Blueprint, MTV, and “Selling Out”

The Adventure

I started working on Adventures in Counter-Culture 5 years ago.  At the time I started working on it I was fed up with everything around me; television and its stereotypical and harmful images, commercial radio, the stagnation of the music (even in the hip-hop scene that I’m a part of), and society in general.  To me, there had become too many rules, too much routine, too much recycling of ideas and concepts.  So as far as I was concerned I didn’t want to be a part of of that anymore, even if it meant that I had to challenge even the things that I’m known best for as an artist.

That’s what counter-culture is.

So as I took on this task of trying to destroy everything I knew musically and socially, I immediately realized that there would be risk involved, but I made the journey primarily for me so I didn’t care.  I had to do it for myself.  Make the music that I wanted to make, become the person I wanted to be, free of expectations and rules, so that I would know that I’m not just another artist playing it safe like everybody else, making the same boring record over and over again just because it makes them money.

When this entire scene that I’m a part of began to pop off in the early 2000s, it was because the music was different and progressive.  It expanded and inspired many.  Unfortunately, there came a point where it began to recycle itself and became stagnant, depending on the same ideas, styles, and concepts to stay successful, but not growing.  That’s what I’m fighting against.  I realize that everybody may not be with me on that, or even understand my desire to distance my music from what I consider to be formulaic and boring, but there’s no turning back for me.

It’s important that people understand where I’ve been before they can understand where I’m at now.

So Alive

So this week, my new single and video “so alive” made it’s debut on MTV.  The video itself is on the front page of MTV.com featured as the first video in their month-long tribute to indie artists.

So far, the response to the song & video has been overwhelmingly positive.  I’ve had so many texts and phone calls from friends, family, and fellow musicians telling me they’re watching me and proud of what I’m doing and to keep pushing.  The response among the majority of my fans has been great as well. I’m extremely thankful for the people who support me and the positive feedback.

But oddly enough I’ve seen some comments that I didn’t expect at all.

While not in great number, I’ve seen a few people say that I’ve “sold out” by letting MTV play my video, that I’ve lost my “underground pass” because I sang on the song and didn’t rap, and somebody even suggested that MTV playing my music contradicts everything that I stand for and I’m sending confusing messages.

Even though they don’t make up the majority of the feedback that I’ve gotten I would still like to address these comments and open up some discussion.

Singing

The most bizarre comment I’ve seen about this has been about me singing.  Suggestions that underground rappers aren’t allowed to sing, that I shouldn’t sing, and that because I’m singing on “so alive” that it’s somehow targeted to teenage girls (or any other demographic that underground fans apparently hate), and that I’m not “real” anymore.

Well here’s the history: I’ve been singing on records since 2002.  And while the singing I did on those records wasn’t as good or well executed as “so alive“–I was still singing.  I realize that some people who made their comments about me singing may not have done their research.  They may not have been listening to me for that long, and it may be a kneejerk reaction, so let’s go back in time a little bit.

In 2002 my group Soul Position (Blueprint & RJD2) put out an EP called Unlimited, on Rhymesayers Entertainment.  There were five songs on this EP, and I sang on a song called “Take Your Time”.   In 2003, Soul Position released our debut album 8-million Stories on Rhymesayers Entertainment, and it featured a song called “Right Place, Wrong Time” that I sang on.  In 2005, I sang on the song “Big Girls Need Love Too” from my debut album 1988 on Rhymesayers Entertainment.  In 2006, I sang on the song “Things Go Better” from the Soul Position album Things go better with RJ & Al.  I haven’t really released anything official since then, but in 2010 I sang on the song “Pain” from the Blueprint Who EP as well as the Electric Purgatory EP by my group Greenhouse.

Throughout all that singing on my records–nobody said anything.  I was considered about as underground as any artist could be.  No complaints, no questioning my artistic integrity, and nobody told me I wasn’t allowed to do it.

And to this day, most of the songs that I mentioned above (that I sang on) remain among the most popular songs in the my catalog.

I mention all these things to point out that I have sang on almost every single record I have ever released.

That’s fact.  That’s my history as a hip-hop artist.

