DJ JS-1 is a well respected DJ and all round Hip Hop practitioner who is a part of the legendary Rock Steady Crew. He has toured extensively with Rahzel and occasionaly with KRS-One. He's collaborated with just about anyone who is anyone and now with his Ground Original 2: No Sell Out LP out he spoke at length with Alex Humprey so we could find out more. Read on.
You were born and raised in Queens New York. What was it like for you growing up?
DJ JS-1: Per square mile, Queens is the most diverse place on earth. It has approximately three million people from all different parts of the world. I always liked that. I grew up in Queens in the late 70's and 80's spending a lot of time playing sports, doing graffiti, and eventually learning to DJ. When I was very young, around 5 years old in 1979, I would spend a lot of time at my grandmother's house and she lived right on the corner of Lefrak projects, where the hip-hop culture was strong and expanding.
What is your first memory of hip-hop and how did you get into it?
DJ JS-1: I remember riding my bicycle on my grandmothers block and seeing the guys hanging on the corner with the big boom box radio, listening to different breaks, disco-funk, and early hip-hop songs. I remember wanting to get my hands on that music and also wanted to do graffiti after I watched them paint a mural on the side of the pizzeria. My first real memory is me recording AJ SCRATCH by Kurtis Blow onto an old cassette tape at my grandmother's house and writing on it with crayon. LOL. As I grew up, I was always drawing and doing graffiti, then like everyone else I tried to break-dance but wasn't so good at it. Myself and my friends collected a few records and once I had a crate or two I eventually got used turntables and it started from there. That was late 80's like 88/89.
You have released over eight singles, four albums including your newest, five break records and countless classic mix CD’s. What personally is your favourite of all the tracks you have made so far and why?
DJ JS-1: Hmmmm… That's tricky. My favorites are (in no special order):
1- Essential w/ KRS & Rahzel – my first 12" single and I got the best mc of all-time!!!
2- While I'm Dancing – w/ Common – because Common is one of my favorite emcees (back in the day before he made fruity records with Kanye and the Neptunes).
3- Brainbender – on my new album with Ultramagnetic Mcees, Prince Po, Rahzel… because Ultramag is one of my favorite groups ever, they NEVER did a feature for anyone as Ultramag, and this song was a tribute to one of my idols PAUL C, legendary producer from Queens. He worked with Large Pro, Ultramag, Stezo, Rakim, Organized Konfusion, SUper Lover Cee, Rahzel, Biz Markie, Black Rock n Ron and others…
4- Ridiculous – on my new album, because Pharoahe Monch rhymes on it! I LOVE that dude's flow, lyrics, etc.
Having toured the world several times, doing over 1,000 shows in more than 32 countries and hundreds of cities, what country has the best crowds to play to?
DJ JS-1: I love doing shows in Japan, Australia, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. All those countries have great crowds. There are different styles in different places but all those spots have a real live and excited crowd. We have been in the UK several times and I always enjoy touring there. A lot of "bigger" acts might only do London, Liverpool or Manchester, but we also enjoy Cardiff, Exeter, Bournemouth, Leeds, Southampton, Brighton, Sheffield, Newcastle, and even Cornwall. Having the ability to perform live in front of people all over the world is a blessing and gives us the chance to bring the NY hip-hop tradition of two turntables and a mic to crowds everywhere.
You have performed live with a vast variety of people from rappers like Snoop, Run DMC and the Wu, to bands and singers as diverse as The Roots, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Erykah Badu and Mike Patton, to other DJ’s like DJ Qbert, Grandmaster Flash and Roni Size. Who would be on your dream live bill if you could perform with anyone?
DJ JS-1: WOW is that difficult! Well here is the JS-1 dream concert. I'm sure I'm going to forget a few, but…
Roger Waters * Krs-one * Black Sabbath * De La Soul * Rahzel * MixMaster Mike * Rage Against The Machine * Redman / Method man / Ghostface * Parliament Funkadelic * Public Enemy * Soulive * Kool Keith * Beastie Boys * DJ Qbert * Immortal Technique * DJ Cash Money * Stevie Wonder * Jamiroquai * MC Supernatural * Rock Steady Crew *
That would be my dream festival. I would have included others but they are either not alive, not a band anymore, etc. such as Jurassic 5, Michael Jackson, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Beatles, Big L, Run DMC w/ JMJ, original Pink Floyd and mainly Led Zep!!!
