Sometimes the whole “better late than never” thing really makes sense. Way back in December we threw a really cool party with adidas soccer in Miami during Art Basel. Everything was built around a soccer inspired custom sneaker face-off with Red Ribbon Recon and Shoe Surgeon. The likes of Chad Ochocinco, John Geiger, Naturel and Tamra Dae came through to rock with us. There was also the guy who DJed our little soiree, a man by the name of Just Blaze. Arguably one of the hip hop’s greatest producers, Blaze has worked with everyone from Jay-Z to Kanye and everyone in between. The day after our Copa Basel shindig, Just Blaze sat down with us for a chat. Have a look at the in depth Q and A below.
KTTP: What type of music do you listen to on a regular basis and do you think it’s important for a producer or DJ to have a wide array musical influences?
Just Blaze: The only reason I have any success in my life is because I grew up on all types of music. If I grew up listing to one genre, I probably wouldn’t have made the things that I’ve made. It’s one of the things about hip hop that you have to remember, this music was born because kids in the ghetto had no resources. They had no music, they had no instruments and they had no money. So they went and pulled influences from everyone else. In the way I grew up my dad was jazz pianist and my mom used to sing in the church but she also loved like, early 80s new wave and synth pop. I had a cousin who was about 8 years older than me who was there from the beginning of hip hop and an aunt that was into straight soul music. So early on in my life, I had all these influences from family to school. In school, I hung out with a lot of kids that were into heavy metal. I remember asking my mom to buy me Mega Death albums because I liked the album covers, that’s where a lot of the dopest artwork was at the time and the kids in school would rock in on their vests. This before you could buy this at hot topic.
KTTP: It’s crazy to think about that, now you have models and girls like the Kardashians wearing this stuff
JB: Oh hell no, back then if you were rocking that, you were the real deal and I was always attracted to that artwork. I remember I believe it was Def Leppard, I think it was ‘Pyromania’ the cover had some kind of a gun crosshair with a building getting shot or blown up, I didn’t care about the music I just thought the album cover was cool! But then I went home and discovered ‘Rock of Ages’ I remember finding a drum break on that. So for me, it was always about listening to everything and anything I’ve done throughout my career reflects that.
KTTP: We know you’re really into Star Wars, can you talk a bit about that and what are some of your influences outside of music?
JB: I’m just a tech guy in general, because of the exposure we have now through social media, where people can look into your life a bit more than before, someone makes a Star Wars joke and people kinda run with it. Not that I don’t love Star Wars but it’s a very small part of my existence. But my whole love for the series came from my dad scaring me when I was little with Darth Vader. If you ever look at one of the original Star Wars soundtrack vinyls there’s a picture of Darth Vader on the back. He used to run around making that breathing noise and I used to run from him! (laughs). So that just stayed with me, as I got older around 6 or so years old Return of the Jedi came out, that was one of the first times I can remember my dad taking the family to a movie. So for me, it was more so identifying with my childhood. My dad was a science fiction guy so there was a lot of Dune, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and he was a computer programmer so that was second nature to him. So sci-fi stuff was huge in my house and I think I just became a futurist by nature or by nurture, however you want to look at it. But had it not been for my dad having all this stuff around the house I might not have done certain things. I remember being in 4th grade and learning to program a computer, the first thing I asked was ” Can you make music on a computer?” because I used to watch him make music and work on computers.
KTTP: Do you remember playing video games and listening to certain soundtracks that stuck with you or influenced you?
JB: Oh definitely! Nintendo was cool but I was more into Sega. Yuzo Koshiro did a lot of the classic Sega Genesis games and that was huge for me. Games like Revenge of Shinobi and Streets of Rage 2 the ill think about that was he was making music that sounded like records I was buying. If you think about like this, we all know the Super Mario Bros them but there wasn’t any real music that sounded like that outside of the game. Now you go back in put in that Revenge of Shinobi theme and you here Freestylers when you got to certain stages you heard house music, Detroit house stuff that actually sounded like authentic Detroit house. When you played Streets of Rage you heard real replications of early techno. So that’s why identified with that 16bit Sega realm, it sounded like the actual records I was buying.
KTTP: You feel like you could just listen to those soundtracks on their own?
