date / place: 11-16-02, Remise Wil, Switzerland
posted: 02-08-03

interview : tadah

So when does Definitive Jux fall off?
I don't know man. I don't think you can ever fall off when you associate yourself with talented people who are serious about doing their thing. And our squad is pretty solid, to tell you the truth. I'm sure that we will release records that don't appeal to everybody. But it's up to y'all really to tell us. As we keep going, there's going to be records, that we put out that people won't like. But that some people who maybe didn't like some of the stuff we did before will like.
I know that in 2003 we are taking a slightly different approach: we are working with some new artists and we are also going to do re-pushes on the albums we released in 2002. So RJ's record, Mr Lif's record, my record. But let's put it this way: when people start to be confused by us, is next year. Because we are going to be releasing records that people don't expect us to release. Like SA Smash, which is Camu Tao and Metro. And that's just a straight up thugged out party record, some real street, thugged out dope shit. And I know that a lot of people think that that's not the type of shit that we want to do. But the record is dope. Those guys are dope. And I think that's the first time I look forward to people being confused.

So what I get from this is, that up until now, someone who likes one Def Jux release, can buy all Def Jux releases and the chances are good that he likes 'em all. But that might change in the future.
See, I don't really feel that way: I actually feel that if anything we are going to take that trust that we have now, that we built over the last couple of years, and bring people to different kind of music. I think that the stuff that we've released, has been pretty varied in sound. But that's not what I mean.
What I mean is that we are going to release records, that we believe fall into the category of the type of quality that we look for in a record. In terms of sound and in terms of different types of characters, and different personalities and shit like that, it's going to expand. I think if anything, we want people to go out and trust that the shit is dope and give it a chance, because of what we've been doing. And that's the goal. The goal is that people give new artists a chance, because of a brand name that we've managed to put a lot of weight behind. And I think we will continue that.
Because when you bought one of our joints, the very least you know, it's going to be sick. It's going to be a dope record in some way. It might not end up being your favorite Def Jux record, but everyone has their favorites.
Having heard the advance copy of the Murs record, I assume that this is going to be the first 'surprising' record.
Yeah. Murs' album is a different vibe, it's a different bunch of producers. I love that about his record and I wanted that type of record. Although there's also the same type of producers. Like I do a couple of jams, Blockhead does a joint, RJ is doing a joint. But he also has a lot of his own producers, a lot of people he works with. And so it's just a different sound.
Murs is much more straight forward, is much more just a character. And he's just hilarious. The thing that what I like about Murs is, that he's just brash. But you can't really argue with what he's talking about, because it is just him. And he doesn't give a fuck, whether or not you agree with what he's saying, because he has his own set of experiences and shit.
Also you know, Shock G did a joint; it's the return of Humpty Hump and Shock G.
You mentioned that you plan on pushing your album again a little bit. So we should be doing some pushing. Now, as you have heard, played and performed the album a few more hundred times, how do you feel about it today?
I like it man. I'm proud of it. Honestly, I feel good about it. It's a photograph of a frame of mind that I was in. And I think it was accurate. And I'm excited to get working on my new album, which is going to be different. But I'm pleased with "Fantastic Damage", because I know I put my heart into that shit. And that's all I can really ask of myself or anybody that I'm working with: Just put your best into this shit. And it's kinda impossible for you to feel bad about a record, if you did that. And if you still feel bad about a record although you did that, then maybe you shouldn't be a musician.
But you know, you always pick apart shit and blah blah blah, but at the end of the day, I think that it's a good reflection of where my head was at. And for me it was what I needed to do. It's gotten a great response, it's done well in the stores. So I'm not doing a full fledged push on it again, but what I'm trying to do is just; we have so much room. A label at our level, which is really pretty small, has so much room to keep moving and keep tapping into different people who still have no fuckin' idea of what we are doing. So that's what I mean when I say 'push again'. We still wanna keep reaching people a little bit more with the music that we've been doing.
Do you think that the instrumental version of your album, put out as "Fandam Plus", can appeal to different people than the vocal version?
Oh yeah, definitely. I know it does. And that's why I've been doing these releases, because I think that the instrumentals themselves can bring people in that maybe find the lyrics too confronting or too harsh or too much to handle. It's one thing to make a rap record, and it's another thing to make a record of music. And there are a lot of people that can get down with music. As opposed to the amount of people that can get down to rap. I know there are people that can't stand my voice and the way I do my shit. And those might find it much easier to listen to some production. I even heard people who told me that they've now gone back and gotten the original version. But the instrumental version just clicked with them easier. And then they were interested in hearing everything else.
