The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

INTERVIEW: Blueprint, On Writing, Influences, and Recovery

blueprint

With more than 20 releases under his belt between solo albums, and as a member of Soul Position (with RJD2) and Greenhouse Effect, Bluprint has made quite a name for himself as one of the best in the game. His absolutely memorable voice, along with his incredible ability to weave together story lines and concept albums, he was a perfect person for The Poetry Question to interview. Recently Blueprint celebrated three years of sobriety. The Poetry Question had the chance to speak with him about his career and recovery.

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TPQ: What are your earliest memories as a reader? Were there books that you remember being read as a child? Was there a favorite reading moment? Maybe a light bulb moment where you realized that you were reading a text that would define your life?

Blueprint: My earliest memories of reading would be Dr. Seuss books like Green Eggs and HamCat in the Hat, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  But the first time I remember having an interest in reading on my own came through comic books.  While I was in Middle School, I would catch the bus to the comic book store every few Saturdays and spend my allowance on comics.  I don’t think I read anything that really changed my view of the world until high school when I read The Color Purple and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

TPQ: Do you remember your first lyrics? How old were you when you started writing? When did you begin to develop the style upon which you’d build your career?

Blueprint: I think my first time writing lyrics was when I had to go to detention or Saturday school for acting up in high school.  They had a rule where you had to produce two or three pages of work before they would let you out, so I would write rhymes about whatever it was that got me sent there in the first place.  There weren’t anything I would let anybody hear back then; they were just for me and whoever had the power to let me out of detention.

The first time I really wrote was as a senior in high school, when I wrote a short story about a fight that me and my best friend, who was employed by McDonalds with me, got into a fight with some rude customers. It was the first time I had ever written a story and my teacher liked it enough that she told me to pursue writing in college.  She also told me that I should write whether I get paid or not, because eventually an opportunity would open up for me. I didn’t really understand writing or how that translated into a career back then, so I took her advice and always tried to write on the side when I had time.

TPQ: Who were the lyricists that most influenced you when you were starting out? What was it about their work that made them an influence?

Blueprint: The first guys that really influenced me were KRS-ONE, Chuck D of Public Enemy, and Saul Williams.  KRS-ONE introduced me to new concepts and philosophy.  He made me challenge what I believed or had been taught by society. I didn’t always agree with him, but I always listened, and I think that opened my mind up a lot.  Chuck D made me understand that you can be good at what you do and still be radical with your thought.  He brought history to the table.  Saul Williams gave me an appreciation for how poetry can be used in hip-hop.  He was the first guy I heard that made me want to throw away all my rhymes and start again. In fact, when I saw Saul Williams in Slam I actually did throw away all my notebooks and start again.

TPQ: As a high school teacher, I find that I have a lot of students who struggle with substance abuse. Many turn to my Creative Writing class because they are incredibly artistic, and vibrant with their words, and I want to be able to guide them in the right direction, while helping them understand their personal issues. I’m not a counselor, so it’s difficult for me to get overly involved. What words of advice would you give to students in that situation?

Blueprint: The first thing I would tell them is to make sure that they know that drugs and alcohol don’t make them who they are.  That they’re amazing and creative people without those things.  Too many young people think that drugs or alcohol make them funny or likable, but they’re already all those things without it.  I would also tell them to keep using writing as a tool to find their way through their problems.  Writing has helped me work through many bad situations by giving me a forum to speak honestly, especially at times when I didn’t have anybody I trusted to share those situations with.

TPQ: When you decided it was time to seek help for alcoholism, what was the immediate change in your writing? Did it become angrier as you began to seek treatment, or did you find it more cathartic, and enlightening?

Blueprint: I think my writing was more angry before I stopped drinking. Everybody that has a drinking problem, has a specific reason for it.  Sometimes it’s something they’re trying to forget or something they aren’t ready to address yet.  So until they really address that problem head on they’re going to continue using alcohol as a reason to avoid it.  I was able to stop drinking because I addressed the underlying cause of my alcoholism, which was my anxiety.  Once I did that I wasn’t angry anymore.  Things have been peace since I confronted that thing head on.

TPQ: Obviously there is a long history of artists who use their substances as a tool, or a crutch, during their creative process. From Poe to Coleridge, to Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs, artists have used their drug of choice to define their careers, and died because they were unwilling to face their personal demons. To them, it fueled their work, and without it, they may not have been the same. Did you ever have that moment where you wondered if you could still be the same artist, or a better artist, after you stopped using?

Blueprint: I definitely had that moment where I wondered that.  Fortunately, I didn’t really think about it too much because, even though alcohol was a big part of who I was, it wasn’t a part of my creative process. In all my years of drinking, I have never written a rhyme or made a beat when I was drunk.  I’ve made music weird enough that some people thought that I was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but I was clear-headed when I made it.  I was just comfortable enough to find that kind of creative space.  To tell the truth, I never even kept alcohol in my house when I was drinking; it was always something I did after I got done with my music.  That was probably the one thing I did right during my time drinking – the fact that I created all my art sober. And because of that, I never had to worry about the creative process changing for me once I got sober.

TPQ: Pigeon John told me that, to paraphrase, he feels as if 2chainz is the new Bob Dylan. How would you respond to that?

Blueprint: My response would be that if 2chainz is still making music that people care about in 10 to 15 years, then we might be able to answer that question.  It sounds cool, but it’s way too early to make that kind of statement, in my opinion.

TPQ: Would you consider rap lyrics to be the new Poetry? Why or why not?

Blueprint: I’m not sure if I would say that rap lyrics are the new poetry as much as I would say that rap lyrics are just an extension of poetry.  Poetry never left, the mainstream manifestation of it just takes place over a drum track now.  At the same time, I don’t think all artists are necessarily poets. Many of them don’t have the intention of poets.  I believe most poets intend to write things for themselves first and foremost, whereas most commercial artists have to consider their audience first.  And because they have to think about their audience and commercial viability, it restricts their ability to approach writing with the same technicality that a poet would.  There are many hip-hop artists that are poets though, I just think it becomes a little hard to cast that title on all of them when their intentions are sometimes cloudy.

TPQ: As the media visibility of rappers continues to grow, how do you feel that has changed the approach to writing? Do rappers need to write more mainstream lyrics because they are in the spotlight, or are they still able to write conscious hip-hop, and gain notice?

Blueprint: I don’t think the mainstream outlets are receptive to art that is socially conscious.  Their job is usually to entertain, not inform.  I think people are open to social consciousness in their art, but a heightened state of consciousness is a threat to many corporate interests, and since the media makes their money from corporate interests they stay away from it.  There was a point when hip-hop as very conscious, but that was before it had really blown up commercially and became the most popular genre in the world.  Back in the days, a commercial song was a song that had the ability to appeal to a large group of people beyond the normal hip-hop fan base.  Nowadays, a commercial song is literally a commercial; it’s an advertisement for products and lifestyle companies. It’s four minutes of product placement.  In that environment, if you aren’t playing the game you will have a hard time breaking through. This prevents the best writers from ever having a presence in the mainstream of any art form. Now most artists know they have to sacrifice their content to become successful on a large scale. I wish it wasn’t like that, but it is.

TPQ: And finally, how do you see the hip-hop culture evolving over the next decade?

Blueprint: I think the days of hip-hop albums being number one everywhere are going to be coming to an end as labels sell fewer records, but the music itself is going to get much better. I think people create much better art when they don’t have to worry about sales.  That’s when you get the purest self-expression.  I think hip-hop is going to sell fewer records, but become a better art form because of it.

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

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