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Jeff Spec - conducted by Hugo Lunny  

Jeff Spec

March 2002

These are the transcripts of an interview with Jeff Spec. The interview was conducted by Hugo Lunny on March 25th, 2002. Jeff Spec is one of the most well known independent artists in the Vancouver scene. He has put out numerous albums and will be releasing through an American label, his next album "Dark City" this April (2002).

MVRemix: So, how did you begin?

Jeff Spec: I think I started like everybody. I used to watch videos on TV - heard some rap on the of my friends introduced me to it when I was about eight years old. I was drawn to it immediately, some of the first stuff I heard wasn't the most influential on me though. The first thing I probably heard was the Beastie Boys. I've never really been into their stuff but the whole concept of rap music was really crazy to me. So, I just kept investigating it a little more. The point which I give the most credit to was when I heard Special Ed's 'I Got It Made.' That's when I had to rap. He was young, he was about sixteen at the time, and I was probably nine or ten at the time. I heard it and was really feeling it. I thought it was productive and someone that was not much older than me could do. I just started writing at home, in my bedroom, hiding it from everybody. I didn't let anybody know I did it until I was about thirteen or fourteen when I'd already been messing with it for about four or five years. Nothing really glorious about my beginnings or nothing like that.

MVRemix: How did the City Planners form? And is there an album in the works or just little collaborations here and there or what?

Jeff Spec: The City Planners is a group of friends first and foremost. We all mutually respect each others music. And, we were always working together anyways, so why not put a name to it? Bird (Birdapres) came up with the name, but he's now officially not a "City Planner." Although, he's still tight with all of us. There's no bad blood or anything between us and Bird, he's still fam, just without the title. I'd say that happened in about '98. And then we all just got down workin' on each others projects. Me and Moka did a project under the group name "The Rappers," Moka and Ishkan did one under the group name "Nowfolk." Me, Sichuan and Sweet G are working on a project under the name "This, That and the Third." Me and Ishkan are called "The Handsome Section." We've got all kinds of group titles. We record songs under the name City Planners now and again and send them out for compilations and whatever. We could do a full project in the near future, but there's complications involving Moka, just because of the label's he's dealing with. He's getting ready to be a multi-million selling artist or whatever. We don't have the liberty there that we could have taken two years ago. But, you never know man, it could happen when all of us start dealing on that level. We record a lot together. But right now under the name "City Planners" - it would be me, Ishkan and Sichuan rapping and G doing beats. And maybe me and Sichuan doing beats too.

MVRemix: I read in an interview that you've never taken any drugs or anything like that. Now, what I often discuss with writers and artists etc. is that when they write, they want to write from experiences in life in various forms. Was the reason that you've never tried anything an individual stand or was it due to a bad experience with a friend/family member or...?

Jeff Spec: I did see a lot of drugs mess up kids at early ages. I didn't go to the illest school of all schools, but, I knew kids who were in rehab by 9th grade. That's messed up, I never like to see that. I have to admit, I was a naive little kid. Like, when they started doing the "dare" program - I'd buy into every word they said. I thought that one hit off a joint could kill you if you did it wrong. I got passed that when I was pretty young. Because a lot of my friends started smoking weed as kids. When they were eleven or twelve. Its never appealed to me. I still knew, even on the misconceptions I had. I knew the real negative effects that that thing could have on you. I'm not the most health conscious person, I don't exercise every day. I don't eat the best, but I do keep my physical self in mind in my daily dealings. For me it was more of a health thing. It wasn't really a stand, I don't get mad at somebody if they spark up a joint in front of me. I'm just not participating - it's not for me.

MVRemix: You went by the name "Intallect" briefly

Jeff Spec: It wasn't actually that brief, I did like six tapes under that name.
Oh, well, for a significant amount of time then. I'm wondering if you'd ever go back to an alias or maybe doing a Kool Keith-esque alter ego album...?

Jeff Spec: I feel like that has been done. By Kool Keith, and he did it to death. A lot of other people have done it too, I don't really see myself as an avant guarde or experimental type of artist. Anything I want to say or do, I can express through my own personality and I don't feel that I need to open up another book to do that.

