As part of the Battle of The Beatmakers 2012 competition, Sound Supremacy accompanied by Urbanology Magazine held its annual Producer Weekend Retreat in downtown Toronto on August 24th, 2012. Each year the retreat gives producers an opportunity to network and learn from some of the industry’s top producers and executives. Through panel discussions and one on one mentoring, producers learned everything from branding, licensing, publishing and management strategies to name a few. This year’s retreat included the Pro Audio Conference with guest speakers Statik Selektah and award winning producer Just Blaze. Both producers talked about their journey into music, their first major placements, some of the pitfalls of the music industry, and advice about becoming a successful producer.
The Come Up Show was fortunate enough to be invited to this years events and enjoyed every minute of it. Throughout the weekend we had the opportunity to sit down with super producer Just Blaze at The Pro Audio conference. During our interview with Just Blaze, we ventured towards many topics including his passion for photography and directing, his vision for the video Lord Knows, his previous encounter with two “overzealous” female fans in Toronto, and why, after fifteen years of success and countless platinum and gold records, he still gets up and grinds like he lives in his momma’s basement.
BigSke: What’s up Just blaze? You’re quite the busy man. You produce, own a studio, DJ, host a TV show [Smirnoff Master of the Mix], and are apart of the Combat Jack Radio Show. I also read somewhere that you’re directing now too, where do you find the time?
JustBlaze: I’ve been doing that [directing] for a while. I just did it for fun until someone asked me to do it. I was like, “Ok, want me to fuck up your video? Sure.” (laughs)
BigSke: What videos have you done?
JustBlaze: There’s a group from Queens named Grows Fear. I just did the video for them. I’m still doing the editing for it. There’s this new artist about to be signed to Atlantic named ONCUE. M1 from Dead Prez wants me to shoot something for him. I got two videos with fab[olus], we’ve only talked about some ideas in the last few weeks but… And I’m trying [since the album came out] to get Drake to shoot a video for Lord Knows. I wanna do it. I have a vision for it, it’s not just people in the street. I have two graveyards, two churches… very symbolic theme.
BigSke: That must take up a lot of your time. How do balance that with just having fun partying and being a super producer rockstar?
JustBlaze: I’m very much into the party scene when I’m the one having the party, other than that I’m super socially awkward. You don’t have to be drunk to have fun. There’s so many people that are [drunk] that when you’re there and the only sober person you kinda see everyone else like [makes drunk face]. It’s fun if you’re into people watching, for me I rather just be behind the DJ booth.
BigSke: You’ve been DJ’’ing since you were very young, even before producing. You play across the world in front of thousands of fans. With all that’s going on in your schedule do you ever just say “F it, I’m Just Blaze” and play a pre-made Just Blaze playlist and cash out?
JustBlaze: No, I never have a set playlist. I’m so busy, if I had time (I would never pre-arrange sets) but I would somehow find a way to prepare for the night. Tomorrow I’m playing in front [of] about 4000 people. I have no idea what I’m gonna do, sometimes that’s a good thing. I have certain routines I do. If I play a certain record I know I will lead into it with a certain record. That’s the main reason why… like now you don’t even need Serato anymore. You can use the cdj or cdj 2000. You can just bring your USB stick, but you can only fit so many songs on a usb stick… I mean, I like Serato! but I like the spontaneity of it as well.
BigSke: Power to you. I have a hard enough time managing everyday life stuff without getting stressed. You always seem to be working on something. When do you ever take a break? What does Justin do to unplug and unwind?
JustBlaze: Sleep. [long pause] I’m about to have the ultimate sleep fest. I haven’t slept in three days. Literally. I did the Combat Jack show yesterday, I had to DJ the same night, I had to do some editing for this video… slept for about 20 minutes, got woken up by one of my dogs actin crazy, stayed up did some more editing, went to the studio, this is all between Wednesday and Thursday… Then got a plane to come here…
BigSke: You ever think: “Let me slow down, take a break”?
JustBlaze: Here’s the thing… To be honest I’m being paid very well to do something that I would do for free. When you constantly get the chance to express your creativity, it never really feels like you’re working… I mean I take some time, I went to Hawaii in January. Prior to that, I don’t think I’ve been on a dedicated vacation since 1998, and I was broke in 1998. I definitely have made it a point in more recent times to try to block off some time. It’s just one of those things for me. You feel like whenever you stop there’s someone else working
BigSke: It’s not like… [JustBlaze answers before I finish]
JustBlaze: For me you have to be that way. The second you don’t… plus with me diversifying so much I’m constantly putting one thing off to start something else. Taking time off from producing to do the TV show. Taking time from the TV show to go on tour and DJ. Not indulging DJ’ing the way I could because I have to go back to the studio… Really it’s just time management, plus you get it while you can.
BigSke: You mean you don’t just have a hard drive of beats from the Roc–A–Fella days you can put out there and let them do what they do.
JustBlaze: Records don’t sell the way they used to. Royalities aren’t the same like what they used to unless you have a huge record so… I’m grateful and fortunate. I still get cheques for records I did ten years ago.
BigSke: This is by no means your first time to Toronto. You’ve been here a bunch of times now. I actually remember you spinning at a Goodfoot party at the Guvernment a while back. You….
JustBlaze: Oh, I remember that party. That’s when I almost got beat up and raped by these two girls and… [cuts himself off momentarily before he continues]
BigSke: Um, ok care to elaborate?
JustBlaze: Um… nothing, just these two girls who were a bit overzealous with it… it’s cool. Comes with the territory, I guess. [We both laugh.]
