J. Rawls (Lone Catalysts) - conducted by Todd E. Jones
Adding Hip-Hop To History
If there was a way to educate people through instrumental hip-hop beats, J. Rawls could do it. Actually, he is doing it now! One-half of the Ohio's underground hip-hop group Lone Catalysts, J. Rawls is not just a hip-hop producer. He is a teacher, a father, a historian, and a free thinker. In the past, he has produced for Black Star (Mos Def & Talib Kweli), El Da Sensai, Mr. Complex, Capital D, J-Live, Wordworth and many others. With his partner J. Sands, The Lone Catalysts released a beautiful debut opus "Hip-Hop" and a compilation album "The Catalyst Files". Currently, J. Sands teamed up with Female Fun Music to make an instrumental album filled with diverse hip-hop beats as well as interesting and unique themes and topics that deal with historical issues. "Histories Greatest Battles, Campaigns, & Topics" was an instrumental album that urges the listener to research the historical significance behind the song titles. On a beautiful evening in March 2003, I talked to J. Rawls from New Jersey to Ohio. J. Rawls is educating people on history via music.
MVRemix: Your new LP is mainly an instrumental one called 'Histories Greatest Battles, Campaigns & Topics'. Tell us about it and why did you choose to make most of it instrumental?
J. Rawls: Yeah, that's pretty much how me and Peter discussed it. I told him that it would mostly be instrumental but it would have a couple of little goodies. He told me to go for it. He told me to do whatever would keep me good on a creative level. I kept it going and I ended up doing the instrumental album with some goodies. It was great to be honest with you.
MVRemix: Many producers are releasing instrumental albums these days. (i.e. Jay Dee & 'Petestrumentals' by Pete Rock.) Do you have a favorite hip-hop instrumental album?
J. Rawls: I guess you can say it's between Pete Rock, Jay Dee and Fat Jon of 5Deez. I like all his stuff. Fat Jon has a couple of them.
MVRemix: How did you meet J. Sands and form The Lone Catalysts?
J. Rawls: We met back in the day… 1995 or 1996. We both went to the University Of Cincinnati but we never met there. It's a weird coincidence. We never really thought it would be like that but it turned out to be great.
MVRemix: What is the meaning behind the name Lone Catalysts?
J. Rawls: At the time, we thought that there weren't many cats, at least in our area, trying to do it the way we were trying to do it. It's that raw hip-hop. It's that stuff that you don't hear that much anymore. In 1996-97, the Puffy age was starting. When things got flashy, we became the Lone Catalysts.
MVRemix: Do you have a favorite song on 'Histories Greatest Battles, Campaigns & Topics'?
J. Rawls: Not really. I love a lot of those joints. A lot of my friends are into the 'Welcome To North Africa' joint.
MVRemix: What song took you the longest to do?
J. Rawls: Probably 'Welcome To North Africa' because I put a lot of time into that one. I never did a song like that one.
MVRemix: What does '63 Is the Jubilee' mean?
J. Rawls: '63 Is the Jubilee' is really something. There's an old song back from the Civil War times. If I remember correctly, it was about when the slaves were freed. They said ''63 Is the Jubilee!'. I researched all this stuff.
MVRemix: Who or what are the 'Polar Palms Of Moscow'?
J. Rawls: That I made up. I was doing a little research because I'm a teacher as well. I titled the song 'Polar Palms Of Moscow' because the song felt really cold. That beat just moved me. It was all just part of the different research I did.
MVRemix: What is the meaning behind 'America, Fulfill Your Promise'?
J. Rawls: It's not just black people. It's minorities and people in general. America is the land of the free and home of the brave but we still have so many problems. We are over here trying to worry about Iraq and other people while we have so many problems ourselves. I wish we would concentrate on our own problems first. That's what I was saying in that song. America promises us a land of the free and a home for the brave. So, America, fulfill that promise and don't try to put your nose in other people's business.
MVRemix: How did you hook up with Black Star (Mos Def & Talib Kweli) for the production of 'Yo Yeah' and 'Brown Skin Lady'?
J. Rawls: I know Kweli from back in the Natti. This was back when Kweli was just Kweli from Brooklyn. He was just a regular cat. He got introduced to Mood and soon, we all hung out together. It was us, Mood, Hi-Tek and 5Deez. It was a local thing. It was a Cincinnati thing.
MVRemix: There's an indie rock band called 'J Rawls'. Did you hear them? What do you think of them and have you experienced problems with having the same name even though you are in different styles of music? Do you have problems since they took 'jrawls.com'?
J. Rawls: Yeah. Believe me, I've seen their site. I haven't experience problems with them on an Internet level because I never tried to get 'jrawls.com'. When I did, I found out that they had it. I think they are called 'Jrawls' and they do not have the period after the letter 'J'. Oh well.
MVRemix: Production-wise, who are some of your major influences in hip-hop?
