J-Live is looking forward to performing Friday night at the Cat’s Cradle. Not only is he scheduled to perform along with hip-hop group CunninLynguists in the venue’s back room, but before the show, he might head over to the main room. That’s where Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer – better known as the stars of the hit Comedy Central show “Broad City” – will be doing a live version of their show.
“I love that show,” says J-Live, 38, on the phone from his Atlanta home. “I might not perform – I might be rocking that!”
Hopefully, the New York-born MC/producer (real name: Jean-Jacques Cadet) will remember to return to the back room and get the crowd jumping with his rhymes. These days, veteran MCs like J-Live are sorely needed to remind hip-hop fans that, just as the music industry grows and evolves, so do hip-hop artists. With nearly 20 years in the business, J-Live knows you can’t rap about the same things you did when you were just starting out.
“I’ve been rapping about being good at rapping, among a lot of other things, for a while,” he says. “And where that might have been the dominant topic when I was first coming up, you grow as an artist, you grow as a man. And that shifts. For some people, it’s always that and, for some people, it was never that. But, for me, it’s a lot more purposeful nowadays.”
“Around the Sun,” his latest album, certainly finds J-Live addressing the state of hip-hop and his place in it. Working with such longtime collaborators as DJ Spinna, Oddissee and Jurassic 5’s Dj Nu-Mark, J-Live uses “Sun” to work out some of his frustrations with contemporary hip-hop.
“Well, I was in the midst of a writer’s block, and I was kind of at a crossroads,” he remembers. “A lot of the stuff I was hearing at the time, whether I was seeking it out or whether it was just in the background – a lot of the music I came across, it was just kind of conceptually bankrupt. Not even necessarily morally bankrupt – it’s not really a moral stance – and it’s not so much dope vs. wack, because the music wasn’t wack. It wasn’t lacking from a craftsmanship standpoint. It was just useless to me.”
While J-Live didn’t want to turn into a grumpy old man on the mic, he did want to talk about hip-hop lethargy. On “Not Listening,” the album’s centerpiece, J-Live riffs about how even the most well-produced hip-hop track can bore him if it’s not mentally stimulating.
“I found myself falling in the same niche of what’s wrong with hip-hop or what’s with all these wack rappers, and I didn’t want to go in either of these directions,” he says. “But, at the same time, it was so prevalent in my mind that I had to find a way to speak on it, and that’s just kind of how it came out. I like music, but it’s not enough to just be dope for me anymore. There’s gotta be a point to what you’re saying.”
As someone who records his music from his own home and distributes it on his own label, J-Live understands that not only do you have to be smart in your flow, but smart in the ways of releasing music these days.
“I’d say the business landscape has changed quite a bit,” he says. “The format and the means by which people listen to music have changed. I mean, people listen to a lot more music now, but they don’t buy it in the same way. So, it’s just the nature of the age we’re in, as far as the way technology has shifted things, which made things a lot more accessible.
“I have acquired, you know, skills over that time that allow me to do a lot of things on my own, that have allowed me to adapt to the way and the nature of the change, as far as just utilizing the Internet to being able to engineer my own sessions to shoot my own videos, etc.”
Considering how hard he works to stay afloat in this forever-changing hip-hop world, J-Live deserves to relax and watch a couple of funny girls do their thing – as long as he’s back at the mic in time to rock the house.