JB: You know it’s funny I was just telling this story on twitter the other night, I remember playing the stage leading up to the night club in Revenge of Shinobi and my mom walked in she was like “Oh what’s that!?” then she kind of started dancing. I had friends over and eleven year old me was kind of embarrassed but she actually came over and watched us play because of the music.
KTTP: Going back to music do you have a top 3 beats that you’ve produced?
JB: I can’t do that. It’s like kids, you don’t have a favorite or love one more than the other. The same way kids come out of you is similar to the way music does for me. I mean don’t get it twisted I know I’ve made some great music but I know there’s stuff out there that people have managed to dig up that is terrible. I’ve for sure left the studio and thought; well that record really wasn’t that good but I got paid for it so I can’t really tell them not to put it out. But even those records represent a time and a place in my life. I also know there are records that have resonated with people over time and that’s something I’ve learned it’s not so much about what I like. Ultimately you could make a record that you don’t really love that becomes a classic.
KTTP: Can you name a particular record in which that’s happened? Like one, you weren’t super big on.
JB: There are two, kind of. It’s not that I didn’t expect them to be big hits but I didn’t expect to make such an impact on our culture. They are “Roc The Mic” and “What We Do.” They’re actually both Freeway records. I made “Roc The Mic” because I thought Freeway was a nice guy, not that I didn’t think he was dope. It’s actually kind of funny, we made that record right here in Miami. I was living here at the time, in fact, we all were. We were all leaving the studio, it was about 6 a.m. Freeway had just gotten down with us and right away he asked for a beat. When I thought about it, he was always so nice and respectful towards me as opposed to a lot of the other artists in the crew who came at me from a place of entitlement. When you think about it, I actually don’t owe you shit. Freeway was the opposite, always so respectful of my time and my space that I was like, “No problem.” I couldn’t say no because he was always so genuinely nice to me. So I made the beat in about 5 minutes gave it to him, remember it was about 6 a.m., I came back around 10:30 and they were having a pool party at our condo with “Roc The Mic” on loop over and over. He did the song right away, like the complete song. Obviously, once I heard the whole thing I knew, we knew it was going to be a real record.
KTTP: What about “What We Do”?
JB: With that, it was like the structure and the nature of the song was so repetitive it takes a talented group of artists to make something fresh out of something so simple. So when I made it I honestly didn’t think it was going to be anything at all. Freeway jumped on it and boom. The next day Jay-Z comes in and asks about this track he’s been hearing about. So I play it for him and right away he’s like “YOOO let me jump on it” so he does. Beans was the last to get on and that was it. Sometimes you think nothing of it. You just make it and put it to the side. I’ve met artists that make something and think nothing of it but it speaks to me. I’ll literally tell them it taps into my identity, I don’t care what it costs I need to have it.
KTTP: Alright it’s time for something we like to call “Stoppage time” we ask rapid fire questions and you answer as quickly as possible. First one: what’s something you always wanted be growing up?
JB: Music maker, that’s all I ever wanted to be.
KTTP: Name one style trend you wish never became one?
JB: Throwback jerseys! You have to understand I wasn’t really in the cool crowd when the trend was poppin’ so I had to buy them. One day, me and a Def Jam homie of mine sat down and calculated all the money I had spent…It was enough to buy a damn house! (laughs)
KTTP: We wonder what Fabulous’s throwback tab was like
JB: Nah see Fab was cool, he was in mad videos and all over the place really. So people were giving them to him, I was behind the scenes so I had to buy mine. I’m hanging with these dudes so I have to keep up with them, but it really wasn’t fair. I was young and didn’t know any better. But to this day, in my mom’s basement, there are boxes of throwbacks.
KTTP: What are you most famous for amongst your friends?
JB: Tech support: “My iPhone is doing this weird thing” or “My computer does this when I turn it on” etc.
KTTP: Would you rather get dissed by Eminem or Jay-Z?
JB: That’s a good one. Probably Jay-Z because only because I could make a better response. I know Jay really well, we’re good friends. So I know a lot more about him. Don’t get me wrong me and Em are cool but I don’t have as much personal experience as I do with Jay. But this is all hypothetical! (laughs).
KTTP: If your house was burning down what are the first 3 things you would get?
JB: My family, my laptop and my server. I have a server that has my entire career on there. I’d sell some tracks and could easily start over.