Jon Phonics is an MC / Producer based in the South. He has worked with some well known names and got them to feature on his Half Past Calm release. Whilst he was over in the US he took the time out to parle with Nino. Read on to find out what he had to say.
Could you give us a little bio? Where are you from and how did you get into the hip hop game?
Jon Phonics: What up, I was born and raised in Hemel Hempstead, for the time being I live in West London. I got into hip hop when I was young, my first ever tape cassette was Luniz 'I Got 5 On It' when I was mad young, but I would say I’m still coming up in the 'game'.
Who were some of the first MCs you worked with?
Jon Phonics: I used to build beats for my cousin Harminoff and some of his people, this was when I first was building beats on Reason and after about a year of that I met Mr Dratsick with his CD on Oxford Street, traded discs and ended doing the 'Rep Dat' track with Doc Brown.
Do you prefer working with MCs who want to have a laugh or are deeper and darker?
Jon Phonics: I don't really prefer either, it's all relevant, when you look at Wu Tang you have Method Man who people might perceive as a joker and you have GZA and Masta Killah who are wise men. It helps keep the balance.
Do you feel as though you learn new stuff from all the MCs you work with or do you prefer to be the one doing to educating?
Jon Phonics: It's easier to build with someone if you can politic with a person on a level, I like to stay educated about certain things that are relevant to our standards of living and our future, but if some one doesn't share those views it's not a problem it doesn't get in the way of the music.
Do you ever get producers block?
Jon Phonics: Yeah of course, it's like they say, "you're only as good as your last beat".
What do you use for inspiration at times like that?
Jon Phonics: Just get out the lab for a bit, get some solar power, I normally go hit up my friends with them good beats and hear some stuff other than my beats and what I’ve been digesting. Then I can't wait to get back in the lab.
What's your substance of choice to keep your mind in time when you're in the studio?
Jon Phonics: Fruit in the mornings, herbs in the evening.
'Half Past Calm' has some serious names on it as far as the hip hop scene goes. For you as the only person really flowing through the whole thing, was there a particular theme or emotion you were trying to get across?
Jon Phonics: The thing with Half Past Calm, is it's more a collection of left over tracks that I had done with artists, that all had a pretty '95 sort of sound to them, and then I had a few newer tracks that we recorded especially for it. That's why I put it out for free download so people could just get access to the tracks, but I did select only tracks that I felt had that sample based boom bastistikke schtalarach sort of sound.
Most of the British MCs you work with are London based guys, do you have any plans to work with anyone away from those ends?
Jon Phonics: Yeah man definitely, as I write this myself and M9 are out in New York putting some work in with guys out here, I also have a track on Sonnyjim's new release who's from Birmingham.
Are you up for working with any female MCs at all? If so, who?
Jon Phonics: I'm open to it man for sure, I can't really think of any of the top of my head. Rah Digga was heavy though.
Do you think producers have more freedom than MCs?
Jon Phonics: Yeah I definitely think a producer has more license to do work in different genres.
Do you think it is important to sample different genres of music?
Jon Phonics: Yeah definitely.
Are there any hip hop samples you'd consider timeless?
Jon Phonics: Yea that Bubblegum joint I love, I had to use it once I found it. Also certain drum breaks, the Minnie Ripperton that Dilla kept going back to, Chic's 'Good Times'. M9 is saying Temperatures Rising.
Are there any hip hop samples you think are overused? Any terribly put together tracks that make you grind your teeth every time your hear them?
Jon Phonics: Sam Cooke 'Change Gone Come' is the one that springs to mind, I know there's nuff more. Like the sample that J-Lo used that the Beatnuts had used.
Do you feel you have your sample use in fair balance?
Jon Phonics: Yeah man I love using samples, but I have some bits coming out that uses a lot more instruments. Playing instruments led me to production so I'm taking back there now. Like you say a balance is important.
So, as far as legendary hip hop producers go… Dr Dre or Marley Marl?
Jon Phonics: Both are dope, but Marley Marl.
Timbaland or RZA?
Jon Phonics: Same again man, Tim did his thing on the first missy album, but RZA a pillar.
Rick Rubin or Pete Rock?
Jon Phonics: Pete Rock.
A lot of your tracks have quite an old school chilled out kind of feel… do you listen to more old school than mainstream?
Jon Phonics: I think it's fair to say I listen, but don't really check for mainstream music. I understand what it is and it's appeal, but it's not for me to listen in my spare time.
Still thinking of the old school… would you say you're a Wild Style kind of guy?
Jon Phonics: Wild Style is cool. Style Wars is my shit though. Cap represents what I don't like about a lot of the hip hop we are hearing these days, he has the attitude a lot of guys have now in hip-hop.
Any more recent hip hop films or documentaries you think deserve a mention?
Jon Phonics: That film 'Kids' is a dope film, Clockers had the Crooklyn Dodgers soundtrack and that other Spike Lee film, Bamboozled is pretty dope. They are not really hip hop films though.
Who would you invite to your ultimate block party?
Jon Phonics: I'd have all my friends and fam, the original Rock Steady Crew up in there, DJ Red Alert, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa to make that shit official, you know… I'd get Double Trouble and Boot Camp Click to play a few songs as well.
Cheers for your time… would have loved to do this one in person but I'm rather restricted in my movements at the mo. Look forward to hearing some more of your stuff seeping through the scene! Any final words?
Jon Phonics: Yeah thanks for the interview, thanks for reading people, look out for some more Phonics shit coming soon!