J. Sands: Steel Curtain

For a decade, the Lone Catalysts have lived up to their name as one of the few groups still advancing Hip-Hop through the ‘90s conventions for pure, underground music. That underground label appeases some fans, but has it held the duo of J. Sands and J. Rawls back from the success and recognition they deserve?

Late last year, longtime associate Talib Kweli recorded a song produced by Kanye West as a potential choice for Kweli’s Ear Drum release. Prior to its mastering, the song leaked, and many presumed that the 34 year-old Pittsburgh, PA MC J. Sands was behind the promotional push. They presumed wrong. Sands says he’s more concerned with the release of his The Breaks 2 solo album, and the day-to-day hustle of his B.U.K.A. label. The veteran tells his story and his perspective of the game that he too, lives off of.

AllHipHop.com: The Lone Catalysts are considered underground OGs. You’re multi-talented artists that have been seriously over looked for a long time. Why is that?

J. Sands: Hey man, it’s all about chance. It’s being at the right place, at the right time. The whole reason that I’m in the game, is from being in the right place at the right time. Being with Kweli, going to a label and getting a deal instantly. I just happened to be in New York. So it’s really timing and seizing opportunities. I asked J. Rawls the other day, “Ya know, I’ve been doing this professionally without a job for the past six years and to get money for over the past 10 years. We’re not millionaires. We’ve released a lot of albums, but we’re not all up in the magazines; front cover and all. I either look at this as a success, or a failure of what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.” He said, “Man, this is a success. We’ve been around the world a few times. People respect what we do. Trust me; I hope tomorrow that the deal comes.” I don’t worry about it. I’m happy for dudes out there doing their thing and getting money. I’m 34. I’m too old to be hating.

AllHipHop.com: You did a track with Talib Kweli for his new album. Kanye produced it, but apparently it was leaked onto your MySpace before it was mastered.

J. Sands: Naw. It didn’t get leaked on my MySpace. It got leaked on the Internet. I sent it to a couple of people and before you know it, it’s everywhere. The thing about it, that the track didn’t get used.

AllHipHop.com: So what happened? Was it someone from the inside?

J. Sands: I don’t know. All I know is that I got up one day and its everywhere! I’m getting e-mails from people left and right. It was overwhelming. These kinds of things never happen when we [Lone Catalysts] put stuff out. This song, I sent it to a couple of people. A couple of my producing dudes, and then it’s getting mixed on the radio, and Radio Sirius.

AllHipHop.com: How did Kweli feel about the situation?

J. Sands: I’m not sure. Kweli is definetly upset about it. Me, I’m like, “F**k it. If he doesn’t use it, I wasted a verse. I get paid to rap too.” From my end, I’m looking at it like, dudes like 50 Cent or Kweli, or whoever, might get paid $20,000 or $50,000 for their verse, Whereas J. Sands may get $1,000 for a verse. I gotta be on top of my verse more than they do. I’m looking at it like, If he don’t use it, I just wasted a verse that I cold have gotten paid off by someone else. On a business level, I run a record label [B.U.K.A.], so I’m always looking at things on that kind of a level, as well as an artistic one. A lot of guys are getting a lot of attention off of the situation.

AllHipHop.com: Do you think that it was a deal-breaker. Preventing you or someone else from going big?

J. Sands: Hell naw! Honestly, that was a small thing. It didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t think that I’ve ever been in a position to have a deal-breaker. I think the deal breaker for Lone Catalysts, or J. Sands have always been, “Well they don’t have that whatever is hot at the moment. They don’t have that.” When we first came out, it was Ruff Ryders and all of that. Then it was Bad Boy, then down South. We never followed that trend. Not saying that the trend was wack, but that just wasn’t us. So I think that was always the deal-breaker. “These guys don’t sound like what’s hot, so how are we going to make money off of them?”

AllHipHop.com: You said that you’ve been doing this full-time for six years. How have you persevered and survived all of these years?

J. Sands: First of all, I own a record label. That’s the most important part for anyone trying to do this. Start your own record label and make sure that every check comes through you. Back to the 50 Cent and Kweli analogy, as far as them getting money…while I’m getting my size of money, I have to keep track 100 times percent more than they do because it’s so little. Like Kweli can pay a manager or a publicist, I can’t do that. I gotta be on top of my grind like that, as far as making sure that the ends meet. I’ve never had a budget over $5,000 to put out an album, ever. Dudes be having $40,000 to $60,000 budgets to do a video, marketing, promotions, ads… With the Lone Catalysts, man, there was no ads. We just out it in the store. We don’t have budgets like that. We have a strong fan base that supports what every release that we put out. It’s worldwide.

