Blueprint conducted by Philip Oliver  



Blueprint Interview

September 1999

These are the transcripts of an interview with Blueprint. The interview was conducted by Philip Oliver on September 21st, 1999.


Tell me how you got into Hip Hop, then into emceeing and production.

Blueprint: As a listener I remember being introduced to hip-hop when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. My older cousin was DJing at the time and mad a mix-tape for me that had 'Basketball' by Kurtis Blow, 'NY,NY' I can't remember who this is by, and a lot of the instrumental hip-hop songs on it that were popular at the time. I remember playing that particular tape until it broke. After that I used to tape the hip-hop mix-shows every Friday and Saturday night and I've still got a pretty extensive tape collection full of stuff that I collected as a youngster.

I was always a fan but never really participated until around 1991 when I started freestyling in high school just for kicks. When I got to college in '92 I met Inkwel, who lived on the same floor as me and was one year ahead of me. We bonded instantly and spent a lot of nights freestlying in the hallways of our dormitory. We would freestyle stories, situations, battle rhymes, and tape it--but even then I wasn't really that serious. It wasn't until Me and Inkwel decided to perform in a talent show at my college 2 years later that I got more serious because I actually had to write a verse. We ended up coming in second place in that talent show and I think we both decided to step it up after seeing our potential, so around 94-95 I think I actually started writing lines and verses down. Right around this time Jermain/"Manifest" started rhyming so we added him into the crew, and started doing "pause-mix" songs with a turntable, two tape decks, and a drum machine.

The point where I got into production was when Manifest and I went to the Columbus Hip-Hop Expo in '96. We were going to school in Springfield, which is a pretty small town, so we didn't have a lot of contact with other hip-hoppers until this event. As far as dedication and development, I remember seeing and hearing Columbus crews that were on another level (Spirit, MHz, Intallec, Brothers Grimm, Mentally Unrested) and it inspired me to get more serious. At the Expo, I remember seeing a cat named Storm with an MPC 3000 and telling Manifest that if we want to be big boys then we've got to play with what the big boys are playing with. I immediately started saving my money to buy a sampler at that point. I had also met Godsharif/Greg from Brothers Grimm and he was giving me advice on getting started in production.

After saving up for about 6-8 months I was able to buy an Ensoniq EPS sampling workstation from a pawnshop in January of 1997, which was my senior year in college. That's when I started getting into digging, looping, and production. We saved up and bought a tascam 8-track in march of 1997 and started recording on our own.

Hip hop is too MTV orientated right now so listening to ya work has been a breath of fresh air, what's your take on the current state of the art form?

Blueprint: I think there's a lot of confusion with hip-hop right now. There are different sub-genres of it that are having large commercial success and are leaving a lot of hip-hoppers confused. For example, you've got the 'club' hip-hop with cats like Puff, Mase, and Will Smith. You've also got the 'southern-bounce' hip-hop with cats like No Limit, Suave House, and Juvenile. You've got 'thugged out/big willie' hip-hop with cats like DMX, Noreaga, Jay-Z. All of this stuff is selling. Only in rare instances does hip-hop like the Roots, Common Sense, or Gang Starr sell well, which threatens these artist's longevity.

What you end up with is a lot of artists who are either going to conform to what everyone else is doing or go the opposite direction and create what's in their heart. There's gratification and respect when you come from the heart--but very little monetary gain, yet when you conform--there's a spot for your video on MTV. If you make it to MTV the chances are that you'll be going platinum. I don't want to generalize and say that all artist who are seen on MTV are trying to crossover, because that's not the case. However, there is a large visual component at play when you make it to MTV. The bigger the budget, the fancier the video. The fancier the video, the less you pay attention to the music and get caught up in the glamour & glitz.

But I don't think the art form is in any way in danger. You've got independent artists selling a lot of units nowadays. I personally was happy as hell when I saw Company Flows' video for 'End To End Burners' and Defari's new video. Whether you're a fan of their music or not, you have to give them credit for their achievements and business success as what we consider 'real" hip-hoppers.' They went from vinyl to videos.