In 2002 you got inducted to the legendary Rock Steady Crew. What did that mean to you?
DJ JS-1: It really means a whole lot. I have been going to RSC and Zulu nation anniversaries for a very, very long time. I have followed them and what they stood for, for many years. I am a true New York City bboy in every sense of the way. I am a graffiti writer that has done hundreds of pieces at all the major hall of fames with many legendary writers, and has been deejaying all over the world for a very long time as well. I am a hip-hop purist and that's what I do, hip-hop. So, it made perfect sense for me to be inducted but it was something I NEVER expected or even thought about. When Crazy Legs announced that, I was shocked, thrilled, excited, but mainly I felt validated. Finally I put some legitimate credibility behind what I have been doing for so long. So now I do all I can to carry out that tradition of classic NY city hip-hop and the RSCrew.
Your album Ground Original 2: No Sell Out is an all star banger full of amazing MC’s and brilliant production. How did the album come about?
DJ JS-1: Thank you, it wasn't easy gathering all those Mcees! First, I'm only producing and not rhyming so I need to get guests on my tracks. Then I always wanted to record with certain Mcees that I like or respect what they do. So with my first few albums I have been doing that and wanted to continue with this new one. So I tried to get certain Mcees that I liked and knew would fit a specific beat or song idea that I had. I would run into some of them at shows, some I knew, and some I tracked down via the Internet or through mutual friends. It is hard to coordinate schedules because most of us tour all the time to earn a living. It is also difficult to coordinate beats, ideas, etc. The good thing is that this style of album does not follow trends so it doesn't matter when I released it. I have been gathering verses for this project for a few years. Overall though, I did exactly what I wanted to do, everyone came through for me and I'm happy with the album. There is some stuff I REALLY love, some stuff I'd like to change, but overall I'm pleased and think I did a good album for people who like what I like.
I have read that No Sell Out is a title referencing your desire to create records according to personal taste despite current mainstream direction. What do you think of hip-hop now and how has it changed?
DJ JS-1: I think the main problem is that there is a perception that one should make a certain kind of song or follow a certain format that works for other artists, in-order-to gain acceptance, get played on radio or get a major record deal. Basically, biting is the thing to do. The mentality that what works for one will work for all and setting out to make music with a sales agenda instead of just making music and being confident that people will like what you make.
To me, all the albums that come out today have an agenda. Everyone wants to get a certain few producers to do beats, and those who can afford it, try to get all the typical bigger named producers to do tracks in hopes that gets them attention, spins, plays, sales, or whatever. In my opinion then you are not getting that artists music? You are getting a collection of beats from random producers who probably don't even know, like or give a shit about the artist, but the music is what supplies the whole mood. If I think back to all my favorite groups, they ALL made their own music. Gangstarr, Public Enemy, Tribe Called Quest, Organized Konfusion, EPMD, De La Soul, Dilated Peoples, Ultramagnetic Mcees, etc. The actual group themselves or in-house production team of their friends, made their albums. You were buying and getting THEM. Their feelings, their ideas, their mood, their style of beats, their music. It was personable and spoke directly to you. If you felt the same as De La and was digging their stuff you felt connected to THEM. Today its like you might like certain beats or MAYBE a verse or two here and there, and maybe even the whole song and combination worked out great, but do you really give a shit about that artists career? Or you hear some indie, underground artist and yeah you love the Premier beat, but do you REALLY want to follow the career of the guy rhyming on it? You are not getting their feelings, you are getting what they though would make you buy or listen to their music. So this changed the game. From the underground to mainstream, you have everyone copying what's working for others, or trying to piggyback off some producer credit. There are not groups who are real artists anymore, they are corny salesmen.
I already know that I'm not going for major radio spins or doing a fancy video so when I make my music, I just make what I like. Especially on this project, hence the title NO SELLOUT. I didnt budge one bit or take anyone's advice on anything. I really didn't let the artists listen to beat CD's; I gave them a specific track that I wanted them on. I'm sure most of them probably wouldn't use the beat they were on if I let them pick it, but I wanted songs done a certain way. Because I did everything my way from ideas, concepts, pairing Mcees, making and selecting the beats, etc. when someone buys or listens to my album, they are getting all DJ JS-1.
