interview BLACKJACK (September 2009) | Interview By: Chad Kiser

   BlackJack has been in and out of the game since the mid-1990s, after he helped produce four gold albums, while producing back then for Spice 1 (Jealous Got Me Strapped ft. 2Pac, Strap On The Side) The Luniz (On Da Slunda), E-40 (D-Boyz Got Love For Me) and the Notorious B.I.G. (Young Gís Perspective ft. Junior Mafia). In this exclusive interview with Dubcnn, the legendary producer sits down with Chad Kiser to tell us what heís up to recently, talks about forming the TrakLordz with J Gunna, discusses the state of the bay area music scene, and gives us a little rundown of the history behind one of Spice-1ís more classic albums, Amerikkkaís Nightmare.

As ever, you can read this exclusive interview below and we urge you to leave feedback on our forums or email them to chad@dubcnn.com.

Interview was done in August 2009

Questions Asked By: Chad Kiser

Interview Assistance: J. Milby

Dubcnn Exclusive Ė BlackJack
By Chad Kiser


Dubcnn: BlackJack what's been up with you man, are you good?

Yeah, man, I'm good just living.

Dubcnn: So, what have you been up to these days?

Well, actually I started a production team with J. Gunna, the TrakLordz, and we just been grinding that way. As far as BlackJack as an independent producer, I was just a kid trying to find my own sound and happened to get lucky enough to get into a situation and get a publishing deal, record deal and all that. I never really established my own sound to make that impactful music that I wanted to make, so I hooked up with this cat [J. Gunna] and we have been grinding our music and basically starting over from scratch. A few years ago we were unofficially working with this A&R cat at Shady [Records], but that was slow moving so we decided to do our own album. Itís out now and itís called Duffle Bag Music. Itís got all of the people that I worked with before. E-40 is on there and a bunch of young cats from the bay, but that's basically whatís been going on with me.

Dubcnn: How did you and J Gunna get connected for the TrakLordz?

J Gunna is a real hungry young cat, and a hell of a keyboard player. I mean a real musician and I wanted to expand my sound. So I ran into him and he was a fan of mine, you know, BlackJack from the Spice 1 albums. We decided to incorporate both of our sounds; we just respected E-A Skih other and made good music.

Dubcnn: You mentioned the Duffle Bag Music project, can you elaborate a little more on that on that for us?

Duffle Bag Music is a dope record. Itís a street record, going back to what I used to do, but with a far more updated sound. The bay is now known more for its sounds like real crazy shit and not necessarily a real music thing. We are trying to bring that back; bring the music back to the bay. We have a real history like Tony Toni Tone, so weíre trying to let people know that the bay is about more than that random silliness. I'm an older dude, you know, I'm 36 so I'm on some other shit than these young kids out here, but if I was them Iíd be on the same shit.

Dubcnn: I was going to ask you, with the bay scene now and the differences with the scene when you were doing your thing with Spice-1, and E-40, and those cats, what's your take on where the music is now.

I think that once it became a movement it killed the bayís momentum, musically. The term Hyphy was more of a term meaning aggressive and now itís more of a clown type of thing; it cast a bad light on us. We have dudes that are really lyrical and producers that have a lot of talent, but we all get lumped in with those other cats. If you ask people outside of this area about the bay area, theyíll say loud colors and ghost-riding a whip or something, but there is so much more to this area than that.

Ultimately, I think it was a bad thing to label it as a movement. Art canít be a movement. If you don't consider yourself an artist then I don't have any respect for you. These dudes that say ĎI'm a hustla, not a rapperí, then I say get the fuck out of the way; youíre just taking up space because we do music! Back in the day in the 90ís there were always party records, but no one considers Young MC, or Tone Loc, or Vanilla Ice, or MC Hammer; even if you are a fan, you wouldn't be stupid enough to say that Vanilla Ice is better than Rakim.

Dubcnn: Those records are fad records, and those artists arenít going to last because they are just looking for the next fad. When that record doesn't sell, then you have to come with some substance and people arenít looking for that from you so those artists are stuck, or vice-versa.

That's my point, itís all fad music. If you sell records now and youíre a fad rapper, then people tell you youíre the shit. Like Soulja Boy, people say he is the shit. No heís not. Do I respect the fact that he made a lot of money and sold some trendy records? Yeah, that's all him, that record wasn't for me anyway it was for kids, but that's his thing. I don't think even Soulja Boy would say that he is the best rapper in the game. There is no independent game anymore. Back in the day you had to prove yourself as an independent before you got your shot at a major label. Nowadays, major labels are going to hand pick who they think that they can sell. It doesn't matter if youíre a good rapper or a good producer, you have to have what they want. If youíre a singer, you better look like Beyonce; if youíre a rapper you better be a little kid jumping around doing a dance or something.

That's the problem with why sales are down period, not the internet. I'm sure the internet has something to do with it, but look at albums like Drake. His album was free on the internet for a month then he dropped it on iTunes and itís the most popular thing on the whole site. Lil Wayne's whole album was leaked weeks ahead of the release date. Everyone I knew had that album before it came out and it still sold 3 million copies. You think E-40 or Too $hort would have gotten their deals without proving it in the streets independently? Now you just make a ringtone song, then pay off the radio to play it, then boom. It don't even matter if the album sells.

