The name Just Blaze is synonymous with Hip-Hop history. His production discography reads like a virtual who’s who in Hip-Hop ranging from the late 1990s, until today. Those songs range from Jay Z’s classic “Girls, Girls, Girls,” Cam’ron’s “Oh Boy,” Fabolous’ “Can’t Let You Go” and “Breathe,” and T.I. & Rihanna’s “Live Your Life” to Beyoncé & Kendrick Lamar’s “Freedom.” The New Jersey-native made time for M.I.Q. to discuss his illustrious career, his current projects and a deal he signed with Reservoir Media Management at the top of 2017.
There’s so much to cover, why don’t you tell us what you’re currently working on?
Funny, I’m involved in a project that I’m not yet able to talk about. It’s for one of Rap’s foremost MCs and highest selling artists. I’m currently producing and writing for what will likely be his first single, if not, his second single for sure. I produced the record along with a new artist of mine by the name of OnCue. As for OnCue, I’ve been working with him, grooming him and getting him ready. We just got our first offer from a major label.
There’s also a documentary in the works about my life and career. The director and editors are in the final stages. I’m also working on the music. Now that we’re in the editing process, I’m working on the score and looking for records of mine that will work for certain scenes. There’s self-licensing along with new music for this documentary. I don’t have an exact release date but possibly sometime between October and November.
I was in the midst of working on an EP for Hall & Nash when Shady (Interscope) approached us. Now that they’re signed to Shady, we’re determining which records go to that project versus the EP.
Talk a bit about your publishing deal with Reservoir.
We finalized the deal at the top of this year. For years I’ve prided myself on being self-contained and doing everything for myself. I’d gotten to a point where I’d get a big movie synch or a big ad campaign synch and it works out great. I’ve made more money licensing a [single] record through a campaign or a movie trailer than I’ve made on the actual record itself. Things were happening organically. It wasn’t happening because someone was actively exploiting my catalog. So, that was my main reasoning for bringing Reservoir in. I have 17 years’ worth of music catalog which we need to go above and beyond in exploiting. As for my new stuff going forward, [we did] an admin deal.
You recently generated quite a buzz with your Beat Battle versus Swizz Beatz.
Swizz and I are longtime homies. And the Beat Battle was something we always joked about doing. It’s part of the documentary that I mentioned. A lot of the people there didn’t know that was part of a documentary. It wasn’t staged. It was definitely spur-of-the moment. It was initially supposed to be a 30 to 45-minute scene for the documentary but it went on for nearly 3 hours. Had you left it up to us, we would have been there all night. We definitely did that for the culture.
Can you discuss your work on the recent Faith Evans Tribute album to the Notorious B.I.G., The King & I?
That was great. The hardest part was trying to find BIGGIE verses that no one ever heard before or that hadn’t been mixed a million times before. To do that, we had to go outside of his Bad Boy catalog. We needed to find things that were rare and as unheard as possible. Once I found them for the two records I recorded on Faith, I thought it was perfect. It required some manipulation. I had to make BIGGIE say words he didn’t originally say but that’s what’s so amazing about technology today. We couldn’t have done this album just ten years ago.
It’s been nearly 20 for you as a producer yet you continue to produce at some of the highest levels. Talk about the experience working on the Beyoncé & Kendrick Lamar track, “Freedom.”
I’m just grateful that artists of that caliber – and that are veterans – still care enough to even reach out and get something from me. Most producers in today’s Hip-Hop and Electronic music – where the sounds are changing constantly and the players are changing constantly – only get three or four years at this game…that’s it. Beyoncé already had a demo to the song, felt “Just Blaze needs to do this” and called me immediately. What an honor, man. I’m one of the few rap producers who hasn’t come out as a performing artist, a rapper or a singer. I know my lane and I do what I do. The fact that I have that happening for me and people still care in 2017 or 2018, I feel that’s a blessing.
With that said, do you feel the need to conform, like producing Trap songs or something?
It’s not about conforming, it’s about evolution. You can’t do the same thing your entire career. People always give Nas flack because he hasn’t made another Illmatic. Had he made five more Illmatics, the original wouldn’t be as special. For me, it’s the same thing. I never felt that this is the sound that’s hot right now so this is the style I need to make.
One big advantage that I have is that I’m a DJ. Most nights a week, I’m on a stage somewhere or in a booth being a DJ. I didn’t make the transition from producer to DJ. I started out as a DJ – that’s how I learned how to produce. So, I don’t feel I have to conform and start making Trap music. I do what I traditionally do and make it fit into what I do as a DJ.
Do you truly understand your legacy or role in the culture?
I do understand it…but I try not to dwell on it because I don’t want to live totally in the past. I’ve seen guys fall victim to their own hype. I do understand and respect that I am a part of history… but I don’t let that guide my movements today.