Cover Story: Scribble Jam Has Something to Say

Veteran MC Jaz-O's name should be better known

Photo courtesy Jaz-O

Jaz-O remains a "go to" guy in Hip Hop, including his mentoring Carmine Gotti on Growing Up Gotti.

After reading his bio, someone emailed Jaz-O a MySpace message that read something like, "If you're 'The Originator' and you put Jay-Z on, then how come I don't know who you are?" The writer, who I'll just assume was a kid, followed with, "How come you're not rich and famous like Jay-Z?"

Those words had to sting.

To defend the writer's ignorance a little, what pops up first about Jaz-O are non-contextualized Q&As on Hip Hop Web sites that don't tell you shit if you never knew what he did prior to his falling out with Jay-Z.

Jaz-O is also known as "Jaz the Originator" because he proclaims to have innovated rhyming three times faster than the average 4-count beat in a measure. Still, even though he has a 20-year discography of albums and singles, music reference guides like The Vibe History of Hip Hop don't mention Jaz.

The real citations, the early records themselves, are probably tucked away in somebody's basement. Crate-diggers with at least one copy of High Potent's (Jaz's and Jay-Z's) Go-Go/Hip-Hop single "H.P. Gets Busy" know that Jaz introduced Jigga to the public in 1986, 10 years before Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt.

Spotty documentation aside, I digress. Dumb is dumb, and it's a dummy move to write to any artist inquiring, "Why don't I know who you are?" like a U.S. Census taker backtracking skipped houses.

A few clicks further along on the Internet, and the "kid" would have discovered that Jaz-O was the first rapper signed to EMI Records, releasing Word to the Jaz in 1989, who continued releasing major and independent records through 2006.

During the '90s, he produced songs for Jay-Z such as "Ain't No Nigga" featuring Foxy Brown and tracks for other artists like Queen Latifah, Rakim, Puff Daddy and M.O.P. These days, he says, "That female got him."

Fusion keyboardist and producer Lesette Wilson (of That Female Productions) produced Jaz's unreleased single, "Nobody Can Stop Me," which features the staccato-accented synths and doubled-up snares that attract mass appeal now.

While Jaz's name was never widely touted, at age 42 he's a veteran who has adapted to ever-changing Hip Hop environments by shedding skin every few years. These days, his outer layer must be as thick as tire tread.

Because visitors to Hip Hop Web sites have posted so many half-witted remarks dissing the guy's right to say who he is and what he's accomplished, I anticipated someone very guarded and introverted when I interviewed Jaz. But he's a warm dude; no piss and vinegar dampened the mood as he ran down aspects of his life and his career.

He has a lot of wisdom to share. And a lot of entertaining still to do, including a headlining slot at this weekend's Scribble Jam festival.

Jaz-O on what he learned from Hip Hop pioneer Grandmaster Caz's showmanship
"It was a marriage of all these things; it was his vocal projection along with his timing. His timing was so much better than anybody else that I ever heard. His timing was like music, which is like a rare thing now.

"Most of these cats, they don't have that type of timing. 'Cause when you listen to most of these guys now live, you know, they sound like (Jaz's muffled voice, with his hand choking the receiver). They don't know what they're doing. And I'll sit there, you know, I go to a couple of shows every once in a while, and I just laugh. I'm like, 'Yo. It's 2007,' and after all the big examples that they've been privy to, they still don't know how to hold the mic.

"Simple things like that I learned from Caz, like vocal projection, the showmanship, the timing, the tone, because tone is very convincing. It's the difference between somebody really listening to your song and analyzing your song, and (listeners) can tell, 'Yo, this guy's reading off a piece of paper, or this shit's comin' from him!' There's people who can read off a piece of paper and you can really feel what they're saying and they'll convince you, but then the deciding factor is when you see them live.

"Like, how does he sound live? Are they looking in the air? Are their eyes rolling in their head while they're doing their lyrics? Or are they grabbing somebody's hand in the audience while they're doing their lyrics? Are they running back and forth on both sides of the stage while they're doing their lyrics? Or are they just standing in one spot for three whole minutes and bopping back and forth like they're in the vocal booth and then trying to picture that notebook paper?"

Jaz-O on how "B-Boy" became "Hip Hop"
"Hip Hop, that term was the best description that white executives could give that type of music. Because the fact they understood was, in order for them to standardize and market these things, they had to change the name. Not for any commercial type of reason, but psychological reasons.

