We all know that music itself is life and it moves us all. For Justin, hip hop music impacted his soul and the culture that goes along with it helped him to define himself as a human being, as a man and as an artist. He’s extremely successful in selling the beats he makes and offers advice to indie artists on how they can accomplish the same. In this interview he tell us how he was changed and formed by the music and the culture and what his plans are for the future.
Your cousin from New York exposed you to new music- essentially Black music – rap, hip hop, beats and everything that goes with it. Prior to that, what kind of music did your peers listen to and what kind of music was played in your home by your parents?
That’s right, shouts to my cousin though for putting me on. Pretty much all of my friends were into punk, alternative, and other music that wasn’t hip hop. Even before my cousin showed me hip hop, I noticed that I was more into r&b and rap music videos back when MTV actually played more music than reality shows. My parents were into classic rock like The Eagles, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, and stuff like that.
You mentioned that people in your school intentionally avoided this kind of music and looked down on anyone who liked it. Why was that? What was the reason?
I think because my school was predominantly white and it might have been the “cool thing” to hate rap. I never understood why either. Then again, it was a Catholic school that I attended from the fourth to sixth grade. When I transferred to a public school after sixth grade, I did not have that problem at all.
Have there been other music styles that left an impression on you, such as R&B, any forms of Jazz, or forms of Rock?
Most definitely; R&B especially because I had the biggest crush on Janet Jackson and Left Eye of TLC. I remember that a few house and trance songs caught my ear, especially the ones with female vocals. When it came to rock, I was into System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine. I also got into ska at one point. These were all before I became a true hip hop head though. Once I became one, I educated myself in all forms of music except Country. For some reason I still can’t really get into Country.
What did hip hop music do to? In what ways did it impact your life?
Hip hop basically gave me my identity. Before I became a hip hop head, I always wondered where I fit in. I wasn’t into the whole punk and heavy metal scene some of my friends were into. My close friends were into drum and bass and jungle. I actually liked that music and going to warehouse parties, raves, and massives with them. During those times, I really got into roots rock and even found myself trying my hardest to learn Patois. I still had underground hip hop going through my headphones and while my friends were mixing records, I was scratching them.
Your music, your beats, are composed on electronic platforms. Have you ever been exposed to live instrumentation (live music – bands)?
All my rocker friends played instruments. I always wanted to play the guitar but I never dedicated my time to learn. When I was a young child, my mother forced me to take piano lessons. I think that’s where I subconsciously developed my ear for music. I remember I was one of those eight year old child prodigies that played Beethoven by ear. My piano teacher really wanted to train me as his apprentice and my mom was so with it. As a kid, I hated playing the piano because I’d rather go out and play with my friends. Now that I look back on it, I wish I had stuck with my training. It’s really ironic now that I’m a producer and musician.
Do you ever plan to use real, organic sounds to incorporate into your music as opposed to everything being electronic? For instance, actually recording drums, recording guitar, etc.
For sure. My good friend and mentor is taking me under his wing and teaching me everything about recording engineering. I would love to have some actual instruments in my beats that are not someone else’s sample.
There’s a generation of people, who before you, learned to actually play instruments. They are offended by the fact that “kids today” simply loop beats and call that music. Understanding that this is now the way that a lot of music is created today, what do you say to those people?
What those musicians probably don’t understand is that many producers compose their own material using a midi keyboard or drum machine. Many also play instruments as well and record themselves. I also believe that many of those people couldn’t compose a full instrumental that appeals to the hip hop culture. For example, I have a friend who plays drums, bass, and guitar and has recently got into creating hip hop beats. Even with his live instruments and vast knowledge in playing them, his beats don’t resonate with our friends compared to my productions. He also uses synths and other software like me. The difference is that my beats have the structure and catchiness that charms people and plays to their emotions as music theory would have you. His instrumentation may be more technical and require more skill but it is in my mindset that I can produce a sound that is more enticing to people. At the end of the day, it’s all about what people like to hear and if it sounds good, it doesn’t matter how it was made. Also, looping beats is a culture within itself just like how each instrument carries their own.
You are also a staff writer at https://www.thewordisbond.com/. What led you to become a contributor to that platform?
It’s all in the networking. I was looking for blogs to do features on me in order to help with my brand. I thought of what I can offer them in return aside from money. I included a resume of what I do and what I’ve done. I also showed them my own blog that I write to let them know that I can write articles as well. By doing this, I started writing for a lot of blogs and I would link keywords like hip hop beats for sale and hip hop instrumentals to help with my SEO. I’ve been emailing with the editor of WIB for a few months before I joined their staff. They were in need of someone with social media marketing knowledge and someone to manage their mailing list. I jumped all over the opportunity and kept following up with him until he put me on the team. I also contribute ideas like articles for producers on how to sell beats and if he likes the ideas, he publishes them. I had to work my way up before getting a post there published on one of the biggest hip hop blogs online. Joining their staff has taught me the importance of networking and being resourceful. The moral of the story there is that you don’t always have to spend money to see a return on investment. If you can be creative in what you offer, you will benefit from sites like these while at the same time provide value for them and being an asset.
You also blog a lot of about marketing and provide a lot of helpful information that other people can use to market their own products. Why are you so passionate about sharing your marketing strategies?
I started blogging when I discovered article marketing and how it helps with search engine optimization. I did see results but it took a lot of work and effort staying consistent. Besides, what I really want to do is create music so I can’t be spending too much time blogging. After realizing this, I just started blogging for fun. Sharing my marketing strategies helps me provide value to my artists. Without it, I would have nothing free to offer them. If I have nothing free to offer them, they will think I’m just after their money and nothing more.