But let me go back even further.  I grew up in a very musical church.  My mother is a very, very, ill gospel singer, so singing was my first contact with music. That’s right–singing was my first contact with music–not a turntable, not freestyling, not making beats like so many other hip-hop kids.  So during my teenage years, while everybody else was experimenting with the things normal teenagers experimented with, I was experimenting with music; in and out of studios by the time I was 16, writing and recording for a bunch of R&B groups I was a part of.  By the time I was 17 I was in a management and production contract for R&B–singing and writing.  I wasn’t happy with the contract or the people we were doing business with, so I used going away to college as a way to get out of it.  When I got to college I discovered turntables and the rest was history.  It’s been hip-hop ever since.

I say all that to say this: I’m not an artist who thought that he could blow up if he sang on his records.

I’m not an artist who decided to sing “all the sudden”.

I’ve always sang and my history proves that.

While other cats do it because they think they can make money doing it or because autotune made the playing field even–I’ve done it because it’s just an extension of what I’ve always done, an expression of a skill that’s always been there.

But the fact that people can tell me what I can and can’t do on a hip-hop record is the entire reason I made Adventures in Counter-Culture in the first place.

But I’ll get back to that later.  Let’s move onto the next subject I would like to address.

I Shouldn’t Let MTV Play My Music

If you’re reading this and you consider yourself a supporter of Rhymesayers artists, then what I’m going to say here will come as no surprise to you–Blueprint is not the first Rhymesayers artist to get play on MTV.

Sorry, it wasn’t me.  I wasn’t the first, and I won’t be the last.

Artists like Atmosphere, P.O.S., and Brother Ali have all been on MTV before.  All over the websites, all over the channel, years ago.  Atmosphere had a video that was in normal rotation at one point.  While it may seem weird that MTV decided to choose my video and song to play, the fact of the matter is there is history of it happening before and that some of your favorite Rhymesayers artists have been on MTV long before and much more often than I have ever been.

So the question then becomes, if it’s ok for MTV to find favor in Brother Ali, Atmosphere, and P.O.S., and play their music why isn’t it ok for Blueprint?

That’s the question that I keep asking myself, and I would like to ask of those who think me getting played on MTV is the end of the world.  It isn’t.  A little MTV exposure didn’t ruin the careers Atmosphere, Brother Ali, or P.O.S. and it sure isn’t gonna ruin Blueprint.

But just to be thorough, lets be open about what the worst case scenarios is.

Worst case scenario: “so alive” gets a lot of spins, somebody who never would’ve listened to Blueprint decides to research him, and what do they find?  They find “radio-inactive”, they find my album adventures in counter-culture,  they find my debut album 1988, and a couple Soul Position albums, which would probably lead them to the Rhymesayers label and other Rhymesayers artists.

Is that such a bad thing?

I didn’t change what I did to get on MTV–I was already that artist, constantly evolving, experimenting with sounds and styles of production and songwriting, already challenging the status quo of what underground music is.  So if MTV wants to expose what I’m doing to a different group of people, cool, but that’s not going to change what I do at all.

“I made this in my basement when yall wasn’t even there, to express my feelings, not to be played on the air.  So am i wrong or secure if I really don’t care, if this ever turns in to something that anybody hears?  Man, I’m an artist!”

That’s not just some shit I said because it sounded cool.

And it’s not something that only applies to underground hip-hop. 

It’s who I am, period.

For better or worse, I have made many decisions in my career based on art–not on what works business-wise and not on what appeals to the most people.  Based soley on what I felt like doing with music at the time; how to best use music to express what I want to say and paint a picture.

There were people who basically told me that I should make the same record as 1988 again, and not try anything like Adventures in Counter-Culture.  But I made that decision because its what i believe in my heart and because I’m an artist. I wanna do some original shit, that hopefully inspires people.  Maybe pay back all the artists who have done original shit that inspired me.

Sometimes that means that I’m gonna rhyme for 5-minutes straight with no chorus to get my point across.  Other times that means there will be times when I present my music as I did with “so alive”.  If you can for a second, take a step back and ignore how the songs were executed, and focus on the message.  What am I saying?  What is the overall message of the song, and does it have integrity?  Is it honest?  That’s what’s important.

But at the end of the day I do this because I’m an artist, because I have a label as courageous and innovative as Rhymesayers to support me, and because I know that most people are open-minded enough to get it.

