Nov. 17 2010 10:33 AM

Blame One ditches the 9-to-5 grind to pursue hip-hop full-time

Jahson Rutkowski, aka Blame One
Jahson Rutkowski’s daily routine has changed drastically in the past few months. Before becoming another victim of recession-era layoffs, Rutkowski’s typical day included campaign analysis at ad agency, EuroRSCG, in Carlsbad. After work, he’d spend time with his fiancée, Jenell, and their two children, Symphony, 6, and Anthony, 4. And only after tucking in the kids could he go into the makeshift studio in a spare room of his house, where he’d record music until 3 a.m. as his alter-ego, Blame One.

Now, he’s traded in the dress shirt and trousers for a hoodie and fitted cap. The freedom of unemployment allows him to fully pursue his passion.

“It turned out to be a blessing because right now is the perfect time for me,” Blame says. “I’m loving it.”

Blame One has recently dropped his fifth full-length album, Endurance. Amid the economic chaos of the last couple of years—an especially trying time for the music industry— Endurance is an assertion of faith. Blame is skillful, substantive and honest. He’s betting on these virtues to guide him artistically through an industry that favors passing fads and gimmicks. But he’s also banking on them to help him provide for his family. Music isn’t just his passion anymore; it’s survival.

“I’m gonna write eight hours a day,” he says. “I’m gonna approach it like it’s my job and write like a maniac.”

Blame One, 35, a freckled, bespectacled giant with a nasally voice and a welcoming laugh, has been writing rhymes since he was 7. Growing up in Baltimore, the first rhyme he wrote was a riff on Run-DMC’s “My Adidas”—only it was about his own Reeboks. From there, his passion grew as he and his friends began putting their rhymes to tapes and breakdancing on cardboard wherever they found space to throw down.

In 1987, he moved to Vista, where West Coast freestyle rapping intensified his infatuation with hip-hop culture.

Blame says he didn’t have his “head on straight” in his teenage years. When he was 17, on probation after several graffiti arrests, he gathered a group of friends to shop-lift a clothing store.

“I got caught and sent to juvie, which was exactly what I needed,” he says. “I’m definitely one of those people who’s a free spirit, so to be stuck in there is like, ‘Good God, what am I doing?’” Upon his release from juvenile hall, a renewed and reformed Blame One refocused his energy, shifting his life in a positive direction—toward his music. In 1993, he began rocking mics professionally with North County hip-hop group Mystery’s Extinction. The group performed shows up and down California, cultivating a loyal following in San Diego and North County that has stayed with Blame into his solo career, which has spanned 11 years and five albums.

Last year’s Days Chasing Days, a collaboration with renowned Los Angeles-based producer Exile, launched Blame into the national spotlight and garnered praise from XXL magazine. But he’s returned home for Endurance. Whereas Days featured a number of contributions from nationally recognized hip-hop artists such as Exile, Sean Price and Blu, Endurance gives shine to talented but lesser-known local artists like Johaz of Deep Rooted, Jimmy Powers and TheBREAX.

“The whole point of Endurance as a concept,” Blame explains, “is me being an older head and still going after my dreams and my goals. But within that, I wanted to include the new generation” of local hip-hop talent.

He plays the role of godfather in his music as well as in his choice of collaborators. Endurance is, by all accounts, a primer on old-school hip-hop. If he’s not explicitly instructing ignorant MCs on hip-hop history and old-school values (as he does in “It’s a Stick Up”), he’s putting on an instructional display of lyricism (“Still Doin’ Me”) that shows reverence for rhyming heavyweights like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. The production, too, is a mix of funky break-beats, dusty soul samples, call-and-response chants and scratched hooks, all signifiers of hip-hop from back in the day. Clearly, Blame puts faith in what he sees as the right way to make hip-hop.

And, so far, that faith has translated into a livable income for him and his family. His music sales and live-performance fees, together with his fiancée’s income, have allowed them to get by. But Blame knows how quickly that can change in a fickle music industry; he’s fully prepared to return to a 9-to-5 job if needed.

As it is, Blame continues with his new daily routine. He escorts Symphony to school every morning. After returning home to watch over Anthony, he browses his inbox for instrumentals from producers hoping to collaborate. Then, for eight hours, he writes. For him, the 9-to-5 grind has never felt better.

Blame One performs with Ahmad, Dannu, Kahlee and The Breax at Boar Cross’n (390 Grand Ave., Carlsbad) on Thursday, Nov. 18.