"The psychological reason why 'scratching' used to be 'cutting,' they had to put it in a form where people could actually relate to what was going on. Because just think: If Hip Hop was called 'B-Boy,' mainstream America would not understand what B-Boy was about. But they understand Hip Hop because Hip Hop was a description of the way people were then. You know like that whole, 'You a jazzy dude!'

"They called it 'trying to be hip.' To be honest with you, it sounded like 'hippity-hoppity-hippity-hoppity' to them, because they didn't understand the slang terms, they didn't understand what the hell we was talking about.

"B-Boy as we know it is a culture, it wasn't just rhyming. It was rhyming, it was graffiti, it was the way you wore your sneakers, it was the way you tagged your jeans up, it was the way you tagged your shirt up, you know, the iron-on letters you put on your sweatshirt. The way you danced, from freestyling (which) went into breakin', then they called it 'breakdancing' because, again, you couldn't market 'breakin.' They were like, 'Breakin? Breakin' what?' They couldn't relate to that, so they had to call it 'breakdancing.'

"And then they came up with a new type of music and started doing this 'Electric Boogie' and other stuff, so these terms had to be created to market what we knew as a culture called 'B-Boy,' 'cause 'hip, hop' was like the way you walk with a little limp and all of that, you know, when they say black people got this type of rhythm. And we do. That represents soul. It's rhythm. An upbeat and a downbeat, it's relative to your physical body and your spirit."

Jaz-O on producing in D&D Studios
"The first studio I ever really worked out in, as far as producing Hip Hop music, doing anything involved with myself as far as Rap, was D&D Studios (legendary New York Hip Hop recording facilities). And when I went to D&D Studios, the guys running the studio at the time (1988), Dave and Doug, they asked my manager, 'What does he need a drum machine, sampler and a turntable for?' They didn't even know what I was doing. And also I worked with the (Korg) M1 Keyboard at the time, and those three things, like, they didn't understand at all what I was doing. I was the first one to ever do a session in D&D Studios with a drum sampler, you know, to go in there and sample things and play keyboards on top of sampled stuff.

"A lot of the things I did, put D&D on the map because that brought in producers such as Primo (DJ Premier), who actually now owns what D&D used to be. He has a studio in that building now. I brought Jay-Z to D&D, and we did 'Can't Knock the Hustle,' 'Ain't No Nigga,' a whole bunch of songs. We did the first things he ever did with Biggie (Smalls). We did those there at D&D studios."

Jaz-O on Roc-A-Fella
"I'd taken a couple of years hiatus, and I was living in Atlanta. Jay, Damon (Dash) and Biggs (Karriem 'Biggs' Burke) came down to one of the last Jack the Rapper (conferences) and Jay was like, 'Yo man. Let's do it now. Everything we talked about. Let's go back to New York. Let's do it now, let's do it now.' So six months later (in 1994), here my ass is, back in New York, working out in D&D, making beats, making songs, doing sessions and that's when I bring Jay to D&D, and I was like, 'Yo, come work out at D&D. I'll get you a nice price and it's the spot. It's the hot spot as far as Hip Hop is concerned.'

"Basically by (this period,) Damon started hearing that you know, 'Jaz had songs, he been working on his own.' Being that we're 'family,' they was like, 'You should roll with the Roc (Roc-A-Fella Records).' I was like, 'Yeah, I'll do it. Let's do it.' But long story short, they threw me a real shitty deal and I said, 'No.'

"Recently, it's been publicized with Jay saying stuff like they offered me a deal and I turned it down. You know, it's not like I gave them my ass to kiss and stuff like that, but that's how they made it sound. I wasn't really looking for the same thing that I would ask for from executives I don't really know personally. They was giving me a $150,000 budget, which was cool, but I had no control of the budget, no control over the videos, and they weren't giving me any advance.

"I don't think that Jay understood. I don't think that Jay knew the particulars as to what Damon was telling me, because Jay wasn't even present. And that's how Jay is — he didn't want to get into the intricate. He was under the assumption that Dame was gonna do the right thing, you know what I'm saying?"

Jaz-O specifies what makes a true triplet rhyme pattern versus "doubling up"
"The reason why I call it the 'triplets' and not like what a lot of people talk about today, where they call it 'doubling up' and 'flipping,' the simplest way to put it is that it's three times faster than if somebody rhymed on an average 4/4 beat. It's not twice as fast, it's three times as fast.