Dubcnn: Ok, let me take you back a little bit. In mine, and probably several of our readers minds, you hamdled the majority of production for one of the more classic albums of all-time for Spice-1 with "Amerikkkas Nightmare". There were several classic joints on there like "Strap On The Side", "Jealous Got Me Strapped", and several others. Iíd like to get a short track-by-track rundown on some of those joints that you did.


Dubcnn: Letís start with the song "D-Boyz Got Love For Me" with E-40.

Well, that song was originally going to be on my album that I had with Tommy Boy. But at the last minute, they [Jive] needed another song so I gave it to them. I took my artists off of it and gave it to them. I canít remember exactly what he was saying, but when they mixed the song they left part of my artistís vocal in there. Itís hilarious, but that was just a last addition to the album, basically to hook up with 40.

Dubcnn: what about ďStrap On The SideĒ? Thatís one of my personal favorites.

I love that song! When I did that song it was a song that I loved, but it upset me. The song started because we wanted a single, but musically we wanted that Gap Band feel, that G funk type of feel. The music isn't the Gap Bandís music, itís my music, but because Spice took the hook, part of their voca,l we had to give up 100% of the publishing off of that record. That's the only way we could get that record on there was to give it all up or they weren't going to clear it. I was young, I wasn't quite sure what I was signing off on because I was so young in those days. When we did that record I wasn't quite sure what we did until way later, then I was like damn! That was one of my favorite songs, but I don't get a penny off of it.

Dubcnn: Damn that sucks! Next, letís go with "Jealous Got Me Strapped" featuring 2pac.

That song was one of my favorite songs that I ever did in my career. If you listen to that beat, it was inspired by what MC Eiht and DJ Slip was doing at the time. I'm going to keep it real, that was my impression of DJ Slip and what he was doing. I was just juiced that ĎPac even wanted to be on it. Back then ĎPac was that man. Even now, but when he was running around alive people were like if you had anything with 2pac that was the peak of someone's career.

Dubcnn: Were you in the studio with ĎPac or did he just jump on it later?

Nah, he just jumped on that later. We were recording in L.A. all of the time. What people don't know, is that at that time I still had a job. Even though you make a certain amount of money I wasn't ready to make this thing last forever so I kept my job.

We were flying out to L.A. all of the time to record, so I would go out there and do my part, then I would always have to go back home. One day I cut and they called me and was like "this man ĎPac just came out and laid this down". I was like Fuck! It was dope because they played him a few of my beats and I actually did another song with Pac called "I Canít Turn Back" that was supposed to be on my album with Tommy Boy, but I actually had Biggie on that album and it was at the height of the east coast/west coast beef and the owner of that label didn't want to be bothered with trying to clear that song. It was dope because Pac loved my shit and he did a song for me without me even being there.

Dubcnn: So, what happened to that song I Cant Turn Back?

I think it came out on a label called Cell Block Records and it was on their compilation.

Dubcnn: Ok, I remember that now that you say it. What about "Tell Me What That Mail Like"?

It was kind of a G-Funk influenced track. I loved that track, but it didn't come out like I wanted it to. I didn't mix it, this other cat mixed it. I'm giving you all of the negative, but I liked that track, I just was a little disappointed. That was another of those times when I had to fly back home and didn't get to finish that track. I just envisioned that track hitting a lot harder with the drums and what not, but it was a dope track none-the-less. I loved the melody and the concept of it. Spice wrote that for a movie and it was going to be on the movie, but the movie didn't get made or something.

Dubcnn: Ok I have just a couple more. What about the song with Method Man "Hard To Kill"?

We were staying in this hotel in L.A. and Meth was there, too, and I think they just ran into E-A Skih other and were like we need to do a song together. So we went to the studio and laid it down and took all day to get it done. It was wild because, you know how somebody plays you and you don't even know it? I was talking to Meth about his production and asked him "who makes your beats"? He was like "I make them", so I was like ok, he was doing his own beats that's kind of dope. But he wasn't doing his own beats, he just didn't want any beats from us. It was a little different the way that he wrote his music and the way that he laid his songs down with the way that we laid our songs down. It was just a little different watching the east coast Wu-Tang guy do his thing. West Coast artist most of them just wanted the overall song to be dope; more hook-oriented music than verses. I think that the east coast guys made the verses dope then the hook was kind of like last, except for Biggie, which is why I think that Biggie blew up. He was one of the few east coast artists that valued making a dope hook and structured his songs around that.

Dubcnn: "Nigga Sings the Blues" the BlackJack version, what was the other version?

Another horror my man! (laughs) Nah, that song actually went on the Jason's Lyric soundtrack. So that version is horrible! They added some blues guitars and some other stuff when I wasn't there and its terrible. The mix is terrible, itís wack. I got really upset and to appease me they made two different versions, even though the beat was essentially mine they added stuff and I didn't like it. So we got my version out on the album and they made that one another version.