The most serious threat to hip-hop is fans that listen to one type of hip-hop and don't open up to others. When I was DJ'ing a couple of years back I had to play Puffy, Mase, Biggie, and Master P every weekend or the crowd wasn't going to move and I wasn't going to get paid. I create hip-hop, but I listen to 8-ball and MJG, E-40, DJ Shadow, De La Soul, Organized Konfusion, and a long list of artists no one would probably guess that I do. I've come across hip-hoppers that wont listen to you unless you do what they do. There's just too much closed mindedness in hip-hop right now. Underground people that talk shit about anything that's successful, and mainstream people that talk shit about anything that's underground and underexposed. This prevents hip-hop from having the proper balance.

Why the name 'Greenhouse Effect' for the group?

Blueprint: We used to call ourselves Broken English for a while until we found out that someone else was using it. After that we went for a few months where we didn't even have a name. The funny thing is that without a name you can't record or write rhymes, so we came up with a list of names and Greenhouse Effect won. I believe it implies that a change is coming that will affect the current musical climate.

Production duties these days are getting back to the association with deejays so do you ever mess with the turntables as well ?

Blueprint: For almost three of the years that I was in college I used to be into DJ'ing. I used to DJ parties, festivals, formals, and I also had a mix-show show that was on from 10pm-2am on Friday nights for a couple of years. Unfortunately the turntables belonged to the radio station so I had to give them back when I graduated in '97 and I haven't touched a set since. I could blend and mix well but I wasn't really good at scratching so I usually get a 'real' turntablist to put scratches on our music. As much as I wish I could get in there and cut it up, I respect the art enough to leave it to those who do it well.

To me, the DJing element of hip-hop makes you a better producer because you see how much of a difference tempo and energy make in a record. DJs hate spinning records that are 80-85bpm. I know I did--even if the song is dope. So I try to make a conscious effort to start our songs at 87 bpm. The slowest song on "up to speed" is 87bpm and the fastest is 94bpm.

Me and Manifest have been talking about getting some turntables just to practice blending and mixing on in the next couple of months, so I might get back into the party, club, or radio thing again.

What inspired you to create some of the beats on the 'Up to speed' EP? Whats your method of creation, do you have a sound in ya head you wanna create or do you just build as you go along?

Blueprint: For me the theme for "Up to Speed" was energy. You want to come across with as much energy as possible so that the listener can feel it, so I tried to create beats that would allow us to do that. The good thing is that everyone in Greenhouse rhymes with enough energy to match the tracks.

A lot of times I'll go into a track with no idea of what I want to create and even if the track will be used at all. I let the samples take me where they will, whether it's a bright upbeat song or very serious and slow. Then I'll get the basic idea down and see how everyone feels about it. Once I've decided to use a track I start to get more intricate with the drums, sequencing, and the layering. My only rule is that I can't copy someone else's forte. Outside of that I'm not one for making up all sorts of production rules.

Almost every song on "Up to Speed" went through at least two beats before we felt we had the best one to fit the topic and mood of the rhymes. Sometimes it's very difficult for me to be satisfied with a track, especially the first version, so I'll go back and try out various versions of the same song with a different track.

As far as equipment, I use the Ensoniq EPS-16 Plus for sampling & sequencing and we record on the AKAI DPS-12 digital recorder.

What about lyrically, how do you draw inspiration for your rhymes, I've seen a diversity on the EP so how do you come up with ideas for tracks like 'Slaves to the Rhythm' and 'the Innercity'?

Blueprint: Most of our material is inspired by life. As emcees we're all moved the most by people who are ill emcees but can say something while being creative on their delivery like Rakim, Common Sense, Goodie Mobb, and Organized Konfusion. There are a lot of emcees that sacrifice delivery in favor of content and others who sacrifice content in favor of delivery--we try to walk the line and do both well.

