Your new album is titled No Sellout. Why that title?
Most of the people who know me know that I’m a pretty much traditional hip-hop guy. I’m kind of a purist. I’m kind of the guy that complains a lot. It’s just the way that everything works. No Sellout was something that was a term that people would use and they wouldn’t let people get away with the stuff that everybody seems to do nowadays. It’s kind of a norm to do more of the commercial stuff. That’s more the norm now and people accept it and make excuses as to why they do it and why it’s okay. For me, I just want to go the opposite route and do what I do. I can’t do any of the stuff that’s not what I do. I just wanted to bring back that title and call it No Sellout. I think there needs to be a couple more people like that now, kind of like how Jay-Z went against the Autotune stuff. Everything doesn’t have to be a dance beat and made for all kids. You can make a regular hip-hop song. That’s kind of why I made that title.
The line for biting and being a sellout is changing every day. How do you think that line has shifted in the past few years?
Everybody has their different opinions as to why we got to this point and what happened. If I had to go back, the chain of events to me was once Puffy and Mary J. Blige had tremendous success meshing the hip-hop and R&B thing together, it was that era when the radio stations started to say “hip-hop and R&B.” Before that there was never the thing for the radio. It was never “hip-hop and R&B.” With Red Alert it was just a hip-hop radio show and the R&B was separate.
Once everybody thought they had to have singing on their songs, that catered to women and the songs started to speed up. Timbaland started doing drum and bass drum patterns and there was the rock/rap with Limp Bizkit’s and Linkin Park’s. The record companies ate that up because if they can get the music to sound as close to pop music as possible, they can market it to everybody. There really isn’t a rock or hip-hop station to me in New York. Everybody plays the same 25 songs and they all play T-Pain, Kanye West and Rihanna records and I think that’s why it’s very difficult for some people to differentiate what a sellout is because there are different groups having a certain kind of success with different instruments and different styles.
But I just look at the sellout thing where if you know the only reason you’re doing it is to be a salesman and to improve your fame and sales, that’s what a sellout is. If you grew up doing a certain thing, that’s fine and that’s why you do. For instance, Common’s on the Jonas Brothers record. There’s no reason for that. Honestly, I’m good friends with the guy and I like him and I’ve recorded with him, but there’s no reason for him to be on the Jonas Brothers album. This past weekend I’ve discussed that with a million people and they all had the same reaction. They just put their head down. Damn. What are you going to do? Now he’s validating what they do and at the same time it just makes it harder for the people who want to do it on the stuff that I do. It makes it definitely very difficult when you see what a record label would want from a Pharoahe Monch as opposed to what his fans want. It gets very difficult now. Everything to me is basically dance music and I want to hear some Pete Rock and CL Smooth type of music and it just doesn’t exist.
When I say “Sellout” and how to differentiate, it’s all these people who are trying to be a used car salesman. When you have a popular producer on your album, that to me is selling out because that’s not even your music. They don’t even make their own music. They just go in to the guy that makes the hit music and get him to do it. I’m buying that guy’s album. To me, that’s selling out. Public Enemy, Gang Starr and Tribe Called Quest all made their albums. You’re not even buying the artists. You’re buying a team of people who they went out and got that would help them sell the most. You can tell. Here’s the R&B one. Here’s the down South track. Here’s the one feature with Busta Rhymes and Lil’ Wayne and this one. That’s how it’s formatted. That’s how I tell who’s the sellout and who’s not, if they’re trying to be a used car salesman.
How did you want to make No Sellout stand apart from other compilations as well as your first album Ground Original?
Well, the first thing that I did differently than most of the other stuff that I’ve done is I didn’t let anybody tell me anything. I used to let some of my friends maybe do some of the tracks with me or maybe have a say in certain things or I would ask people at the labels or distributors handling my stuff what they wanted. This time I just did everything on my own and do what I wanted to do and I didn’t let the artists that were going to be featured on the album say much. I asked them in a nice way to let me do what I wanted to do. And I didn’t give them a beat CD with 20 different beats. I know how that works. Everyone is going to pick the so-called best beat or whatever you want to call it and that’s not the best way you want to make a track.
I had certain beats that I forced on the artist because I wanted that type of song. If I went for all the beats that I have, my best beats aren’t even on the album. Those are the beats that I really wanted the artist on. The Large Professor song, that’s an old drum loop that Large Professor used in the past and I really wanted to use that and he understands that and he was cool with it. But in the process of making a record like that, there’s over 40 MCs and sometimes people’s opinions and what they want to do, their opinions may clash but everyone was real cool. There’s no real single and there’s no real song made to try to gain a certain audience. I just did what I felt like doing with those certain artists.
