Interview: J57

(Photo by Adri Whitehead)

Here we have J57 not the engine that was a development of the XT45 (PT4) turboprop engine. Don’t ask how I know that. But the J57 who is actually a human being. An Emcee/Producer from Long Island, New York who is now based in Brooklyn. Also a member from the talented Brown Bag AllStars who is now releasing his debut solo album called Digital Society under Balanced Records. Interview after the jump.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is J57. I’m an emcee and producer from Brooklyn-based indie hip hop group, Brown Bag AllStars.  I also produce down-tempo electronic music and I have an electronic album called, Digital Society, dropping today (August 13, 2010) on Juno-Award winning label, Balanced Records.

Digital or Vinyl?

I say vinyl. I’m fortunate enough to have a few things out on vinyl and digitally as well, but vinyl will always be “the standard” to me.

What is behind the album name Digital Society?

I got the title from one of my favorite movies.  I felt like it works with the sound of the album being that the entire album was created in Propellorhead Reason.

How long were you working on it for?

I originally shopped Balanced Records around 60 tracks for two different albums and I wanted them to just take the best tracks.  They did that but they also helped me focus on just one album and making it as good as possible.  Majority of the tracks are from 2008 and and 2009 but there’s one or two from 2007.  We spent a lot of time on mixing and mastering this album to make it sound great.

Having just 3 features where they rap, is their a point to this?

Well, it’s really just an instrumental album and the tracks with rappers are the ‘bonus cuts’ but they’re technically on the album, too.  The tracks with rappers came about within the past two months actually.  The track ‘’Still Phenomenal’’ featuring Sene, Co$$ and Homeboy Sandman is the only beat on the album made in 2010, actually.

What do you want to get out of this project?

This album is the foundation for my instrumental career.  It’s the album that kicks in the door and let’s people know that I can do more than just boom-bap hiphop beats.  The plan seems to be working and I’m extremely grateful for it.

Is there any one you have modeled your sound after?

I’m influenced by some really polar opposite producers.  I’m really influenced by DJ Premier, J Dilla, Madlib, Marco Polo, DJ Khalil, as much as I’m influenced by Radiohead, DJ Shadow, RJD2, Moby, Prefuse73, and Portishead.

What was the process of this album ‘Digital Society’?

It was a natural process.  Like I said before, I shopped Balanced Records a bunch of different beats and then went back and shaped it into a cohesive album.  Once I had the exact idea for the sound of the album, I then went back and cut a ton of tracks and made new ones.  Then I’d have my man Digga Jefferson Price play extra synths and sing over the tracks.

In your album cover is that the equipment you used for this album?

I’m not going to lie – no.  That photoshoot took place at the legendary Chung King Studios in NYC, where I’ve recorded and made beats with fellow Brown Bag AllStar: DJ Goo, hundreds of time.  I’ve made tons of straight forward hiphop beats using that exact equipment but nothing on this album.  I felt like pictures of that equipment would embody the sound of the album for the front/back cover and inner-booklet.

21 tracks is a lot of heat, why did you choose 21 tracks for this album?

Originally, it was only 13 or 14 tracks but I wanted to make the album longer because the tracks are so short.  Most tracks are around 2 to 2 ½ minutes long.

Who inspired you to do this prosperous album?

The Audible Doctor did.  I’ve been sitting on around 5 beat tapes and instrumental albums since 2007 and only he was/is really aware of this. One day we were on the train going back to Brooklyn after working at Fat Beats and he was like, “Why don’t you just release something already?”  So, I took his advice.

What do you want fans of Hip Hop to get out of this album?

Entertainment.  This album’s definitely a mix of hiphop and electronic music & I hope fans of both genres will like it.  In a nutshell, the formula for this album is: electronic synths over hiphop drums at a hiphop tempo.

You rap and you produce why didn’t you rhyme over your beats on Digital Society?

Honestly, I’m not really interested in making a J57 emcee/producer album.  I really like focusing all of my writing towards Brown Bag AllStars tracks and doing features here and there.  I work best in the group dynamic as an emcee and I’m probably not going to ever drop a full album where I rap on every track, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, I love rhyming, but I’m just not interested in doing that yet. Maybe one day.

