Blueprint, MTV, and “Selling Out”
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 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.
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.
My latest album Two-Headed Monster is out now. Order/Listen here HERE