| November 12, 2009 | 0 Comments

Words by: C. Daniel

Photos: Nicholas Schrunk



Hip hop megaproducer Just Blaze just wants some rest – and with good reason.

It’s Nov. 3, and he’s just leaving the-stage at Opera, a popular Atlanta nightclub located in the city’s Midtown club district, to head downstairs. Fresh from a crowd-pleasing beat battle, courtesy of Red Bull, against fellow hip hop producer The Alchemist, the crowd is still wearing off from the war on wax. Now, Blaze wants time to chill. This brisk yet cold evening, he’s dressed comfortably in a red jacket; a white tee; blue jeans and black Chuck Taylors. There’s a small bit of space on some brown leather sofas, but Blaze chooses to post up on a small end table. He’s composed: sitting upright but still quite engaging with me.


I realize after our conversation that Blaze, born Justin Smith in Paterson, NJ, is a better musical spirit than all of the Red Bull and Conjure cocktails I’d had all night. Always quick to mention a good ear for knowing timeless sounds, Blaze himself quickly transitioned from being a recording studio intern to an in-house producer for the entire Roc-a-Fella roster. He’s delivered on cuts with Beanie Sigel (“Beanie (Mack Bitch),” 2001); Cam’ron (“Oh Boy,” 2002); Freeway (“What We Do,” 2003); Memphis Bleek (“Round Here,” 2003) and Kanye West (“Touch the Sky,” 2005). He’s damn sure made quite the contributions to Jay-Z’s catalog: contributing four impressive records to 2001’s The Blueprint (“U Don’t Know,” “Song Cry,” “Girls Girls Girls” and “Breathe Easy”) and followed somewhere along the lines with “Hovi Baby” (2002); “PSA (Public Service Announcement);” “December 4th” (2003); “Show Me What You Got” (2006) and “Ignorant Shit” (2007).

Yo, check this. I was diggin’ through my CDs; I found this kid producing two joints on that Harlem World joint, too. You remember Mase’s group, right? The “I Really Like It” (1999) joint was one of Blaze’s cuts.

Blaze likes to keep his name out there. Now with 12 years to match the preceding production credits, he continues at crankin’ out some bangers. The ever-evolving lover of good music takes matters into his own hands. He has his own company, Fort Knocks Entertainment, which has been live since 2005 and is home to his breakout artist, Brooklyn-bred hip hop artist Saigon. He produced the artist’s entire 2007 debut effort, The Greatest Story Never Told. Blaze even hosts his own blog, www.themegatrondon2.com. Not to mention, this cat’s no stranger to showin’ love to the energy drink powerhouse; he was also a featured lecturer for the beverage’s Music Academy in Australia in 2006.

Still, the saga for his Grammy-nominated; horn-laden; speed altered soul sample havin’; boom clappin’ street classics — with a little hint of eerie sonic riffs here and there — continues. Fresh off the hype from his recent online success from a collaboration with Jay Electronica, Blaze’s slew of joints include T.I. and Rihanna’s “Live Your Life” (2008); Maino and T-Pain’s “All the Above” (2008); Erick Sermon and Redman’s “React” (2002); The Diplomats’ “I Really Mean It” (2003); Joe Budden’s “Pump It Up” (2003); Fabolous’ “Can’t Let You Go” (2003) and “Breathe” (2003); Usher’s “Throwback” (2004); Keith Murray’s “Yeah Yeah U Know It” (2003); Mariah Carey’s “Boy (I Need You)” (2002) and “You Got Me.

Shit, somewhere along the line, Blaze became a video game staple: contributing tracks to Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour 2004; NBA Ballers: Chosen One; NBA Live 2003 and NBA Street, Vol. 2. And he doesn’t stop there.’