MVRemix: Not a bad answer. Right, Moka's new album is called "Flood The Market," now I've been speaking to a lot of rappers, producers, critics...and everyone seems to see the market as being too flooded with not enough quality material floating around, just a lot of material. What's your take on the situation?

Jeff Spec: I think you can make an argument for either, I hear a lot of music and probably only 50% of it I ever have the desire to hear again. But, I think if you're open minded, you can take a positive aspect to every type of music. I never hear a single thing that doesn't inspire me to go and make my next piece of work. If I hear something that's wack, I'm inspired to go and make something that's actually good to counter-act that. But, I think as far as someone like Moka, he's very musically talented. He keeps coming up with catchy things time after time. I feel if you've got it like that...I feel I've got it like that, and I don't feel like I put out too much. But I also don't feel like I have any standards to live up to where I keep putting out an album every season. I'm sticking to an album every year now.

MVRemix: So due to the abundance of material around, why should I come and pick up a Jeff Spec record?

Jeff Spec: I think my material is very honest. A lot of people claim "honesty," that might be what 75% of what people say when you ask them that. But, where as one guy might say "I'm honest, I tell you every little aspect of my life, and I tell you what I think you should do with your life" or whatever. I'm not that. I strictly make music that you can nod your head to. Maybe you can relate to some of what I say, but you never feel like I'm pontificating or forcing an opinion on you or being too open. To me, it's sort of dishonest to tell people everything about your life - to put all that out there like that. It's a little too much. Everyone likes to have a little privacy or whatever. I think my gimmick is not having a gimmick. You'll have heard that in the past, but, that's not even a gimmick to me. Let me try to make this clear - I just put myself out there as a regular guy. You can look at me and see what my actual personality is like through the music. The reason my name is Jeff, it's not actually Jeff. That's not my real name. But when people run up to me and be like "Hey Jeff," automatically you feel like it's an easier conversation to have. Because that's a real name. I like to keep it on the up and up with people, on a regular eye level sort of thing. I don't portray myself as like this major behemoth artist. I'm a regular dude that you can see on the street and lead a regular conversation with. And that's what you get when you listen to the music because the music is conversation.

MVRemix: Tell me about "Dark City."

Jeff Spec: "Dark City" is a project I worked on late 2001, early 2002. A couple of the songs are as old as summer 2001. I really did it as a winter project, to me it's my most solid effort to date by far. I just tried to come with that heavy hitting production, you know, that nice low ends so that you could feel it in the most physical sense. I kept the rhymes straight forward so that everyone can sit down and listen, and within a couple of listens really grasp what I said. And so that you can understand the words as I'm saying them so nothing is gonna float right by you. But, at the same time it's clever. I'm not saying necessarily anything new, I'm just saying it in a new way. 'Dark City' is coming out through Day By Day Entertainment, in April 2002. It features guests Moka Only, Sichuan, Sweet G and Ishkan and Birdapres. That's just crew members and basically family members of mine. People I've been working with all along. I didn't really stretch outside of the fold or feel that I needed to do anything like that because a lot of my friends are making big names for themselves now too. All I'm really trying to contribute to, as for now, is you've got to do for self. So I'm doing it for myself, and the people that are most important to me, the people that directly surround me. Basically if you want a rap album for fans of actual rap music. You've just got to go and check out "Dark City." Like I said, it's not avant guarde, it's not too pre-occupied with anything. It's just a rap album. I don't think we've heard much of that lately.
Why do you think it's your strongest effort to date?

Jeff Spec: Just because I feel like every new effort should be your strongest effort to date. I wouldn't have put it out if I didn't feel that way. I've been doing beats for more years, I've been writing rhymes for more years, I've got a little less afraid to put "myself" out there. So, every time - you might hear a song and it might not be on one specific topic, but you are hearing things about myself through that song. In every aspect, there's more of me inside of it. And I feel that that's what makes it very solid. That's what you want to hear from any artist.