Blueprint Isn’t Underground Anymore

I was in Kinkos about a year ago and two employees were having a debate about Kid Cudi and Drake.  The girl was saying how she liked Cudi and Drake when they were underground more, back when their first (and only) mixtapes came out.  While I was listening to that conversation it dawned on me that what’s considered underground is completely different depending on who you ask.  To some people Drake was underground until he got signed, even though dude was doing sprite commercials, selling out national tours, and getting radio play with songs from his mixtape.  Not that my opinion matters, but i never thought Drake was never really underground because he was always connected through major label management and other signed artists.  To some people, Atmosphere was underground until “trying to find a balance” came out, then they weren’t underground anymore, but now they’re underground again.  To some people the term “underground hip-hop” is a reference to a certain group of artists like Rhymesayers, Def Jux, Living Legends, etc.  It refers more to a sound than a status.  To other people underground is a certain sound, and they think that underground hip-hop should a certain way or it’s wack.

It’s pretty confusing, right?

My point is that we may never agree on the definition of what’s underground, so arguing about it and telling somebody that they aren’t undergound seems almost pointless. No matter how obscure an underground artist that you love is, there will always be somebody who will name another artist that is even more obscure than them, just as there will always be a person who will name an artist more popular than them and call them underground.  There will always be somebody who heard of your favorite artist before you did, and considers you a newbie for just now getting up on their music, right?

And if we can’t agree on what’s underground or whats not then we have to bring it back to the thing that’s the most important in the first place–the music.

And that’s all that matters to me anymore.  The fucking music.

Liking an artist because they’re underground is ok in certain instances, but it cannot be the sole criteria for judging their art.  Their music should have enough merit for us to support and enjoy, regardless of their level of obscurity or fame.

But as far as the underground aesthetic is concerned, I’ve been around long enough and have released enough music to where I shouldn’t have to worry about the “hip-hop police” or “hip-hop boogeyman” chasing me around telling me what I can and cant do, which brings me back to something I brought up earlier:

This is exactly why I made Adventures in Counter-Culture.

To challenge myself.

To throw every rule out the window and make whatever I felt like making.

And in doing so, to challenge the listener and the entire culture of this shit.

My problem is that the rules, expectations, and boundaries that people try to place on me (and I found myself subscribing to) frustrate and sicken me.  I spent a large amount of my career listening to people say what we’re “allowed” to do, what were “supposed” to do, reciting a bunch of “keep it real” rules that were passed down just because they already existed–not because they make sense anymore.  And after seeing everything and everybody around me grow more and more conservative, I just said “FUCK THIS SHIT!” and decided that I’m not gonna live by the rules people set for me, anymore than they should live by the rules their parents or bosses or friends set for them.  Being an individual means breaking away from what people expect you to do, shaking shit up, trying new ideas, and challenging yourself and those around you.  So if you’re not doing that, then as far as I’m concerned you’re not living life to the fullest anyway. And if you’re not living your life to the fullest, then I don’t expect you to understand what I’m trying to do, and how I’m going about breaking those rules and challenging those unspoken rules of hip-hop.

So for those that have been with me so far, and can see where I’m trying to take this–Thank you.

For those that don’t get it, I would only ask that you be open minded.  Challenge your beliefs and question the rules just as I have.

But at the end of the day, Adventures in Counter-Culture wasn’t made to appeal to any specific group of people or style of music.  It’s me making what I consider to be progressive, forward-thinking, music–no strings attached.  I have been blessed that a label like Rhymesayers has trusted me enough to let me do what I wanted to do, to create that piece of art and support it fully.    They respect the fact that I don’t give a shit about any rules or boundaries and want to just create great music and I feel very lucky to have them in my corner.

Either way, onward and upward.

Thanks for the continued support.

See yall April 5th.

Printmatic


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  • http://twitter.com/HyphenateMe HP

    First off, congrats on the video and new single. Secondly, I think people just get really defensive about their music. It’s not just entertainment, people treat it like an extension of themselves. Sometimes, it starts to become a thing that you don’t want to share with everyone. Naturally, the people who believe that are the most vocal.

