New York City native Justice Allah Cadet, better known as J-Live, has a laundry list of collaborations, albums and EPs he’s done since emerging in the mid-90s. He’s worked with everyone from Handsome Boy Modeling School and DJ Rob Swift to DJ Nu-Mark of Jurassic 5 and Oddisse. Prince Paul, who had his hands in De La Soul, Stetsasonic, Gravediggaz and, of course, Handsome Boy Modeling School, really took J-Live under his wing. Being from Long Island, Prince Paul was easily accessible to J-Live at an early age. Their first collaboration was on Rawkus Records’ now infamous compilation album, Soundbombing II. From there, they did J-Live’s album 2001’s The Best Part and formed a tight-knit friendship along the way. Eventually, J-Live popped up on a Handsome Boy Modeling School album and ended up contributing vocals to one of the strongest tracks on the record, “The Truth.”
“I worked with Prince Paul on The Best Part,” J-Live recalls. “He did the song “Wax Paper.” I was at his house and I did a skit for the Soundbombing compilation on Rawkus. It’s funny because people cite that skit like I had a whole song on the album. I was just at the right place at the right time. So we did that and then we did “The Day I Fell Off.” I had some experience working with Paul so when they were putting that album together [So…How’s Your Girl?], they wanted to get me on a track. I said, ‘Heck yeah.’ Prince Paul did another album called A Prince Among Thieves and I’m actually in the artwork and a video as a security guard. I’ve been working with Paul for awhile. He’s one of my heroes.”
Although there’s an elite group of illustrious emcees, DJs and producers who have made their permanent mark on the culture, there’s an even bigger group of artists that don’t get that far with their craft. It can be a difficult task to stand out among the endless troves of artists emerging from all ends of the earth. J-Live has a unique skill-set that makes him an anomaly. Not only can he rap on beat (a skill in itself, believe it or not), he can also DJ at the same time.
“For my first single, “Braggin’ Writes,” there was a breakbeat, and this was during the period where a lot of major labels’ hits were just taking records and lopping them, but this breakbeat, didn’t need anything else,” he explains. “I didn’t want to just loop it. I wanted to be more creative with it. We put it down on the turntables and recorded the turntables live then I rapped over it. That was the B-side of my first single, “Longevity.” It’s actually the 20th anniversary of it. So I was playing it live and trying to show my DJ at the time how to cut the break. He really didn’t understand so as I was cutting it I was rapping along with it so he could hear how I wanted it to sound. I just decided since I’m able to do it, I’ll just do it so I’ve been doing it ever since. I beat juggle while I rhyme. Over time, I’ve gotten faster and now that I’ve gotten better as a DJ, I can do more tricks with it. It’s one of my biggest songs. People still come out to see that.”
As J-Live makes his way to Colorado, he’s armed with his aptly titled new album, His Own Self, which was done entirely by himself. “I didn’t seek any outside production, engineers, emcees, nothing,” he notes. “It’s all me; written, performed, produced, mixed, arranged, mastered, marketed, all that.” He clearly strives to keep everything he does fresh.
“As DJs and producers, and hip-hop being kind of like collage art, we’re constantly digging into the past,” he says. “As emcees, we take influences from the new, too. We’re constantly keeping our ears to the street. You’re always looking into what’s new and then what’s new, if they’re using samples, takes you back to what’s old. I was talking about this other day. That whole thing where Kayne is saying Beyonce should have won Beck’s Grammy. There was this backlash saying Kayne doesn’t even write his own music and Beck plays his own instruments. I wouldn’t disrespect Beck for winning the award, I wouldn’t disrespect Kanye for sampling either.
“I heard Michael McDonald on this radio show talking about how unless Kayne can string a couple of notes together he should shut his mouth,” he adds. “I was like, ‘Really?’ If it wasn’t for hip-hop, I probably would have never heard of the Doobie Brothers, first of all [laughs].”
J-Live incorporates all types of genres into his sets. It’s his undeniable grasp of music history that makes him such an incredible and diversified artist. Couple that with beat juggling and emceeing, it’s a sight to see.
“I’ve expanded the set and I do more than just that song [“Braggin’ Writes”] now behind the turntables,” he says. “That’s what started it all for me. I’m not the first to DJ and rhyme at the same time, but I’m one of the best [laughs].”