By Todd Davis
Although not quite yet a household name, to Hip-Hop purists DJ JS-1, an extended member of the Rock Steady Crew, is already a legend in his own right. Having worked with a who’s who of rap heavyweights, turntablist and steady tour-mate of ex-beat-boxer of The Roots, Rahzel, is back with his latest magnum opus, No Sell Out, a stellar collaborative effort featuring the likes of KRS-One, Large Professor, Pharoahe Monch, Canibus, Sean Price, Blaq Poet, Killah Priest, Ill Bill, Kool Keith & Ced Gee [Ultramagnetic Mc’s], Aesop Rock, Vast Aire, Chino XL, Sadat X, AG, O.C., Craig G, CL Smooth, Edo G, Prince Po, Akrobatik, J-Live, Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks, Rakaa of Dilated Peoples, Krondon, C Rayz Walz, Vast Aire, Nutrageous, Copywrite, PMD, Rahzel, EMC [Masta Ace, Strick, Wordsworth, Punchline], Termanology, Torae, Pumpkinhead, Jak D, Big Noyd, Q-Unique, Brother Ali, Slaine, Virtuoso, Pack FM, Supastition, Block McCloud, Trez, Rugged Intellect, and the mighty DJ Premier — Whoa! …
When did you first discover Hip-Hop?
Growing up in the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s in N.Y., everyone tried to rap, write graffiti, break-dance, deejay, etcetera. I used to try and break, and then started to write graf. We used to buy records just to play on the stereo, and after a while I had a couple of crates, bought used turntables in ’89, and it grew from a hobby to a career. I’ve been deejaying, producing and writing graf since then. My earliest memories of what influenced me was hearing “AJ Scratch” by Kurtis Blow on a radio mix show, and recording it on a cassette I had. I loved that song, and it’s funny because it’s a “DJ” track. Once I heard Run-D.M.C. and saw Jam-Master Jay, I was hooked. I still wanna be like J.M.J.! And then, seeing GrandMixer DST performing “Rockit” on T.V. in the mid ‘80’s…
So for you, all it took was that early exposure to Kurtis Blow, Run-D.M.C. and GrandMixer DST that made you really want to pursue Hip-Hop?
Well, as I was just saying, Run-D.M.C. was a big influence of course. It’s all about two turntables and a mic. But, I listened to everything. I love rock, classic rock, heavy metal, ‘80’s pop shit, disco, etcetera. As I got older and got turntables, living here and with the style of music I liked, my biggest influences by far are Large Professor, Run-D.M.C., Paul C., Organized Konfusion, Public Enemy, Marley Marl, EPMD, Rick Rubin, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Beastie Boys, (A) Tribe (Called Quest), De La (Soul), Ultramagnetic (MCs), and people like that. There is so many honestly. Red Alert influenced me so much, too! At the same time I was loving KISS, and the highly energetic, incredible show they put on — Listening to Pink Floyd and (Black) Sabbath a lot, tons of (Jimi) Hendrix, too.
When did it go from being a hobby to an actual j-o-b?
I’m still deciding! *He Laughs*Throughout the mid ‘90’s, I was deejaying and doing lots of graffiti, honing the craft I guess, but not doing it as a full time job. In the late ‘90’s, I got some good opportunities, and although I did college, I decided to pursue what I love and take advantage of these opportunities. I got to do a few MTV shows, do a full tour for MTV, and then starting touring with Rahzel. Since then I have maintained a decent living, do what I love, and set my own rules for the most part. BUT, in this industry, any day can be your last, so I am appreciative for what I have. And, if or when it stops, I will have more free time to do other things I want to do.
So if that were to happen, what else exactly would you like to do?
That’s probably the worst part about what I do. Since we tour a lot, I can’t take on certain things that I would love to do. I’d love to do more college courses, even go for a PhD in U.S. History if I had the time. I would probably try to write a few books if I had the time to do that. I would be putting some of my artistic skills to work, too. I have not progressed nowhere near to what I could do, because I did not have the time over the past twelve years to work on that. And most of all, to one day maintain a normal family life. It’s difficult at times and weird, especially because most other people have normal jobs. So to live a normal life at some point would be nice.
Since you first got your start in production, how then did the whole transition to artist take place? Or, was that pretty much always in the plans?