  • A. Sun

    Print. It’s an ego thing. What the “underground” fans need to get through their heads is that it’s okay for good music to be available and successful on a global level. Yes, fuck MTV. But, they are powerful for reaching people. You deserve to reach people. Your art deserves to be heard by everyone. I’d much rather see your music influencing mass amounts of people than the trash being shoved down our throats daily. I turned the radio off years ago, and in return I was blessed to find a whole new world of cats such as yourself. Keep pushing forward man, and remember why you did this in the first place. Not for me or anybody else, but because you have some shit to say. Speak on Print!

  • Anonymous

    thank you!

  • dthedudek

    very thought provoking blog, especially the section on what it means to be underground. i’ve never really spent time thinking about the fact that what is considered underground is totally subjective. As for your video getting played on mTV, i’m more shocked they still play videos; but i do remember when atmosphere’s album “when life gives you lemons…” was being released there was constant little commercials before and after shows advertising it and then i saw “guarantees” on there and thought ‘wow, that’s pretty cool that mTV is playing music that i like on it for once, hopefully others will start listening to smarter rap (which i consider artists on Rhymesayers, Def Jux, etc… to be).” as for selling out, i don’t feel the mTV exposure changed atmosphere or the other Rhymesayers artists you mentioned and i don’t feel it will change your views/artistic abilities either. Your comments about the reason you made Adventures and not another 1988 is exactly why i listen to you as well as artists similar to you. you don’t keep producing the same albums and i find the lyrics from artists on Rhymesayers or Def Jux not only more relate-able, but smarter because you’re not talking about how much bitches, money and drugs you have/moved. another reason i listen to you is because you create some sick beats/rhythms. put those two together and you have solid songs. Lastly i listen to you because every time i’ve gone to a show you’re at, you’re personable and more than happy to take a pic, or sign, or just talk to me or any fan for that matter as a human being, not as someone who thinks they’re above the fans. i’m anxious for your new album and i can’t wait to listen to it on vinyl, keep doing what you do man.

  • Anonymous

    thanks for the kind words and support my dude. it means a lot

  • Mgh22488

    Good shit, I’ve always said hating something JUST because it’s popular, is just as ridiculous as hating something JUST because it isn’t popular. Listen to whatever music speaks to you.

  • Anonymous

    that’s a good mantra. everybody should adopt that!

  • Ozipunter

    Print, A fan from Australia says keeping doing it your way!

    Thanks for the great music:)

  • Joel@syffal.com

    I almost wish you wouldn’tve responded to such comments. Pretty sure everyone putting out music of any type has to deal with people that shoot from the hip regarding topics that are basically moot when it comes to being able to do what you love for a reason. Selling out, no matter what anyone says, means you get to create for another day while feeding the fam.
    You’ve always been one of the more accessible musicians in my experience, and while it makes it easier to like you as a person in addition to the musician I admire, it pisses me off that such a strong voice in the music I love can succumb to simple hate talk.
    Anyone with an internet connection can hate on you Print.
    Anyone with something better to do can ignore those petty fucks.

    I would purchase a Ford Fiesta if you were the backing track to the commercial starring David Hasselhoff.

    Truth.

  • Sam

    “And that’s all that matters to me anymore. The fucking music.”

    That’s why I respect you, man. As much as I’d like to hear more of that 1988 shit, you’ve got something else to say now. I’ll keep listening as long as it’s from the heart. Thanks for this statement. I’m glad to see you’re still fighting for the underdog (even against the underground).

  • KeithIrwin

    I really think that some of these cats believe that what happened is that MTV called you up and said “We’ll play your video if you sing instead of rapping” and you said “Sure, great! I never liked rapping anyway! Screw those people who like rapping!” As if that’s really how things go.

    But I can’t really be surprised by their response. People are always worried that once an artist hits mainstream, they’ll change. It’s not at all hard to find examples of this in the history of the music industry. For your first song which gets play on MTV to be one in which you don’t rap (which I think is probably more what they’re noticing than the fact that you sing on it), I can see why they might leap to conclusions. But it’s not as if it’s that large a departure for you, for someone who really follows your work. You’ve done several albums with little to no rapping on them, so this isn’t all that different. I think that what you’re really seeing is which of your fans actually believe you when you tell them that you’re an artist who makes your own choices and those who don’t really buy that. So, if I were you, I would look at the relative percentage of your fans that is and take heart in what a large percentage of your fans have faith in you and your artistry. There’s lots of artists with fans who don’t really believe in them and will flee the moment they make the slightest change in their sound. It’s nice to know that most of your fans aren’t like that.

