J57 is a bit of an oddity in today’s saturated hip-hop scene. I say this because he’s multi-faceted in that he produces, creates beats, and when time permits, can even hold his own on the mic. As a Long Island native that now resides in Brooklyn, he first got a glimpse of what was to come when he started to work at the infamous Fat Beats Records (circa 2004) where he would meet the future members of the hip-hop collective known as the Brown Bag Allstars. Fast forward to date and he’s worked with countless artists both large and small, hosts his own show on Sirius/ XM called “Rap is Outta Control” with the lkes of DJ Eclipse & Torae (channel 44 Hip Hop Nation 10 pm EST on Sundays) & is rarely not working. I had a chance to catch up with him amongst the chaos of plotting out his wedding and am fortunate for his time. Without further delay, I present to you, J57:
SP: How’d you coin the name J57?
J57: From 98 to 08, I went by JLOG1C. It was pretty much the first mic-name I came up with and right when my group Brown Bag AllStars were about to drop our first project, I was like “I need a name that’s a little more suiting for my style than this old, generic one.” I wracked my brain for a solid week and then The Audible Doctor from Brown Bag AllStars (BBAS) came up with J57. I could tell you what it stands for, but then I’d have to kill you.
SP: From Bjork to Hip-hop, you’ve got quite the diverse list of influences sir. Describe your creative process when it comes to production, what drives your sound and what are you after in the end result?
J57: Thanks, man, that’s exactly why I knew I needed a unique name since I like to make more than just one style of hip hop or music in general. As an emcee, my style is different every time I rap on a track – the style I use for each track is influenced by the vibe/feel of the beat. My beat making process is very similar; the beat I make at a specific moment is influenced by my mood, right then and there.
For example; yesterday I was in a very 90’s, Wu-Tang sounding mood and I made a beat that sounded like something Raekwon, Roc Marciano or Mobb Deep should rap on. Now today, I just woke up and I’m feeling like I want to make some huge sounding, stadium sounding beats like something Jay-Z or Eminem would use for their next album. I can go from being in a Bjork, Radiohead, Portishead, Postal Service type of mood to DJ Premier, RZA, Madlib, or J Dilla, it just depends on what my mood tells me to do.
SP: From sun up to sun down, take us through the daily hustle of J57?
J57: Great question that I’m shocked people haven’t asked me yet as I’ve honestly been waiting for it for years now, but it’s non-stop from the second I wake up until I pass out (from being over tired at night) and I love it.
For instance, today’s a fun creative one, which are of course my favorite type:
- I usually wake up between 8 – 10am; today I woke up at 9am
- The first thing I did was answer these interview questions and answer backed-up email.
- I have a call set up with one of the dope video directors I work with, to chat about a new video at 12 noon.
- I have a call with my manager at 1pm
- Walk my dog (Suri).
- We need one more beat for the new Koncept & J57 EP – going to try to make one at approx 2pm.
- My homie Joey Bada$$ just hit me up for more beats since he has a couple from me that he’s using, so I have to make some more stuff in his vibe – not sure if I can today, today’s more in the Koncept & J57/stadium status vibe mentally, but I’ll try around 3pm.
- Going to Koncept’s studio while he’s out with his Mrs around 4pm, and going to re-write and re-record my verses for half of the debut Brown Bag AllStars album. That should take approx 4 or 5 hours.
- Go back home around 9pm and take my dog Suri for a walk, then I go for a run, depending if I have time.
- My fiancé, Michele aka Michy (pronounced; Mishy) get’s home between 8-9pm. Our wedding is in two weeks and we have calls scheduled with the DJ (DeeJay Element from BBAS) and our friend, singer, Akie Bermiss, who will be singing at our ceremony like a gangster of love.
- Then have dinner with Michy.
- Then maybe watch a show with her if we have time. Almost definitely won’t.
- She goes to sleep – I check email again on my iPad while watching tv on the couch with Suri (dog).
- I then pass out between 1am – 2:30/3am on said couch and then crawl into bed.
I can’t lie, this is going to be a pretty tame day haha. The nights when I go to chill with DJ Premier in his studio in Manhattan, I get home around 7-9am after doing all of that and I don’t even feel tired after those sessions, just grateful.
SP: As I understand, you’re a college grad? When did you realize that music was your ticket out of the corporate rat race?
J57: That’s correct, I am a college grad – shouts to Dowling College on Long Island! I realized in my 2nd year of college that I wanted to make music my career. I started rhyming in the beginning of 10th grade in late 98’ and loved hip-hop with my entire being but definitely didn’t think it was do-able as a career until I started going to shows in NYC (in my first and second years of college roughly 2002/2003). Once I realized that with a lot of hard work that I may have a real shot at it, I haven’t changed my focus since.