How did you go about creating each track and was there a set process or did you just get the rappers in the studio and see what happened?
DJ JS-1: Many of these beats were tracks that I made having specific Mcees in mind or once it was made I knew I wanted a certain person to rhyme on it. Then it was contacting them and getting them to agree to do it, and then to actually do it. A few people I contacted first, and then made the track for them the night before. The Ultramagnetic track was done right before I went to the studio with them, and made specifically with them in mind, and the idea for that song. I would sometimes guide the Mcees on the style of song, the ideas or concepts, and what other Mcees might be on the same track. Some Mcees got to hear the other verses, some didn't. Some recorded with me in my house, in my studio, at a friend's studio, at their studio, or wherever, just to get it done. It's not easy when you have so many people involved. Rarely do I ever "just see what happens" only because none of us have time for that usually, and I don't trust anyone for that. LOL. I always have a plan when recording. A few times I switched an idea or beat or scratch-hook in the middle of working on the song, but I usually hear the song in my head completed, before I even make it. Sometimes the song come out PERFECT and exactly how I wanted them to be, like the song with Large Professor (LIKE THIS). That is EXACTLY how I planned it in my mind.
The track (NUTHIN') with CL Smooth, Brother Ali and Sadat X also came out exactly how it was planned. Once my boy came and played the live horn, it sounded exactly the way I was hearing it all along in my head.
There are multiple collaborations among artists who have never worked together before on the album. Was there anyone who you wanted to get but couldn’t?
DJ JS-1: There are always people I want to get. I really want to get GZA, Redman, Ghostface, Del, Lowkey, Nas, Tash, The Beatnuts, etc. and I want to work again with Immortal Technique, Kool G Rap, and Akrobatik.
Rahzel does the intro to your album and is one of your long-standing collaborators. How did you first meet?
DJ JS-1: I have been working with Rahzel for a little over a decade now. He dropped his Make The Music album in the summer of 1999 and from there we have been touring together. We've done so much all over the world and are still constantly doing shows. It's a blessing and a great opportunity. We both like the same stuff and love to improvise and perform on stage. The beat box and DJ thing works out well. We first met through DJ Skribble and DJ Slynke. They were friends of mine who I was working with. They did the 4 Elements track on Rahzel's album. I met with Rahzel when I was doing some MTV stuff in NY and so was Rahzel. He asked me to tour with him and I did. We've been going ever since…
You have worked with any and everyone that’s big in the game past, present and future including Common, KRS-1, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Jeru Da Damaja, Planet Asia, Ill Bill, Pharoahe Monch and so many more. This makes you more than capable of answering one of the big questions. Who is the best rapper ever?
DJ JS-1: Hahahahahaha… here is what I think. First, I have listened to tons of Mcees. I have personally witnessed thousands of shows with every MC ever. I’ve seen and listened to them all.
The first thing is that it is very difficult to judge eras just like it is with deejaying. Is Qbert better than Grandmaster Flash or even DJ Cash Money? How can you make that call?
Am I better than Jam Master Jay? So when I make my judgment it's hard to say Eminem is better than Special K from the Treacherous 3. Special K in his day was by far one of the sickest lyricists and Mcees. Everyone who comes after someone else is automatically obligated to bow down to those who came first, regardless of talent. There are many kids who learned how to sing and beat box at the same time just like Rahzel, BUT they got it from watching and copying Rahzel. Ok, anyways, I just had to say that…
Now, in my opinion, taking lyrics, flows, songs, stage presence, performance, longevity, albums, off-the-head, era, etc. I would say: KRS-ONE is the best of all-time.
And these are my favorites of all time are… (Not in order…that's impossible):
KRS * Nas * Redman * Busta Rhymes * Big Daddy Kane * Black Thought * Rakim * Kool G Rap * Chuck D * Common * Pharoahe Monch * Ghostface * Melle Mel * LL Cool J * PosDnuos & Trugoy (De La) * Masta Ace * Big L * Eminem * Jay Z * (I know I'm missing people… I'm literally doing this off the head without thinking about it…).
You have been a major figure in the graffiti scene since the late 80’s and have produced hundreds of pieces under your Jerms tag. Where and what is your favourite piece?