Well, I always made music and songs. I was making songs and doing pause-buttons mixes, trying to loop beats and shit, before I even got my turntables. I’ve always made demo and songs with my boys, since the late ‘80’s we’ve been making songs. I never really considered it being an artist or whatever. I have to play the artist role though, because my albums will get labeled as compilation albums and that’s not accurate. This (is) me, my beats, my ideas, my thoughts, and what I wanted to do. So that’s when I consciously started making the effort to be an artist. When I put something out, I want it to be all JS-1. I want people to realize what I’m doing. I’m not just handing random shit to artists and getting a verse on it. I’m making specific things for specific people, not just picking the “hottest beat on my beat CD” and using that. So around 2001 when I started dropping all my first official 12″ singles and album is when the transition to artist purposely started for me.
As a producer, who all have you worked with?
A bunch of different people! From Common, Sadat X, Rahzel, Immortal Technique, KRS-One, Masta Ace, Akrobatik, Craig G, O.C., Pharoahe Monch, Canibus, J-Live, C-Rayz Walz, Percee P, etcetera. There’s a whole bunch. A long time ago, I actually co-produced a song for Will Smith.
And, because you produce, does that mean you also play instruments?
I don’t really “play” any instruments, but I “dabble” with the keyboard a bit. I can play a little bit on the keys and surprise a few people. But, it’s mainly all about making beats with my MPC and some stuff from my Motif keyboard.
How did you come to the attention of the powers-that-be at FatBeats Records?
Well, I’ve always gone to the FatBeats stores, from the very first opening day of the original store in N.Y.. I’ve known Joe, the owner, since that day as well. They are the main staple of indie Hip-Hop in N.Y., so of course I would be connected by always being around them. Eventually when I decided to put out records, FatBeats made plenty of sense to go to and they’ve always liked what I’ve handed them. The relationship works great. I hand them quality material, and they are good at what they do. I have no complaints, and we’ve been working together for a lil under a decade almost. Some of my break-records like “Scratch Roulette,” and my 12″ singles, like “Essentials” with KRS and Rahzel, sold very well for them.
How would you classify your overall vibe?
I make boom-bap, East Coast, traditional raw, ‘90’s-like, Hip-Hop music, with scratches on lots of songs! It’s not REALLY Hip-Hop if there is no scratch on the song. There is no REAL rock song without guitar on it, is there? Anyways…I’m not trying to make the “hot” single, or the “club banger” or that obnoxious dance record. That’s not my style of my taste, and I’m not going to sellout and make anything to try and make other people like it. That’s stupid.
Hence the title of your new studio effort, No Sell Out…
First, selling out was always something that was looked down upon, and it was a relevant term back in the days. People would get called out for “selling out.” When I say selling out, I mean doing something you don’t normally do, or truly like simply to gain attention or money, knowing that it jeopardizes your integrity and the integrity of the music as a whole. Look, straight up, when you grow up in the streets and you are in your video dancing around in a pink suit with some ghetto chick trying to sing the hook of your song in the hopes that MTV will play your redundant video and Hot 97 will play your clone song, then you are a sellout.
I absolutely agree!
I have no desire to be DJ Khaled or DJ Clue or those guys. They are cool, they do what they do, but I’m going to stick to what I do. In this business so many people have told me INSANE shit like, “You should spin like DJ AM!” or, “You should play dance music for the girls,” or “You should dress like deejay so and so…” That is freakin’ crazy! Seriously! BUT, so many deejays do this. So many producers make beats trying to sound just like the popular song and trends that are out, like that auto-tune nonsense. It was cool when Roger Troutman did it. It was cool for a few songs for T-Pain, on one or two songs, but c’mon, EVERYONE is doing that, why? To me they are like (a) bad door-to-door salesman. They’ll say or do anything to get you to like what they are peddling. That’s sad and dumb. When I make my music, I make what I like, how I feel, and do what I want. So when you buy my album, you are buying DJ JS-1, period! That’s why the greatest groups of all time, and my favorite groups, always produced their own music. And if not them, it was an in-house producer who was down with them, or one producer they got to do the whole project. It’s wack when you have a ton of different producers on an album. Then it’s just a compilation of a lot of other people’s feelings and styles, not yours. The music gives the mood, it’s everything. And, if a bunch of people did it, your album is all over the place. I hate that shit. Here is the “single” with the R&B chorus, here is the “mix-tape freestyle”, and here is the “club banger,” and here is the one with auto-tune. And, don’t forget the track with the sped-up vocal sample or the fake Timbaland beat. That’s kind of selling out to me. You are not making music you are being a cheesy salesman. So anyways, on my album I have no agenda. No radio show is playing my shit, so I don’t have to care about that stuff. Like Chuck D said, “Who gives a fuck about what they like!” So in a sense, with all these deejays wearing DJ AM costumes and laptop producers thinking they are Dr. Dre and Kayne, I’m doing my own thing and it’s for me and the people who like that style. I could have only made down-south keyboard beats and shopped them to Soulja Boy, but that’s contributing to the downfall of society, and im not selling out my integrity!
