J-Live is one of independent Hip Hop's most well known icons. For over a decade, the teacher turned rapper has expanded people's views on what Hip Hop can cover and the storytelling ability he posses how wowed many an ear.
Now, in 2005, J-Live has recently released his third full length release, "The Hear After" on Penalty Records.
MVRemix: After 10 years in the independent scene what have you noticed the most... What do you miss and what do you embrace?
J-Live: Just on the independent scene? I think when I first got into it there weren't that many people doing it so a lot of times you wouldn't find records. We would stick to our form and follow the various mixed records that were out and then as certain people developed labels, whether it be Def Jux or Rawkus or Stones Throw, there began to be labels that you could trust and pick up a record without necessarily
being familiar with that artist because of the reputation that the label had developed for themselves. I sort of miss that on a grander scale. There was a time when I would grab a Rawkus record and it didn't matter who was on and that sort of died down to today. It's still true for some labels. For me right now, I really miss going shopping for records and
listening to good stuff and really getting inspired because of those incidences. I think as an independent thing, it has become more popular; people are trying to sort of adapt to find the hit that's already been created. It's very rare and very beautiful when somebody combines their own niche into that sort of un-chartered territory.
MVRemix: As a result, how has your creative process and attitude changed over the years?
J-Live: I think because of that, I had the good fortune to build off of that. From "The Best Part" and the singles that were before it, through "All Of The Above," there's already a bit of a reputation where I don't necessarily have to reach outside of myself for inspiration or direction. I feel like I made my mark on this music or this movement to
where I can experiment more and I won't necessarily have to rely on previous releases to hold my weight. So, you'll hear an album which synchs to another point along my career because people really feel that strongly about what I've done before, they know what I've done before. [chuckles]
MVRemix: How did the title, "The Hear After" come about?
J-Live: Really just from the idea that I'm starting to see my goals coming to fruition. So "The Hear After" would really be my goals coming to fruition on this album. Some of it is achievements that I've made from past struggles. It's just basically me here, after what I've been through.
MVRemix: How did you hook up with Penalty?
J-Live: I was pretty much very, very particular throughout 2004 in who was gonna put the record out - where I was gonna find myself, and what situation I was gonna be in. Penalty, in terms of working with deals, with it's history and achievement, with dealing with the staff here who have been great and supportive... The structure here I think is in place for me to do things that I've never done with my career before.
MVRemix: How did you hook up with Soulive?
J-Live: Soulive I've been down with since [DJ] Spinna introduced me to Eric Krasno who plays guitar on "How Real Is It" on "All Of The Above." So I've been doing shows with them, features on different songs with them ever since. They're really, really great to work with.
MVRemix: On "The Sidewalks" you criticize those who rap about toting guns and dealing because it perpetuates problems. Do you ever see there being a change in the popularity of that sort of music?
J-Live: I'm not necessarily criticizing people's intent to do it as much as the lack of contrast with how many people do it and how many people are just not genuine. There are people that come up in that sort of lifestyle out of necessity or just not knowing any better, or doing what they feel they have to do and then they apply that to their musical talent... And then there's people who apply their musical talents to that lifestyle and that image because they feel that's the only way they can relate to an audience and be commercially accessible. That's more what I'm criticizing than anything else. Not that there aren't thugs or gangstas or just people out there that do what they feel they have to
do. But that it's so dominant in popular culture and popular music that people feel they have to go outside of themselves to express themselves when, for me, that's what I think is counter productive. So I think I just lead by example and developed that song to show that you can be yourself and you can talk about what lifestyle you came from, even if it's
not as glamorous as people see that lifestyle as.
MVRemix: Your bio states that your favourite song on the album is "Audio Visual," why is it your favourite?
J-Live: My favourite track tends to differ from time to time when I listen to the record. One of my favourites, at the end of the day there's probably like thirteen (there are thirteen tracks on the album). But I like "Audio Visual" just because there wasn't no particular time set, I was just chipping away and playing with the MPC in that way. I
had that rhyme for a while, and we had the beat to go with it and I felt like it was a really, really good marriage between the two. That's probably why I consider it one of the stronger tracks on the album, but if you asked me at a different time, you'd probably get a different answer every time.
