"Adventures in Counter-Culture," Blueprint's first proper solo album in six years, begins with a recording of a fan drunkenly interrupting a post-show interview in Springfield, Missouri, to praise the Columbus rapper-producer for his "ability to pull a different sound than most of the people that are doing rap are willing to do."
The ensuing hour of music finds 'Print doing just that. His 2005 Rhymesayers debut "1988" was a classicist tribute to hip-hop's golden era; "Adventures" does a 180 and blows the walls off the genre.
The album zooms through Gil Mantera-style synth sleaze ("We Wanna Be Like You"), folksy indie-pop ("Welcome Home"), movie montage New Wave ("Fly Away") and future soul befitting Gnarls Barkley ("So Alive") without suffering from schizophrenia. Blueprint even croons on a few tunes.
"There were a lot of moments in 2006 when I was doing that when people were like, 'This is dope, but what do we do with this? What's the market for this?'" Blueprint said.
Conveniently, "Adventures" is born into a post-Drake, post-Cudi climate friendly to hybrid rapper-singers. Blueprint wasn't twiddling his thumbs waiting for the sea change, though. He stayed busy in the interim with a steady stream of releases with groups Soul Position and Greenhouse and various mixtapes and side projects.
All that aside, the biggest reason for the delay was perfecting his new approach to songwriting. With his MPC dying and several friends getting sued over samples, Blueprint moved from the sampler to the piano.
"I was teaching myself how to write," he said. "By the end of the process I learned how to write songs that all started at the keyboard."
The switch to piano changed the way Blueprint approached composition - melodies and lyrical concepts before drums and rhyme patterns. It also resulted in 'Print's most powerful song to date.
"Radio-Inactive" is a triumphant tell-off to haters and critics that resonates as much on the album as it did when Blueprint first performed it live with Columbus post-rock combo Brainbow.
That band's bass player, Bobby Silver, recently became a permanent fixture of Blueprint's live show, along with longtime DJ Rare Groove. The lineup drummed up an enthusiastic response on the road this winter and slayed at South by Southwest. Now Blueprint is anxiously anticipating the nationwide tour with Atmosphere that launches Wednesday at Newport Music Hall.
"I would like to do the tour and look back and say 'That's the tour where Blueprint arrived as a solo artist. He came off that tour and never looked back. The trajectory of his career completely changed.'"