Breaking the rules with J Rawls

After 15 years in the game, the ability to revinvent yourself in the music industry was a vital lesson hip hop producer J Rawls picked up quite instantly.  This lesson lead him to produce for hip hop royalty Slum Village, Yasiin Bey and The Beastie Boys. Having just completed an album with Casual from Hieroglyphics called ’Respect game or expect flames,’ we thought it was perfect timing to interview J Rawls about his upcoming album, why MCA’s death signifies hip hop is aging, and his advice for young producers today. Margaret Tra writes.

You’ve worked with some very influential people Slum Village, Beastie Boys, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) & Talib Kweli. Who inspired you the most? Any interesting stories when you guys collaborated?

Most of these artists inspire me when you work with them. I have had a lot of fun and enjoyable experiences working with everyone from Yasin Bay to Kwe to J Live and El da Sensei. It’s just fun making music with people you grew up listening too.

How did you feel after you heard the news of MCA’s death?

I was saddened, but I realise that hip hop is aging. That is an ill concept, we used to think we were invincible but the reality is we aren’t...

You are currently on a European tour; tell us how that is going? Do you have a favourite city?

My favourite city is Amsterdam. I like the laid back feel of the city, even though I don’t partake in all of the things the city has to offer (laughs) I still enjoy it. I love to dig for old records they’re the best. There are about 6-7 good record shops there.

What projects are you working on now?

The main project I just finished is the ’Respect game or expect flames’ album with Casual. I am very excited about this album. I think this may be some of my best work, and casual is one of those MC's I grew up on, so to work with him was amazing! The album comes out on Nature Sounds on 28 August 2012.
The next project I am working on is this young kid from Columbus Ohio, named P Blackk. He is a dope new MC. He is part of the Bakers Club with that kid Raz Fresco out of Toronto. This new breed of young MC is killing it. I am proud to be working with him.

You’ve been in the game for a while, how important is it to you to still be producing quality music?

It’s the most important thing. I learned from watching cats like Puff and LL (Cool J), you’ve got to reinvent yourself when you’ve been in the game for a minute. I have been doing this since 1997, so I got to stay fresh. I think I do that by crossing genres, I do Soul, Jazz, Hip Hop and I like to add education in there as well. I am working on my PhD in education and hope to incorporate Hip Hop into that.

What is something rappers did back then, that they don’t do now?

Well, I’m not too sure. Rappers back then were still learning what was the thing to do, it seems like now, all the rules are written, and no- one is really breaking the rules. They’re just doing the norm.

You’re thoughts on rappers today?

There are a lot of rappers I’m feeling today. Like Joey Badass and P Blackk and Raz Fresco. There are some nice young dudes coming up.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?

Joey Badass and The Pro Era Camp, Raz Fresco and Common.

You are now at Triffin University as an artist-in-residence, how does it feel to give back? And how are the students’?

It’s incredible. The students are dope and eager to learn. I’ve got a few that I may even put into the game; they have a lot of talent.

How is the label going?

The label is going well. Staying in the black, that is the most important thing for me. (Laughs)

You just did an album with Casual from Hieroglyphics, how did you guys get together? What’s the response been like?

The response has been crazy. All of the blogs are on it. All of the DJ's are showing love. I’m real excited about this album. We met through email. I have no idea, but he had my email and emailed me, it was on from there. It’s been great!

Do you have any advice for producers today?

Do something different. Keep making music even when it seems like there is nothing popping, and stay creative.

What Stimulates Your Soul?

Family; my kids help keep me going.