MVRemix: With regards to "Coming Home," how do you deal with the distance you have from your family so frequently?
J-Live: Just on the phone a lot... Right now I'm in a position where I don't have to tour as much. I can schedule things where it's not too much of a burden. That for me is a plus. It's still important for me to get out and promote and I have a great passion for doing shows. I've developed a great stage show over the years with my DJ Flo Fader,
so it's important to get out there. But it's more along my own terms now. I think it's just one of those things where you use it to your advantage, especially the time that you have. Now it's just more.
MVRemix: How did you get involved with the CMJ Music Marathon?
J-Live: I've been down with Room Service (Publicity Company) since before they were Room Service and I've been down with CMJ for a few years now, just from going to the concerts, meeting people. Seeing people at the independent level and college radio and a lot of people that've been a help in the market, promoting and supporting the record over the years, so... To be on the showcase is good because I get a chance to really display my skills to the people who've been supporting my records for a long time, but might not have seen me live before. It's just a chance to celebrate with the people who're helping to promote the record now.
MVRemix: What are your thoughts on the Katrina situation and the way the U.S. government has dealt with it?
J-Live: I've been pretty much observing as much as I can on the news and from word of mouth in terms of how the whole situation has been interpreted and analyzed and dissected in the media. What could've been done and what could've been done better. What hopefully will be done better next time... Who's gonna be accountable for it. That's probably one of the most important things right now once we can figure out how to get the relief to the people who need it, figuring out what the next course of action is gonna be. What's gonna be a fair course of action for all the people who have suffered and lost, and then if we find out there's stuff that could've been done that wasn't done then there should be very, very severe prices and penalties to pay for those people responsible and were in this position to lead us better in situations like this. It’s on our government for situations like this to have a structure involved and in place to do as much as it can, as quickly and as well as it can. So if all that could’ve been done wasn’t done – there’s got to be some accountability.
MVRemix: In my last interview with you, four years ago, you
stated "I'd like to develop a curriculum that gets kids using Hip Hop as a tool for literature ...studying Hip Hop as a form - lyric by lyric." Any progress with that?
J-Live: I know that from what I’ve been talking to different people on tour, a lot of people are putting that into application. I was talking to some folks on a university level, talking about classes that are solely dedicated to Hip Hop – some people who do close readings of my work. Asheru is still in the classroom teaching to this day. But to be honest, my music is definitely taking up a large part of my time in addition to my family. I haven’t developed anything on the curriculum we were speaking on to date. I know that it is still very important for those of us out in the world teaching and working in different cities and different areas that music is definitely a way that you can relate to children and allow them to understand that you speak the same language; that you have common interests. Music is a great way to relate to your kids and on some level, teach as a human. It makes the whole learning experience that much more fun. Music itself can be spread through every sort of subject matter, it’s the science of audio engines, how sound work and how things sound sonically to music theory, and its application to mathematics to lyrics in terms of being able to do a close reading. The history, sociology and things of that nature is incorporated and I feel especially with Hip Hop, especially in the city because you have such a people magnetic in terms of kids already knowing everything there is to know about the music and that motivates them to their subject matter then you’re definitely a leg up on things.
MVRemix: A la "Fight Club," "If you could fight any celebrity, who would you fight?”
J-Live: [ponders] Probably either Jackie Chan or Jet Li, just to not so much fight, but maybe spar a little and learn from and maybe just take a piece of their vast knowledge of the martial arts. Even if I get my ass kicked – if I could learn from it then I’d be willing to do it. As long as I could walk away from it without permanent damage.
MVRemix: Aside from the album, what else have you been working
on? Guest appearances and whatnot...
J-Live: Right now I’m trying to focus on promotion and develop my beat library in terms of doing production on a consistent basis. I’m preparing to do some more producer oriented music and branch out and do outside production.
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"...There's people who apply their musical talents to that lifestyle and that image because they feel that's the only way they can relate to an audience and be commercially accessible. That's more what I'm criticizing than anything else."