BigSke: Just another day at the office? Play some records and have two models trying to take your clothes off. Eh no biggie. [laugh]
JustBlaze: … They were like, “Oh, you must be gay” No, I’m just not doing it here.
BigSke: You’ve always managed to stay out of the spotlight with that type of “stuff.” These days it seems like artists are in the headlines for everything else but their music. How have you managed to separate personal and business?
JustBlaze: You got too. There’s a couple reasons for that, I mean: A, I kinda feel like… let’s just say you’re an amazing painter, better yet, world renowned sculptor. The pope is requesting you to sculpt something. Your work is in the Museum of Modern Art. You have this and you have that, all these accolades but you like to have orgies with farm animals. It doesn’t take away the fact that you’re a great sculpture. “So… I don’t have anything crazy like that going on in my life anyway…but” sometimes I feel like people will allow the things that happen in your personal life to effect their professional opinion of you. You see it with certain pop stars. They get married or all of a sudden their female fan base drops off. They can’t live that fantasy of being a perfect star.
BigSke: I agree, but times are different. People just don’t buy the music and move on. Fans buy into a brand. Everyone knows about everything now with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, foursquare, etc.
JustBlaze: To some degree… I don’t think the people that appreciate me…. I don’t think it’s so much of a factor for them. With the age of the Internet, personal business travels so fast. Those that know me, know what I have going on and those that don’t, don’t really need too. Plus, for a long period of my life my personal and business were very intertwined… We had to make it a point now where both are separate.
BigSke: You’re a veteran in the game. You must hear thousands of beats and records on a daily basis. You have made plenty of hit records. Seeing that we are here during The Battle of The Beatmakers weekend, what do you look for in a beat? You ever catch yourself being overly critical of your own work or other peoples beats?
JustBlaze: No. Is it good or not. Is this a good song? “Yes?, turn it up.” “No, turn it the hell down!” Here’s the thing. I can pick out a million imperfections in my records. I can pick out imperfections in every record that has been a hit or impactful record. You gotta let it go at some point. If that were the case, I would still be mixing Lord Knows. I caught myself one day going back to old songs and hearing all the imperfections I didn’t hear before. I found myself hearing those imperfections in songs that I never heard when I made records for myself and mixed the records of everything I’ve done. It urked me because I couldn’t enjoy the songs the same. I couldn’t get out of that mode. It wasn’t something I was intentionally doing. You just hear things differently. It’s like going to the doctor and getting your ears cleaned out for the first time in 20 years and you have these giant gobs of wax coming out of your ear and all of a sudden you hear things completely different. It’s frustrating sometimes. I try not to get into all that. So what, the high hat is a little loud, do I like the song though? No song is perfect.
BigSke: Good to know. I can go into a million and one questions about music and production, but I figure at some point it becomes redundant for you. I do, however, want to get into your Lo Game. Your Polo Game has always been on point. When did it first start for you? How, and who, do you know to be able to have such an expansive collection? With all those pieces, what is your one prized possession?
JustBlaze: Thank you. For obvious reasons because you always connect with things from your adolescence, the Snow Beach pullover is one. The fact that I have anything from that line personally is dope to me. That’s the one piece most people would say. That’s what got you into to polo, seeing the Wu Tang video, and being like, damn, I want one of those! Luckily at the time I worked at a store that was owned by Macy’s, so I could kinda share the discount. That was the only way I was able to afford that at 15 years old. Having a three hundred to four hundred dollar jacket is a big deal when you’re kid.
BigSke: You have had a storied struggle to get where you are today. I read somewhere that you interned for free and was sleeping in studios just to get studio time. Today’s artists, almost all of them, get their start from the Internet. Some purists would say that’s what’s missing from today’s generation. The grind by any means necessary to win attitude. You’ve seen the progression from tape recorders to MPC’s to Fruity Loops, Reason, and everything in between. Do you feel like technology in some ways taken away from…
JustBlaze: [jumps right into answering] It’s a part of progress. Did direct drive turntables take away from the belt drive DJ’s work they had to put in? No. Did serato take away from the DJ’s who came up with vinyl? Some would say yes, I would say no. I would say work harder. The playing field is a lot more even now. When I say even now, it used to be that you didn’t just have to have talent, you had to be able to have a way to get a connect to get into that studio, to get your hands on that equipment, or have somebody that believed in you that had enough money to help you pursue your dreams. My aunt had to break the bank to buy me an ASR10, my mom had to break the bank to get me Technique 1200″s. This day and age you don’t have to break the bank to make music. It’s all relative. Some people come from an income of nothing, some people have… The point is most people have computers these days. Even if it’s a rudimentary netbook even. You can still run Fruityloops on a netbook. You can still run Serato on a netbook. You can still run Tractor on a netbook. Those of us who have come from a different generation had to learn to adapt. We had to learn to work harder, we had to work –
JustBlaze: … Not even smarter, just different. And part of that is working smarter. If you wanna bitch and complain about things like that then you’re complaining about progress and if it wasn’t for progress a lot of us wouldn’t be here. You just have to learn how to play the drums, then one day you can program your MPC.
BigSke: I can appreciate that. One final question, because I know you have to get going. The Jay Electronica album is dropping this 4th quarter right? We’ve all seen the tracklist. The rumors out there. Care to set anything straight?
JustBlaze: We’ve all heard rumors. They’re just that: rumors. Some of those leaks and rumors need to be rumors [stares directly at BigSke with a straight face and grin] Serve. Volley. Return… [the room laughs]
[JustBlaze doesn’t say another word]
BigSke: [Completely stumped on asking a follow up question] On that note. Just Blaze, thank you for a great interview. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Continued success.