  • Anonymous

    man i agree with you 100%. thanks for the support and perspective!

  • http://blog.donnfelker.com Donn Felker

    Epic post Al. In my opinion, its best summed up by these statements (that I whole-heartedly agree with).

    “But at the end of the day I do this because I’m an artist…”

    Exactly. Music is art. Not some play by the rules game of you-gotta-do-this-to-win BS. Completely agree with you. Do what you do, because it matters to you. At one point in my life I decided to try to paint, kind of like Andy Warhol style stuff. I ended up doing a couple paintings of Old Dirty Bastard that came out very well. I surprised myself. When some other artists saw it they really liked it. When they asked me how I did it, I told them, in plain honest truth – I projected it from a projector, onto the canvas, traced it, then used paint markers and a sponge brush. All of them discounted me as an artist, said I was a fraud, I wasnt really doing art and I was a cheater. But ya know what? I told them years ago (9 years almost) “I don’t give a shit. I’m not trying to impress you. I did it for me. I like it, I think its cool and I dig it. The fact that others like its is a side effect. The fact that I ‘didn’t follow the rules’ of some unwritten lawn is absolute hippo-critical holier than thou pedestal nonsense.” To this day, I like what I did and don’t care how I did it. The result is what mattered. So keep up the good work.

    The other quotes that really struck me in this post are:

    “… Being an individual means breaking away from what people expect you to do, shaking shit up, trying new ideas, and challenging yourself and those around you. So if you’re not doing that, then as far as I’m concerned you’re not living life to the fullest anyway. And if you’re not living your life to the fullest, then I don’t expect you to understand what I’m trying to do …”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. So many people are jealous of what others do and have no way to express their emotion or disdain for their own situation in life (and their lack of follow through for their own dreams) that the only way they can feel validated is by projecting their negative energy onto those that they’re jealous of. In this case, you. The quote about reminds me of a Atmosphere song in Trying to Find a Balance where Slug says:

    “You can’t achieve your goals if you don’t take that chance // So go pry open that trunk and get those amps (You know!)”

    It’s obvious he’s saying the same thing you are in this post. If you don’t take that chance, you’ll never be happy, you’ll never know what “could have been” or “what might have happened”. So, you’ve done it once … quitting being a software engineer to chase music, now you’re doing it again following your true sound in music. One cannot harbor any negative feelings towards someone like you as you are someone they should look up to.

    With that said, Al, I congratulate you. Well done. From what I’ve heard thus far, this album is one of my favorite Blueprint albums to date, and I’ve been a fan since the first time I heard you on the first Soul Position record when I lived in AZ. Again, kudos.

  • riot_nerd

    it´s like : “nobody move, nobody get hurt” or “nobody move, nobody gets anywhere”…
    Yes, i believe you could have done another 1988, but…what´s the point ?
    Yeah, never change a winning horse, bla,bla,bla…

    You challeneged yourself, you will challenge your fans, you will lose some of them along the way.
    But those that will stick with you, do so because they believe in the same things as you…

    Underground ? My ass ! Believe it or not, there a lot of artist labeling themselves underground that are plain crap…and yes, there are major label artists puttin´ out mind blowing shit.

    Underground = good, Major = bad ? It´s not that easy, pals !

    So, to stop my rant…keep up the good work, from what i see & hear you´ve got an classic one to be released in april !

    jealous one still envy, right ;)

  • Pingback: Counter-Cultural Expectations. « The Sonny Wilkins Chronicle

  • Dan Schuna

    Well said, Print. Regarding the singing, Pigeon John’s latest album Dragon Slayer is almost all him singing, there’s very little rapping on it, and it’s one of my favorite albums because the music sounds great. An artist doesn’t have to fit into my proscribed idea of what they should sound like, they just have to make great music.

    And pushing the genre to change and break out of predefined ruts is EXACTLY what Eyedea & Abilities did with By The Throat, another of my fave albums. That album was the last thing I expected from E&A but it blew my mind. They changed their entire sound while staying true to their ideals of releasing fresh, new shit. That album caught a lot of hell from people who forgot why they liked E&A in the first place: because they release new art that forces you to consider the music from another perspective.

