Location: Columbus, Ohio
Business: Weightless Recordings
lueprint (birth name: Al Shepard) is an emcee/producer from Columbus, Ohio. Blueprint quit his job as a computer programmer with the Kroger Corporation in 2002 to make music his full-time occupation.
On top of running an independent record label, Weightless Recordings, Blueprint has released three full-length albums on Rhymesayers Entertainment, a nationally recognized and distrubuted label. Rhymesayers is arguably the most well-respected and high-quality independent hip-hop label in the US. The Rhymesayers roster includes: Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, MF DOOM, Abstract Rude and Soul Position (Blueprint and RJD2).
Blueprint’s solo album Adventures in Counter-Culture released in 2011 and was received with critical acclaim. Blueprint is well-traveled. He’s done several album-supporting tours of the US, Canada and Europe including a sold-out headlining tour as part of Soul Position (with RJD2). He’s had a music video in regular rotation on MTVu, and has been featured in URB, Spin, MTV.com and HipHopSite.com.
While in college at Ohio University I got to open up a show for Blueprint and his long-time collaborator Illogic. It meant a lot to me as I respect and looked up to the these guys. They were part of a group of artists (including J. Rawls, MHz and Spitball) that established Columbus as the place for quality hip-hop music in Ohio.
Although I never got to work with Blueprint musically, he tapped me to do album artwork for a number of Weightless projects after college. Having worked together for a several years, I consider him a friend and have taken an interest in his career.
For me, watching Blueprint develop into a world-class artist is like seeing an athlete from your city make it to the pros. Al is a renaissance man. He writes music and produces for himself and others. He also shoots/directs and edits music videos. When he isn’t touring the globe he is sometimes responding to my emails, including the one I sent asking him the following questions:
Q: What are your 3 favorite places you have visited in the world?
Blueprint: The top three favorite places I’ve ever been would have to be Vancouver, Berlin, and Los Angeles. I’ve been able to play shows in Vancouver five or six times and always loved the vibe there enough to take two vacations there. I really love the layout of the city and the people there. About four years ago I was able to stay in Berlin for a few weeks while I was doing a tour in Germany. I had no idea how vast or diverse the city was before got there and was completely blown away. It’s amazingly beautiful and has a lot of support for the arts. Los Angeles to me is just a uniquely special place in America. There’s nothing like it. It’s one of those cities that no matter what you’re into – they have it and do it well. There’s literally scenes for everything you could possibly have an interest in. That’s very rare, but Los Angeles is that kind of city. From the glamourous to the gritty – LA has it.
Q: What are 3 places in the world you haven’t been that you’d like to visit in your lifetime?
Blueprint: Australia, Thailand, and Africa. Haven’t been to any of those spots yet, but hope to get an opportunity soon.
Q: Does traveling change a person? If so, in what way?
Blueprint: Definitely. It makes your realize that there’s a lot more to life than the things you see around you. In fact, it makes you feel kind of silly for assuming that your reality is the only reality that matters. Once you realize that the world is this huge place full of different realities it makes you feel more optimistic and energetic about changing your reality. If you don’t take control of your environment it will take control of you.
Traveling the world has made me a better and more well-rounded person. It’s opened me up to how vast culture is and allowed me to step outside of the confines of being simply an American and defining my self as just that. I feel really blessed to have had an opportunity to see so much of the world and talk to people from different places and be exposed to different cultures. It’s made me a much better human being.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspires you?
Blueprint I’m inspired by how vast and endless music is. No matter how much you learn about one specific aspect of it, you can never learn everything there is to learn. Even if I ever thought I mastered the hip-hop part of it, I’m no more than a novice at other genres. That endless path inspires me to wake up and learn everyday, to push myself further. I want to observe, practice, and experiment with all forms of music every day and find ways to use them to tell my story, challenge the conventions, and maybe think of combinations that haven’t been thought of yet.
As far as motivation goes, I think my biggest motivation is time. Understanding time means acknowledging how little of it you have to do things you really want to do; whether that be daily or in your life. Time itself motivates the hell out of me to get things done.
Q: What is success?
Blueprint: At a basic level, I think success is being able to say you completed your goal – no matter how big or small that goal is. Success isn’t really about money or accolades, because both of those things come and go, but knowing that you did what you set out to do is something nobody can take away from you.
Q: What tools or resources do you utilize to expand your skills and knowledge?
Blueprint: The best tool I have is my ability to listen and learn. The ability to watch and observe has served me better than any technical skill I may have. I love to study new things and find ways to introduce them to the things I’m already doing. I learn from everybody and everywhere. When I’m not on the road I read no less than two hours a day. Everything from books to blogs, I’m reading it. Exercising my mind and trying to always accept information and ideas from alternate sources. I guess if I had to pick one tool that has served me the best in the past few years it would be my library card.
Q: What’s the best (or at least a very good) piece of advice you’ve gotten or can give to young creatives, musicians and aspiring small business owners?
Blueprint: Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good. At the beginning stages it’s so easy to second guess yourself, even though the work you’re doing is amazing. We all fall into those periods of indecisiveness but it’s important to finish projects, first so you can gain the confidence from knowing you finished, and second so you can move onto other projects. Don’t over-think things, get things done.
Q: What measures do you take to stay healthy mentally and physically?
Blueprint: I had many years where I wasn’t really taking great care of myself: I was eating anything and not working out much. Fortunately I realized the error in that. Now I know that being in good health is a big factor in being able to do what I love at a high level. You can’t be good at anything if you’re hungover, or eating bad food, or physically a mess. You may have some successes but you won’t have the consistency until everything is in harmony.
Specifically, this past year I’ve cut meat and refined sugar out of my diet and it has worked wonders for my energy levels. I can work longer and I no longer have those up-and-down, rollercoaster days. I’m not exactly a vegan or vegetarian but I only eat meat once or twice a week and 80-90% of the food I eat is fruit or vegetables…and a lot of it is uncooked. That’s made a huge difference.
Q: What qualities or personality traits do you look for in business partners or employees?
Blueprint: Honestly, I try to look at people who have passion and are already conducting themselves in a professional manner. They don’t have to be making money or anything yet, but if they act professional and handle their business as a professional then I’m down to work with them. Sometimes newer people think they have to talk their way into opportunities, but in most instances their work and conduct speaks for them already. They don’t have to really do anything but stay consistent and their opportunities will come. Those are the people I like to work with. People who would be doing their thing at a high level anyway. That way our relationship is complimentary and not based on dependency.
Video for “Radio Inactive” from Adventures in Counter-Culture
Blueprint just finished up a US tour for Deleted Scenes his follow-up to Adventures in Counter-Culture. Deleted Scenes included work that was done during the same time period as ACC but thematically did not fit the album’s concept. Blueprint is an avid blogger on everything from music to personal improvement. He maintains a YouTube channel with his music videos and is also on Twitter and Facebook.