featured interview

Big John The Next Step If you happen to see an album called ‘The Next Step’ in the top-10 of your favourite hip-hop shop’s selling charts, that’s no coincidence. Alright, it’s released by the prolific Traffic Ent label and it got features by hip-hop’s notorious such as Kool G Rap, Canibus, RA The Rugged Man and Esoteric, but it also has to do with its hardworking ‘author’. Two albums (his first being ‘The Author’) and starting his own label within one year, Tacoma’s Big John is no stranger to hard work and promises to be a protagonist in hip-hop’s next generation…

In one year you made two albums, where do you get the energy?

I just love what I do. I always want the next track to be better than the last. I feel if I don’t keep releasing tracks than I am only as good as my last track. My goal is to in time win over the support of all the shit talkers out there and change the minds of people who think I am only a battle MC.

‘The Next Step’ was released shortly after the first release, have you made a lot of progression between the two albums do you think?

I think there is a huge change in talent from ‘The Author’ to ‘The Next Step’ and when the new shit drops, the people I didn't win over with ‘The Next Step’ will see the progression in my flow.

How long did it take to make the first album?

I made the first album in about six months. The problem for me is not having a home studio. Although Jesse is a great sound tech, I am not his only client. If I could do everything on my own you would be seeing three projects a year.

You’ve also founded your own label over the last year, what are your main motivations for that?

Like I said earlier, I am trying to be able to rely on less and less people to get my albums out. Starting my own label allowed me to have a venue to release my albums with the day they are finished without having to wait around for the approval of others.

The guest list is quite impressive, how did you get to manage that?

Well, Esoteric is a good friend of mine so us coming together on a track was indefinite. Kool Keith was someone I had been a fan of since I was like 13 and Kut Masta Kurt, also a good friend of mine, helped making that happen. Keith is probably one if the funniest people I worked with and a real genuine dude. As for some of the names like Kool G Rap, Canibus and R.A. The Rugged Man, I had to get my name out there first so by the time I connected with them it was a ‘go’.

Also the production squad on the album is very international, has Internet been the key to this collaboration?

Definitely, Loptimist from South Korea is now my main producer. Him and I are hard at work on a crew production. A lot of the European producers: Lizzo, Carling Edno, etc. actually just hit me up through Myspace and my record label address.

Can you tell us some more about Mic Daily…?

Yo, Mic Daily in my opinion is one of the illest rappers I know. I have known Mic all my life. He has a real nice style and a vocab to match. Mic is a huge source of inspiration to me as I am for him. If Mic dominates the track with his verse the next day I will write something iller, he come back to kill that, and I will be inspired to beat that. We are constantly trying to outdo each other and this makes for a great team.

If they were still alive who would you invite on your album; Big Pun, Big L or Notorious BIG?

Big Pun! Pun was the person who took me away from writing basic raps and to focus more on rhythm patterns throughout my 16s. ‘Capitol Punishment’ had a lot to do with my initial growth.

How did you manage to land a deal with one of the biggest ditribution labels; Traffic Ent.?

I had been trying to get with Traffic since ‘The Author’ came out. They said this album is ‘ok’ but we need you to come harder. So, I immediately went to work on ‘The Next Step’ with the goal of impressing them and getting a distro deal. I went to work for the next 4 months and came back to them with ‘The Next Step’. They immediately took interest and the rest is history.

What are your touring plans, any plans for Europe?

I love doing international work and plan to continue it. I plan to do some shows in South Korea this year. As for touring Europe, in time. If I didn't have a day job I would be ther now drinking beers, hittin shows, and makin live tracks with those dudes. I am currently saving up vacation time and plan to get out there as soon as possible.

You were in the top 20 of undergroundhiphop.com’s best selling cd’s for January, what are the main reasons for fans to buy your record do you think?

This month the album is # 6 on the list. I think the help with adverstisement from Traffic and my man Karma (he did all the graphic design for ‘The Next Step’) helped get me heard. UGHH.com had my banners up and that is a great help too. And of course features as Kool G Rap, Canibus and R.A. The Rugged Man didn't hurt.