J. Rawls: The norm. Pete Rock, Jay Dee. I also listen to Madlib. He's definitely one of my favorites. Fat Jon is definitely one of my favorites. I'm an old-school hip-hop kind of dude who's into The Ummah. Natives Tongues.. That's me!
MVRemix: Non hip-hop?
J. Rawls: I'm really into a lot of Latin music as you can probably tell from what I choose to sample. I'm really into Astrud Gilberto and Jorge Ben. I like different people like that. I don't listen to that much R&B. I like mostly jazz or Brazilian.
MVRemix: Do you do pre-production often? Do you go into the studio with a set idea, drum track, loop or do you create right then and there?
J. Rawls: We don't have the big bucks, so, when we go to the studio, everything is done. We do pre-production at the house first. It's the best thing for us. We do the pre-production at the house. Then, we'll go and lay it down in the studio.
MVRemix: Your project with Fat Jon of 5 Deez called 3582 was incredible. The LP 'The Living Soul' is amazing. How did this come to be and will it happen again?
J. Rawls: We are releasing a new one. It is going to be called 'Situational Ethics' and it will be out in April. We are still going by the name 3582.
MVRemix: Why did you choose your name to be '82'?
J. Rawls: That was my football number at school. Everyone thinks that it has some deep meaning but I was number 82 on my football team."
MVRemix: Why was Fat Jon called '35'?
J. Rawls: That was his old pager code. 82 was my old page code too.
MVRemix: What are some CDs or LPs that you have been listening to lately?
J. Rawls: Little Brother's 'The Listening' stays in the deck. Oh yeah! 9th Wonder is on his way to becoming one of my favorite producers. For real! I've been listening to a lot of Sergio Mendes recently too.
MVRemix: What was the last incident of racism you encountered?
J. Rawls: I think that it was something simple. I was in Atlanta of all places for the All Star Game. We walked into a store and the lady looked at us funny because of how we were dressed. That just reminded me that I'm still Black. She watched us like we were going to steal something. It happened so many times in Columbus, Ohio but in Atlanta? I didn't expect that.
MVRemix: Where were you on Sept. 11th and how did you deal with it? How do you think 9-11 has affected hip-hop?
J. Rawls: I was in Columbus, Ohio. I don't think it affected mainstream hip-hop. They are still on this 'Gotta get this money'. It was like that before. I don't know how it affected hip-hop really but it definitely affected Columbus, Ohio in a deep way. I worked downtown at that time and when it happened, they sent everyone home early. I think it affected every single city.
MVRemix: Abortion: pro-life or pro-choice?
J. Rawls: I am probably pro-choice because as a man, I don't see that it is my business to tell a woman what to do with her body. Just being real, who am I? I don't have to sit there and have that baby. It's not my uterus. I don't have one. I don't want one. That's up to the woman.
MVRemix: Death Penalty - for or against?
J. Rawls: I'm for it. Eye for an eye.
MVRemix: What was the most fulfilling collaboration you have ever done?
J. Rawls: Oh, man. I have way too many. I'm definitely proud of the El Da Sensai joint. I love the stuff I did with Wordsworth. That was very gratifying. I enjoyed doing work with BJ Digby. I also loved working with Fat Jon. I loved working with everybody. It's hard to choose one. The J-Live was definitely dope too.
MVRemix: What was it like working with J-Live on 'The Great Rhyme Caper'? How did you hook up with him?
J. Rawls: Good! He's a good dude. He's a hard worker. I met him through Wes Jackson at Seven Heads. I met a lot of cats thru Wes.
MVRemix: What full-length project are you most proud of?
J. Rawls: I was very proud of 'The Essence Of J. Rawls' because I put it all together myself. I did everything. I am definitely proud of The Lone Catalysts' 'Hip-Hop' LP but I had input with J. Sands. 'The Essence' I did all myself. I am very proud of that.
MVRemix: As a member of Lone Catalysts, you are the sole producer for the group but every once in a while, you have someone else produce a song. (i.e. Geology) Do you take a backseat or are you the one who chooses a different producer? How does this choice come about?
J. Rawls: To be honest with you, that Geology track on 'The Catalyst Files' LP was a J. Sands solo song. That's his own stuff. That was on J. Sands solo single. If it's Lone Catalysts, there's me on the beat and J. Sands aka Jermaine on the rhyming. J. Sands has a solo album coming out called 'The Breaks' coming out very soon. That's a nice joint.
MVRemix: In one phrase or sentence, how would you describe growing up in Columbus, Ohio?
J. Rawls: Not difficult but you have to find your own way. Columbus is a city that whatever they see on B.E.T. or MTV, that's what they do. Whatever they see on television, that is what's done. We don't find our own way sometimes. That's one of the most important things that I would like to change about Columbus, Ohio.
MVRemix: What are some major misconceptions about you or The Lone Catalysts?
J. Rawls: I think some people think that we are only an underground group. We like to dance. We like to have fun. We like to kick it but we also like to make good songs, good music. That's why the next album by The Lone Catalysts is going to be called 'Good Music'.