I couldn’t have said it any better! So, how does No Sell Out differ and/or compare to that of your “official” debut, Ground Original?
The first thing is although I loved that project, I let other people work on it with me and have a say in certain things. This time I took no advice and did what I wanted to do. I also got a better grouping of emcees on this album. I am very happy with all the collabs, and how they turned out. It’s not easy to do — Twenty tracks and only three solo songs on the album. It’s not easy getting 40 emcees to co-ordinate, collaborate and do what I want. There is a bit more of a rock influence on a few songs. I like and specifically wanted that. And with this project, since so many people around me have hinted that I should sell out — Where smedium Ed Hardy shirts — and make beats that the radio artists would like, I decided to make some of this album even more underground than before. You say go right, I always go hard left! So, I tried to use some older production techniques and sounds. Like the drum loop on the Large Pro song, etcetera. I used some ‘90’s style production on this album. As Kool Keith said, “I never rhyme like them…”
When it came to assembling the roster of talent for No Sell Out, how did you go about picking the artists you wanted to appear?
Personal preference mainly — I just ask who I like to listen to, think is a good emcee, and who I like. There is some people I have a better relationship with, and, of course, I will always go back to them when I make music. But mainly, I just seek artists I like. There is a few I am dying to work with, but haven’t yet. Like GZA and Redman. Overall, I have worked with many of the people I really wanted to. The hardest part is pairing people on songs. Sometimes they don’t even know each other or probably like each other! Sometimes people record without hearing what the other emcee said. But, I worked it all out. It can be a headache, but well worth it. You will not find too many albums like this. A lot of people will see the line-up and think it’s a mix-tape, but its not.
In terms of production, did you solely handle it all? And, how much input did you get from each individual artist?
This is why this album is different for me. I tried to control everything from production to ideas and beats. This is my expression. I wanted to call it No Sell Out, i wanted to not do any “catchy” singles, and all that. Lots of people dis-agreed a lil bit with me. Others think I’m being the complaining, purist Hip-Hop guy who wants it to be like 1989 again — Um…Yeah!? But, that’s everyone in our circle. Everyone complains about the state of music, even freakin’ Jay-Z is mocking auto-tunes now. That’s hilarious! But, yet all the underground guys wish they are making commercial hit records on a boat with Jay-Z! So if I let people pick the beats all the time, they would all pick the best beats I have, which is wrong. In fact, out of all my “best” beats, I don’t think ANY of them are on this album, seriously! But, I picked specific styles of beats or made a specific beat for these artists, the way I wanted the song to be. And that’s the whole theme and point. No one wants to do the album cut that you just sit back and listen to, enjoy it, check the lyrics or the scratches…A good Hip-Hop song. Most people wanna make that incredible hit record, and the “this is the one” disease. And the “underground” kids do it, too. They all wanna be J Dilla or Madlib or Premier or Doom, and EVERY DJ SOUNDS JUST LIKE DJ REVOLUTION ON EVERY SCRATCH HOOK ON EVERY SONG! It’s so silly and annoying. It doesn’t even sound right on songs. I totally made sure not to do any cuts like that on the album. I didn’t go sick at all with scratches. I do that live, unlike the logic plug-ins deejays. But basically, yeah, I did everything and controlled it all. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be my album.
Do you have any personal favorite joints on No Sell Out? And, if so why that in particular?
Of course! I love the first song, “Like This,” with Large Professor. First, I never recorded with him before and he is my freakin’ hero, so it was just a thrill to work with him. Second, the song came out exactly as I wanted it to, and he came up with the idea for the scratch “Sumthin’ like this.” He brought the record with him to the studio, and it just worked out real well. I also like Chino XL’s verse on “Murder” a whole lot. The track with O.C. and Pharoahe is one of my favorites, too. But, probably most of all, to me personally, was having Kool Keith and Ced Gee come through. That’s such a monstrous personal treat for me. It’s extremely rare for that. That song is a dedication to Paul C., an old skool producer from Queens who died. Paul influenced, taught, (and) inspired a bunch of classic veteran producers and artists.