My attention with doing this label is to expand rap, you know what I mean? Just expand a little bit on the type of stuff that we do, expand the fanbase and get people interested. And get people introduced into this world, that may not have been. And also to satisfy the people who have been down with it from day one.
That's why I do the instrumental versions, because mostly, honestly, just as a reward for the people who have been supporting us. Because just as a fan, I like it. That's why I always bought 12"es, because I want the instrumental, I want the accapella. That's the great thing about rap, that we always broke it up and kept giving you different parts of it. And there are different things that you can hear in different ways.
For your work on the Cannibal Ox album, you got a lot of compliments from 'unsuspected' places, like Elvis Costello, Baz Luhrman who did the movie "Moulin Rouge". Have you received the same for "Fantastic Damage"?
I have. Baz nominated "Fantastic Damage" for a Shortlist award. Elvis Costello has mentioned "Fantastic Damage" as one of his favorite records of the year. So for some reason I now have a fan in Elvis Costello. Which I find strange. Although it's official that I can't get in touch with him.
He's fuckin' Elvis Costello (smiles). I tried. I just got cocky and was like: 'let me try and call.' No. Not happening.
So yeah, it's weird. But it's cool actually. I like the idea that there are people who weren't just peeping hip hop out, and know what I know. Which is that just some of the most exiting shit in music period, is happening in hip hop. And I'm not saying my shit, but in general, Hip hop to me has always been the most exciting music out. That's where I feel that most of the boundaries in music have been pushed in the last decade. That's where the most life is right now, the least amount of rules, but also the most amount of spirit.
Also one that allows the most progression.
Progression and that just allows expression. And that's what it is more about for me. I would never be so arrogant as to say 'progression', because I think that just has a negative connotation. Because whenever anyone talks about anything, they are like 'oh, it's a progression.' It's kinda belittling other things going on. And it's a little arrogant. But I do think that it's one of the most expressive forms of music. And people recognize that. Whether or not they have always recognized it is one thing, but as it gets sort of in the hands of these other people, who are respected sort of artists, and musicians in their own field, and who you would never think would give credit and credence to what we do; them giving it props, I think is a great thing. Like being on the receiving end of that thing. But ultimately it doesn't matter to me, because it's just not the most important thing to me. It's really just cats like me, who is the most important to me. In terms of cats who really grew up listening to hip hop music.
So when a kid walks up to you in the streets, that you've seen at shows for the last ten years, saying he likes your record, means more to you than when Elvis Costello says he likes your record?
I thinks so yeah. It does. Because I have to give that person more attention. And I have to give that person more attention when he says that he doesn't like my record too. Those are the people that keep you in check. Those are the people that are passionate about it. Someone else can be interested, but it's not really going to affect their lives, the way it will affect cats like us.
So when De La Soul said that they are not so much into your music, that then must be somewhat troubling to you.
He wasn't really dissing. I don't know why he went out of his way to say that he didn't understand my music, especially considering the fact that I remember what everybody was saying when they came out. And I think to an extend it's clear that they had their own personal backlash with their own music. And maybe they are overcompensating a little. But I don't know man.
Yeah, I was a little annoyed by that, I'm not gonna front. But at the end of the day, what can I say? It's like: 'alright, fine' (smiles). I've built with Posdonous. I've had mad conversations with him and met him many times. I've never met Trugoy. So it's fine man. It's cool. You don't have to understand my shit. I didn't understand your shit when it dropped. In fact, I didn't get into De La, until "De La Soul Is Dead". I was one of those ignorant bastards, who was 'what is this hippie shit?' when De La first came out. So you know, for what it's worth, it's all good to me. Those guys had a huge impact and effect on music in general. And I respect them, and I was a big fan of most of their stuff. But I can't walk around with such a big head and think that respect is really going to click with my music. I know what I do and I know that it's difficult to get down with for a lot of people. So it's not a big deal to me.
The topic of movies always creeps up when someone talks to you or talks about you. Thus it'd be kinda natural for you to do a movie soundtrack.
I'm looking into getting into that. That's something that will eventually come down the line. That's sorta one of my personal ambitions. And I am influenced by film music. I always have been. That's how I got into records in general, watching "Star Wars". And "Star Wars" was the first piece of vinyl that I personally bought.
There have been small things offered, but that didn't fit what I wanted to do at the time. And I wouldn't have been able to put any energy into it at the time. But I think that that's probably one of the things that I'll do in the next couple of years. Hopefully. I know that I'm already getting noticed and tapped on the shoulder by film companies and even video game companies and stuff like that.