How do you feel when your album appears as a free download on several blogs?

At first I was like ‘fuck!’ But you know that is the ‘bizz’ these days. Me myself personally, if I could I would just try to mail out as many free CD's all over the world just to get heard. But now it is different. I am with Traffic and I need to show them I am selling so that they keep manufacturing the CD's. It is never about the money for me. It is about getting heard! However, if people keep taking the CD for free and Traffic doesn't get paid, ‘The Next Step’ could turn into an out-of-press CD. Fortunately, even with these sites, stores, both online and on the streets, continue to move the album.

What are some of your biggest inspirations?

My friends, wanting to impress the artist I work with, the energy of the crowd when I perform and the goal of showing people that everytime I came back I am better than the last time you heard me. My biggest inspiration is getting an ill beat. I get real inspired by great productions.

You seem mostly angry on your records, will there ever be a time, when you grow older, when you’re going to be sound less angry you guess?

Yes, I am working on many different projects right now. I do have a nice smooth flow. The problem is; people already know me with the sound I project so if I just go hit em with an album full of smooth flows, they could hear a song and not even know it is me. I am working on incorperating more smooth flows in my records with the goal of slowly but surely being able to switch over to a new sound. I of course will always have certain songs where I just go off, but I have already shown people I can do that. Take ‘Pain Killer’ for instance, that song and my verse on ‘One More Bar’ are the start of this slow transition.

Do you ever see yourself making a party track or a smooth soulful ballad even?

I am working on a party track right now with Loptimist but it is not for a Big John album. The song is about having a good time, feeling fly, etc. I have three 16-bar verses with no curses and did not dumb down my rhymes. I actualy like this joint a lot! It is fun to do something different.

When did you start to rap?

As for rapping to my self, I used to walk home from school in the third grade and tried to kick rhymes. It didn't make any sense but I was rhyming the kinds of words I knew as a 9/10 year old. As far as actually going into the studio and recording rhymes, ‘The Author’ was my first attempt ever. That is when I really learned. You can freestyle for years, win battles and all that but untill you get in that studio and figure out the best way your voice sounds on the beat, not much has been accomplished.

Do you remember your first rap?

First thing I actually wrote on paper? (laughs) Fuck that! Yeah, I remember. It was extremly rushed. I couldn't spit it in anything louder than a talking voice or I would run outta breath.

How do you remember Clockwork, who produced on both of your albums and tragically passed away?

Clockwork was a great dude. He was honest and very professional. If you got a Clockwork beat, you got a contract stating you own the beat for whatever you want to do with it, and he would send it out the second you copped it. He had a real great sense of humor and really enjoyed being a part of the underground hip-hop scene.

‘Death’ is a recurrent theme in your raps, there’s also a skull in your name logo, was does ‘death’ mean to you?

Death is something in my life that I have had to deal with off and on again and again. My mother died in her bed when I was five years old. Some years later I witnessed her mom die literally before my eyes, as most of us I have lost most of my grandparents, and have seen many of my friends come and go.

Who were some of your earliest influences?

My earliest influences in music where: Ice T, Ice Cube, The Ghetto Boys, NWA, Ultra Magnetic MCs and those are the just the rappers I was listening to in the 3rd grad. I also listen to tons of Death Metal bands: At The Gates, Rotting Christ, Impaled, Cannibal Corpse, etc.

What was the last rap album you bought?

Kool G Rap – ‘Half A Klip’ and El Gant – ‘Quit Your Day Job’.

What’s the next step for you?

I am currently working on a crew album Bound By Honor – ‘Methods of Magnus’. Bound by Honor consists of me, Mic Daily, El Gant, Raydar Ellis and Loptimist. Also, I am writing laidback raps for Loptimist’s new album to be released in Korea for a major down there. I plan on going to work on a new solo album with no guest features as soon as we rap up Bound By Honor.

Thanks Big John!


POSTED 02|01|2008
conducted by Cpf

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