With the recent release of Blame One, J57 and Akie Bermiss’ They Don’t Know (reviewed HERE), and the slated August release of Blame One’s Walk in the Sun, which Blame Uno alludes to in the interview to follow, I thought it fitting to share this AMAZING interview, which was embedded in one of our past newsletters. Hit “play” on the track below and let it loop over and over as you read on.
The drive from San Diego’s North Park to North County’s Vista is as geographically diverse as the landscape of hip hop today – in both cases the variety piques curiosity and is anything but boring. This evening, a typical 70 degrees and clear sky, southern California sunset highlights and even exaggerates the beauty of the coastal geography, forcing travelers on Interstate 15 to behold the sights San Diego County boasts. Blame One, similarly, spends the night shedding light on the beauty that is, at times, overlooked across the great expanse that is hip hop as we relax in his kitchen/dining area and discuss his journey as a hip hop head and as a man. Present to shed light on that journey as well, is his long time other half, mother of his children and a very gracious hostess, Jenelle. Soul, rock and hip hop accompanied by the comforting pop and hiss of vinyl set the appropriate tone for the evening as the phonograph in the kitchen (next to a radio similar to Radio Raheem’s in Do the Right Thing) spins in the background.
We start off with drinks and three interviews-worth of stories, stories that tell of dues paid, shows played and friendships began and ended and, ultimately, the story of the man who stands before me – a man with the demeanor of a lifelong friend simply kicking back and reminiscing. The longer we sit and casually converse about the music we love and how we came to love it, the more I realize just how grateful I should be to here, catching wind of hip hop lore from a true veteran. Since he was a youngster in Baltimore, Maryland, Jahson “Blame One” Rutkowski’s life has been woven into the fabric of hip hop and he has a resume that certainly supports such a statement.
Blame fell in love with hip hop by way of bboying, began graf writing and began writing raps, all by the time he was entering puberty. Around the same time, his family moved to the west coast, North County San Diego to be exact – that helps to explain his classically patterned rhymes with a healthy blend of west and east coast style. Early on, Blame connected with an artist named HOAX, who produced Blame’s first three solo albums around ’88 – Blame recalls his fondness for the analog recording quality and the process that was used during that time.
Now, Hoax, along with the likes of Exile and Aloe Blacc, helped usher Blame into the age of the computer circa 2002 (sounds late, right?) as well. As he moved forward, his skill and network began to grow, allowing him the privilege to work with all of the following from the mid-90’s to now: Blame was a member of Mysteries Extinction, has worked with amazing producers like Exile, DeJa, Kan Kick, Madlib, Oh No, Black Milk and more, and he has worked with and shared the stage with countless foundational and up-n-comer MCs. During this time/process, Blame One not only credits the artist he worked with for his successes, but also recognizes the role that Access Hip Hop and Fat Beats have played in those successes as well.
These reflections on the past naturally segue to Blame One’s most recent LP, Endurance, and the following is what he had to say about his latest album and what is to come.
The interview begins with laughter about how Blame One can talk for days on end, and he and Janelle suggest that I take the conversation by the reigns and begin digging into Endurance.
For those who don’t know, you have been doing hip hop since you were about seven or eight, inspired by all elements of hip hop in Baltimore. So what is your motivation to continue enduring in hip hop music?
For me, it’s just because I have always had a raw love and appreciation of the culture… there’s still kids that want to learn, that [may not even] know that they want to learn, you know what I mean… hip hop transforms people’s lives… I want to keep [North County] hip hop moving and moving strong. I feel like I’m not ready to pass the reigns on to whoever is going to take it forward. Sojourn and Kid Riz [among others I could name] are two people helping me to do that on this side of town. You know, I just feel that once I can feel comfortable that [North County Hip Hop] is going strong, then I can just chill and become a fan again; you know, I want that, to come to that point in my life. I just feel like it’s not quite yet, but hopefully soon.
With that being said, do you see anyone with a glimmer of what may be considered “heir-ship” in the North County currently?
Oh, in North County there’s definitely quite a few heads: theBreax, I absolutely love. Moses, I think is mad talented – if he focuses his energy right and does the album right, his skills are there, he could definitely do that. There is this really young kid, VEX, he has some years to go but dude is like 17 or 18, he is making beats on the MPC, he rhymes, I guarantee you that dude is gonna probably prove a lot of people wrong. There’s definitely other cats, and there’s always those cats that are just lurking and you don’t know are there.
