fun.

Most of the time, it’s like you’re saying. I’ll have an interest, and I’ll say, “What are the best books in this field I can find that can bring me up to speed?” I also try to focus on shorter books. If I’m trying to learn something fast, I’ll keep it between 150 to 250 pages BECAUSE I don’t want to get discouraged reading a book for several months with all the interruptions. With everything going on, it’s hard to read and knock out books when you’re constantly getting interrupted. I try to keep shorter books in rotation.

Reading itself, the only thing that keeps me reading regularly is that, I realized a long time ago you’ll never find the time to read. There’s always shit to do. Always more pressing shit to do. More sexy shit to do. Reading ain’t even sexy like that. The key is that you’ll never find the time. You have to make the time. Even if you don’t have the time, you just sit down for an hour. You say this time, every day, I’m gonna do this, even if it fucking bothers me. Eventually you just do it. Now I use a fucking cooking timer and shit. I’ll set the timer for an hour and make myself read. When I’m tempted to stop doing it, I look at the timer, and that shit keeps me on point. It’s tough, sometimes. 15 minutes feels like an hour sometimes.

I’m reading Sherlock Holmes right now. My wife bought me a leather-bound collection, like 700 pages. I could watch like three hours of Sherlock on Netflix that covers most of this book. That 250 pages thing is super clutch. I never thought about it like that.

Blueprint: 90% of the books on my shelves are under 250 pages.

I think last time we talked I might’ve said asked this, but you ever read Simon Sinek?

Blueprint: He’s got that book, Start with Why? And he’s got that other one.

Leaders Eat Last.

Blueprint: Yeah, yeah. I haven’t read the books, but I’ve seen his lectures. I need to sit down and read his books. I got a homie who read that book recently, Start with Why. It’s funny because I told him to read the book, I forgot to get it, and he finished it before me.

You gotta read that. That one is really good because you’ve gone really in-depth in marketing, like online. He cracked that code six, seven years ago. Leaders Eat Last would help that idea of being a producer, it comes from a military standpoint of putting the needs of other people first. When you’re a producer, your job is to service the artist, service the album you’re making together. You’ll come up with different ideas, and give feedback, think about sequencing, what album would fit your catalog best right now. When you’re producing your own record, do you go to someone else for feedback? Or do you just trust yourself?

Blueprint: I think it’s both. You trust yourself, but you also gotta reconcile that instinct with seeing how people react when you play it for them. Sometimes we can be wrong. Sometimes there’s pride there, and sometimes we don’t know. Some shit sounds hot to us, you write a song to it, it sounds dope. You don’t exactly know how that’s gonna work until you get in front of people and see people’s response. I try to do both.

I try to have a small group of people that I trust to play stuff in front of before it’s done. I say, “Hey, these are just demos. Here are 10 songs, tell me what your top three are, or top five.” As opposed to saying, “Okay, write detailed reviews of this music.” I’m like, “Hey, here are ten songs. What are the top five or top three you remember after listening to these?” From there, I can get a vibe as to where I’m on point and where I’m not. It’s hard. You know how it gets. Sometimes your friends are just like, “Yeah, this shit’s dope. All your shit’s dope!” That kinda vague, I can’t do nothing with that. I need you to steer me into when I’m at my best. That’s when I started doing the top three, top five. That’s all they’re doing when they give you their top five out of ten, showing you when you’re at your best.

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