RJD2 and Blueprint return for an encore ID performance and promise new music

Back in the late '90s and early 2000s in Columbus, DJ/producer RJ Krohn, aka RJD2, was part of the now-legendary hip-hop crew MHz with rappers such as Camu Tao and Copywrite.

“[MHz] largely made battle rap,” RJD2 said recently by phone. “It was not the kind of music that was introspective. It wasn't about exposing parts of yourself. It wasn't personal.”

In Blueprint, aka Al Shepard, RJD2 saw a rapper with an extra dimension. “He could battle, but at the same time he was willing to go somewhere else with it and write about something that was personal,” RJD2 said. “He's able to tap into how he feels about things — socially, politically, culturally, personally — and channel it into a song. The most unique thing [about him] is just his honesty as an artist. It's a thing that drew me to him as an artist in the beginning.”

RJD2 and Blueprint teamed up to form Soul Position in 2001 — a time when Columbus was still best known for its cow-punk and indie-rock scenes, even while MHz and others turned heads in the hip-hop underground. Soul Position, though, helped to put Columbus hip-hop in the national spotlight with its first full-length, 2003's 8 Million Stories, and 2006 follow-up Things Go Better with RJ and Al, on the respected Rhymesayers label.

RJD2's solo career also took off following the release of his 2002 album, Deadringer. The producer/songwriter subsequently moved to Philadelphia, releasing a number of well-received records, including 2015's Dame Fortune, an album he recorded mostly in Philly but finished after moving back to Columbus.

Blueprint similarly focused on his solo career after Things Go Better, and Soul Position didn't team up again for a live performance until 2015. This year, RJ and Al will make a return appearance at Independents' Day, performing an 11 p.m. headlining set at the Franklinton festival's South Stage on Saturday, Sept. 16.

Thinking back on Soul Position's recorded output, both artists warmly recall the songs and the friendship that led to their creation. “8 Million Stories was made in a really pure place,” RJD2 said. “I still had a huge amount of, frankly, innocence about the music industry and making records. So I look back on the making of that record very fondly because it represents a particular moment in my career.”

“A lot of that stuff was made when Al was still living in Cincinnati and he was a computer programmer for Kroger,” he continued. “I would drive down to Cincinnati to work on that stuff, and just having an outlet and the platform to make hip-hop music and for it to be heard was still so fresh and new and novel to me that I was totally captivated by the excitement of it.”

Things Go Better was made in fits and starts. “I remember going to Philly and staying with RJ in his guest room for a few days and writing there. We would just hang out and work on some music during the day, and maybe I would write that night or take the ideas back home. And then I would go out and kick it at night in Philly,” Blueprint said. “On Things Go Better I was more of a writer. I didn't have to worry about much else on that record other than just trying to write the best songs to match the music that was given to me.”

Both artists are proud of Soul Position's catalog. “What I love about records is, they're a snapshot of a place in time,” RJD2 said. “It's a moment in your creative development, as well as your life.”

Even while RJD2 and Blueprint pursued their solo careers and Soul Position had to be shelved, the artists remained friends. “A lot of groups, when they stop doing music together, stories come out about them beefing — fights over money, fights over girls, label problems,” Blueprint said. “They hate each other. You read the interviews and get all sad. We don't have that! It's still pretty cool to make music with RJ. We don't have any problems.”

And while this reunion performance evokes memories of the duo's past, both artists said Soul Position is alive and well, with new music in the works.

“When you make records, you never know if they're gonna last, or if they're gonna still matter. So in that sense, we're very, very appreciative,” Blueprint said. “But we are also looking forward. Playing together again has reminded us of what we have. It creates a new energy. So we're thinking, ‘Now let's start the next chapter.'”

“There will be another Soul Position record,” RJD2 said. “I'll guarantee that.”