What was the driving force behind Endurance; what brought the album about?
A lot of it was from me already telling people that I was retiring, and I got bombarded with that. Even to this day, if I leak a song, on 2DopeBoyz or whatever [I’ll read], “oh, I thought that guy retired”. And I have dropped two mixtapes since then and Endurance, you know and multiple songs. Anyways, Endurance to me is going the length, fighting the good fight. And even if I [do] retire I am always gonna be a hip hop head, that’s 100%, you know, ‘til the day I die. I am going to still keep searching out new people, listening to hip hop, being involved in the culture in one way or another. You know, I still even paint once or twice a year, so you know, it’s like I am just saying that I am in it for the long haul. [Endurance] was like saying it’s not my time yet, and I have to Endure; even the retirement…was something I had to Endure. Me putting that out there, I got mad criticized you know. But what people don’t know on the behind the scenes is that I’ve been telling my friends this a couple times a year for like ten years. That’s just how I am. But nobody sees it. That was the one time that I said it publicly (“and he shouldn’t have…” -Janelle) Everyone laughs as the two reflect on the choice to go public with his “retirement”.
Now that the album is out there, do you have any goals for Endurance?
I think it pretty much just did what it did. Honestly, it did pretty well. Even though Myspace is pretty much dead, I still got on the front page of Myspace, I got on the iTunes indie spotlight for that – it ran on iTunes on a front page in one way or another… literally for like a month, which helped me out tremendously. So, you know, at this point, I’ll still put it out there, but it did justice. It actually did close to as well as Days Chasing Days and I did [Endurance] solo. Everything I did publicity wise… I did myself, it was a lot of work and I probably won’t do that again… I think I did a pretty good job, though.
The album is very well rounded, containing feel good tracks, emotional tracks and battle-rap type tracks – what determines what you write about when you sit down with a beat?
Really, the beat at this point. The beat kinda dictates what I write. Back in the days I never used to write to beats, I would just sit down to write and then I’d go lay it down to a beat. If it worked, it worked, if it didn’t, it didn’t. But, now I always write to a beat, so the [important] thing is choosing the right beats and [capturing] the emotion that is evoked in you by the beat. So, the beat dictates what I write. Well, the beat doesn’t control me, but it’s like me taking that emotion and deciding which way to run with it.
Okay, I’d like to ask some more personal questions about the tracks on the album. You open up with the record, THE ELDERS. Why do you feel it’s so important, important enough to start the album this way, to pass down the heritage of hip hop?
It’s a simple thing; I even wrote [this] quote on the back of Grown Man Rap, “a nation without its history is like a tree without roots”. If you don’t know where the styles came from, you know, I hear a kid rhyming, and he’s like, “check it out, this is my style!” and I am like, “no, it’s not”. You gotta really realize, that even in myself, there’s stuff…I mean, I think that there’s Rakim in everyone who rhymes. He was one of the first to like, well him and KRS, get away from the “rock, rock y’all, freak, freak, y’all” party raps. Even when it was like a little more battle oriented in the old school, it still had that [basic] style and pattern. Rakim and KRS came at it from an angle [all their own]. Rakim’s patterns still come out in all of us. As an emcee, if you don’t realize who has done it before you, and [you] stake claim to it… I actually don’t even think that my style is my style. My personality made it my style. Exile, back in the day, used to say, you know, “you’re so honest in your rhymes”. I think that that’s what made my style, being open and not [caring]. I have been influenced by so many people over the years… but my personality is what made it my style.
On a more personal level, you have two kids, right? So how do you teach your little ones their heritage, cultural, musical and otherwise, at a young age?
Well, I’m mad traditional, you know. For instance, there’s this place here in Vista, called Peppertree and it’s an ice cream joint on one side and a hamburger joint on the other side. It’s been here for like 50 years. I moved here in 1986… and I have been going there ever since. In recent years they have done renovations by the spot and right across from it, there’s a Sonic burger. You know, they serve the same kind of treats and hamburgers. When I saw the place there, I was like, that’s like such an offense to our history in Vista. [Peppertree] has been here since before I was born. So, you know, I teach my kids to respect the people that are doing things for the community and not just like big chains. That’s just one sense of history, but it’s things like that and appreciating your family and these people who are working so hard. I try to teach them the importance of culture and we are mad family oriented and our kids are always with family. The same goes not only with family, but my kids know hip hop because they watch Beat Street… And my son, he loves the bboy aspect… and he has his own little moves… and trust, they have their own little influences on the Disney channel and what not. They have like hip hop on Disney, but I make sure that they also learn the history.