"What they do today is that they have a slow beat, say with like, 'Nigga What, Nigga Who?' (from Jaz-O's The Originator '99 CD)," they'll have that beat that's actually slower and have them rhyme twice as fast on it, when you're really just rhyming double time. It's an illusion."

Jaz-O on how he learned concepts of music theory indirectly
"You know, it's funny. I've never studied it. I just understand what's going on. I don't know. To my parents' credit they always had a lot of the good music. Like when people are talking about they're an '80s baby or whatever, I'm a '60s baby. And I was born in 1964, but I'm knowledgeable about music that was made in the '40s.

"People talk about old music but they play music from like the '70s and go, 'Yeah, this was waaaay back when!' I'm like, 'What? I used to listen to that on WBLS when 'BLS was like a crossover Jazz, R&B station. The other hot station was WWRL, it was 'Super 16' (1600 AM), and that was an AM station. When I was a little kid, the hottest radio station in New York was an AM radio station!

"So between that, I knew it in my head but I applied it when I started fiddling around with sequencers, drum machines that were basically sequencers with the raw sounds in them, and it just grew from there. I'm a mathematician by nature anyway, so I saw the numbers and how everything goes in sequence and time and I picked up on it very fast."

Jaz-O on being slighted
"It hurts. You know, if I sit here and try to act like, 'Oh, it's no big deal,' you know, it hurts, but it doesn't hurt to the point where I let it spoil or affect what I feel I need to do. I tell my boy Dex (his manager) all the time, 'Yo man, I still got my hairline, I go out here and play ball with these young dudes and run 'em to death and everything.'

"So I feel good about things. I feel that I'm very fortunate to be in this type of situation, and I also have to credit Hip Hop, or the way I feel about Hip Hop and music in general, which kept me young. Not young as far as lack of maturity, but young as far as youthful in the sense of the music itself. And not just the music, but the way I feel about the music has kept me young.

"Now that everybody is rhyming fast, rhyming fast is the standard now, but only the people who know give me, like in private, they'll come up to me like, 'Son, yo! You put it down!' Or 'Yo, family! You did your thing, much respect and love' and all that other stuff. But soon as the video cameras come on and everything, they all of a sudden forget about me when (people) ask (who influenced them). And they know that I'm one of their greatest influences, but they'll mention Jay-Z and won't mention me and they know about me and know my influence on him. And they know my influence on people who know my career and won't say anything.

"I've watched it, I've witnessed it, from up-and-coming rap artists to known people, everybody. I'm like, 'What happened?' It's not like I'm looking for it, but it makes me wonder when it doesn't happen. And what's good is that it took a West Coast artist who was younger than a whole lot of these cats to mention me. One of them is GAME."

Jaz-O on MCs who brag about hustling and the audience that believes them
"It's just funny to see how all these cats that come up in the rap game (talk about murder) but, yo, you rap! It's like, come on! But it's the audience that's not groomed and educated in that aspect of life. Like the hustling game, for the most part most people look at it from the outside looking in. So most of these rap guys, they can tell people anything. They learn a couple of terms or maybe their cousin does it or they did it for a little while on a small scale, then all a sudden they jump in the rap game and they're 'King Dons,' you know, 'I-did-everything' hustlers!'

"It also shows the lack of common sense that your audience has or that they really just don't care. They want to be a part of it so bad that they're just caught up in it. Because, come on, if anybody who did it (sold drugs) and it's been less than, what, seven years, I'm not saying anything.

"For a lot of these cats, they jump in the game and act like they're still doing it and still talking about it, and if you are really doing it you're a fool if you think that the feds aren't listening to rap records right now. Everybody who comes up, they know it takes money to get into the game the way it's played right now. So they're like, 'Where's that money coming from?'

"They know where the money is coming from. If it's not the individual artist themselves, then it's somebody around them who's putting a buck on them. So if you're talking about all that, you're going to get investigated.

"Look at what happened to Young Jeezy. But if you notice, he's not in jail because he wasn't doing it! If he was doing it and other people went to jail and he didn't go to jail, guess what? He wasn't doing it. Because if he was doing it, he'd be in jail, too. But people don't put that together."

JAZ-O performs at the 11th annual Scribble Jam Friday evening at Annie's.

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