By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of J57.
It is every music geek’s pragmatic dream to work at a record store, imposing your musical taste on everyone else and having a constant stream of new music at your fingertips.
J57 is a Long Island-born, now Brooklyn-based rapper and producer who at one point lived out this High Fidelity-esque fantasy. Until 2010, J worked at the now-defunct Fat Beats Records, but while it was a happening place to hear about new, vital hip-hop, J was able to meet a lot of his connections and collaborators through the venue.
He started rapping in 1998, but didn’t start making beats until “New Year’s of 2003.” He said that it was in that year that he decided to work at making rapping and beat-making his career, though he had side jobs and the aforementioned gig at Fat Beats.
He is originally from Suffolk County in Long Island and loved living there but like so many other New York “bridge and tunnels” (yours truly included), the commute to NYC is what got to him. He decided to make the move the day he graduated college.
“The day I found out, I got my report card in the mail and everything was fine and I actually did pretty well, I was just like, ‘Alright, I’m making arrangements to be out of here within the next few months’ because I was commuting to Fat Beats. That’s roughly three hours round trip. I didn’t have time to work on music as much as I wanted to, it was hard to get inspired. I would try to write on the train but what am I gonna write about, going to college, living at home and working?” J says about the big move.
J not being the kind of person who can get inspiration from sitting on a train for a long time, instead feels the urge to write when he’s having real life experiences, commuting not being one of them. He cites “getting hooked on Breaking Bad” to be one. J decided to cut out a few things in his life that were holding him back from making beats and lyrics. Taking the LIRR and having a side job at a golf course were the first to go.
Fat Beats closed in 2010 but in the six years that J57 was working there, he felt the influence that it had on New York hip-hop.
“Man… I mean, it changed my life. I went to Fat Beats for the first time with a bunch of my boys from high school in the summer going into 11th grade. Immediately, I was like, ‘Wow, this place is dope.’ I had been to other record stores, hip-hop stores especially, it wasn’t the biggest store in the world but it was still legendary because you never know who could walk in. Fat Beats changed my life just like that. I say it all the time that I owe that establishment everything,” recalls J57.
When he asked if he had a little of the High Fidelity record store employee attitude, his response: “Oh, definitely.”
He followed this with a story that portrayed a day in the life of a hip-hop record store. One day when he was alone in the store, a DJ that he was protecting the identity of but apparently a “loser” asked to be paid for CDs that he sold in the store. When J told him that the manager was out, the DJ got hostile and demanded that he got paid that instant. J had to flatly refuse and grow a “thicker skin.”
“From that moment on, and I had to deal with those kinds of situations a lot, I wasn’t the guy who did the pay-outs. That’s why it was an issue. That was my High Fidelity-kind-of-thing where I wanted to snuff people and I learned how to be a prick and a little more thick-skinned from it over the course of time which really helps me business-wise now,” says J.
The lessons he learned in the record store game now apply to his everyday life and career now. Moments like with this unnamed DJ were common where a person would do anything to make money even if their beats or rhymes weren’t up to par. Aside from his working life, he learned lessons on how to act in the industry through experiences with his NY hip-hop collective, the Brown Bag All Stars. The group used to host a bi-weekly show called Brown Bag Thursday, where a lot of rappers in the area got their start but also “known people.”
J recalled rappers who were unknown at the time and still to this day, who would give him “crazy attitude.” He took these divas as templates for how not to treat fellow musicians, but he says that he was lucky to have received the brunt of it because now he knows to always be “extra nice” because “that goes a lot further than just being some diva dude.”
J57’s newest album Walk in the Sun is a collaboration with San Diego-based rapper and member of the Dirty Science Crew, Blame One. The two linked up via Twitter once Blame found out that Fat Beats was shutting its doors.
“I was a fan of him for mad years and I sold a trillion of his CDs and records and whatever else. I knew who the dude was, I had his records,” says J.
Blame One direct messaged J57 to send his condolences about Fat but that soon turned into a business message to work on a track.
” A track turned into an EP and then very quickly became an album,” explains J57.
The album primarily features Blame One’s rapping and J’s producing/beat making with some less conventional rap subject matters such as finding hope through religion and the dangers of money and greed (specifically on “Mad Money”).
“I think he took a lot of dope approaches on [the album]. Like on the song ‘They Don’t Know’, that’s about finding religion and hope and that could really go corny so quickly, and really be preachy so quickly. He did it in a general angle, and it’s a feel good angle which you just can’t deny. It’s the same thing with ‘Mad Money’, it’s a topic that’s been done, definitely been done, but he brought his own little twist and he’s a great songwriter, he knew how to make it so people would really want to listen and like it,” says J57 about Blame One’s lyrical flow.
If taking a general approach to heavy issues is Blame’s strong suit then what is J’s when he is rapping?
“As an emcee, I definitely know it has to be talking about life stuff; life experiences, relatabe life things. Across the board, before I even met Brown Bag, everybody said that they just feel it.”
If you want to Walk in the Sun with J57, you can purchase the record here.
Plus, check out the interview with J57 and songs from the album on the newest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.