How do you feel about today’s Hip-Hop music — Are you happy with it?
Nah, i’m never happy! To be honest, it’s pretty horrible right now. It’s been horrible for a long time and progressively getting worse for sure. The whole music has changed completely. To me, it’s not even the same thing anymore. They lump everything together and it’s too much, too confusing, and mainly horrible nonsense. Everyone is trying to get on Top 40 radio, so they mesh wack rap, with wack R&B, with wack rock, with wack pop crap, and wack dance music. It’s awful. It’s not just the state of Hip-Hop it’s the state of everything. Most venues are “fruity” wanna-be trendy lounges, and don’t allow good Hip-Hop music. Most deejays play everything at 125bpm, and only play the mash-up dance version of songs, the one with that guy screaming on every song! You have people making a mockery of everything. It’s a freakin’ (joke) at this point. No one takes Hip-Hop serious, it’s really a joke. Now, there is great albums that come out, but you have to research and find them yourself. They usually won’t be promoted very much at all. If you like down-south/R&B-dance-techno-rap, with fergie singing on it, then you can get that easily on the radio, TV, or the sponsored ring-tone download link on EVERY website you go on. For others you have to find it. We’re in a weird transition now where the kids growing up never even heard good Hip-Hop really. Even the so-called old school hours on the radio mix shows play P Diddy and Mase! So that’s what leads to insanity, like XXL dissing Ghostface for using beats that sample soul and funk records, and not using beats for T.I. fans — Holy crazy talk, Batman!
Damn! That is sad, but so true.
So, the state of Hip-Hop is weird. There is really good stuff, as it has been for a long time now, that doesn’t get the publicity. And, the jingles about dating strippers win Grammy Awards. So be it, doesn’t matter what they do. There is enough people around the globe that like Hip-Hop and will seek it out. We just have to make sure it’s there when they show up looking. That’s why we tour around the planet doing what we do. The state of EVERYTHING is bad, to me, so I wont just single out Hip-Hop. C’mon, they actually convinced millions (of) people to use Twitter — How dumb can the world get?
How have you been affected when it comes to the illegal download of your music?
Well, to be honest, it sucks! But, since no one can do anything about it, it is what it is. So I kinda support it, I guess. Now when Metallica complained everyone jumped down their throat, but they were 100000% right. And now, all major artists lost huge numbers in sales. If you sell 1 million now, you would have sold 6 million or more ten years ago. Everyone is downloading for free, and it will never stop. Now of course it’s great for exposure and helps get your name and your music out there. I’m all for it. I’m the first one to email my music for free. No problem! BUT, at the same time, this is what people do for a living, and you are directly stealing from them and abusing them, their families, and their career. That is true no matter how you call it, say it or disguise it. It doesn’t matter if they are already rich or they can afford it, or I’m a huge fan and bought everything so i deserve it, etcetera. I worked real hard putting my album together and getting all these people, and when it comes out it will immediately be posted all over and kids will download it for free. And that does help me in some ways, but in other ways I will lose a ton of money. If 25,000 people downloaded my album, and half of them would have bought it and I get $5, 6 or 7 an album back, then i just lost over $50,000 easily, and that sucks. And of course everyone will say, “But you do shows, and the downloads help generate shows…” And I say, “Yes and no!” Yes, I do shows and get paid for them, duh, you get paid when you work. So, when does the part about not getting paid for your music happen? It’s tricky. I do it! I download tons of free stuff. I also buy CDs and records still. At this point in time, everyone downloads but people need to be a lil more conscious about the time, effort, money, and hard-work that goes into someone making an album. Please download my album for free, no problem, go head, but don’t be annoyed if an artist complained about it. Some people think this changed the industry and makes it better for indie labels and levels the playing field, which in somewhat it does, but doesn’t. In reality your email account is flooded with hundreds of senseless flyers, MP3s, retarded “email blasts” — You are not blasting anything, you are ANNOYING THE SHIT OUT EVERYONE! Now it’s just tons of people thinking they are gonna make the next “Hip-Hop My Space” site and stuff like that. So now the web is flooded with crap, and you can’t even differentiate from some baboon who just made a song in his laptop and actual credible artists who are sending music and have officially released a REAL album on a REAL label with a REAL distributor, etcetera. So it’s all pretty much the same, except my UPS guy doesn’t have to break his back bringing me Lil Jon promo vinyl anymore.