    Much respect, man. Can’t wait for the new album. Thanks for staying true to you and doing what we all loved about you in the first place.

    ` Dan

  • Stayhumble

    YES PRINT!

    1. Your true fans only expect you to keep doing what you do (aka whatever is true to you). Everybody else is just a fan of “that one song you did”, and they don’t buy entire albums anyway.

    2. This reminds me of that conversation that you mixed into that Radiohead vs. Greenhouse album.

    3. As soon as you stop risking the loss of your audience, you begin losing them.

  • Joshua

    You are doing amazing I love everything I have heard keep doing what your doing.

  • Tom H

    Most underground rap fans want to see one specific type of music, and a track from an artist they know to be an underground rapper that is not exactly what they want will be seen as a waste of a track–to them, that single could have had the beats and lyrics they’re familiar with, but instead it’s “wasted” on something new and different. When they see a song like this get successful, they worry that, in the future, what they like will get passed over in favor of what made the money. Nothing’s inherently ignorant or small-minded about this (in theory), but when they start bandying about terms like “sell-out” without knowing what the song’s about or what it means for the artist and his career, it crosses a line. Maybe they don’t like it as much. That’s fine. There’s no harm in wanting to hear old-school style rap your whole life. But a fan’s preference is just that, a preference. So your favorite artist is branching out while you’d rather they stay in one place–get over it, it’s not the artist’s obligation to stay caged into one area because you, the listener, prefer a certain kind of music. You don’t have to like it, but unless there’s considerable proof that the artist is compromising their creative process for the sole purpose of getting more money, you damn well better respect their right to create art that expresses how they feel, not how you want them to feel.

    TL;DR version: Blueprint’s awesome, haters gonna hate

  • Anonymous

    very well put! thanks for the comment!

  • Steven R.

    I always thought MTV was lame, precisely because they don’t play good artists or bands and just support a boring status quo. Shouldn’t MTV playing a great song with an excellent video to boot (honestly, that probably is my favorite music video) be a GOOD thing? I also enjoy seeing a rapper singing without auto-tunes and stretching the boundaries of what is found in music. Thanks for the hard work and the fun videos!

  • jamesyeater

    At the end of the day, you’re able to support yourself by doing something you love. Who could be mad at that?! I would like to assume that very prospect is what we are striving for, daily. 

    p.s., thanks for the good convo at Carabar last month! It’s awesome talking about life, cultures, etc. in a bar setting! You my friend, are the man!

  • http://twitter.com/SUNNYDINABOTTLE Matthew Conner

    I really resonated when you touched on people becoming conservative;not just in music I see not in all aspects of life now that I’m out of the isolated culture of college once again. For me, conservative leads to folks making “safe” moves and choices based on the egocentric feeling of trying to project success in one’s life through acceptance in the comfort of being relatable to those who judge. by not pushing the boundaries of your internal growth in exchange for your external image to fit in always leave me bitter and angry, so I’d rather be alone yet happy. Must be because radical thinking is reckless and will bring strife to your life is an idea I observe, but if it wasn’t for people pushing themselves in the face of the widely accepted way relative to their time then where did the light bulb, the internet, Soccer played on ESPN, and hip-hop come from? It sure as hell wasn’t the norm for any of the aforementioned to appear to have any relevance to what was happening during their journeys.. Everyone may know you when you color inside the lines for an easier road to money, but it’s the radical thinkers, kids who call their teacher’s bluff (not just to be an ass for laughs),white kids trying to explain their love of hiphop to their parents,black kids defending their love for rocky mountain bluegrass to their peers, and all those alike whose defiance creates the future I (devoid of cynicism…well today atleast) imagine…..Like I imaginie yall do to, I’ll keep doing me until I stop seeing friends lose their optimism and unique personalities just to pay bills,appease the parents, and appear succesful. It’s like when I take my girlfriend to hiphop shows, I’m not asking her to love Mr. Lif’s insights or Aesop Rocks breath control,,just asking for her to allow its existince without bias because I do appreciate those things. Out of her comfort zone,sure, but it’s what I like to do, proceed on in life recognizing peoples differences as genuine quality traits for there existence even if its not for mine.I want to see all my fellow homosapiens just happy being themselves because if they’re doing it for other reasons it makes me sadly pity that mindset.