By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
In the years after The Blueprint, the sound of East Coast rap changed completely, absorbing the cascading soul of Blaze and West and moving away from the keyboard-driven club tracks that had previously dominated it. For a while, Blaze was all over the radio. "When I look back, and I had records on the radio back-to-back-to-back, it was because of that Roc-A-Fella movement, which I think fell apart before it should've," he says. Roc-A-Fella split in 2004, when Jay-Z fell out with co-founders Damon Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke, who took half the label's roster with them when they left. "To just see it fall apart like that was heartbreaking. When you put all your time into it, I made some money and I got a name out of it, but you don't just do it for the money and the name."
Along with a few former Roc a&r's, Blaze founded Fort Knocks, signing a deal with Atlantic. At the moment, his main focus is on Saigon; he hasn't signed any other artists to Fort Knocks, and he's not sure if he will. "My thing is just let's do this one album and do it right," he explains.
But he also says that he doesn't want to be making beats 20 years from now. "Look at these records," he says, flipping through his pile of new acquisitions. "Where is Mike Theodore now? Dennis Coleman was a huge artist back in the '70s. Where is Mike Stokes? This record's been sampled a million times; producers pay $50 just to get a copy of it online, but where is that dude now? Nobody knows.
"Someone was asking me how it feels to be living out your dreams; I'm not," he continues. "This was never part of the plan. I'm just taking every opportunity that was handed to me and running with it."