'Slaves to the Rhythm' was written at a time when hip-hop was definitely changing. In 96-97 it was news when an artist was successful and they promoted materialism, nowadays it's more like 'what's new?' and nobody's alarmed. Although it was inspired by emcees and people that take their material quests too far, in no way are we trying to preach. In fact, most of the lyrics are speaking about the discovery and admittance to our own materialism and how society has drawn us into it. There's so many things that you can draw inspiration from in life that deserve to be talked about on an album but aren't. Mostly because emcees are scared that they'll come off as preaching and that the people don't want to hear it.

"The Innercity" was inspired by taking a step back and looking at our surroundings. Inkwel and I didn't grow up in the suburbs; we grew up in the inner-city of Columbus. There are a lot of ill things that go on that need to be addressed: crime, poverty, gangs, violence, single-parent families, and drugs for example. When you grow up seeing that type of thing everyday it enters your music and you realize that you can't rhyme about being the illest emcee all the time. Both of my verses are very extreme depictions of city life. Inkwels verses are more of a narrative and less extreme but still very factual. We just wanted to capture the attitude that city people have in light of the negativity that surrounds them everyday.

Do you find it hard that you live so far apart from the other 2 members of Greenhouse effect?

Blueprint: Actually being two different cities has made our communication even stronger. Outside of the telephone, we use email to communicate and conduct our affairs. Being in two cities actually forces you to make the best of every recording session because you can't just turn around and record your verse again tomorrow if you don't like it--you've gotta wait a couple of weeks for another chance.

Me being in Cincinnati has allowed me to build with a new set of heads and set up shows in a city that we otherwise wouldn't have seen. Now people in Cincinnati and Columbus are more familiar with us.

I know you just worked on the Illogic album and the upcoming full length from GreenHouse Effect, so are you or Manifest and Inkwel working on any other projects?

Blueprint: Right now we've completed the Greenhouse Effect full length album "Life Sentences", which is 12 new songs of our most recent material. I'm working on an instrumental album called "Chamber Music" that I'd like to have completed in the next couple of months. There's also a lot of other possible collaborations in the air right now. Probably another Illogic album and possibly an album with an artist named Plead the 5th, but I'm really hesitant to commit fully to the projects without getting the maximum exposure out of our current releases. Learning the business side of music is a monster in itself, and it's difficult. You can be the most talented cat around but without promotion no one will ever know except the people who live in your city. In light of that we're trying to get as much exposure and press going about the two releases we've got right now before we move on. Interviews like this help a lot.

More immediately we're trying to release a Greenhouse Effect 12 inch. I'm currently mixing the songs down and I'd like to send them off for mastering sometime next week. Hopefully we'll have them back by mid to late October of '99.

Talking of Inkwel and Manifest, I know you hooked up with them in college, what was the hip hop scene like there?

Blueprint: There was no scene Springfield, OH and we only had a couple of crews on campus. There were emcees that I met from the city through doing radio but there was nowhere for them to build their skills like open mics or performance venues for them. The only hip-hop event there was a Hip-Hop Showcase that I threw my last two years on campus that had acts perform from Springfield, Cincinnati, Columbus.

Tell us more about Weightless recordings anyone else apart from Greenhouse and illogic signed?

Blueprint: Weightless Recordings was sort of a brainchild of mine that I felt could be the vehicle to getting us (Greenhouse Effect and Illogic) collectively heard and promoted, and even possibly picked up by another label. We started it in April with the release of the Greenhouse Effect "Up to Speed" EP and continued it with the "Unforeseen Shadows" LP in June. The wild thing is that the song "weightless" was finished long before we chose the name for the label. We knew that we didn't have all the industry know-how but together we felt we could achieve more. So far, a great number of doors have been opened but at the same time we're not where we'd like to be in comparison to some of the more established independent labels.

