J-Live reminds me of my middle-school small engines course teacher, Arthur Koop. Koop's other job titles included father and guitar player in the band Blue Nation, and if you went to Ligon Middle and you took a Koop course, it was your favorite. We learned more from him than from most of our other teachers--we'd listen to music, go outside a lot and actually enjoy learning. Koop's class was where all the bad kids turned good. He was nice to us so we were nice back, and it wasn't just the bad kids who blossomed--he had the shy kids wildin' out.
Like Koop, the Brooklyn-based J-Live was, until recently, a middle-school teacher (in language arts). But he quit due the demands of his other job: rapper.
As teachers and musicians, Koop and J-Live both understood the importance of hip-hop culture. When Koop was in Chavis Heights showing amused tolerance toward our tags (that still decorate his classroom), J-Live was listening to students' freestyles in Brownsville. While these teachers' youthfulness had much to do with their popularity, their musical careers continue to impact kids on a broader, more creative level.
J-Live, a timeless MC, has already made an impact far outside his classrooms. His style has already gone down in hip-hop history; his debut album, The Best Part, has the distinction of being one of the most bootlegged albums ever.
"It's just a situation where the label split up from the distributor after the record was released to the press, so a lot of people had it, and when it wasn't coming out, a lot of people decided to bootleg it," J states solemnly during a recent phone interview with the Indy. But while the disc had word-of-mouth popularity and people were copying it for their friends, J didn't see a dime. The Best Part was officially pressed up this past January after a four-year delay. Proving that good things come to those who wait, J's latest album, All of the Above (released in April '02), has shown sales "consistent for an independent," he says. And J's current status--the positive media feedback and sold-out tours--has made the rapper a "real happy" man these days.
He's currently working with Hyper Boy Media shooting videos for two of his songs: "Nights Like This" and "Like This Anna." He's hoping the clips will get played on MTV, which would be a nice follow-up to the "You Hear It First" segment the network did on him earlier this year.
J's management company, 7 Heads Enterprises, has been spreading the word on him since '98, not long after 7 Heads owner Wes Jackson started the company out is his Charlottesville, Va., apartment. While attending UVA, Jackson and six partners created 7 Heads (which includes label, management, marketing and promotions divisions). The now Brooklyn-based "Home of the New Age B-Boy" works wax that can't stay on shelves, while their artists' European tours sell out six times over. 7 Head's bombers are spraying the world with true-school hip hop, and who else would be a perfect bomber for this mission other than El Da Sensei, former member of The Artifacts?
Sensei, who's joining J on the tour, spoke to the Indy recently about his solo career.
"Getting with 7 Heads ... just instantly everything changed for me last year when I started working with them," El says, obviously happy with his new label family. Local hip-hop promoter Shaw Hargett agrees. "I think 7 Heads brings out the most of J-Live and El Da Sensei because 7 Heads doesn't stress their artists about how they need to sound or how they need to present themselves; they simply let the artist be an artist," Hargett says. El's new album, Relax, Relate and Release, is an example of that creative freedom, with El bringing in such producers as Joe Money, Malito, P. Original and J. Rawls as well as lyricists J-Live, Sadat X and Asheru.
"If everybody knows me from what I have done so far, the only thing I can say is that I advanced it and picked up a little bit more tracks," El says about his solo disc. "And when you hear it, it's gonna sound a little funny cuz you're gonna expect to hear Tame 1 (the other half of Artifacts), but he's not on it. It even freaks me out sometimes to know that it's just me on it, but to know that it's me by myself, it makes me feel a whole lot better."
"I got a lot of head nodding," he adds. "I hope that it just keeps everybody on lock, 'cause that's what I miss. There is no more boom-bap in the music no more. No East Coast stomp flavor. I said this before and I'll say it again: What happened to the East Coast is that everyone started turning South. There is nothing wrong with that. That's the music, that's how it goes. It changes. But I think we forget what made East Coast what it was ... it's time to get back."
El obviously misses the time in '94 when, he says, there was a "plethora of choices in music and groups." But there are some heads that look back even further to '84, when the scene was all about competition and battling. Local legend DJ Soundmachine, also on the bill, can testify to that. That was the year he was leaving break dancing and beginning to DJ. The Raleigh native was influenced by other local DJs: Shorty Doo-Wop (aka Mr. Lawnge from Blacksheep) and DJ Kraze (aka Clavin Nelson). Sound's first record came out on B-Boys records when he was only 16. These days, Sound is still doing his thing to the fullest, producing and DJing on one of this author's WKNC 88.1 radio shows, The Saturday Nite Beat Down. One of Sound's projects includes political revolutionary poet Monte Smith. Smith, founder of Third World Citizens and recent author of High Protein Tongue Arrangements: Poetry for the Urban Survivalist, Volume 1, has teamed up with Sound for The DJ Soundmachine and Monte Smith Project, "where turntablism meets spoken word." In this year alone, Smith has been featured in over 25 poetry slams and events, one being the Southern Fried Poetry Regional in Memphis, where he ranked third in the individual competition. Monte's spit and Sound's flares stay fresh in the listeners' ears.
Also fresh and double-click flaring is N.Y./N.J. college stations WMSC and WSOU's resident DJ, Chasekillz. On the fourth stop of his Backpacking Mixtape Tour, the recent 7 Head's "Made Man" will rock the 12s in an unfuckable manner between sets at the Cat's Cradle. Of course, local DJ Bro Rabb will be jump-starting the party in his "Famous Underground Run" (his collection of mixtapes) way.
This show is another "mos def do not miss" production, brought to y'all by none other than Shaw Hargett's BumRush Promotions.