I’m still trying to figure it out. I just released two CDs. I’m trying to figure out what will do it. Every time I put something out, I put it out with the idea that “I want this to sell 100,000 to 200,000 units,” but in all reality, it’ll usually sell 10,000 CDs, and 5,000 vinyls. Hopefully, it changes, but I’m an ideal person, but also a real person. I have to deal with the numbers.

AllHipHop.com: Let’s switch it up a bit. Speaking of one of the new albums, The Breaks 2: Interlude Violator, the lyrics are clear, concise, comical, yet at times, there seems to be a bit of irony at the end of the stories; especially when it comes to serious topics. Do you find that it helps you?

J. Sands: Yeah man. To me, unless it’s life or death…unless someone is going to die over it, it’s not that serious. I hate people that are nervous, or for instance playing a basketball game. The clock is ticking and I’m playing with four dudes that are nervous, shaking, about ready to crack under pressure. Naw, man. No. It’s a story and most of the time I want you to laugh from it. Who doesn’t like to laugh? It’s entertainment. At the end of the day its sex, money, drugs, humor. It takes people away from what they’re doing.

I have a song called, “The Moment I Feared.” That shit ain’t real. That’s just some s**t that growing up… Slick Rick had a lot of songs, player, but that was my favorite one out of all of them. “The Moment I Feared.” You be at the crib blowing some dank, hearing the beats, and all of a sudden, “Boom!” I got a song called, “The Moment I Feared.”

AllHipHop.com: For those that don’t know you, they hear your music and think, “Jokes, smoke, and honeys.” But who is the real, J. Sands?”

J. Sands: The real J. Sands is, Jermaine Edward Sanders. Born 1972, September 16, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The son of Jay Sanders and Pat Sanders. That’s the real J. Sands right there. He was just a kid that…before I was in the rap game, I did a lot of stuff. I was a big sports guy. I thought that I was going to be Barry Bonds coming out of high school. I played sports in college. Went to college, that’s how me and J. Sands, we did out thing in a fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. The kid did a lot of things before the rap thing. I haven’t lived a big life, but I’ve done a lot of things. I worked a full-time job as a manager of a transportation company. I wore a suit and tie everyday. I used to go to New York and visit Kweli on the weekend type thing, to hang out. I had my thing already going steady before the rap game hit. When the rap game came, it was just the fact that I never really tried to be that dude…I’ve been rapping since I was 13 years old. I was the only dude on the block that could just say rhymes off the top of his head for a whole lunch break and not stop. To me it made sense, so that’s why I used to always step to it because no one could do it from where I was from. But when it came and seemed legit, I was working a full-time and recording music, basically working two full-time jobs form 1997 to 2001. It took a long time before I got this job where I’m getting a check every Friday; I have my suits on, looking sharp everyday; to being this rap dude. It just worked out. I’m not ballin’. F**k ballin’. It just worked out. I gotta stay on the road doing four to five shows a month. I can release two to three CDs out there to the public eye a year. Whether it’s mine or something on my label, just to keep the flow going. I sell so little that if I lose that flow, I can lose a lot. I’ve got a foot halfway in the door and a foot halfway out the door. If I make it, is determined on which side I’m gonna be on at the end of the day. Shout out to Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and the new head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is one of my frat brothers, Mike Tomlin. Definitely, I’m a big Steelers fan.

AllHipHop.com: It’s the beginning of the year. We’re only in the third month of 2007. What do you see happening this year?

J. Sands: A lot of good musicians recently passed away. People are going to go back and listen to their music and see what it is. It’s not all about this business, “I’m going to pop you,” or “Trying to slang as much as I can.” Okay, that’s your life. I understand, but before that, there was love. There was love between you and your father. There was love between you and your mother. There was love between you and your brothers and sisters. That’s what we’re gonna have to go back to and love that. Everybody thinks that love is weak. Like it’s some sucka s**t. Like if you love someone. I love my friends. Cats will be mad at me, but I downloaded the whole James Brown catalog. A lot of it is about…did you see the funeral on CNN?

AllHipHop.com: I caught some of it.

J. Sands: The thing about it was that he didn’t play that. He didn’t play anybody drinking or smoking weed. Ya gotta love James Brown. He captured a moment. He’d took a look at it; write a song about it, and it would be powerful. “Brothers and sisters, we’re going through this, but we gotta’ keep that love!” That’s powerful s**t to say when you’re King of everything. Now you see how the King of the rap things is acting. “Oh man, I got that. I got that.” Man, James Brown was the King of Kings. He was talking about Black love and you’re talking about a watch or a car. But we’re grown. We’re grown-ups. If you’re 18, you’re a man, so start acting like one.

AllHipHop.com: We all learn from out mistakes.

J. Sands: I’ve made many mistakes. I’ve made many – probably a couple more since this morning. But I just keep on moving. Ya’ can’t get depressed. Just keep on moving. I’m a musician now, so I got music to make.

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