The next track I’d like us to jump into is Doin Me. How do you feel when “doing you” is not appreciated as much as the “latest thing”? And, on that same tip, how do you feel about the current state of hip hop?
It’s definitely frustrating. It’s the reason that I say I’m gonna retire like three times a year. But, you know at the end of the day, I know people appreciate [my music and authenticity] and the reason I know is because I get insane feedback. Sometimes I get feedback that’s so touching and I’ll show [Janelle] and they’re like, “your music has touched my life in this way or that” and it’s like stuff that I can’t believe, you know, like, wow. That alone to me is worth it in itself. And I know that people are still purchasing the album because I am in charge of all of that myself, you know. So, it’s nice to know that people are still supporting and when I get those encouraging words… I’m like, “nice”. Those factors keep me going for sure. It encourages me to keep doin’ myself instead of adhering to the norm.
Okay, so Do Work is about being a 9-5er and as we talked about, I read in the City Beat interview that you have been laid off. You also said that you were going to now approach your music with the hustle of a 9-5, how is that going?
(Laughs) Not since my ProTools has been down, but before that, yeah, 100%. I was going super hard. Since [being laid off and before my ProTools crashing] I had pretty much finished a whole album with Babu, I had basically finished an album with J57. Both of those albums need like two songs max. And on top of that I’ve done so many collabs, I don’t even know where to begin. And, um, I also did side songs that I have released to keep people’s interest and released to the blogs and stuff like that. So, I have done a lot of music since that time for sure. (More laughter after Janelle says, “he needs that ProTools back) Once that’s back in order… people will be hearing a gang of music.
Did you put out Technology (off of DJ Shag’s Made With My Phone) at that time too?
Yeah, definitely. The amount of collabs that I did is insane.
On Right to Exist, you begin to open up to who are on a spiritual level. What’s the spirit behind that track? Where’s it come from?
Basically, people get criticized. No matter who we are, we get super criticized and it’s one thing if you are talking about a serial killer, but a lot of us, we have such common drama in our lives that really makes no sense. People get so much into the he say she say and in the end, it ends up being stuff that is so forgivable and forgettable, you know. That was my logic behind the track. We are not all right. We are all wrong in one way or another, but we all have a right to exist in peace, so that was my train of thought. All of us just need to get over it. Not to be on some [cheesiness] but let’s get together and feel alright, you know what I mean.
With CA All Day and Classic Hits in mind, how important is it to you to represent the West Coast and also to create music that is timeless, that’s classic?
For me to represent California is like, tremendous, because since I moved here in 1986 I embodied the culture. My foundation in hip hop is from the East Coast, but my lifestyle and the way that I live have come from the West Coast. I love the mixture of all of it, I mean I hate the violence of the [West Coast] gang culture, but I even love the gangster culture in the sense of people being family. And I love surf. I love skate. I love the diversity here. Because when I moved here from Baltimore, Baltimore is a place where [cultures] don’t coexist and here, everyone is intermingling and I love that.
I mean, I have “North County SD” across my chest. I love it that much. That answers that as far as representing Cali. I feel I have to, 100%, because it’s what I love.
As far as being timeless, I think the key to being timeless is [in some way] sacrificing yourself. In most cases, not all – like Common, he has seen mainstream success and people from both sides love him. That’s the ultimate goal for any of us as artists, to have that kind of success. And in the 90’s cats like Tribe and De La and theres other we can mention, but in most cases timeless artists end up getting overlooked, because you are just going to stick to your guns and just be yourself. I, I can easily rhyme like Drake. I could easily rhyme like Asher Roth if I wanted to. I can easily imitate Eminem, if I feel like it, but I know how to do one thing really well, and that’s be me. I think that’s what makes a timeless artist. The hard part is is whether or not you stuff will be heard. For me, I look at every listener I have as a jewel, because that’s what I rhyme for.
Your lyrics and the beat are just so heartfelt on Glass House. I was wondering, can you just pull us into your mind, into your studio when you sat down to write down that track. Walk us through it.