MVRemix: Aside from your album, what else have you been working on?

Jeff Spec: I've been doing production for numerous local acts, I want to contribute to my city, because I love my city. I've got beats out there for several different people who don't really have producers or whatever. I did a couple joints for some different compilations out of the US, Canada and around. And I've been working for other people, in my crew. I did a beat for Birds album - we wrote a joint together. So, his new record - expect for that. I've been doing beats for Ishkan. I've been doing stuff for "This That and the Third" with me, Sichuan and Sweet G - you've got that project. It's slowly in the works, its been in the works for longer than "Dark City" and it's nowhere near as close to being done. That could spring up next week or it could be next year, I'm always trying to keep my hands in a lot of things. Even beyond that I've been hooking up press and stuff like that to promote "Dark City." There's a lot to working on one album.

MVRemix: Is the "glass" half full, or is it half empty?

Jeff Spec: The glass is definitely half full. I like to look on the optimistic side of things.

MVRemix: How do you come up with your concepts? Are they provoked by situations, moods...what?

Jeff Spec: Usually it's the beat. I sit down. Find the record, I let the record guide the beat - put my own spin on it. Update that record so it's current, it might be chopped up to shreds or it might be a loop. Whatever that beat turns out being, I just let the beat speak to me on a very personal level. Then the beat tells me what to say.
So you don't think of the subject matter prior?

Jeff Spec: Sometimes I might sit down, in a certain mood. Then that mood dictates the mood of the beat and then the beat dictates the concept. On the rare occasion I will write and then find or pick a track for that song. Generally I let it happen naturally.

MVRemix: Is a freestyle, a freestyle, if it's written?

Jeff Spec: Judge not lest ye be judged. Someone else wants to say their written freestyle is a freestyle, they can go ahead. I feel like for a long time "freestyling" didn't mean off the head. It meant you were doing a routine that you did spontaneously. I think "freestyle" is more of the spontaneity than of the actual content.
My take on it is, and it's kind of a semantics thing, but I think a freestyle should be a rhyme made up on the spot - so that at least the term has a true meaning

Jeff Spec: It depends to me man. You step into a freestyle battle. Everybody expects that you're rhyming off the head. And if you don't, you're shorting them.
Thing is, within a battle you can never tell...Because some people can come up with lines and lyrics off the top of the head perfectly

Jeff Spec: A lot of the time you need to have a basis of judgement on the person. You need to know what their prior record is like. As far as being able to freestyle. I've seen Prev [Prevail of Swollen Members] - he'll get up and freestyle. Actually G [Sweet G] saw this at a show. Xzibit was there and Xzibit is looking at Prev like "That's not a freestyle." G's like I'll bet you twenty bucks that that's a freestyle, give him a topic to freestyle on. He said it, Prev did it. And G never got his twenty bucks. But, it was still proven man. So there's people who can amaze you every time. Or like my man Emotionz, he's crazy off the head. Just the patterns he comes up with off of his head and actually fits words into that. You're like "I don't know how he can do that." But, he does it time after time and can go for an hour straight. To the point where you're like "He doesn't remember that many of his own lyrics." Then there's other dudes where they'll freestyle and you'll know it's a freestyle.
The best freestylers are the ones who make you believe it has been written.

Jeff Spec:

MVRemix: How has your life been effected by September 11th?

Jeff Spec: I get that question a lot. It's mostly effected by the way that people around me have been effected. The label I deal with is in the US. In the US that's a huge thing on the public conciousness right now. Everybody feels a little less secure; the economy is a little hurt. So, in that sense of the word, I've noticed people have taken a little longer to come at me with my money. When I sell a song or license a song, the cash flow has decreased a little. That's going to happen anyway, there's recessions all the time. Really it was just a wake up call. It's on the TV and it's on the news and it looks like a movie. It just makes you realize that anything can happen around you and it makes you realize that you should appreciate everything you have while you have it. But at the same time I've been reminded of that by other things in life too.

MVRemix: Aside from "Dark City" what are some other movies that have influenced you?