We've had a great response to our music from our peers and our listeners at this point but we'd like to get our releases nationally distributed, which takes time. When you're new and no one's heard of you they are very skeptical about you. For fans and distro companies it's easier for them to buy into something that is associated with someone else, instead of something brand new. The difficult part for us is creating a name for yourself without riding someone else's coat tails. I can't even say that I know any industry people who can put me on, so that isn't an option. But at the same time that makes the success we achieve more rewarding because outside of God and each other--you don't owe anyone anything.

Being signed independently do you find it hard distributing your releases?

Blueprint: Distribution is a whole new ballgame, and one which I'm learning more and more every day about. I know enough now to feel comfortable getting a 12 inch pressed, but 2-3 months ago I didn't feel I knew enough. A friend of mine, Cryptic from the Atoms Family (NY), shared a great deal of knowledge with me that gives me a pretty good idea what I need to do to be successful in this area. With the internet, there's so many possibilities for your music to get some exposure so that has helped, but even then you have to be able to market yourself. Our website (www.weightless.net) has been very helpful to in keeping people aware of what we're up to.

Is there anyone else we should know about who's up and coming in your area?

Blueprint: In Columbus, you have the MHz who have released their second single on Bobitto's Fondle Em label, Brothers Grimm are about to release a single his fall, producer PRIME is about to do Marley Marl like compilation with Columbus acts on it. DJ True Skills is about to do the same. In Cincinnati, producer Reason is about to release a compilation that we're on. Emcee Plead the 5th in Cincinnati. BahDaddy Shabazz out of Dayton, OH is someone to watch. His stage show is the illest.

You've shared the stage with a lot of Indie artists out there now (eg Mood, Vexx, Lone Catalysts, MoodSwingaz etc), what's been your best show and experience so far?

Blueprint: The best performance experience I've had would have to be a show we did in Dayton. Illogic and I were performing "favorite things" and the power went out on the mixing board right in the middle of my verse. We kept rocking the song and had the whole place clapping their hands with us until we finished it. We didn't even have mics so we started yelling the lyrics. It was the most beautiful thing to watch how attentive the crowd was. My second best experience would have to be this years Scribble Jam in Cincinnati because we absolutely ripped it!

What's in heavy rotation in your walkman/stereo/ car right now?

Blueprint: Company Flow 'Johnny Came Home From The Hospital'
Sach 'Seven Days to Engineer'
DJ Shadow 'Endtroducing'
Roni Size 'Reprazent'
Cool Breeze 'East Points greatest hit'
8-Ball & MJG 'In our lifetime'
Micranots single 'All live'/'Farward'
Busta Rhymes 'Extinction Level Event'
MHz single 'Rocket Science'/'Magnetics'
Aceyalone 'All Balls don't Bounce'
O.C. 'Word Life'
Eric B and Rakim 'Follow the Leader'
Commissioned 'Matters of the Heart'
The Best of Sam Cooke
Stevie Wonder 'Songs in the Key of Life'

The Millennium's only 3 months away, how do you see hip hop moving further in 2000?

Blueprint: I think what people consider "real" or "underground" hip-hop is gonna start being more successful again because the artists will learn how to adjust and incorporate small elements of the mainstream into their production. Producers who ignore the mainstream production aesthetic are gonna be left behind. More skilled emcees are gonna get props again. The underground scene is gonna divide even more and we're gonna have a 'subterranean' crowd who will hate anything that makes it onto a mix-tape or has a video.

Thanks for taking the time out for the interview, do you wanna give a shout out to anybody or drop any comments before we finish?

Blueprint: I'd like to give a shout out to everyone that has supported anything that I've been connected with to this point, and the people who anticipate our future moves. My family in Columbus, my sister Anita (may she rest in peace). Any hip-hopper that I've built with (too many to name an you know who you are!)

As a last comment I'd like to tell everyone to check for the Greenhouse Effect single and visit our website: www.weightless.net





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