Blueprint has become hugely respected on the independent hip-hop scene, thanks to a string of solid solo releases and collaborations, going back to 1999 and his debut EP as part of Greenhouse Effect. More recently he has garnered praise for his Super Duty Tough Work podcast, alongside his long-time friend and collaborator, Illogic. He is also releasing his first feature-length film this year, King No Crown. We caught up with him to discuss the project, his disciplined work ethic and the benefits of being able to speak openly and honestly. Interview by Gingerslim.
Your new film, King No Crown, is due for release soon. Can you give us a little bit of background on the project?
I started wanting to try my hand at making a movie around 2012 or so and, even though my first few attempts didn’t work out, I kept my eyes open for any projects that I might be able to execute. My initial idea for the King No Crown movie came to me around the beginning of 2015, about five months before the album was released. The first thing I did was have a friend do an interview with me about topics from the album and from being an independent artist in general. When I saw how well that came out it gave me the inspiration to try a little more, so I had my guy Mario follow me around with a camera to track some of the action as I prepared to release the King No Crown album. At first, it was just supposed to be around 20-30 minutes, but as I started getting into it I saw that it had the potential to be much more, so I decided to dive deeper into it and really bring it to life as a full-length movie.
You’ve been involved in the creative world for years, was filmmaking just the natural progression for you from your interest in photography? Had you ever had a desire to make a film before this?
I think film was definitely a natural progression for me. Several years back, it really hit me how being a writer is my primary occupation and the only thing that really changes is the medium I use to tell my stories on. From music to podcasting, to books, and now to film; it just feels like natural progression to me. Naturally, there are a lot of technical things you have to learn to even be able to make an average film, but it feels no different than any of the other disciplines I’ve dedicated myself towards learning at a high level.
I didn’t own my own camera until 2011 and never had much of a desire to make movies prior to that. But getting a good camera taught me how powerful images and video are in storytelling. Once I saw that, I had to dive deeper into it.
Now you’ve made the film, do you think it is something you will pursue further?
As far as I’m concerned, this film is just the beginning. It’s been such an inspiring experience to see my idea actually come alive on screen that I definitely plan on doing more films in the future. My second film has been started already, but I don’t want to divulge too much about it yet until it’s a bit further along. It’s definitely coming though and should hopefully be out within a year or less.
And do you think there will ever be a point in the future where you step away from making hip-hop to focus purely on another medium?
I’m a hip-hop head to the core, so I don’t think there will ever be a time that I stop writing rhymes and making beats. There may be a time when I do a little more film work than music, but music will always be a huge part of my life.
I know part of the film’s main theme is the feeling of losing time and I was wondering if that was always a feeling you’ve had, or something that was borne from your accident back in 2015?
For sure. The accident we had in 2015 was a huge wake-up call to all of us. Sometimes you can be so busy pushing forward that you can forget to celebrate where you’ve come from. But then when you have a near-death experience like that, you realize just how sacred life is and how we should be celebrating it more by doing what we love every day. I’ve always felt like life is really short and should be enjoyed, but having it almost taken away from you in the blink of an eye really reminded me of that more than ever.
Something that’s inspired me is your work ethic. You describe your days as being scheduled by social media time, studio time, reading time etc. I’ve heard artists like Oddisee say the same, and it’s this organization that has allowed you to do music full-time. Is it something you think a lot of artists overlook?
Totally. Most artists live by a belief that they should only work when they’re inspired, not when it’s time to work, so they reject structure. To me, having structure is what allows me to get so much more work done. I still goof off sometimes even with the schedule, but the schedule and structure are always there to remind me of what I should be doing, or more importantly that I should be doing something. There’s no way I could get the amount of work done that I do without some real structure.
Weightless has been the putting out quality music since its inception. What was your original vision for the label when you started it?
Thank you. My original vision was that Weightless would be the platform that none of us ever had access to living in Ohio. Most artists from big cities know what it’s like to have major labels and media near them, but we never had that. As a result, I just wanted Weightless to be that – a platform for us to put out our creative work.
Do you feel you’ve exceeded your expectations as far as that’s concerned and has its success given you a different vision for the future of the label?
The goals I set for myself at anything are always really high, so I never actually feel like I’ve exceeded any expectations. There’s always so much farther things could go, especially as media and what a label is keeps on evolving and changing every year. Once upon a time, we were doing CDs and tapes, then books and vinyl, next will be movies and who knows what else. I’m just happy to still be around, but I’m never satisfied.
I just wanted to touch briefly on the Orphanage as I think of you guys as one of my favorite crews that never really existed as a crew, if that makes sense. I was wondering if there was a desire among any of you at the time to actually sit down and make more music, or was it more of a spontaneous thing when you happened to all be together?
At the time we did the Orphanage project we were all super in love with the idea of being our own version of one of rap’s super-groups. So once we formed the group we all met up in Minneapolis and spent a few days there writing and recording. It was a great time and we were all excited about it. I don’t think we really understood the pressure that came along with being a super-group at the time we recorded the Orphanage project together, we were just having fun. Later on, we saw that having fun is cool, but we would be judged really seriously on whatever we dropped. And, with five different people involved, it would take a whole lot of work to make a cohesive album that fit all of our standards. The year after we recorded, things really started to take off for all of us, so that also became something that we would have had to balance if we would have ever picked back up the project. It was amazing to spend three or four days straight, sleeping on couches, and working on music with my friends, but I think we all understood that some of the magic and fun would be lost if we ever released the project.
You’ve always been very open and honest about your career, both its ups and downs. I was wondering if there was anything you might do differently if you were given the chance to go through it again?
Nah not really. Anything that went bad for me gave me an opportunity to learn something that I applied later. I’ve never really had any regrets about my career because I truly believe every decision I made was the best decision given the information I had at the time. So I would probably do everything all over again the exact same way if given the opportunity.
Sticking with that honesty theme for a second, we’re big fans of your Super Duty Tough Work podcast. What’s refreshing about it for us is that you don’t shy away from saying what a lot of people within the hip-hop media world are afraid to. Yet you aren’t doing it in a controversial way or trying to cause scandal. You are just saying what needs to be said. Is that quite a liberating experience?
Oh yeah. Being able to talk candidly about those topics is the most liberating thing for me and Illogic. So many artists can never truly say what they really believe because they fear backlash for it, but we’ve set things up to where our listeners have allowed us to just be ourselves and honest. When people first hear our podcast, a lot of them are blown away because they’re just not used to that level of openness. Then after they listen for a while they love it.
What’s next for you after the film has been released and the promo run is over?
Next up for me will be getting my next solo album, Two-headed Monster, ready for 2018 release. I’m putting the final touches on it now and I’m excited to get it out to the people. After that should be the Soul Position reunion album.
The King No Crown film is released on November 7, and you can pre-order a copy here.
Gingerslim has been a hip-hop fan since 1994 and has written for various blogs and websites since around 2006. During that time he has contributed to style43, Think Zebra, Headsknow and Front Magazine. His main interests in rap are UK hip hop and the underground movement in America, with a focus on Rhymesayers Entertainment and the once mighty Def Jux label. He lives in Bristol and has a beard. All other details are sketchy at best. Follow him here.