I went to college for Marketing and Communications. I didn’t study music, but I studied FOR music, if you know what I mean. I paid attention in my classes and applied everything I learned to music. My professors in the marketing classes would teach us something and the whole class would be falling asleep, lazily writing down notes, while I was completely awake, feverishly keeping a log of notes on how I could apply that knowledge to marketing my music in the future. The same thing with my Communications courses; my favorite course in that field was Non-Verbal Communication. I can’t even tell you how much I learned in that course (shouts to Dr. Wolff!) about how you say more with your body language than you do with your words. I learned how to carry myself for important meetings in the future (came in handy this past year, meeting with multiple Major Labels) and how to always read someone to see what they’re thinking, which really gives you the upper hand 100% of the time.
SP: As the epicenter of hip-hop, NY’s got to be a tough scene to break through. With that being said, any success has a come up and struggle associated with it that often lays dormant from the public eye. Shed some light on the aspects that most people don’t see that you went through to get to this place in your career?
J57: I can’t lie, it’s been the fight of my life every day since I moved to Brooklyn in 06, but if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change a thing! I’ve been in a better place the past year but before that it was fucking grueling. For anyone that feels I’m over-rated and didn’t pay any dues, they need to re-evaluate their entire train of thought because I just turned 30 and it’s been an up-hill battle even before I moved to Brooklyn. I’ve paid my dues more than double of what I should have and I finally feel like I deserve and earned all of my recent success. I say that because it’s been extremely tough, but I never gave up the fight and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.
SP: How’s production going on the new Kon album & what can we expect to hear?
J57:Great! Koncept’s officially finished with doing just solo albums and from now on it’s us as a group: Koncept & J57. Red Bull brought us out to LA to record the Koncept & J57 album at their studio last month and it was an unreal experience.We finished the entire album out there and it’s by far our biggest and best sound yet! Right now we’re talking with a few labels that are interested and just figuring out which is the best home for the project.
The sound of this album is huge and pretty indescribable. Don’t worry, I don’t mean huge like I adapted to the current trends and abandoned my boom bap hip-hop roots for trap beats, like most people are doing. We have too much respect for the culture than to do that. This album is us but much bigger sounding.
SP: Word on the street is that you’re piecing together a solo album? What else is up your sleeve to close out 2013?
J57: (laughs) I need to know where you heard that, because I still really haven’t told anyone yet! I think I’ve told 4 people, so who spilled the beans? Ha! I’m a little more than half way finished with a secret solo EP that will be out by the very end of the year. This EP is a mix of everything that I do: a few tracks where I’m just the producer, a few where I rap with others and 1 or 2 solo tracks. Then after we wrap up the debut Brown Bag AllStars (which our goal is to finish it by late August and I have full confidence that we will) I am going to start writing and recording vocals for my top secret solo album. It’s going to be an emcee/producer album; all J57 beats and rhymes and a few features here and there. I haven’t even told BBAS about that yet, so I guess I’m announcing that here in this interview!
SP: As an mc, producer and beat-maker all rolled into one, how do you balance all of those roles when creating your own material (without losing your sanity)?
J57: It’s a lot to juggle and I went a very long time not knowing how to balance it, but I finally figured it out and I’m the best I’ve ever been at both emceeing and producing, because of it. I used to just focus on beats and write rhymes once every other month, if that, but now I’m writing weekly and making beats daily, which really helped me bring my craft to another level in the past year.
SP: Out of all of the artists you’ve collaborated with, give us your top 5?
J57: If I honestly answered this, I would have beef with a lot of my very good friends/collaborators, so I’m not even going to think about it. BUT, I will share the top 5 that I’d like to work with:
- Kanye West
- Imogean Heap
- Vampire Weekend
SP: Earlier in the year you made your first trip overseas as part of the Full Bottle tour, any notable differences from touring across the pond vs in the states?
J57: It was incredible! I turned 30 while we were out there and even had a sold out show on the night of my birthday, which was beyond surreal. I still can’t believe that I was able to see all of the UK and Switzerland because of my music. A clear difference between countries is the fact that they buy a lot more merch overseas, which is great and really helps independent artists out. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely buy merch in the US but just more people do over there which again, helps us out tremendously.
SP: I’d like to get into production, where the hell do I start?
J57: I recommend learning your beat making equipment (whether it’s hardware of software) in and out. I learned Propellerhead Reason when I started (nearly 10 years ago) which helped me a lot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still been a learning process since then but having that initial knowledge makes a huge difference when it comes to the art of making beats.
SP: Music aside, what else can we find you doing on an average day?
J57: Music is definitely my life but other than that it’s spending time with my fiancé and dog, drinking with BBAS, Wally Sean, Thom Seveer, and Katiah, as well as going home to Long Island to visit family when I can. And of course, running around like a mad man preparing for the wedding.
SP: What is it about Still Proud that caught your interest?
J57: I’ve always liked the designs as well as what it stands for. I believe my homie Jeremy Davey (from my hometown) put me on to Still Proud back in the day, it’s all full circle. Definitely proud to be a part of the team (no pun intended)!
SP: Thanks much for the interview homie, you got the last word?
J57: Yes. Thank YOU for this great interview!
Pick up the Koncept “Malt Disney J57 Remix” EP which is out now and on August 27th, go get the Blame One & J57 “Walk in the Sun” LP which you can pre-order now on iTunes. The color double-vinyl drops Aug. 27th!
Also, just about all of my music can be found here.