How did you keep everything organized when you’re working with so many MCs on a project?
That’s the tricky part! It is a headache doing a project like that. It’s definitely a headache. Most of my money comes from touring so I spend most of my time DJing and a lot of artists, that’s where their money comes from. Just trying to coordinate scheduling is a nightmare and I’m trying to get certain MCs on songs who might not have worked together before or might not know each other or might be from other parts of the country. It was a lot of bringing people to the studio and letting them hear what’s what.
The good part about it was that I didn’t have a deadline. If I had a deadline, it probably wouldn’t have gotten done. If it came out four years ago or three years from now, it would be the same thing and it’s still timeless to me. It’s a regular hip-hop record and it’s not trying to capitalize off the Autotune trend. I put this record together over a few years time because I wasn’t home. That was the difficult part, the scheduling with everyone.
How can you still get a cohesive project with all those guests?
The thing that helped was the hook of the song, that’s usually that will help tie the song in and give you the concept of the song. For the most part I came up with that shit myself so I could tell the MCs what it was going to be. In certain instances I would give the MC the beat and let him do what he felt and then I would come up with the scratched hook for the song and then the next MC would have the whole basis to follow and we would go that way. But it does get tricky and there were times when people recorded verses for the same song at the same time and didn’t get to hear the other verse. But it worked out and they’re all talented MCs and they knew what they were doing.
But the scratching was my part and that’s what holds it together. I guess I was kind of the glue with the scratching to hold it all together.
Did you get everything you wanted for No Sellout?
You’re never going to get everything you want. There are a few people left that I definitely want to work with in the future, like Redman and GZA. I’d love to get Inspectah Deck on something. It would be great to get Rakim. I don’t know if that will ever happen. I’ve always wanted to work with Black Thought. I can say I’m pretty happy. Everything did come out the way I wanted. The album is me. It’s me. If anybody doesn’t like it they just don’t share my taste in music and anybody that likes it, obviously we share the same tastes. I didn’t compromise anything and I’m pretty happy. The Large Pro track sums up the album and the route I’m going with it and the type of stuff that I do. Everything is great. I can’t really complain. I hope some of the other artists on there feel the same way. I’ve been getting good responses from them and I’m happy. As long as they dig it I know I’m on the right path with those guys. I’m definitely happy. I can’t complain.
You tour with Rahzel all the time. What’s it like being on the road with him?
First of all, it’s a lot of fun. He’s a great character and he makes sounds and imitates stuff all the time so it’s very entertaining. Touring with him has been great. It’s been 10 years now and we’ve done 7 or 800 shows together, give or take. We’ve been in a bunch of countries and the good thing is we get to do whatever we want onstage, with the turntablist vs. the beatboxer. We can rock with all kinds of crowds because we do a diverse show. It’s all genres of music and that’s what I love about it. We can go anywhere and we can still do what we want to do.
I can scratch and I’m so sick of hearing DJs say they can’t scratch or they’ll get fired and they have to play “Boom Boom Pow” the electro version the whole night. I’m blessed I can get onstage and do whatever I want to do. We got two turntables and a mic and we’re able to do some real hip-hop stuff.
There’s probably not a lot of planning you can do when you’re going onstage with Rahzel.
(laughs) Yeah. That’s what’s great because a lot of it is improvised. When we’re doing our show, he can do anything. If I play something, he can duplicate it and battle against me back and forth and that’s what’s cool. We can open for 50 shows at a concert and then do a show with Bjork. One time we did something with Gloria Gaynor at a black tie event with people 50 years old and older. It’s kind of cool to be doing that stuff.
We have a side group with Supernatural and we’ll do a two hour set and it’s all improvised. We all just play off of each other and that’s what I love. I just love being onstage and performing. It’s difficult if you just do clubs because then you’re pigeonholed into keeping the crowd dancing as opposed to putting on a show. To tell you the truth, that’s probably the one thing that’s kept me going because I make my money from that and I get to do what I love. If I had to do some of the other stuff and have to play some of the stuff that I don’t like, I probably wouldn’t even be doing this and it would just be a hobby. I’m blessed to be able to tour with Rahzel and be able to do it the way I want to do it.
How much are you on the road each year?
It depends if it’s a full tour or not. This week we’re going to Bulgaria for this hip-hop festival and there’s a beatbox convention thing along with this hip-hop festival. Then we’re coming home and I got some shows and then it’s back to France with Mixmaster Mike and Muggs. I did some solo stuff with Mixmaster Mike and then me, Rahzel, Muggs, Mixmaster Mike and Mr. Wiggles did a tour together. We’ve done a lot of stuff with Mixmaster Mike and Muggs. We’ve got a hip-hop elements thing that we’ve been doing, which is cool. We’ll probably be going back to Australia and a European run and a West Coast run in the United States. We’re going to be busy and I can’t wait to get out there and do it again.