Honestly, when I heard the beat, it was… just like an open letter to God. I sat down to write. It was like me saying that I was just so frustrated with life in general. Not from the perspective of my life, but just in society and how people have such a different impression of God, but it all boils down to the same belief system, to me at least. I was just being honest. I was like “I’m sorry for the things I’ve done wrong and I’m thankful for the things I have and I am frustrated with the way that society functions”. But, you know, through it all it was me saying that I am always going to give thanks to God regardless of what name, or what religion. Everyone gets so mixed up in that, and that’s just not [me]. So I just wrote this letter. And when I finished that song, there’s just certain songs that when you finish the song, your like, “man, this song came out the exact way I wanted it to”. Then I sent it over to Exile. I wasn’t even supposed to write to that beat. (chuckles) But I had that beat on a beat cd and I couldn’t help it. I sent it to Exile and was like, if I can’t use it, I can’t use it. Exile was like, “yeah, that’s yours.” It was a nice feeling man. There are times when I tell [Janelle], I feel like I’m not even doing the writing. It’s just coming out. I’ll go back to it and read it and be like, “I wrote that?” “I don’t even think I have the capability to write like that.” It just comes out. That’s one song I am really proud of.
It’s hard to go from such a serious one into Brett Favre’n It, but where does a track like Favre’n It come from?
It comes from the whole retirement thing. It was my way of addressing that whole thing. I was like, let me just lay it down. I just told the story of it in the lyrics. Like when Exile first met Blu, I was really working closely with Exile. I was kinda leaning on Exile, but I don’t think that I was ready for him to push an album for me like that. But I was kind of frustrated because [Ex] was putting all of his energy into Blu, which is deserved, Blu is an amazing artist. But, uh, at the time, I didn’t care. I was just frustrated. I was like dude, help me out as well. Exile was like “you need to go super hard, go full fledged, and then I’ll push your album for you.” And that’s what he did with Days Chasing Days. After that whole thing I was exhausted. That’s my biggest album to date. And working with Exile is no cup of tea, I mean, he’s my friend, but it’s what makes him amazing. We had a lot of disputes making that album. In the long run, it came out how I wanted it to. But afterwards, I “retired”. I was so over it. It’s funny because I retired after the thing that has brought me the most success. So, after I calmed down and was level-headed, I was like “yeah, I’m trippin’”. So, that’s why I made the track.
Okay, for the last track, you collaborated with JOHAZ of Deep Rooted. What was it about that track or that collaboration – his crazy energy and your more laid back demeanor (and that of Planet Asia as well) – that made Left Shattered the perfect bookend for Endurance?
Well, I put it on technically as a bonus track because I felt like it didn’t fit the vibe of the album. But, JOHAZ is another good friend of mine. We have been working together for a long time. It was nice too because I have wanted to work with Planet Asia for a long time. At my in-store at FatBeats, Asia was like come through and I cruised over there. And I already had this beat from Transformer – this kid is young and he’s got heat for sure – so me and JOHAZ linked up with Planet Asia in LA. Asia wrote his verse on the spot and when we linked up it was great. And JOHAZ, is always good, I love JOHAZ, I am a huge JOHAZ fan. Just on a side note, make sure cats check out DAG SAVAGE, ‘cause that’s Exile and JOHAZ’ full album. (side note to the side note – all three of us discuss how amazing Exile is at creating artists’ defining first albums…)
The stories of the friendship and professional relationship between Blame and Exile overflow from the years of history between the two as we wrap things up.
So, we have gotten a good glimpse into Blame One before and during Endurance, what are you up to now?
The album with Babu is still in the works. The album with J57, that is my focus right now. I listen to the roughs and I am like “man, I really love this project”. So, this will be my first project with one producer as a full-length album, so I am excited for people to hear it. It definitely changes the vibe when you work with one cat the whole way through. And we just connected. The main thing that separates it from my past work, is being able to have the creative space to work all day. So, this time, it’s such a blessing to have freedom and be able to take my time. We definitely connected lovely [even though we haven’t actually met yet]. I really think people are going to dig this one for sure. Stay tuned.
Many thanks to Blame One, Janelle and the kids for their time and energy and genuine kindness.
*Click HERE to listen to/purchase Endurance
Peace and Love,