I might be doing the soundtrack, the score to a video game, which will be a very, very big video game, that's based on a movie. But I don't wanna say anything, because it's not definite yet, it's still in planning stages, but I've been pegged to possibly do something that's going to be dope to me.
[In the mean time, El announced that he's going to score the film "Bomb The System", an indy flick with Bonz Malone and many others. And the score (not soundtrack) will drop on Def Jux.]
As being the leading figure of Def Jux, do you need to do some A&R or are the albums the people hand in, in no need for you to do anything?
I definitely get down and dirty with cats and build with them about their records. I don't cross the line, but I'm really interested in what cats are trying to do. And I think that a lot of times the cats that I work with, are interested in talking it out with me. Obviously on the CanOx album I played a big role. I think I played a very big role in the Mr Lif album, even in the EP. Because we are just really good friends, and we always build with each other about shit. With a cat like Aesop, I just let him do his fuckin' thing. When I met Aesop, he had two albums under his belt. So he just kinda gave his album to me. With Murs, it's pretty much the same thing, except of the collaborations that we did. So it really depends. It depends on what the relationship is. It depends on what the vibe is. I'm certainly not the type of cat to, infringe on somebody's ideas. What I do do, is, if they want it, I give suggestions, in terms of anything that I can help with. But I do believe in trusting people. Trusting the artist. Because I always wanted people to trust me. And I hated to be in a situation where I had to explain something to somebody, who clearly wasn't feeling what I was feeling. I don't think it's ever really like that at Def Jux. If anything, it's all on some positive reinforcement shit.
I like to get down with cats that really think about it. Cause everyone knows it's a team effort, and you want everybody to come up with the best possible thing going. But I would never, for instance, give a suggestion what to write a song about. Or, 'why don't you do the chorus like this?' That's not my shit. But if somebody wants to talk about help with producers, or sequence the album. Or an idea for a way to bring the concept they have in mind to life, I'm 100% down to talk about it. But at the end of the day, it's up to the person whose record it is, to either take my suggestion or not. I try to be there if they have a questions and if they trust what I try to say.
That's one thing that puzzles me, that labels sign artists, because they like what they do. But then the first thing they have 'em do is change.
I think in the traditional major label A&R business, people don't really sign artists, because they like what they are doing. People sign artists, because they see money. They see potential. And they believe that they can take that artist and mold it into something else. Use the elements that they already have and mold 'em into something that they see would make them a lot of money. That's why I think one of the things is that there's a lot of dishonesty.
Artists get into this situation all the time: 'what the fuck? I don't understand. You signed me, now let me do what I do.' And the label's like 'yeah.... that's the thing: we didn't sign you, we signed what you could be.' And a lot of really good A&R's can help a group find the right producer, find the right studio, go in the right direction. But a lot of motherfuckers would just straight up drive a stake through your heart on some creativity shit. And support something completely adverse to what you would naturally do. And that type of situation is something I will never get involved in.
Can you see you sign to another label again?
I don't thinks so, man. I don't see any point. I could see doing a project on other labels. Doing something outside of my real solo career; my thing. I don't see any problem with that. If someone wants to give me some good money to do something that would be fun to me and interesting, and wouldn't necessarily be something that I would like fear giving away, I'm cool with that. But at this point I kinda got to lead by example. And if I'm not putting out my records on Def Jux, why would anyone else?
Now, as I know a lot of people are interested in this, I need to ask you about what's the current status on the record you got planned with Dan The Automator. The last time we talked, you mentioned that it's going to be interesting for you to see, how it is to work with someone. I don't know how much time you had to work on that, but maybe you can elaborate.
Honestly, me and Dan are at the same place. We've had this record on a backburner for a long time. It's something that we signed to do, and that we want to do, but we've been clearly doing so much; he's been busy with Gorillaz, all his project that he's been doing. And I've been trying to get this label off the ground, and I had my shit.
I just saw Dan about a month ago, in Cali, and we're seriously talking about just fucking knocking it out at the beginning of this year. But apart from that, it's pretty much still the same status. And it sucks. I hate to give that type of update, as it's pretty much at the same place it always is. However, we really wanna do this record, we are going to do this record, we're legally bound to do the record. But I can't tell you yet, how's it going to sound like. And that's pretty much where I'm at.
Where would you release it?
We did a deal to release it on 75Ark, which now doesn't exist anymore. But now I'ma do it with his label, through MCA, or whatever it is.
What about Zach?
