While there have been a hundred Jay-Z mash-ups, American Gangster by Big J Beats stands out
Contrary to trends among rising hip-hop artists these days, Big J Beats doesn't flood the internet with a new song or mixtape every other week. But despite the shortage of releases, he's definitely prolific, and it turns out his hard drive is a gold mine of unreleased gems, including American Gangsters, a jewel of a remix album he dropped last week that combines Jay-Z a capellas with the soulful sounds of the O'Jays -- a natural combination in more ways than their shared syllable.
Since Big J Beats doesn't release a lot of music, you can imagine that when he does drop something, it tends to generate some buzz. In recent years, the producer has earned plenty of recognition thanks to tight work with 1984 (his collaboration with MarkyBias), his production on Turner Jackson's Star Destroyer and strong performances in several of the Solution's beat battles.
His American Gangster project was a long time in reaching the public -- five years, to be exact. The bulk of it was done in 2008, and then the project was abandoned until recently, when he got tired of it taking up space on his hard drive. Spring cleaning never sounded so good.
While Jay-Z is probably the most remixed voice in hip-hop, Big J's work stands out in the crowded field for its smooth, seemingly effortless execution. Bearing the mark of great remixes, even when things get a little weird on the original, the remix remains natural: Listen to Lil Wayne's crooning on "Hello Brooklyn," which might even sound better on Big J's version. We caught up with the beatsmith to chat about why he finally got around to releasing the project, what other gems he has coming soon, and the similarity between 1984 albums and Bigfoot.
Westword:What prompted you to finally release this?
Big J Beats: Until recently, that project was just taking up space in my hard drive. It was done years ago, but compulsively a couple mornings ago, I just decided that's enough. I'm a perfectionist, and I'm always doubting what I'm going to put out and what it will sound like.
Has this been sitting finished for five years, or did you do some tweaks before finally giving it to the world?
I definitely did tweak it a little bit. Going back was really necessary if I wanted anyone to hear it. The bulk of it is still essentially the same. There were some drum changes. I changed out a couple sounds and patterns here and there. The meat of it is unchanged. Mixing and mastering it was most of what I'd done as of late.
Are there other projects on your hard drive that you'll be unearthing and launching soon?
I have a couple things. I have another remix album, not like this one. It will be remixes of things you'd never expect to be remixed by a hip-hop producer -- a couple classic-rock songs, some pop. I don't stick to one genre, which is sort of cliché to say, but genuinely, it's hard for me to stay on one type of music. There are a lot of songs out there that deserve to be presented in a different light, and I'd like to be the person that can do that. I have some remixes. I have some beat tapes. I have some stuff I'm going to be putting out.
Do you have some new material in the works with '84?
We're always evolving. I always have something for Mark, and he usually has something for me. The hard part of our group: We get such a good response from our live shows, and with that, we've honed a sound that's typically presented live. We can't capture what we bring live when we're in the studio. We're trying to tackle those issues as far as how we'd like to best present our album. We have something that's sitting on my hard drive. We're trying to decide what to do with it. Our music is kind of like Bigfoot. It's possibly out there, and it may see the light of day, but it could be a myth.
On the Bandcamp page, you mention seeing these connections between Jay-Z and the O'Jays start to emerge the deeper you got into it. What sparked that realization for you?
I had just moved to Denver from Pueblo. I moved by myself. I didn't have a lot of friends yet. One night, I was bored and downloading music. I came across the a cappellas from Jay-Z, and it was a spark of inspiration. The same night, I downloaded the O'Jays. So it was the O'Jays and Jay-Z, and my name is Big J. I put it all together, and it was an epiphany.
I didn't have a job; I was new to the city. I was just sitting in the apartment making music. The whole project was done in about two weeks, about a track a day. The whole thing was done, and I was surprised it lined up so well. I never intentionally went and sought out certain tracks to make beats for certain a cappellas.
They just started aligning, like "Pray." It's several times over, where track for track, they just fell into each other. It was the perfect fit. With being busy, this just got lost in the shuffle. I kind of wish I'd done this sooner, but at the same time, I don't think it would've gotten to as many ears as it has now. It would've been more of an uphill battle.