J-Live has long been a major presence is the underground Hip-Hop community. His immaculately produced, energetic debut The Best Part to many, is on the same plane as Black Star and Nia. His follow-up: the mellow, Jazz-inspired, All of the Above reached many more listeners through major media endorsements. Three years, a few EPs, and a new label later, J-Live returns with There Here After.
AllHipHop.com wanted to explore J-Lives mind and career as we look at the recently released album, the criticism of his work and choices, plus disect some of his smartest concept raps. If you dont know J-Live, you will after this
AllHipHop.com: Penalty Records is often remembered for harder edge groups like Capone-N-Noreaga, and Lord Finesse for a minute. Last year, when Penalty signed The Beatnuts, Juju told us that if Milk Me wasnt pushed right, they werent going to continue to record. That record didnt do well. That being said, what attracted you to Penalty?
J-Live: The thing about Penalty that I like, is the staff. They are there for you, they know your record. I was looking for the balance of not being on an indie that isnt able to do what I need them to do at this point in my career, but at the same time, not be on a major thats not gonna respect what Ive done in my career. Penalty is good for that. On top of that, they have a strong international identity. I really feel like if I go back overseas, I wanna be able to go to countries where the record is pushed like it is in the States. I know they arent as concerned with first day/first week [sales] as pushing the record all year round. Thats comforting too. With my records, its more of a campaign that gets stronger as the record is out.
AllHipHop.com: A common criticism after All of the Above was that it was too laid-back. You addressed that with your two EPs since, but more recently, youve got this record, Harder on the album. How much did the criticism get you?
J-Live: I think the thing with All of the Above is that it was very much a Jazz-themed album. I think it sorta took on a life of its own with the direction. It was just me and two producers DJ Spinna, and Joe Money. People looked at that as the meat and potatoes of what I did. Lyrically, yeah. But, beatswise and stylewise there was a theme to that record. Even the cover art took on an impersonation of a John Coltrane record. Other records will be doing other things. Yeah, theres songs like Harder, but theres also songs like Coming Home, but theres still that balance. Sometimes I laid back, sometimes Im pretty rah-rah with it. I dont put too much thought to it. One of the criticisms was that it was too long. [laughs] Everybodys gonna have an opinion.
AllHipHop.com: My favorite moment on The Here After is The Listening with Kola Rock. Her verse is incredible
J-Live: Thank you! Shes nice man, thats all I can say. Thats my earth, right there.
AllHipHop.com: Ah, I figured as much
J-Live: She is a very talented lyricist. She was also on Im a Rapper [on the last album]. If I can get her music out there like that, we gonna plug on. How many people get to share something like that? Its a beautiful thing.
AllHipHop.com: James Poyser also co-produced that song with you. What was that experience like?
J-Live: It was incredible. The time I spent in Philly I was so impressed with the tight-knit music community. I met James and [he immediately suggested we work together]. I spend half my time in the car with the kids, playing his music be it, Bilal, Erykah, Jill, or Musiq. I brought some beats to him, and he took them to new directions.
AllHipHop.com: You make reference to wearing glasses and still being dope. Its a little thing, but I thought about the greats Large Professor, Grand Puba, DMC and how todays MCs cant wear glasses. Do you think thats because deep down, rappers arent supposed to be smart anymore in the mainstream?
J-Live: [laughs] I was truly just havin fun with it. I wear glasses cause Im blind as a bat. [laughs] It has no reflection of my intellect whatsoever. If I put contacts in, Im not gonna grow stupid. But it just so happens. The songs called Audio Visual, I was just playin with lines. But yeah, people respect different things. People might respect you cause you hard, or you got something to say you teaching them. And, me I just try to find that balance.
AllHipHop.com: Brooklyn Public Part One is an interesting record too. Youre talking about our busted urban school-systems in the same sort of vivid detail that Kool G Rap had on Train Robbery or Ghostface in Run. Why now?
J-Live: It was important, because when I was promoting All of the Above, Coup DEtat really made a point of milking the fact that I was a former city teacher. It was true, but I feel I got too much props for it cause Im doing music fulltime now and if you gonna focus on the fact that I taught, you need to look to the teachers that are still in the classrooms and give them just as much props. Whatever the case, on tour, people ask me what it was like teaching so that was me painting a picture of how it was like and what its still like. After I left the school I was at in Bushwick, the principal left too. From what I hear, the schools taken a turn for the worse. Right now, for my daughter, we looking at a school district. Its crazy, looking at the stats, and seeing how in the Black communities, the reading levels just drop. Sometimes its due to the property tax aspect of it, sometimes its not enough parental involvement, and sometimes its because the systems set up in such a way where if you dont have the resources, you cant do what you need to do. It was a song important for the times like Satisfied? was for All of the Above. I didnt want a political song. I wanted a song to show how I was affected by 9/11.
AllHipHop.com: Whats part two?
J-Live: I only called it part one was because in the third verse, I started going off on different kids it describes the specific problems with them and their characteristics I plan on continuing to do that. I didnt want the song to be too long, so Im just gonna split it up into two parts. [laughs] I may put it out on 45, like the way James Brown did part one and part two. If I dont say anything else, I know part one said what I wanted to say.
AllHipHop.com: Ed O.G. told me one time that hes got an audience that wants him to do thirty records with DJ Premier. I feel like thats a common-plague in the underground: we align great MCs with these producers that we grew up with. The Best Part had one of the best debut lineups, ever.
J-Live: The Best Part had Prince Paul, Premier, Pete Rock, Spinna, 88 Keys, Grap-Luva. I know what you mean by that
AllHipHop.com: Non-Phixions The Future Is Now is the only thing that comes to mind that sort of backing
J-Live: Yeah, they had almost the same thing as Illmatic.
AllHipHop.com: But as you release an album with lesser-known producers, or self-producer, has that been a conflict?
J-Live: Nah, I just felt like personally, you usually want to have a big name or two on your record. Thats just how people get down. If you a reputed producer, people will trust that its dope and pick it up. Or, they wanna hear that combination. In working with names, some of those people have the most professional, and easiest to work with, and most enlightening like a Premier or Prince Paul. Then you have other instances where, you know you working with a person because of their rep, but their work-ethic or their effort in giving you something good doesnt much up with that. In my experience, I want to work with producers that are dope. I want to work with producers that I havent worked with before. Im not looking for names as much as dope beats and good people. Working with Oddisee kinda came naturally. He made Aaw Yeah from scratch, and came up with the hook. He didnt just make the beat, he produced the record. People say, Dre dont make his own beats. Maybe so, but he produces them, cause you know a Dre beat when you hear it. Being in Philly at the time, vibing with Hezekiah, seeing his direction at the time. I did half the record myself to get my rep going as a qualified producer not just an MC.
AllHipHop.com: My favorite record you ever wrote was The 4th 3rd on All of the Above. That records meant different things at different times but the last verse is real confusing whether you end up with the girl or not. Whats behind that song?
J-Live: Aw, thank you. On The Best Part, I had a song called Get The Third, and I said, You can get the third eye, or the leg, or the finger, preferred The first verse was about a woman I related to mentally. The second verse was about a relationship with a woman that was all physical. The last verse was about a woman that I lost my trust in, so I gave her the third finger the middle finger.
After that record was out, I was in a relationship with a woman who was very deeply religious. Me being a Five Percenter, on that level, it didnt work. It wasnt a good idea. But it happened to be one of the most fulfilling relationships that Id ever been in. I looked at like, Aiight, this is a whole nother category right here. This is the fourth third an improper fraction. Heres three thirds but heres a four third thats on some whole other s**t. [laughs]