Tell me something about yourself that people wouldn’t automatically already know?
I don’t actually hate EVERYTHING! I just can’t conform no matter the issue. It’s cool that other people truly get enjoyment listening to “My lovely lady humps…” I think that’s wonderful, I’m just confused as to why most people allow that to be fed to them, and they accept it. So, when listening to my music you may think I completely dislike, or I’m totally against much of the new style of rap music, but that’s not totally true. Ignorance is bliss, and they look freakin’ happy, right? Good for them. Oh, yeah, and I have a crazy pug that sits on my lap when I make beats, and I do NOT wanna legalize marijuana –Why pay tax on it? I love Italian food, I am a trivia lover, I’ve been to over 33 countries and hundreds of cities, I can probably hit more 3-pointers than you from very deep, and abuse you in bowling. And, fuckin’ hate the Yankees! Don Mattingly has no rings.
Aside from, of course, your music, what do you like to do when you have the day off?
Bitching about the (New York) Yankees probably! Wondering why I can’t play for the (N.Y.) Knicks for the league minimum. Actually, wondering why I can’t be starting shooting guard for the Knicks. But seriously, the free time is hanging with the wife, the dog, some friends, drawing graf, reading history books, going to Mets’ games, eating unhealthy food, avoiding phone calls, and converting vinyl records to MP3s!
What has been your greatest career accomplishment?
Hmm…I’m not sure. There is a bunch of stuff on different levels I guess. Personally, recording with KRS-One, Common, Pharoahe Monch, Large Pro, Big Daddy Kane, etcetera — That is HUGE highlights. Of course in general, just touring the world with the greatest beat-boxer, performing like 700 or 800 shows together that is the highlight! I did some shows deejaying for KRS, too — That was crazy! Scratching on stage with Mix-Master Mike is a highlight for my-self. Having Afrika Bambaataa play my records in his set in England was a huge thrill for me as well. For everyone else, they may say my highlights were performing at the Millennium party for MTV, live in Times Square, when the ball dropped. It was two million people live, and tens of millions watching live on TV when we performed right before the ball dropped. That was totally nuts! My Regis and Kelly appearance would be another. Something no other deejay has done, and something that no one would expect me to do.
What’s next for DJ JS-1?
I’m not sure. Eventually I won’t be able to travel as much because I’m already slightly sick of it, so I see myself more stationary — Possibly teaching history here in N.Y.. I will always make some kind of albums and music and keep putting it out there, and always deejay, but it’s just a matter of how much of my life I will continue to dedicate to it. For now, things are going well, so I’m gonna keep doing what I do.
You’re about to embark on a new tour, correct?
Yeah, for sure! Myself and Rahzel are constantly traveling and doing shows. We have a bunch of random dates booked this summer, and then will be heading out this fall again. Next week, we’re off to Bulgaria then back home for my release party, then off to France and Belgium with Mix-Master Mike and DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill.
What’s does the “live” experience entail?
Hmmm…Well, it does depend a lil bit on where I am deejaying at, but you can always expect to NOT hear the usual play-list of popular songs. I like playing a lot of breaks, original samples, funk, disco and old school Hip-Hop, some rock, etcetera. AND, I always perform. I do tricks, show-off, scratch with my foot and all that stuff. It’s visual and audio. At shows and concerts, people are standing there watching you and you gotta do something. So when im spinnin’, I’m noticeably working hard.
And when i perform with Rahzel… it’s what i just said along with the best beatboxer on the planet, need i say more?
What about outside production work — Anything else coming up from you soon?
I just released a Sadat X album last month, and after this No Sell Out project I have an “all-scratching” album coming with only beats and scratches, no emcees. Then there will be more regular songs coming, along with new music from Rahzel, and some music I did with KRS-One. I’m (also) doing an album with O.C.. We just starting putting it together, so this summer I will be doing that hopefully. Finally, there is more ColdHeat projects coming.
Although you’ve worked with a plethora of top shelf talent, and besides GZA and Redman, is there anyone else in particular that you haven’t worked with that you’d definitely like to, futuristically speaking?
YES, of course! GZA, Redman, Rakim, Ghostface — There is a bunch of others, but those come to mind right away. I’m going to try for sure!
Do you have any message for the readers of Rap Industry Dot Com?
Don’t settle for what you are fed! Google works just fine, do a lil research, you are probably one or two clicks away from some amazing music, videos, or information you would like and appreciate, but wouldn’t get because all the other crap is thrown in your face.