I don't have any more information. Over a year ago I did two or three jams with him. And he's been kinda doing his thing. AWOL. Writing, planning. Whatever it is that he needs to do, before he really gets into the thick of finishing his record up. But I don't have any updates. And as you can imagine, it's pretty hard to get in touch with him. And I don't really wanna bother him about it. That's my man. He's a really good guy. And I think that when he's ready, he'll do his thing. And I'll be there to put my two cents in.
Jam Master Jay got killed. I know Run-DMC was a very important group for you.
Yeah, you know. Shit. What can I say? Jam Master Jay was shot. He's dead. I'll be honest man: I didn't cry when Biggie got shot. I didn't cry when Tupac got shot. I cried when Jam Master Jay got shot. Not out of disrespect for Biggie and Tupac, but Jam Master Jay and Run-DMC were my superheroes. They were the ones that really set it off for me and my life in this music. The group itself, in their heyday was obviously the most important hip hop group ever.
I don't understand what happened and I don't really wanna know, honestly. But he'll be missed. I don't know what to say about it, except it sucks to have one of your heroes die. I'm sure it sucks more for his family than it does for me. But I do dedicate a jam to him in my set now. Shit is weird, you know. Hip Hop is the only form of music, where people die from gunshot wounds.
You've rhymed on the Rawkus record "Hip Hop For Respect", that protested police violence. There's now going to be a "Self Destruction Part II", organized by Daddy-O. So after having done a project like this before, how much 'potency' is in a project like this?
I don't know man. That "Hip Hop For Respect" project had a weird vibe to me. It seemed to be more of a publicity stunt than a project. But maybe I just have a bitter perspective. I wanted to get down with it, because it was important. And I felt that I needed to put my two cents in. Ultimately what was behind it, was a just cause.
That was a big deal in New York, the Diallo situation. So it was a no brainer for me to get down. I don't really know what it did. I don't really know if the record sold or anything. I don't know what proceeds went to who, or whatever the fuck. I just know that I did it for one reason: it was because I felt that it was important. And you got to step up to the fuckin' plate.
I don't know what the potency of shit like that is. But what else can you do? People in our position are certainly not famous like that, but if you are in a position where there are fifty or sixty thousand kids that buy your record, and that will listen to what you have to say; that's a pretty direct communication between you and a lot of people. Every once in a while I do think it's your obligation, to step outside of your own ego and your own bullshit and maybe try something beyond 'I'm dope.'
But on the new album, you say less 'I'm dope', than you say other things. And Mr Lif says more other things than 'I'm dope' on his records. But still. The Republicans won.
Well, maybe if Mr Lif would be multi-platinum, they wouldn't have. George Bush won though, I mean, what the fuck (smiles). I mean, if George Bush won the presidency, I was sure that the congressional votes were downhill from there.
I gotta be honest with you, I don't really feel that it's up to musicians. The hope is that there are people that address things and start up conversations, and that there are other people who hear those things, and their conversations start something else. And everyone plays a role. I think the best role that someone like Mr Lif can play is writing. That's what he needs to be doing. Because that's where he's going to be the most affective. Sure, go to rallies, do whatever you wanna do, but at the end of the day, people have a sort of focus specific thing that they can do is more important that just to spreading yourself out and be everywhere and every man's solution to everything. I'm not a particular political individual. I just have a reaction to my daily life and what I see. And I take it from a personal perspective, in the sense of, more the confusion aspect of it. Trying to digest information that I think doesn't really work too well or settle with me. But I'm not really politically active. Someone like Zach, now he's active.
But how did you end up on Nader's stage then?
They called us. They wanted a rap group. They felt that they needed more of an urban audience, and they did terribly. Everyone took credit from Eddie Vedder to some intern at the Ralph Nader office. So it was probably the intern. But I did that because at the time, I felt like if Ralph Nader would be in the presidential debates, it would be much funnier for me. Much more amusing, you know. It would just be fun to see a smart man and two robots talking together.
And the other reason I did it was because I wanted to play Madison Square Garden. I'm not even going to lie. That's probably the only time where I will ever play Madison Square Garden to a packed house. To a one hundred percent sold out audience. Phil Donahue introduced us. So I would have probably done it for Bush too, honestly. Fuck it. I would have done it for Bush, but I would have sabotaged his whole shit. Straight up. I would have sabotaged the whole event, man.
So I did it, because I thought: 'yeah.' Not because I thought Nader had any chance in hell of winning, or that I even agree with everything. I just thought that this guy should at least be able to talk on TV. So that's ultimately why we did it.
And with that said, it's about time for you to go on stage here. Thanks for you time.
Thank you.
the album "Fantastic Damage" and the instrumental version "FanDam Plus" are still in stores.
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