A KING, but no Crown

A glimpse into Blueprint’s creative philosophies


Al Shepard, better known by the stage name Blueprint, has enjoyed a storied career navigating through the ebbs and flows of the hip hop industry.

When it comes to the art of making hip hop music, Blueprint is a jack-of-all-trades. He has produced, composed, lyricised and rhymed on many different records-and has done all four tasks throughout much of his work. Between 2000 and 2017, he released 14 albums, was featured on 42 tracks for various artists (among these are Aesop Rock and Illogic) and did production work for three other artists. He's put in the time and paid his dues to the hip hop community a dozen times over, wearing many different hats along the way. Now he's added one more topper to his collection: filmmaker.

Based on his album of the same name, King No Crown (2015), Blueprint's recent documentary captures the creative process behind the album and delves into an examination of himself and other artists as they struggle with success and obscurity.

Blueprint is currently touring through the Midwest and the South, and up and down the East Coast, screening his film for fans old and new. The personal, in-depth production shows locally at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12 at Sun-Ray Cinema in 5 Points. Grab a ticket now and stick around after the screening-Blueprint holds court in a Q&A.
The versatile Blueprint was kind enough to pause for a phone interview and answer a few questions. Here are some highlights.

Folio Weekly: What was your first introduction into music? Were you exposed to it a lot as a kid?
Blueprint: In my church, we had singing groups and a brass band, a lot of stuff like that. When I was young, I was kinda surrounded by that. My brother played in the band and was with some of the singing groups. I was really young and my mother could sing really well, but no one really pursued music professionally; it was just all through church. After that, hip hop kinda came in and that kinda got me into DJ'ing when I got to college, which got me into collecting records. You know, once you learn how to collect records, you start getting into how beats are made. And that kind of got me going down the whole production path ... I always thought that production would be the main thing that I would be doing; rapping was just something I would do with our group. But then people started liking the rapping and that got popular on its own.

How did you make the transition from music to film?
In 2002, I was looking for a hobby. I had just gotten sober and I was, like, 'I need something to kill the time.' So I was, like, 'Oh! Photography! This will actually help me remember a lot of the stuff I missed when I was drinking.' So the photography is kind of what led me to video ... I started doing music videos for people and just more ambitious projects every time I picked up the camera, trying to challenge myself. Once I had figured out it was something that I liked, I started picking up books and really reading a lot about it. So I think about 2013 was probably when I got the idea in my head, 'OK, you studied this like you studied music, you might be able to make a movie one day.' But it took me a while to come up with a concept that I could execute without getting a whole bunch of other people involved, that I thought could be done on my own.

Are your creative processes for filmmaking and music-making similar?

They're separate right now, but I guess they kinda start in the same place. But film is different. Film to me is a lot more difficult because, I think with an album, the process is typically that you just sit in a studio and you make a bunch of things, and then whatever's the best you kinda just fit and put it together ... With film, I find that you have to do a lot more work up front. You have to have the concept of your film, the synopsis of your film-at least you should-before you even start. Otherwise, you're going to have a nightmare when it's time to edit ... When it comes to music, I let the music do the driving. What the mood of the music is determines the mood of what I write-the way I approach songwriting. My job as a songwriter is to compliment the music, not to write a song and put it over the music.

With its connection to your album of the same name, King No Crown, what inspired you to make the documentary?
It was one of those situations where, as I mentioned, I wanted to make a film. I didn't exactly know how that was going to manifest itself, you know, but right before that record came out, I had done a bunch of interviews with friends just experimenting and the interviews all came out really well-the content of them. A lot of the interviews kind of hit on the theme of what it is to be a full-time artist, or to be an artist who's successful but isn't well-known. Like, music has been my job for 15 years, but I'm not a household name by any stretch of the imagination. That theme is something I kind of wanted to talk about and having that record come out that year (2015), I had a friend who was really good with a camera start documenting some of the things that were going on ... It was inspired by the theme of being a king with no crown but also the release of the record and how all those things tied into everything that happened that year.

Do you find there's a goal or purpose to what you're trying to do through artistic expression?
Totally. I mean, there's always a goal. It depends on every project, but I think that if you look at every piece of art you create, it's an expression of yourself. You know, you look at it like you're ultimately trying to build some sort of structure. That sound represents who you are. I think artists are no different than construction workers or contractors. You know, they can build a house, we build an ideological or artistic house with our art. Sometimes, if we put out some things that aren't sound, you know, the structure of that house is compromised. We put out things that are solid and we keep building our house higher. We've got a strong house. That house just tells our story and it will be here when we're gone. Hopefully, it will inspire some people and share something.

King No Crown screens 7 p.m. Oct. 12, Sun Ray Cinema, Riverside, $9.50, sunraycinema.com.

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