DJ JS-1: Its funny but one of my favorite pieces I did on Bondi Beach in Australia in 2005 while on tour with Red n Meth, DJ Premier, n Rahzel. I was happy with a lot of pieces I did, but the main thing was that I covered all the major hall of fames in all the boroughs. Back then people would get robbed or beaten going to the wrong place. I managed to do all of the spots, several times, and do good work. That was cool. A few times stuff went down, people pulled a gun out or something, but I was happy to do so much work and stay out of jail and not get hurt. I was always into letter styles more than blends. I loved wild-style letters and that's why I had a 5-letter tag like JERMS. It was more fun when doing 5 letters. When I would go bombing and do highways or streets, I shortened it to JS1 instead of JERMS one. Then everyone knew me as JS so I kept that as my DJ name. I was always happy my DJ name came from my Graff name, which is as hip-hop as you can get. I always laugh when I see some of the corny names these new deejays come up with. It's hilarious. All these dumb play on words, etc. Hi I'm "DJ SIT-N-SPIN" and dumb shit like that. Hahahahahaha.
Considering you have mastered two of Hip-hop's four main elements DJing and graffiti, does that mean we can expect to hear your MCing and breaking next?
DJ JS-1: LMAO… hahahahaha… Well the break-dancing thing is not going to happen anytime soon, trust me! When I was much younger I could do a few moves but now I much more comfortable scratching records while others bounce off the floor on their elbows and spine. I get hurt just watching them dance; I don't know how they do that! As far as rhyming, well you miiiiiiiight. I actually rhymed on a bunch of demos with friends from way back in the day. I messed around rhyming from 1989-90 and on, but never ever did it seriously or where I would play it for people. BUT, you never know, I might throw a verse on something just to do it. Shit, after listening to all these guys selling tons of ringtones, I'm much better than them! LOL. I always did want to do a full album where I produce it, do the cuts and rhyme on it. You never know?
Out of all the things you do, TV appearances, performing live, making music and graffiti which is your favourite and why?
DJ JS-1: Hmmm, I enjoy them all for different reasons. Since I travel a lot and I'm always doing shows, I have become kind of a homebody / hermit. I love being along and standing home in my studio, so making music is like therapy for me. That's my favorite time in the world honestly. I just sit, alone, don't have to deal with anyone, annoying texts, emails, facebook nonsense, etc. and can do what I love. Create music, mess with beats, scratches and do what I love and like. My whole studio is surrounded by graffiti, records, record covers, posters, and stickers from all groups I draw inspiration from. That is where I spend ALL my time.
But I cant lie, the thrill of doing huge concerts or huge TV shows and getting that feeling when you are doing what you love on stage and having tons of people cheer for you… THAT's SOOO AWESOME!!!! It really is. To see thousands of people on the other side of the world truly enjoy what you started out doing by yourself in your bedroom, is really awesome. That sounded funny? LOL. But you know what I mean, and its true. The rush you get seeing a few hundred kids and other djays as they run up to you to speak to you after a concert is priceless.
What’s next for you then in 09 and beyond?
DJ JS-1: More touring, another few albums and mix CD's… Same ole… I'm working on an album with OC, working on a new solo album with more "scratch tracks", working on getting Rahzel's next album done and out for early 2010… Just always working. When you love your work, its not really work…
Lastly as a master DJ what record do you keep in your box at all times that you know is guaranteed to get a party started at any costs?
DJ JS-1: WOW… first, I'm not a typical DJ, lol, I usually play what I want, try to force shit on the crowd and not let the crowd force me to play the same shit as every other DJ. So I could say any record with Fatman Scoop screaming on it, LOL, but that's banned from my crates now. Enough! lol. So… I'd say…
Jump Around – House of Pain is the #1 guaranteed to get people going nuts…
These tracks work anywhere in the world with both older and younger crowds…
Rapper's Delight by Sugarhill Gang
Children's Story by Slick Rick
Walk This Way – Run Dmc & Aerosmith
Knee Deep – Parliament Funkadelic
I Know You Got Soul – Eric B & Rakim
Sound of the Police – KRS
Brass Monkey – Beastie Boys
The Message – Grandmaster Flash & Furious 5
Thank you for you time.
DJ JS-1: Thank you… seriously… I totally appreciate you taking your time to do this interview and support what I do… thanks!
DJ JS-1 rock steady crew.
Go buy or illegally download "NO SELLOUT" album, out now!!!
By: Alex Humphrey