Dubcnn: The last two I have are "Murder Aint Crazy" and "Three Strikes".

All I remember about Three Strikes is that it took him hella long to write it. It was a process. We were all ready to go back to the bay at that point. I got paid in advance because I was in the family, but I didn't want to have a problem about getting overpaid and getting it back on the next album because I got paid by the track. I would always wait until the song was laid. Back then it didn't matter if the song came out, once someone laid something on your beat then you got paid. Now you don't get paid until the song comes out. Back then if you gave someone a beat and they rapped to it then that's his, he bought it. I can remember that both of those songs were the last minute songs though. Spice would write in the studio after we done made the beat with nothing to do. Some people that's their dream, I guess, to chill in the studio, but not me. I always had kids and a family and I was ready to put in work and get home.

Dubcnn: With that album, do you have any unreleased little gems from those sessions?

Nope, with Spice what he recorded we used for the most part. There is one song I think from one of his albums, but that's it. If you were paying for recording you were going to use it. It could be thousands of dollars after all the mixing and producer fees, so there wasn't any not using a song.

Dubcnn: You produced on Spice-1ís self-titled album and on 2000's The Last Dance. Itís been nearly a decade since you two have worked together. Are we ever going to see a Spice-1/BlackJack collaboration again?

I'm with it. I know that he has been busy with his thing. The thing that was weird about Spice was that between me, him, E-A Ski and CMT, we never really could figure out where we stood with them. They felt like Jive controlled his record. They would allot a certain amount of tracks for me, and allot an amount of tracks for E-A Ski on his record, without consulting him. So, I think that when he had the opportunity to go off and do his own thing he did and was intent on doing so. The thing about it is, he has never had the success without us that he had with us. Not to dis him, I have all of the respect in the world for him, but itís a fact. There was another album that we were supposed to do after the 1996 album where they paid us up front. They paid me, Ski, Banks, and all of us up front to do this album. Spice said he didn't want to do it. I don't know what that all was about. When I was around Spice we were always cool. But I felt like he just wanted more control of his record and he tried that out. Most artists feel that way and sometimes they can be proven right like Cube, and sometimes they can be proven wrong.

Dubcnn: You said you were like 17 or 18 when you did your first song for Spice, what were you doing to try and develop your own style.

As far as musically, I was always more in to east coast hip hop than the gangsta rap of the west. If you listen to the first Spice album, I just sampled shit mostly because I listened to more east coast music and I was on that type of mentality. When sampling became a problem there was a song called "Don't Ring The Alarm" with Spice and Boss and we couldn't get the sample cleared. Some artists didn't like rap, so even if you offered them money they would say no. But they were in Battery Studios in NY and they overnighted me the reel and they made me put another beat on there. So me and this cat named Bruce Leighton structured the song to where it was ours. We used a small amount of the sample, but from there me and him developed my sound from there with my own music. Then by the time "Jealous Got Me Strapped" I added a drum loop and some other stuff to make it my own sound a little bit different from the west coast stuff of the time.

I was a big fan of Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Kool G. Rap and people like that and when I heard Spice, I was always in my mind trying to take him in that direction. If you listen to early Spice then you can see the correlation between Spice and those cats. But by the time Amerikkkaís Nightmare came out, g-funk was in full swing. So, we went that direction for that album. As a kid, I didn't really have a problem doing anything. I was shocked I was getting paid for doing what I do. I was like, Ďyouíre going to give me $80,000 to do this album? Whatever you want letís do it!í It wasn't until I got older and looked back on it and looked back on that era with Dre and DJ Quik, even though I had some success, I am not on their level. Some people might be bitter about that or be realistic and say that you didn't define yourself in that era, you were a workman who did his job. So that's what it is and that's what I accept. Timbaland, Kanye and those cats they define themselves to the people and as a man I can accept that and now I know not to make those same mistakes and really do my music and make an impact.

We have a song now called "Cant Go" that has a bunch of people on it and now itís picked up in Sacramento and now a few other people. That song people were like this song is too slow and doesn't sound like this or like that; it doesn't have this like him or that like her, you know? It was an alien. but that's what I wanted, I wanted it to be its on entity. When you hear it, it sounds like nothing else that's on the radio. Itís the opposite of what people were doing and people were telling me that it wasn't going to work. Now, slowly, itís working. and now itís me doing what I do and some of it is going to work, some of it is not. but the bottom line is that its me. You have to walk your path. A friend of mine and myself were talking about Common, and how he is one of the dopest rappers of all time to me, but he makes mediocre albums. However, the fact that he established who he was allowed him to get all these movie rolls. He has been in hella movies. If Common had done music that would have sold more then he wouldn't have fit in those movies; he wouldnít have that connection with the fans. You canít put Lilí Wayne, who is the hottest rapper in the game right now, in movies because he doesn't have that. How many movie roles could he play? Just himself, basically. As an older person, I feel that everyone should walk their own path. You don't know where itís going to take you.




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