A Conversation With Cecil Blutcher, Penn State’s Modern-Day Griot
Cecil Blutcher says it during every show: He doesn’t like labels.
Whatever he is, Blutcher’s intimate aura captivates every audience he raps, acts, or performs poetry in front of. It doesn’t matter to him if it’s more than 10,000 people at THON or 10 people at the SOMA Arts Crawl. Blutcher, currently enrolled in Penn State’s performing arts master’s program, blends beat poetry, rap, and smooth hip-hop to create a unique voice. He’s become a mainstay in Penn State’s music scene after performances at THON, THAW, and Arts Crawl, and debuted his first music video for “I’m Fine” through Onward State.
We sat down with Blutcher to discuss past influence, current projects, and future plans.
Onward State: I know you’re not the biggest fan of labels, but how would you describe your sound?
Cecil Blutcher: I think I characterize it as rhythmic soul, I’m really heavy based in rap and poetry. I started writing poetry from a really young age but I’m inspired by a lot of the soul artists and the singers that are iconic too, you know, the Michael Jacksons, the James Browns, the entertainers. That’s where I draw a lot of my inspiration from. People often ask about my career path or how I classify myself as an artist since I’m so diverse and I like to Identify as a modern griot.
OS: Do you consider yourself a storyteller regardless of the medium?
CB: Yeah, storytelling is definitely the primary goal.
OS: Do you have any secondary goals?
CB: I guess that comes through the form of whatever the message of the piece is. Whether it’s to purely entertain, to inspire, or to empower.
OS: You’re in graduate school for theatre right now, does that impact your performances or your rapping at all?
CB: I think that all goes together for me. I use my training all the time. That’s why I feel like my live performances really have an impact on people because I’m really trying to talk to them. I try to be in the same space with them and do things that I might not have planned to remind you ‘I’m here I’m with you, we’re here together.’
OS: When did you first become interested in music?
CB: Actually, I didn’t really start taking rap seriously until a year ago. But I’ve always been writing. When I was in first grade, my father had a stroke and I wrote a poem about it and that was my first time ever really writing. So from a really young age, I’ve always associated artistic expression with catharsis, and using it to deal with things that happen to me, so it’s always been tied to that.
OS: What song of yours are you most proud of?
CB: I feel like every song I make is my best one, whether that is the truth or not. I’m glad that I feel I grow with every one, the stuff I’m most proud of is stuff that hasn’t come out yet, but I have to say “I’m Fine”, for sure. It was the first one and that was the one that got people liking my sound.
OS: “Blast Off” is another song you seem to perform with a lot of intensity. I think a lot of college kids can relate to its message of wanting to be somewhere else, doing something bigger. Do you have any advice for those kids?
CB: J. Cole said something really cool to me…well not to me, I don’t know J.Cole [laughs]. In an interview I was watching of him he said to enjoy the journey. Enjoy the process of getting where you’re trying to go. He said that was his biggest mistake, that he didn’t enjoy the come-up. And so now that he has blasted off, he can’t get that back, that hunger and drive is hard to maintain because at that point everyone is worshipping you, so I think that would be my biggest thing. It’s hard to be where you’re at but you’re there for a reason. Just take it and move forward with it.
OS: What are you listening to lately?
CB: Kendrick’s new album has been talking to me lately.
OS: What embarrassing songs might I find in your music library?
CB: When I was young I really liked the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, and I still do. That’s not even really guilty for me. I love JT. I love geekin’ out to One Direction. They’re catchy.
OS: What’s next for Cecil Blutcher?
CB: Just to keep pushing, keep expanding the fan base as much as I can. Especially building the team, because a really big instrument in how I’m able to make the moves I’m making is getting the right people to help me out. Whether it’s the video crew who helped me shoot “I’m Fine,” or the personal videographer I found through them that is helping me film a documentary about myself right now.
Check out Blutcher’s “I’m Fine” below.
Photo: Maria Gagas