Pittsburgh artist J-Haze has been making music since he was released from jail on an armed robbery charge in 2006. Raised by the system, he was in and out of jail since 1998. Leaving his criminal past behind in 2009 to pursue music as a profession, he signed with Amalgam Digital just before their flagship talent, Max B, was sentenced to 75 years in prison. Parting ways with Amalgam in 2010, J-Haze had released a project with features from Yo Gotti, Mad Skillz, Glasses Malone and Gudda Gudda by Cash Money's peak in 2011.
In the past seven years, music has undergone a fundamental shift in terms of revenue generation. While physical record sales are becoming obsolete, J-Haze hasn't abandoned the street marketing method of hand to hand CD sales. His most recent record, Hussein On Cocaine featuring Conway, eclipsed 300k streams on Spotify but he generated more revenue from selling physical copies of the song.
With over a decade of experience as a high level indie artist, we caught up with J-Haze to gain some insight on his battles with the legal system, obtaining major features and his evolution as an indie artist.
AHH. How did you get caught up in the legal system at the age of 12?
JH. I threatened somebody's life before I was a teenager and there were witnesses who testified against me. I don't even remember what made me do that but even if could go back in time, I wouldn't change any part of my path.
AHH. What helped you to break out of the recurring incarceration pattern?
JH. I was tired of the system! I think it was a blessing that I started getting locked up at such a young age because the legal system is more forgiving when you're still a minor. I was constantly in and out of jail from age 12-19. Look at Meek and how they had him on probation for ten years. We come from the same flawed Pennsylvania justice system. When I started making music, I saw a way out and I took that lane.
AHH. You've released songs with everybody from DJ Khaled to Yo Gotti, how were you able to get those as an indie artist?
JH. I started working with Drum Squad producers and they had relationships with Yo Gotti, Jim Jones and a lot of other artists. Even though I was out of the streets by this point in time, I still had street money to fund those initial features. Then I developed a strong relationship with Glasses Malone, which put me around the Cash Money camp. I've done everything from dropping a track with DJ Khaled to getting production from Ryan Leslie.
AHH. From your vantage point, how has the meaning of being indie changed since you started making music?
JH. You have to be a real student of the game now and learn from what everybody else is doing to drive awareness to the music. Not from the standpoint of how a lot of these new artists are startin beef to build the awareness for their music but looking at how they use social media, you can learn a lot. Its important to constantly evolve but I still use elements from when I first started out like selling physical CDs and gorilla marketing to put my own twist on everything. Its just funny to look at how the game changed. Back in the 2000s, you were looked down on for being independent but these days, even when people have a full label backing them, they try to seem indie because it looks better and more organic.
AHH. Do you ever intend on signing with a major label?
JH. I plan on signing to a major. Me and Nashawn Carter [Jay-Z's nephew], A&R at Rocnation and Dream Chaser Records, talk about it all the time. The goal isn't to just sign a deal, its about signing the RIGHT deal. I've had a lot of situations pop up in the past but the best move has been to just start my own company and build that until I get an offer that I can't refuse. I started my own label, Showoff Gang Music in 2012.
AHH. What is your goal with your Showoff Gang Music and what do you currently have in the pipeline for them?
JH. The label has four artists but what's most important is the infrastructure that we have in place. I signed three producers and our public relations and digital marketing team has been big in helping take everybody to the next level. I learned so much of the game from first hand experience and losing a lot of money from making the wrong moves. We gained a lot of traction in 2017 from doing a commercial for BET to getting hundreds of thousands of streams on individual songs online. We're gearing up to release four projects and we're looking for those to help us take everything to the next level. This business is a marathon, not a sprint. We're just staying focused on constantly progressing.