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Under the radar

The daring normalcy of hip-hop artist Blueprint

Photo: Bridget Brown, License: N/A

Bridget Brown

Shepard’s history of making hip-hop traces back to when he was a student at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, in the mid-1990s. Although the school was devoid of any real hip-hop scene, Shepard became interested in creating music at that time, leading to stabs at DJing, beat-making and rapping.

After college, Shepard moved to Cincinnati and kept a steady job in the I.T. department at the Kroger Co. supermarket chain. Around that time, he became seriously invested in the Columbus scene, establishing a label called Weightless Records and getting to know local movers and shakers. One of them was RJD2 (aka Ramble John Krohn), a beat producer who has since left Columbus and seen significant success (he’s the one behind the Mad Men theme). Krohn, who had teamed up with Shepard as Soul Position, was maintaining multiple jobs and going to school, but with the release of 2002’s Deadringer, he decided to do music full-time.

“He was like, ‘Yeah, man, I’m just gonna see what happens,’” Shepard says. “Just wrapping my brain around that [was] like, ‘What do you mean you’re going to see what happens? How are you going to pay your rent? Seeing what happens doesn’t pay bills.’” Still, Krohn’s move gave Shepard a bit of a push, too, so the rapper spent his vacation days touring and never returned to Kroger.

The warm, articulate Shepard is pragmatic about the life of a professional independent musician. “I’ve tried to make sure I wasn’t deeply, emotionally attached to music once I leave the studio. It’s great to be mostly attached when you’re creating something, but once it’s done, you have to look at things realistically – the scope of certain records, your career, the kind of pacing you need to have to stay active. I’m not an expert at [looking at things realistically], but I do believe having the discipline to write computer programs for years gave me patience that I needed to do this,” he says. “I do think that because I have a different background, I’m able to apply myself in different areas. There are some people who have never had a real job in their life [except] music. Some people have no experience with corporate America. Some people never had money until they started rapping or never ran a business or went to college. All these things contributed to me being here.”

At the same time, this commitment to openness eradicates some opportunities. Namely, if he ever wants to cast himself as a grand, iconic figure, he’s going to have a very difficult time painting over the docile details of his past. But Shepard aims to embrace those regularities in a way unlike, say, Rick Ross. Ross, whose image falls right into the larger-than-life mold, has long sold himself as a coke-dealing kingpin. In 2008, he was outed as actually having been a corrections officer – a truth that stands in complete contrast to his public rep. (Ross still hasn’t been keen to fess up to his past.) “Guys like Rick Ross, who greatly exaggerate their street experience, in one way hurt but, in another way, actually make people like me look better,” Shepard says with a laugh. “It’s like, ‘Well, shit, look at this guy just lying about his entire life, and then look at this guy Blueprint over here who’s just real candid and normal and he’s dope.’ You don’t have to lie to be an amazing artist, and that hopefully should be the moral of the story.” Later, he emphasizes that other rappers should embrace their own traits because working that way comes naturally and offers greater potential for their career’s longevity. Shepard adds one more perspective-affirming positive: “You need a lot less bodyguards when you do what I do than if you do what Rick Ross does.”

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