People say that hip hop is more than music – it’s a culture, it’s a way of life. We know that you are of this mindset also. Would you explain to people who don’t understand what that means – what that means? : )
I love quoting KRS-1 because he has one line that explains it all. “Hip is the knowledge and Hop is the movement.” Hip hop to me has helped me stay out of trouble and put a lot of things in perspective for me. It allows me to be part of its culture and gives me a sense of belonging. I’ve been expelled from two different high schools and used to get into all kinds of bad situations. After a while, I started listening to more underground that had positive messages. That’s what I mean about gaining a new perspective. These songs promoted peace and inspired me to find something more to life. I was also able to relate because they rhymed about getting into all kinds of shit and then becoming a better person because of it. That’s the knowledge that I became “Hip” to. The “Hop” part is actually following through these intentions of living a decent life. It wouldn’t be hip hop without the hop.
You have been very successful selling your music on-line. Do you know what kinds of people are buying your tracks and where the majority of them come from?
Many of them are artists, a few managers, and a few independent labels. I should be using Google analytics to track where they are coming from but interacting with them gives me all the data I need to know my customers and clients. Also their address is on the PayPal receipts so it gives me an idea of where most of my sales come from.
Does anyone ever come back and let you hear what they’ve done with your track and are you even interested in knowing?
I would say about 1/4th of my buyers show me their work over my productions. I’ve always wondered why the number is so low but I just assume that’s how people are. Some like to create connections and business relationships while most only need me for my beats and nothing else. I’m proud to say that many of the artists that come back to show me their works are really talented and have a ton of skill lyrically.
What is your ultimate goal with the creation of the music, the selling of the music? What is it that you are looking for from this passion? In other words, where do you expect it all to lead you and what will you gain from it?
For me personally, my goal is very simple. It’s not about getting a Grammy or becoming the best producer in the world; although I have an upcoming placement with a Latin Grammy artist. All I want out of this is financial freedom. I never graduated college and all I really know in life is music. I want to be able to work from home and spend time with my family. Aside from that, I want my beats to be a vehicle to a certain artist who can spread a conscious message and educate listeners with his or her wisdom. I want to be able to inspire others just like how hip hop continues to inspire me every day.
At this point, do you have a formal plan or structure that you are following, or does your heart lead?
Honestly, I’m just following my heart with a little bit of discipline from my mentors. I set short term goals and come up with ways to achieve them. I try to keep my strategies simple and in a way that it coincides with my day to day life. I don’t want to have too much going on and complicate things. I see a lot of producers doing all kinds of things that have nothing to do with their production. I always wonder if they are still artists at the end of the day or have they just become pure capitalists? There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not for me. I like to create music and I like to do my own form of marketing. I don’t like doing gimmick style marketing that takes away the essence of the art of music.
Recognizing that this is not just a hobby, is music your full-time occupation?
As of now, music is my full-time occupation. Who knows what the future holds. I want to own a business but I’m still trying to figure out my niche and what I know best. One thing I forgot to mention is that I find fun in doing business. I manage a team of producers on the site, do music marketing consultations for artists, and have a few marketing partners and affiliates in my network. I just like being productive, I get a buzz after doing transactions with people lol.
Do you perform out, or are you just a producer?
Before I became a producer, I used to be a turntablist. I used to scratch every time I see a pair of ones and twos and I’ve also DJ’d a few parties. I also rhyme and I’m currently working on releasing either a mixtape or album this year.
You were in the Philippines for several years and that enabled you to really focus on your craft. What was different or special about being there that helped you get focused?
I had to get away for a while. I couldn’t focus on music that much back in Cali. I was always going out either chilling out or partying. At least since all of my friends were DJ’s it gave me a reason to practice scratching whenever I was at home. I actually didn’t start selling beats until living in the Philippines. I used to make beats for fun because of my good friend and partner TSP Productions. I discovered Rocbattle and it gave me a reason to keep making beats. I’m real competitive so Rocbattle helped turn producing from being a hobby into passion. I was still battling on Rocbattle when I started living in the Philippines and since there wasn’t much to do so I would just sit at home at make beats all day. One day, a member in my Rocbattle crew asked me if I knew anything about selling beats. It was history from then on.
Where are you and how do you maintain your focus?
I’m still in the Philippines but I am coming back to Cali this year to open a studio with TSP Productions. Now that I have a fiancé and son, I am more focused than ever. I remember I took a vacation back home a couple years ago and totally blew all of my money on going out and having fun. I learned my lesson from that and started putting away a savings. Having a family also gives me a reason to stay focused. Even here in the Philippines I was losing focus and losing sobriety (ha ha) so I had to force myself to keep on track with my production, marketing, and planning for my future. Life is one gigantic learning curve which is why I am not ashamed to admit mistakes and when I’ve gone astray from my purpose.
You said that when you’re sixty-years-old, you’ll still be rocking hip hop. Tell us a brief story of what you will have done between now and then. In other words, what will you say to your grandchildren! : )
By then, I hope to have song placements with my favorite artists as well as any other major artist that will have me. I’ll be raising my son and maybe have more kids; I don’t know. I really want to travel and take advantage of having financial freedom. I want to be able to take my work on the road and just live in different parts of the world for however long I want. When it’s all said and done, I have no idea what I’ll be telling my grandchildren. I’ll probably be in a cipher circle with them if any of them became rappers lol.
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