Finally with a proper release J-Live has been getting the respect he deserves. His album All Of The Above has received critical acclaim and the former teacher has been covered on MTV and just about every music magazine out there. Now a full time MC, I caught up with J on his first full U.S tour.
Jbutters: This is the first tour since you decided to become a full time musician how do you feel about making that decision and choosing between two things that you love?
J-Live: It’s ill because I’ve been rhyming since I was twelve years old and I didn’t realize I wanted to teach until I became a Five Percenter when I was nineteen. So by the time I got out of school the album was supposed to drop and it didn’t. That was the whole reason my mom made me get my degree so I would have something to fall back on. To have choices in terms of being able to do what you love is very important not just for teachers and emcees, but for everybody in life to do something that they love to do to have a profession so that they can have longevity in it so that they don’t hate themselves for not doing what they really want. So when the opportunity arose to really do this full time I had to take it because I can teach when I’m sixty-five I can’t necessarily rock crowds like this. When your teaching you don’t want to miss a day for your kids, when I don’t come in its because I’m sick or there is some type of emergency, but for me to teach and do this I’d only be able to rhyme on the weekends and holidays and in the summer so I had to do this full time. Its like serving two masters as they say because the time I spent in classroom I could have spent promoting and the time I spent promoting I could’ve spent preparing better lesson plans so I had to choose. I chose hiphop because now is the time to be able to teach through music and when that’s all said and done I can go back into the classroom more heavily armed with experience.
Has there been a big change in lifestyle going from a traditional 9-5 to touring and rocking shows from city to city?
You got to understand I was rhyming and doing shows even in college. So I’d have a 8-3 or a 8-4:30 and on Friday we’d go out to Japan and I’d have to take my textbooks with me and study for my midterms come back get off the plane take a cab to a bus and the bus to campus get off and go straight to a class. It was hectic like that so it kinda trained me for now. When I was teaching it was like this weekend we do Philly, this weekend we do DC, this weekend we do New York, this weekend we do Atlanta, or this weekend we go to LA; so it was the same type of hectic style that I had in college so the whole thing was one big transition from rhyming and studying to rhyming and teaching to rhyming and raising a family to rhyming and growing old, its just a part of your life.
Do you feel you’re able to teach just as many lessons through your music as you did in the classroom?
Oh yea if not more. The thing about teaching is that every second in the classroom makes an impression whether the kids recognize it then or not. Looking back on my teachers from back in the days I realized how they’ve influenced me even the ones I didn’t like and the ones I didn’t understand what they were trying to do for me. So that’s the kind of awards you get. For somebody to teach and think oh they don’t understand me, they don’t care or they not listening, they young they are doing what they supposed to do. If you keep doing what you’re supposed to do they will keep doing what they’re supposed to do. Those same kids that hate you at the end of the year when they are in the next grade and they see you in the hallway the next year and they don’t have you as a teacher anymore they are like Yo! You just have to really care about what you doing and it’s the same with music that’s why I’m able to teach through music. A lot of people come up to me and say my songs helped them through certain times in their life. That’s the best compliment I think anybody can get. I’ve heard that in England, Boston, I’ve heard that in LA so it feels good worldwide. I would listen to Al Green when I had problems with my girl or Bob Marley after I came home from a test. I have certain things in my CD case that I listen to when I feel a certain way so to have people to be able to say that about my shit or to have girls that might have had troubles or been assaulted or things of that nature listen to “Like This Anna” and be like word; or to have people listen to The Best Part when they are starting to rhyme or to have people listen to “Satisfied” when they are mourning somebody in the tragedy at the world trade center or just watching all the bullshit on the news everyday; to have someone recognize a song like “Them That’s Not” and see all the ignorant rappers out there that are living that out and to be able to tell me I relate to it and I see what your saying those are the best compliments I ever get.
With The Best Part being bootlegged like it was you weren’t able to really gain exposure. With this new release your getting a lot of publicity it seems like everything kinda fell into place.
This is what happens when you have an official release. When a record is released to press and its not released to the masses somebody’s gonna sell it, its only right. I can’t even be mad it’s a supply and demand thing. It would be different if I was putting a record on the shelf and someone was bootlegging it then it would be competing with something, but the fact that it wasn’t out I’m glad somebody chose to sell it because that’s what kept my rep up.
I read you said you picked up a lot of things working with different producers what are some of the things you picked up and applied to “All Of The Above?”
I worked with DJ Spinna and I probably learned the most from him and my engineer Elliot from Fast Forward. But [I’ve been influenced by] Pete Rock, Premier, Grap Luva, Joe Money, and countless DJs, I just pick up a little bit from everybody. I’m trying to develop my own sound and production wise right now my sound isn’t really definitive, but it is consistent and I like what I come out with. It’s very easy to compliment myself because I know what I like to do as an emcee, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it like that if I hadn’t studied and watched. See a lot of emcees just sit in the studio and in the booth kick their rhymes and then hang out in the lounge, but I chill right behind the board with the producer and the engineer and really watch what they do and try to pick up some tricks of the trade like how to filter, what time stretch is, how to recognize time signatures, how to keep something in key, all those things are important and I wouldn’t have known that if it wasn’t from watching all the producers from the best part.
What are some things as far as production that you feel you may need to improve on?
I need to learn everything there is to learn about midi interface because I have a Motif, an MPC and a 1680. I just got to really study so I can apply what I know about the keyboard to my beats and then incorporate that more.
With Satisfied you touch on the events of 9/11 and how old problems were being ignored. With that fact still being an issue where do you see the country in the next few years?
I still think that before and after you have an unaware majority and an aware minority and you have a large amount of people kept uniformed by a small amount of people and a smaller amount of people trying to keep them informed. Until you can really break those barriers and change those percentages its gonna be the way it is. You just gotta be able to teach your family whenever you can make yourself more aware definitely take that opportunity.
Do you think with amount of money commercial powers have invested in hiphop that mainstream radio can ever go back to the diversity it once had years ago?
The commercial powers are going to do what they do you just have overcome that not by trying to going through it, but by showing people there are other routes, the internet, college radio, independent records if you embrace those things and put people up onto them you don’t need to get me on Hot 97 you just put the Hot 97 crowd up on WNYU. You approach it from that angle we not trying to chase after anybody. I want commercial music to be me, I don’t want to make my music commercial.