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 Kwelis 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 hes 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. Youre multi-talented artists that have been seriously over looked for a long time. Why is that?
J. Sands: Hey man, its all about chance. Its being at the right place, at the right time. The whole reason that Im 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 its really timing and seizing opportunities. I asked J. Rawls the other day, Ya know, Ive been doing this professionally without a job for the past six years and to get money for over the past 10 years. Were not millionaires. Weve released a lot of albums, but were not all up in the magazines; front cover and all. I either look at this as a success, or a failure of what Ive been doing for the last 10 years. He said, Man, this is a success. Weve been around the world a few times. People respect what we do. Trust me; I hope tomorrow that the deal comes. I dont worry about it. Im happy for dudes out there doing their thing and getting money. Im 34. Im 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 didnt get leaked on my MySpace. It got leaked on the Internet. I sent it to a couple of people and before you know it, its everywhere. The thing about it, that the track didnt get used.
AllHipHop.com: So what happened? Was it someone from the inside?
J. Sands: I dont know. All I know is that I got up one day and its everywhere! Im 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 its getting mixed on the radio, and Radio Sirius.
AllHipHop.com: How did Kweli feel about the situation?
J. Sands: Im not sure. Kweli is definetly upset about it. Me, Im like, F**k it. If he doesnt use it, I wasted a verse. I get paid to rap too. From my end, Im 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. Im looking at it like, If he dont 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 Im 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 didnt have anything to do with it. I dont think that Ive 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 dont have that whatever is hot at the moment. They dont 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 wasnt us. So I think that was always the deal-breaker. These guys dont sound like whats hot, so how are we going to make money off of them?
AllHipHop.com: You said that youve 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. Thats 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 Im getting my size of money, I have to keep track 100 times percent more than they do because its so little. Like Kweli can pay a manager or a publicist, I cant do that. I gotta be on top of my grind like that, as far as making sure that the ends meet. Ive 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 dont have budgets like that. We have a strong fan base that supports what every release that we put out. Its worldwide.
Im still trying to figure it out. I just released two CDs. Im 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, itll usually sell 10,000 CDs, and 5,000 vinyls. Hopefully, it changes, but Im an ideal person, but also a real person. I have to deal with the numbers.
AllHipHop.com: Lets 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 its life or death unless someone is going to die over it, its not that serious. I hate people that are nervous, or for instance playing a basketball game. The clock is ticking and Im playing with four dudes that are nervous, shaking, about ready to crack under pressure. Naw, man. No. Its a story and most of the time I want you to laugh from it. Who doesnt like to laugh? Its entertainment. At the end of the day its sex, money, drugs, humor. It takes people away from what theyre doing.
I have a song called, The Moment I Feared. That shit aint real. Thats 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 dont 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. Thats 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, thats 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 havent lived a big life, but Ive 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 Ive 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 thats 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 Im getting a check every Friday; I have my suits on, looking sharp everyday; to being this rap dude. It just worked out. Im 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 its 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. Ive got a foot halfway in the door and a foot halfway out the door. If I make it, is determined on which side Im 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, Im a big Steelers fan.
AllHipHop.com: Its the beginning of the year. Were 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. Its not all about this business, Im going to pop you, or Trying to slang as much as I can. Okay, thats 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. Thats what were gonna have to go back to and love that. Everybody thinks that love is weak. Like its 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 didnt play that. He didnt play anybody drinking or smoking weed. Ya gotta love James Brown. He captured a moment. Hed took a look at it; write a song about it, and it would be powerful. Brothers and sisters, were going through this, but we gotta keep that love! Thats powerful s**t to say when youre 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 youre talking about a watch or a car. But were grown. Were grown-ups. If youre 18, youre a man, so start acting like one.
AllHipHop.com: We all learn from out mistakes.
J. Sands: Ive made many mistakes. Ive made many - probably a couple more since this morning. But I just keep on moving. Ya cant get depressed. Just keep on moving. Im a musician now, so I got music to make.