Was you a rapper or producer first?

Rapper.  I started writing rhymes and recording songs on my boom box with my friends in High School back November, 1998.  I began producing December, 2002.

Did something make you decide to rap or produce was it something that just happened?

I was leaving a party and a group of kids from another High School ran up on me and put a gun to my head and said, “Start rapping.”  Nah, haha that didn’t happen!  The truth is, I was always a fan of hiphop as well as rock and triphop since I was a little kid, but hiphop became my life in High School.  My crew was all about going digging for hiphop records, doing graffiti, break dancing, freestyling, dj’ing and beatboxing.  I was the crew’s beatboxer.  I know this sounds crazy but back then we used to have freestyle ciphers in the middle of the hall way in school and I was always the beatboxer. Tons of people would always gather around us and cheer and stuff lol.  I eventually started freestyling and writing rhymes.  I got into making beats after years of beatboxing.

Out of the 21 tracks which one did you find more challenging to do and why?

Definitely “Pain-Sober/Requiem.”  That track started out as a simple beat that barely changed up and was only around 1 ½ minutes long but Adam (aka Kasm from Balanced Records) helped me see the bigger picture for this track.  He wanted me to expand on ideas in the beat and really bring it to life.  I racked my brain on how to extend the song’s length and not make the song boring – so I decided to give the track a 2ndmovement and incorporate Digga Jefferson Price on the 2nd movement.

Was there a specific moment you felt Hip Hop was your calling?

When I first started rhyming, I really wanted it to be my calling but didn’t really think it could be.  When I was in my 2nd year of college, I was rhyming for about 4 years then, I kinda just realized it was my calling and that I could actually do it.  I was living back home on Long Island at the time (a couple of years before I moved to Brooklyn) and I was coming to NYC all the time to catch underground hiphop shows at places like Knitting Factory, S.O.B’s and Irving Plaza.  One night I was at a show at S.O.B’s for the 2nd time that week and I realized that was where I felt most ‘at home’ and that I needed to do this for a living.  I’ve been struggling financially since but I don’t regret it in the slightest.  It will all pay off.

Out of the 21 tracks which one do you favour out of your recordings?

Good question!  My answer has to be “Beyond the Infinite.”  Originally, I made that beat when I was sending 2 or 3 beats a week to Homeboy Sandman for his album, The Good Sun, and I was convinced that he was going to use it.  Turns out he loved it but felt it didn’t fit his album’s vibe – now after hearing his album, I agree.  So I was like, ‘if Sandman’s not using it, then no one’s using it on their project except for me.’ Haha!  I had the homies: P.SO & Fresh Daily on ‘’Beyond the Infinite Pt. 2’’ and they both captured the vibe perfectly.

You really have a distinctive sound. Can you explain your approach to making beats?

Thank you. My angle of attack is based around whatever mood I’m in.  I’m extremely moody when it comes to music.  If I’m in a certain mood to hear something, I then have to hear it or it messes up my entire day and makes me really depressed.  I have no idea why I’m like that, but it’s 100% true.  Since I’m into hiphop, electronic, jazz, funk, soul, etc, my beats could sound like almost anything depending on the day.  If I’m in the mood for Miles Davis, I have to hear Miles Davis or nothing at all. If I’m in the mood for Postal Service, I have to hear Postal Service or nothing at all, etc.  So, what I’m saying is, the beats I make reflect whatever mood I’m in musically.  If I’m really listening to nothing but Bjork, I’ll make a tripped out Brjok-sounding beat. If I’m listening to nothing but old Stretch & Bobbito radio shows, then I’m making nothing but filthy, dusty sounding beats.  It’s weird. But I love it.

So this is your first album, all i want to know is there going to be more solo albums coming from you?

Yes, tons and tons of them! I have a few instrumental albums almost completely ready as well as around 5 or 6 beattapes, as well.  Plus, I’m producing full projects for both Soul Khan and Sene. So there will be plenty of J57 material out in 2011!

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