MVRemix: What are some emcees that you would like to collaborate with in the future?
J. Rawls: Black Thought. He's definitely one of the main emcees that I would like to work with. There's a whole bunch. I would like to work with cats who are hungry. I think hungry cats are my favorite.
MVRemix: What classic hip-hop track would you like to do a remake of?
J. Rawls: Probably my favorite song, 'T.R.O.Y. When They Reminisce Over You' by Pete Rock and CL Smooth but I would never touch it because it's perfect.
MVRemix: What was the worst hip-hop fad?
J. Rawls: That's a great question! You have some good questions! You're good. I would probably have to say all of that gold and ice. They just take it too far sometimes with all of that ice and the money aspect. That guy, Baby, from Cash Money, is like a joke. This dude has platinum teeth, man! Why? What's the point? Does that really make sense?
MVRemix: Word association time. I'm going to say a name of an artist or producer and you say the first word that pops in your head. So, if I said 'Chuck D', you may say 'Revolution'. Ok?
J. Rawls: Cool.
J. Rawls: Spacey.
MVRemix: Pharoahe Monch
J. Rawls: Dope.
MVRemix: Del The Funky Homosapian
J. Rawls: Missing.
MVRemix: Wu-Tang Clan
J. Rawls: Classic.
J. Rawls: Dope… for real!
J. Rawls: One of my favorites.
J. Rawls: Best lyricist right now.
MVRemix: 50 Cent
J. Rawls: Hottest emcee on the street. He's the man right now with street buzz.
MVRemix: Phife Dawg
J. Rawls: Bitter. He was mad on that album 'Ventilation'. That was on Groove Attack so I had an early copy. He should have just moved on and not even worried about it.
MVRemix: Gil Scott Heron
J. Rawls: We almost lost Detroit. That's where I sampled 'Brown Skin Lady' from.
MVRemix: What do you think hip-hop is lacking these days?
J. Rawls: I was listening to Brand Nubian's 'Everybody Loves The Sunshine' yesterday. I listened to it about 5 times. That's what it's lacking now. There isn't a sense of self. Brand Nubian were talking about knowledge of self. There's none of that. All of that is gone now. Hip-hop is missing 'Sunshine'. It's missing 'Wake Up'.
MVRemix: Brand Nubian came out with a reunion album 'Foundation', which I thought was cool but it didn't sell well.
J. Rawls: Yeah, I know. People don't want to hear that now.
MVRemix: What is the biggest mistake you made in your career?
J. Rawls: Not moving to New York or L.A.
MVRemix: What advice would you give to a producer/artist trying to make it in the music business?
J. Rawls: Read about the business and never stop… ever! Just don't stop! I feel like stopping sometimes but I just don't. I get blessed. Something else will happen or somebody will call. Just never stop.
MVRemix: How has being a father changed your approach toward making music?
J. Rawls: It made me realize that I had to get paid for what I do because I need to support somebody else. It made that part of it a reality. Growing up, we were doing it for fun. It didn't matter because I can eat hot dogs.
MVRemix: You started off as a beat-boxer and then, you became an emcee. After that, you went into production. How did you make that transition?
J. Rawls: It was definitely natural. I started beat boxing because I didn't like my voice but many people told me that I should rap. So, I rapped and cats started to tell me that I was good. I still did not like my voice and I still don't. That's why I don't rap very much. I only rap when I have something to say. Every time I rap, I'm saying something.
MVRemix: On 'They Can't See Me', you say that people want to be like you. Do you really have people trying to be like you or are you just playing the braggadocio role in hip-hop?
J. Rawls: I did that for fun. For me, it was like an old-school hip-hop song. Hip-hop is braggadocio. 'You're trying to be like me!' So, I did that. But, I was talking about life. I was talking about everything. Hip-hop is supposed to be fun and I was having fun with the chorus. (singing) 'Who they trying to be like?'. I was singing and everything.
MVRemix: I love the 'They Can't See Me' remix on the Flipsides compilation.
J. Rawls: Cool! I really like that one.
MVRemix: What do you want on your epitaph?
J. Rawls: Something like 'He never gave up.'
MVRemix: What can we expect from J. Rawls in the future?
J. Rawls: I'm concentrating on 'Good Music', the next Lone Catalysts album. Hopefully, it should come out this summer. We're still working on distribution and everything. We'll go through Groove Attack. They'll get a piece of it but we're at a point where they can't really give us all that we need. So, we have to keep looking. They are based in Germany and we need something more in America.
MVRemix: Are you more popular in Europe than in the U.S.?
J. Rawls: We are. It's almost like we are known well in Europe but not well in the U.S. We are still not on MTV E or anything but if we were, that's how it would be. We can go somewhere and get recognized. I was in London and I was signing autographs. It feels good. It's cool. In America, they aren't trying to hear new stuff unless it's on the radio or BET or MTV. In Europe, they look for different things.