“I don’t know if I want a drummer,” Blueprint says over the phone from Austin’s SXSW. “That’s the main problem with live hip-hop. I feel like when people get a drummer, they try to sound like the Roots.” The Columbus-based emcee and producer doesn’t take issue with the Philly stalwarts, but he’s been on a fifteen-year journey to make his own music, not variations on someone else’s.
“Adventures in Counter-Culture,” Blueprint’s newest long-player, is set to arrive in early April. And while the disc isn’t exactly a revelatory step forward for the medium, it does rank as a further investigation of what hip-hop is to this performer. Blueprint’s music has occasionally embraced synthetic keyboard lines and an assortment of other instrumentation in addition to the sample-based work he contributed to wrongfully ignored albums like Illogic’s “Got Lyrics?” dating back to 2001. His latest set of songs assimilate a dance-floor aesthetic, which might be difficult for some longtime admirers. Along the way to completing “Adventures,” Blueprint realized live shows were going to have to evolve alongside his recordings.
“I saw that it wasn’t going to be a sample-based record and had to think about how I wanted to do it live—a band or just a couple of musicians,” he begins. “You take what you want to do and reconcile it with what you can afford to do.” Blueprint’s live sets now include a bass player in addition to himself and a deejay. “There was another guy who I wanted to play guitar, but didn’t have space and couldn’t afford to take him with me.” Despite his live band eschewing the instrument, accompanying “Adventures”’ rhythmic moments are a few forays into guitar-focused music. But it’s the producer’s reliance on synthesizers that’s resulting in some sell-out chastisement.
“‘Alright, let’s make the same record over and over again, because it’s successful.’ There are artists who do that. And it seems like a cop-out,” Blueprint says. “When I first started working on ‘Adventures in Counter-Culture,’ I had a lot of conversations with people at Rhymesayers about what I wanted to do. They were just like, ‘If that’s where you want to go, do it one-hundred percent.’ As long as it’s executed well, people shouldn’t care if it’s different. They should understand I’m trying to be progressive.” Of course, the general public can’t always be counted on for support.
A gurgling, electronic melody defines “Automatic” along with familiar boom-bap bolstering the composition. Blueprint purposefully uses that confluence of ideas to discuss changes in his own work, something that won’t end with this album. “Trying to make a soft synth sound like a sample/‘Cause everybody wants your progress to seem more gradual,” he spits out knowingly before the chorus kicks in.
Being progressive isn’t always the most popular route to take while working in a codified genre. The differences between LL Cool J’s 1985 “Rock the Bells” and Lupe Fiasco’s recently released “Words I Never Said” are minimal. But Blueprint’s seen fit to sing a bit on his new disc in addition to draping his songs in analog-synth. “So Alive” isn’t set to be a crossover hit, but the song does feature a hook just about anyone’s capable of singing on their walk to the train and enough guitar to sate rock dudes trying to get into new music.
“All that’s shit I would never have done while I was drinking,” Blueprint says regarding the aural step forward. Being sober for almost a year at this point, heading to a weeklong industry event like SXSW could have been a bad move. The emcee’s come to terms with being dry and even thinks drunkards are as hilarious now as they were before.
“I haven’t played SXSW in a few years and decided to do all-new material,” he says, sounding like an elder statesman. “It was good to see people, be excited to hear new shit.” Whether or not the rest of the country’s ready for Blueprint’s mélange of musical stances is up in the air. Even if they’re not, the emcee and producer’s sure to turn in some more interpretations of rap culture off into the future. And it might not sound anything like “Adventures in Counter-Culture.”
March 26 at Schubas, 3159 North Southport, (773)525-2508, 10pm. $12.