Blaze collaborated, lacing his quick mentioning of his personalized “JUST BLAZE” catchphrase, with the likes of the late Big Pun; Diddy; Busta Rhymes; Buckshot; Killah Priest; Jadakiss; DMX; Nick Cannon; Ying Yang Twins; Mario; Carl Thomas; Shyne; Letoya Luckett; Snoop Dogg; Shawnna; Talib Kweli; Jon B.; Rah Digga; Fat Joe; Lenny Kravitz; The Game; Ludacris; Missy Elliott; Ghostface Killah; Cory Gunz; N.O.R.E.; Daddy Yankee; Common; Jamie Foxx; Plies; Rick Ross; Eminem; Nelly; Janet Jackson; Bow Wow; Lil’ Wayne; Nicole Scherzinger; Royce da 5’9; Trina and Twista. Needless to say, can you understand why the man could use a vacation?

I speak with Just Blaze immediately following his performance at Red Bull’s Big Tune Competition. The homie drops a few lines on his performance; his plans for the future; corporate interests in hip hop culture; creating a hip hop classic and maintaining longevity.

…on his recent on-stage battle with The Alchemist.

“It’s good. [Me and Al] go way back. We’ve been friends for a long time, you know, so it’s all love. It’s not even a competition; it’s like a friendly showcase.”


…on what make a classic hip hop record.

“It’s really just one, and it’s timelessness. It’s all you need. That’s the truest definition of a classic. If you got a record that can rock in ’93 and then can rock in 2003 and then can rock in 2013, you know what I’m sayin, you got yourself a classic. There are some records that you hear, and they are just good for that time period. They all stand the test of time. It’s the hugest record while it’s out. But the next year, don’t nobody wanna hear it. You know what I mean? Like I have some records that are like that, but I also have some records that have been around for seven, eight years that still rock. So those are the ones that I’m the most proud of.”


…on success and relevance.

“You know it’s all timing. I saw some other producers that had great beats, too. But it’s all about where you play them. In a situation like this, you can’t come out with all of your fire right away. You gotta finish your set. You gotta pace yourself when you have consistency. You may have a great beat that gets you to the semi-finals, but when you get to the semi-finals – you’ve got nothin’ to back it up. You’re done. You know what I’m sayin’?”


…on his continuous support for Red Bull and hip hop as product placement.

“I would say they definitely at all of the different events they sponsor, you know, from the concerts to the Academy to the Big Tune battles, they definitely bring a sense of artistry and giving back to the community. That’s one thing that labels bypass; it’s not really their job. You know what I’m sayin’? They sell music; they’re in the music business. Red Bull’s not in the music business; they’re in the energy drink business. But they recognize how to use their muscle to the consumer. I’m not mad at you for selling your product to us, but give something back to us in exchange for you finding the product. They’re giving people like Frank [Dukes] and many of these young producers a chance to make it to the top and the Academies to give them different people from different walks of life to tell them, ‘You are successful.’ And put them together to exchange ideas: visions. It’s of benefit to the artists. That’s the main thing that Red Bull does – it’s about the artists.”


…on giving advice to young, starving artists and producers

“It’s hard, but it’s just the beginning. Once you get that foot in the door, it’s like, I came in the game as an intern at a recording studio. And for me, it was like, I believe everybody get that one shot in life. It’s about what you do with that shot, so do the right thing. You get exposure; you get to meet people. You get to make connects. Do the right thing with ‘em.”


…on his future

“I hadn’t figured it out. I don’t know. I kept my name in the game; I had a huge record with [“Live Your Life”] T.I. and Rihanna. I had a huge record with Maino and T-Pain [“All the Above”], and I just put out a record with Jay Electronica — which has the Internet on smash for the past week – which is good. So it’s like I’m just feelin’ it out. Tryin’ to get back into livin’ my personal life. ‘cause I didn’t do that for 10 years. That’s the reason why I was able to get all of those records placed and get it poppin’ for 10 – actually 12 years straight. Just lettin’ life run its course right now.”


…on what keeps him going.

“Sleep is on my mind. Honestly, I have had four hours of sleep in 48 hours, and I am so tired! All I can do is…for everybody who’s listening or reading this, thanks for supporting me all of these years. Thanks for enabling me to have a career that most producers don’t get but two to three years, and I’ve had 12. So thank y’all.”

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Category: One on One

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Hip Hop Historian and accomplished photo journalist

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