Nationally known rapper/producer explores the concept of self-empowerment on new album 'Two-Headed Monster'
“While my peers play it safe I choose to explore,” Blueprint says on the title track of new album Two-Headed Monster, which refers to the rapper/producer's dual-threat status. If anything, though, the title sells him short. Blueprint is more like a hydra.
In the last several years, in addition to releasing his own music and making beats for others, 'Print has directed, edited and scored his own film (2017's “King No Crown,” which uses footage taken around the time his 2015 album of the same name was released); hosted a popular podcast, “Super Duty Tough Work”; and written three books, all while maintaining his place as one of the city's most celebrated hip-hop musicians.
Part of that sense of exploration comes from the child-like curiosity underneath his grown-up ambitions, but there's another motivation driving his music, too: fear.
“I fear becoming the artist I might have been disappointed in,” said Blueprint, born Al Shepard, in a recent interview Downtown. “When you see certain artists you love keep making the same record, at the beginning you're like, ‘This is great!' But the later they get, the more you feel like they might be taking the easy way out. I always wanted to go the opposite way because of that. … I don't want a catalog that sounds like all one thing.”
With Two-Headed Monster, Blueprint wanted something that didn't sound as dense as some of his other projects. And while the album doesn't get as dark as King No Crown or the Aesop Rock-produced Vigilante Genesis EP, from 2016, it doesn't shy from difficult topics.
In “Hoop Dreamin” (featuring Has-Lo), Blueprint looks around and realizes his environment is his “arch nemesis.” “I witness many innocent fight for life in dark tenements/Armed immigrants with militant plots/Robotic citizens that mill around with meaningless jobs/Villainous cops slither, trigger finger itching for Glocks to reinforce the force fields that keep us trapped on our blocks,” he raps over what sounds like a looped-and-spliced guitar riff. In the recently released music video for “Hoop Dreamin,” the rapper holds the Chancellor Williams book The Destruction of Black Civilization.
But on “A Hero Dies Once,” Blueprint offers solutions to some of those problems, and his answers aren't always what you'd expect. “They say we gettin' gentrified out the inner city, but can't nobody make you leave when you own the building/If we prioritize ownership we could end it, but we're distracted by racism and can't see it,” he raps amid breathy percussion and a jazzy melody.
“I own a house that's like 10 doors down from the house I live in on my street. I've been trying to fix it up. … But there's this idea that we can't be responsible for fixing our own shit,” he said. “I go out and I pick up trash in my neighborhood. No one pays me. The reason I started doing it is I found that I was someone who was like, ‘Yo, someone needs to clean that up. I'm tired of this shit. Why did people throw that there? Someone needs to do something.' And I realized I was starting to become paralyzed by this belief that I didn't have any power.”
“I'm not saying racism doesn't exist,” he continued. “I'm just saying true empowerment is something that, on a micro level, we can do something about. We can fix our community. We can work with our neighbors. We can pool our resources and do so much. … My community is 95 percent black. I've invested in my community. I think I've earned the right to say, ‘Hey, we should consider other things and at least not feel paralyzed by this thing.' Day to day, what can we do? It can be controversial, but I think it'll make people think.”
Blueprint said he came to some of these ideas regarding self-empowerment after reading hundreds of books but discovering he was still angry at the beginning and end of each day. “I spent the last 15, 20 years mad. And in the last three to five years, when I felt like I actually had power over the outcomes, I'm not mad anymore. I'm determined,” he said. “You wake up and instead of saying, ‘I wonder what someone is going to let me do today?' you wake up and say, ‘Who's going to stop me?'”
On “Health is Wealth,” featuring guest verses from Supastition and Mr. Lif (Slug from Atmosphere and L.A. rapper Aceyalone also appear elsewhere), Blueprint takes that personal power to the logical extreme, spitting rhymes about eating healthy and exercising while his collaborators expound upon the dangers of late-night snacks, high-fructose corn syrup and staring at screens too much.
“Your body is your original temple. If you can't control what happens in your body, if you can't control what you eat, how can you control anything else?” Blueprint said. “When we start talking about being ‘woke,' whatever the fuck that means now, it's hard for me to take people seriously who don't first understand that the first battleground is your body. It's yourself. You have to control your body and your impulses.”