The Beltzhoover neighborhood made national news in May when 40 individuals were indicted on federal drug distribution charges. The Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force bust introduced the southern section of Pittsburgh to the rest of America as a hotbed for heroin.
That FBI/DEA raid painted Pittsburgh in a much different light than the music presented by party rappers Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller. Cuts like Wiz's "Black And Yellow" and Mac's "Piffsburg" show the Steel City from the perspective of a weed smoker, but another hometown rapper is offering a side of the city seen by the users and dealers of smack.
Gary "J-Haze" Brown's upcoming project Heroin Habits is being described as a "based-on-true-events" chronicle covering the street life in Pittsburgh. The album is J-Haze's first official release since signing with Los Angeles rhymer Glasses Malone's Division Media Company in 2013.
In addition to HeroinHabits, J-Haze is set to drop Views From Beltzhoover on the same date. The ode to his South Zhoove hood is a collection of older tunes remastered and repackaged. The 1-2 punch of Habits and Views is a way to enlighten the public about both the past and present of the J-Haze brand and the area of Pennsylvania that birthed him.
J-Haze spoke with AllHipHop.com about his forthcoming works. He also addressed representing for Pittsburgh, making street-oriented rap, and bringing art back to Hip Hop.
How did you first connect with Glasses Malone?
When I first met with Glasses, I was leaving New York City. I was in a meeting with RCA Records, and they told me I wasn’t commercial enough for the label. I ended up going back to Pittsburgh. I saw Glasses tweet he was in Pittsburgh, and I went down to the club he was at. I ran into him after the show. We’ve been making music ever since. That was like 2011.
An executive said you weren’t commercial enough. How did you take that?
I didn't think he knew what he was talking about at the time. I don’t think he saw the vision. I was doing a lot of street music. I guess that was around the time street records weren’t really booming like that.
It was the same guy that signed J. Cole, so I figured that’s the kind of artist he was looking for. It wasn’t his fault, I guess. He just didn’t see the vision.
You talked about how street rap is not as popular as it was before at one point. Are you concerned about connecting with the mainstream rap audience?
When I first started doing music, I wanted to stay out of trouble. I was going to jail a lot. I wanted to do something positive. I seen a lot of records coming out of my city - the Mac Millers and Wiz Khalifas - didn’t really reflect the way I grew up in Pittsburgh.
I grew up seeing a lot of racism, being called a n*gger at 10 years old. I was being beat up by the police at 15 years old and being shot at at 15 years old. So I really wanted to put my neighborhood, Beltzhoover, on the map. I really wanted to show the world what Pittsburgh was like. The way N.W.A showed Compton.
Beltzhoover is probably not as well known as the greater Pittsburgh area, but a few months ago there was a big federal bust there.
That connects to your album. You’ve described it as being based on real life. Can you talk about some of the themes you’re addressing on the album?
This project is different, because I had actual heroin addicts be recorded talking about being users. I really wanted to give people the feel of how there’s a lot of heroin where I’m at. That’s all a n*gga from Beltzhoover knows about - selling heroin.
The n*ggas that got hit up in that bust - I knew every single one of them n*ggas. I grew up with all them n*ggas. It’s funny. I moved to Los Angeles like a month before that happened.
[Heroin Habits] just shows Pittsburgh. Every city needs to be showed. I think Jay Z did a good job of showing Brooklyn. I think N.W.A did a good job of showing Compton. Snoop did a good job of showing Long Beach. I was like, “Somebody really needs to show exactly what Pittsburgh is like.”
You’re dropping two projects on the same day. What inspired that?
I didn’t drop records in the last couple of months. I felt like I owed it to the people that were waiting to hear new records. So I said, “I’m going to drop Heroin Habits which is all new music, and I’m going to drop Views From Beltzhoover which is older music, so people that haven’t heard those records can catch up to the newer music."
What’s the release date?
We’re shooting for Black Friday, November 27. I’m pressing up 60,000 copies and giving them out for free.
We’re in an era now where a lot of Hip Hop fans really believe they shouldn’t have to pay for music. Then you have the transition to streaming, and the mixtape culture is still thriving. Where do you stand as far as where the release of music is going?
I think it’s the only genre of music where people feel like they don’t have to pay for music. They don’t do that with Pop acts. They don’t do that with Rock & Roll acts. I think the music is over saturated and sounds too much alike. I think Hip Hop is not as unique as it used to be. Everybody’s trying to sound like Rich Homie Quan, Young Thug, or Gucci Mane. A lot of artists have lost their identity.
But the business side of music? I think there’s still revenue in it, because the big dogs in the game are making a lot of money. So there’s still money in it. For the guys like me and the newcomers, we have to find different ways to get the money and unique ways to get the fans' attention. You have to apply new strategies now.
You mentioned earlier how you felt artists like Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa are not really representing a certain part of Pittsburgh. What do you think about the Pittsburgh rap scene now?
I think it’s like every city on the East Coast right now. Nobody wants to get along. Everybody wants to d*ck ride the southern style. Everybody wants to jump on a Trap record. The sounds are not unique. That’s why the West Coast has it right now. They came back on the scene. They came and got it.
But in Pittsburgh, all the subjects are the same. N*ggas just want to smoke weed and get high all day. That’s not part of the Pittsburgh where I’m from. N*ggas might have a blunt here and there, but not all day. N*ggas are trying to figure out how to pay bills and survive.
Troy Ave was saying how it used to be rappers were the drug dealers, but now we’ve gotten to the point where the rappers are the users.
Shout out to Troy Ave. I agree with him. Me and Troy Ave had the same manager for a long time. Shout out to Hovain. I agree. Now the users are cool, and the drug dealers are not cool. It’s cool to be a junkie now. I don’t think it’s even cool to put that on these kids. Getting high all day is cool? Sipping lean is cool? That sh*t ain’t cool.
Do you have any ambition of starting your own imprint and putting people on?
Yeah, I have an imprint called Showoff Gang Music. I got two artists - Stoner and Omari - with projects already done. They’ll be dropping before the end of the year.
Are they on your project?
Yeah, they’re on my Heroin Habits tape. They got their own projects dropping soon too. I plan on flooding the streets with music. It’s about creating new movements - something that’s actually going to help Hip Hop. It’s really about the culture. It’s really about the art.
Everybody’s talking about they’re in this to make money. Come on, that’s how y’all killing the art of this sh*t. That’s why the music is bad right now. Everybody’s only doing it because they want to be cool or they want to get a couple of hoes off of it. But y’all n*ggas are killing the art. With these projects, it’s about bringing the art back. It’s about bringing really good music and having fun with this sh*t.
[ALSO READ: J-Haze Ft. Gudda Gudda – “I’ma Boss”]
J-Haze’s Heroin Habits and Views From Beltzhoover are scheduled for release on November 27.