Do you think more artists will be checking for you as a producer now?
We’ll see how it goes. To tell you the truth, a lot of my friends have talked to me about that but I never pursued it. I’ve been around a lot of artists but I’ve never given a beat CD to these artists and asked them to be on their projects. What’s funny is that I’m hoping that now that I’ve done my projects and my own way that they will let me produce a song for them properly. The problem was that a few times a couple of artists have asked me for some tracks but the tracks they wanted didn’t really suit the artists and I wasn’t comfortable doing it that way. And I don’t want to hand somebody the files. I don’t want the same treatment that DJ Premier would get, obviously he’s DJ Premier, but I want to be able to produce the song the way I want to produce it. They get the files and I get nervous. I’ve done some stuff for people and they misplaced the scratches and it was offbeat and it came out terrible. I’m hoping that I can do some production for these guys and we meet 50/50 and they let me do what I do.
Scratching is becoming a lost art on records, huh?
It sure is! First of all, it takes time and practice and dedication and who wants to do that? Who wants to sit around for 15 years and learn scratch patterns when you can just load up your iPod and look sexy and DJ for a few hours? You know how it works. That’s why it’s so easy for people to DJ. They’re not looking at it like they want to learn how to scratch.
And even my friends that DJ, they all DJ at clubs and everybody says they can’t scratch or the girls can’t dance and the promoters get mad. That’s not true. I’ve been at shows with Mixmaster Mike in Vegas and there’s a tourist crowd and you can scratch the right way and keep people DJing. It’s a part of DJing and it’s always been a part of hip-hop DJing. I do the same thing. I still play the breaks and do tricks and people always dig it. I’ve always had a good reaction wherever I’m at. Of course I’m gonna do it and I won’t get lazy and I tell the crowd to not accept a wack DJ. I’m up there screaming. That’s why it’s a dying art, because people talk bad against it and they can’t do it because they’re too lazy to practice it.
Are you losing business to the “celebrity DJs”?
Everybody is! Even the celebrity DJs are losing business to the celebrity DJs. That’s how silly it is. There were some celebrity DJs who could kind of DJ a little bit, but then there were celebrity DJs that realized they could get a laptop and their friends could give them some MP3s and they could DJ. I get slack for this and the girls get mad, but the whole “I’m a sexy DJ and I wear a bra and I DJ,” that’s killing DJs. That’s become so popular. That wasn’t around until Serato. I mean, I love Serato and I use it but that’s part of what’s killing everything. You have all these people posing as DJs and the promoters don’t care as long as the people showing up. They just know if the girls are dancing and the people are buying drinks then it’s all good.
You have Tommy Lee DJing and former soccer players in England and people from MTV’s Real World, the guy will take his shirt off and the one girl, now she’s a DJ. Even some hip-hop people, there’s some old school producers and MCs that I love to death and they’re trying to DJ too and they’re not really a DJ. Just because you show up with a song you produced, come on, man, nobody wants to see that shit. Revolution had spoke out against that shit and people tried to complain but he’s right. When DJs show up, they gotta do something really, really good. That celebrity DJ crap is really annoying but it will come around. People will get bored with it just like the mash-up thing will die down because there’s only so many times you can mix a dance beat with Bon Jovi. Things work in cycles and if it’s good you hang in there. I’ve managed to maintain a good living and I don’t do any of that crap. You just have to hang in there and be consistent and talk out against it.
To me, the whole world has changed drastically. You just have to go with it. You can’t fight it. You just have to learn how to maintain. Hank Shocklee was the one explaining that to me. I used to be really angry and I thought Serato was going to ruin everything when it came out. He explained that it’s out there and everybody has it and if we didn’t go with the new technology then we’d still be in a horse and buggy and not cars so just get it and learn to beat everybody with it.
What’s the next move for JS-1?
Now that I got this album out I’m going to be touring for awhile. Then I’m going to put out an album with all scratching on it and no MCs. That’s specifically for the turntablist crowd. That’s for the kids who ask me why I don’t do more of that on my albums. I’m going to do a whole scratch album and then I’m working on another project. I got a mixtape project that I’m doing with tons of original samples and breaks and things like that. And I’ll be out touring with Rahzel for the next two years. That’s really where the money comes from. That’s what we’ll be doing next. Just a lot of touring.