Jeff Spec: So, you've seen that movie. That's a dope movie, right?

Jeff Spec: I thought "The Matrix" was very similar to "Dark City" but relevant in its own way. I love action movies, I love watching dudes be ridiculously hard and do ridiculously impossible things.
Seen "Blade II"?

Jeff Spec: No, I've seen part of "Blade" the other day though and it was real dope. I'm talking about "Die Hard" - I'm talking about where he's about to kill the last bad guy and he has to have that last line like "Yippy-kai-yay motherfucker!" Movies like that I really enjoy. And I like comedy movies because I'm about laughing all the time. Not taking anything too serious. If you ask people around me I could laugh at anything, anything. Even inappropriate. I laughed at the movie "Hannibal" you know what I'm saying? When he's eating dude's brain. I heard a couple of chuckles, but I couldn't stop laughing. Schwarzenegger movies man, I laugh at those. You know he has his funny lines or whatever, but even the action sequences make me laugh. I think that anything that brings out that sort of emotion in me is very influential. I find it important to always be in a good mood, be laughing and what not. If I go through a couple of days where I'm kind of in a dismal mood or whatever. I'm not making beats, I'm not writing, I'm not doing anything. I don't really do depression, but I need to be in a really "up" mood to do music.

MVRemix: What's the worst aspect of doing what you do?

Jeff Spec: I'd have to say, I don't hate paying dues. I actually like that, I like putting in the work. But I don't like not getting credit when credit is due. When you deal with a promoter and you tell them your price then they're like "Well, do you think you have that much of a draw?" It's like "Yeah, my name has the draw, but you need to promote." And as an independent artist, it seems everybody is putting the burden on you financially. People want to pay you per unit of a compilation, instead of giving you your flat fee. Which is cool, I can deal with that. But some of these guys don't have track records themselves. And promoters who are just starting will try to use me as their guinea pig when I'm an artist that has been rapping for ten years plus. Until you really hook up with a major label or something like that. The whole burden is on you. I've got a song on my album called "The Gambler," and I kind of compare living as an independent artist to living in a casino all day and gambling. It's like rolling the dice, or calling the number on roulette.

MVRemix: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Jeff Spec: I see myself really well off in ten years. Millions of units later, millions of fans later and still making music that's a linear progression from where I'm at now. I make music that I like, that's first and foremost to me, but my theory is. I mean everybody has heard the "Hundred monkey's theory" where if there's one monkey who figures he can take a banana down off of a tree. Take it down to a stream and wash it, that'll be taught to ninety eight other monkeys and when the ninety ninth one learns it - a hundredth one somewhere else in the world picks it up. And he just thinks of it on his own because it's in a collective consciousness or whatever. It's like suddenly it becomes public domain, everybody knows it without having to be shown. I feel that same way about my music. I like it, I've got to get a few other people hooked on it - to do the convincing, the hard work etc. Then it comes to a point where the music speaks for itself. People hear it and they just know what I'm trying to say. They feel it.

MVRemix: Could you die today saying you'd lived?

Jeff Spec: No. I've got a lot more to do man. It could happen at any time. I'm not the type to have regrets, but I am the type that feels there's always more shit I can squeeze out of me.

MVRemix: Any last words you'd like to put out to your fans and potential fans?

Jeff Spec: Well, I think that as far as Hip Hop music goes. The main thing plaguing it is people talking about what's plaguing rap music right now. Everybody says "Oh, I'm here to save Hip Hop..." "I'm here to do this, to do that..." I think the main thing is making your own music, or listening to the music you like to listen to and not sweating everybody else. To use a way over used term "Don't playa hate." Some people got to be ultra-commercial, some people are underground and dirty. Everybody has their own sound and everybody is a part of the same ecosystem holding that next piece in place. I'm tired of hearing music where people complain about other people's music in their music. Because is that music or is that an essay? It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Dude's saying "I'm tired of this iced out, flossed whip." Fuck that man, let people be iced out and roll in a big whip if that's what turns their crank.

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