Sometimes, in the quiet recesses of our minds, we tend to ask ourselves how we can evolve, whether or not what it is we’re questioning is doing great. It is so easy to speculate, for those wanting more of themselves and stressing hard on what is missing. Personally, I can say that it is often the case that I am struggling by juggling a bad habit and trying to still produce something good, and when I look back, I do a silly thing by saying to myself “but it was working so well!”. A lot of what I manage to do, I have had to learn on my own, by failing, and half-learning from those mistakes. That makes life, personally and professionally, very difficult, which you can imagine, but that has also caused me to look outward into the cosmos in order to hopefully find someone who has been where I am. While following a very unique red string during 2020, I free-fell into an equally unique podcast, Super Duty Tough Work, hosted by Al “Blueprint” Shepard and his constant collaborator, Illogic, that takes concepts that complicate many artists lives and brought solutions for each on an episode-by-episode basis (even on birthdays). It is this very premise that Blueprint uses to give insight on the careers of multiple generation-defining artists while also showing what readers can learn most from them in his latest book, “The 10 Traits of Successful Hip-Hop Artists”.
Being a veteran of Ohio’s underground hip-hop scene himself, Blueprint has his own experiences to draw on as well as, with every tour and collaboration over the past 20 years of being an independent artist, the ability to gain the first-hand stories of many of the musicians carefully placed in the new book. For each trait that’s highlighted per chapter of the book, the artists within have a significant amount of their stories told, most with multiple facets of their lives being told anew in connection with the trait they’re linked to. At the end of each collection, in the tradition of Robert Green’s “The 48 Laws of Power”, Blueprint takes the time to show ways that the audience can take it beyond the stories and inject these life lessons into their lives as well, through short but smart instructive tips.
In addition to gaining insight into how readers can improve themselves, Blueprint expertly dispels many of the myths that propagate mass media and group-thought by telling each artist’s story as it happened, humanizing the “super-heroes” that we sometimes can trick ourselves into believing they are. Becoming a success in the music industry, whether that means making money or gaining cult and critical acclaim for the work put out, is not an easy feat. Growing up, this never occurred to me, in part because television and media in general made the business sound simple. For everything earned, the people around me would slant the accolades many achieved in quick dismissal, naively stating either how “bad” some artists were by how “simple” certain tracks sounded, or going as far as to take digs at surface level appearances displayed in photos and videos that would play on VH1, BET, or MTV the moment we’d come in the door from school. While I’ve since forever ago dismissed the gossip by those who don’t want to look deeper, it’s still an issue today as new sub-genres emerge or veteran artists occasionally hit the news.
By chronicling each artist’s life, many of which take pages to truly narrate outside of being a thicker auto-biographical text, Blueprint has masterfully ripped back the curtains, even as far as using himself as an example in the final chapter, which talks about “Patience”. Speaking about the time before becoming a full-time artist, he goes as far as talking on how his former boss expressed shock at how he felt about his career job at the time and that while she understood the desire to leave, he didn’t have a backup plan, he just wanted to go. We have all been there, many of us are there right now, and because he was able to take this type of situation into consideration, readers will be able to clearly take in the whole picture, including the resolution in which his boss asking him to wait till he had an end game, even when it took years to form, impacted the rest of his life to the current day and taught him what it was to have the trait of Patience.
As is mentioned often on their podcast, Blueprint has made a path forward for himself by making a book that takes artists from many facets of the industry, tells their stories by way of using their most defined trait, and then flipping all of that in order to teach readers how to create those ideals within themselves, something that has never been done before in such a unique way. I have to put it out there that this book, much like Super Duty Tough Work, isn’t just for artists, because many of the same issues, whether it comes to Self-Confidence, Perseverance, or High Standards, echo as problems for all walks of life. Going into this book, you will learn about lives and names you may have never heard before, their stories, and how to improve yourself with their lessons. Who else could approach a book like this, other than one of “the most infamous” hosts in podcasting on planet Earth?
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