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Under the radar

The daring normalcy of hip-hop artist Blueprint

Photo: Bridget Brown, License: N/A

Bridget Brown


Fat Gold Chain Chronicles with J-Live, SKIP, Aahmean, Tempermental, X:144, Beef Wellington, DiVinCi
9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16
The Social, 407-246-1419

Producer showcase: Blueprint with Alex Minor, Chris Abbott, Bles, more

9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Blank Space, 407-481-9001

In 2005, Al Shepard stopped by the headquarters of Power 107.5 FM, a radio station in his hometown, Columbus, Ohio. Shepard had ties to hip-hop, and so did the station, but each had a vastly different idea of what makes the genre great. Traditionally, Shepard raps over self-made beats as Blueprint, keeping his work low on coolness and flash, and heavy on honesty. Slang doesn’t play into his verses much and he’s consistently willing to experiment with different moods and sounds in his beats. (He’s had albums issued by stately indie hip-hop label Rhymesayers.)

On the flip side, Power 107.5 FM’s tastes lean toward bombastic hooks and larger-than-life characters; a cursory look at the station’s recently played tracks turns up Beyoncé, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Wale and Drake. Around the time Blueprint’s 1988 was released, according to Shepard, the two entities butted heads.

Based on a connection between someone at the station and someone Shepard knew, the rapper was invited to the station to appear on an independent rap program that dedicated a 15-minute block to a local artist. One of the show’s hosts dug both Blueprint and Illogic (the two often collaborate under the name Greenhouse), whereas the other host, whom we’ll call “Tim,” only knew Blueprint by his name value within the local scene. “The guy who was actually the main host didn’t know who the hell we were,” Shepard recalls.

With Shepard in the studio, the Power guys listened to “Boombox” from 1988, expressing their discomfort with putting the song on the air as it didn’t fit the station’s format. Shepard then offered “Lo-Fi Funk,” a track that features better-known rapper Aesop Rock, but that didn’t work either; eventually, Tim settled on a third track. He then told Shepard that he was trying to protect him because people can be mean. (“Basically,” Shepard says, “‘Hey dude, you’re wack. People are going to hate this.’”) But once the song was played the station received calls, and listeners provided positive feedback. Shepard asked for an apology but never got one. Soon after the show aired, Shepard, Illogic and another local drew a huge crowd at the now-defunct Columbus venue Little Brother’s, resulting in “one of [the venue’s] biggest hip-hop shows ever.”

Shepard’s encounter with Power 107.5 FM inspired “Radio-Inactive” off 2011’s Adventures in Counter-Culture, his most recent full-length. The song is one of those anti-hater anthems – not exactly a new idea – but Shepard pours enough perspective into his words that the result sounds thrillingly raw and self-aware. “You want the fame and all the riches / Big-name model bitches / But you don’t wanna hustle twice as hard to try to get it,” he says, adding, “Man, I’m an artist / These other dudes shook / I write my album on my Sidekick, no paper, no notebooks / Then rhyme for five minutes straight with no breaks and no hooks / No punchlines, no similes, so I’m easy to overlook.” Shepard rides the thin line between cockiness and self-empowerment, reasserting his aura of non-humble humility. He’s an underdog that’s willing to take artistic risks, but he’s also deeply self-assured.

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