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Jay-Z & Timbaland »

What do you get when you take the greatest living rapper and the greatest hip hip producer. You get one hot album. Sign the petition and lets make it happen.

by kenn on 7/25/2005 12:28:00 PM

Just Blaze interview

At the time of this interview, the underground was buzzing with a rumor that had just been made official. One of the most in demand underground talents, Saigon, and one of the most highly-profiled rookie mixtape personalities, Sickamore, has teamed up with none other than super producer Just Blaze (pictured left) for his new label FT Knox Entertainment to be distributed through Atlantic Records.

Source: A. Online


It is clear from this news that rapper Saigon knows the importance of a good home. Sort after by the biggest labels and the hottest producers; including a brief courting on Mark Ronson’s debut project, Saigon finally settled his business by signing a unique joint venture deal with FT Knox. And as most know, the streets were waiting for it.

Although Saigon is the artist, he is not the only rising star at FT Knox. Whether they like it or not (Sickamore clearly likes it), FT Knox is a label the underground will watch very, very closely. Why? Because three of its biggest talents are about come together in a rare move to take hip-hop back to what it’s all about: music. In this story we dig deep into the minds of those at the forefront of the label FT Knox. From the man responsible for signing Saigon- mixtape DJ Sickamore, who was discovering talent way before he was your favorite A&R’s favorite A&R, to Just Blaze’s platinum moves (from intern to producer to CEO). This is hip-hop history in the making…


For those who don’t know who you are, please introduce yourself…
My name is Sickamore and I’m a mixtape DJ and A&R for FT Knox Entertainment. I’ve been doing mixtapes for about two and half years. I’m the youngest one doing it.

How did you get into the game at such a young age?
I started in school. In 2000 I used to sell mixtapes at school. I’m a go-getter; I said (to myself) I’m never going to work for anybody. So I didn’t. I dropped my first mixtape in November 2001 and then my second in January 2002. I then went on to open up a record store while I was still in my senior year. The store became known around my neighborhood. It was so successful I ran it for about 8 months after high school. I also employed 10 people from my class to come work for me. At one point I was in school, running my own record store and doing mixtapes…

Ok so tell us how you met Just Blaze.
I met Just Blaze on the Roc The Mic tour in 2003. I always kept in contact with him. I didn’t have any purpose on the tour, I just went to network. I had to hustle my way through. I was just promoting my mixtapes. That’s how I made forty percent of my contacts.

So I kept asking Just Blaze about the label. I told him that if I got him a rapper, I would want to be A&R. He agreed. At that point he only had R&B singer Dave Young and he was looking for a rapper with a bit of street buzz. So I brought him Saigon. I’ve been running with the streets ever since, bringing him production and artists.

The industry has been buzzing about your mixtapes for a while...are you excited about being an A&R?
I’m very excited. I did a CD called ‘Overnight Celebrity’ where I rank the Top 30 artists on the streets. Pretty much the hottest dudes without an album. A lot of industry people went crazy. It created a lot of buzz. About seventy percent of the A&Rs in the business got back to me and try to pry after me and find out what I like.

Ok so who’s hot right now Sickamore?
That’s a check right there! (Laughs) Camillionaire, Immortal Technique is hot. Maino is hot.

Different A&Rs look for different things. What do you look for? Or rather, what do you dislike?
There are a lot of things that go into an artist. If I find someone who is really hot and they’re lazy, it doesn’t mean anything because if I give them a budget, they’ll be smoking weed all day and not doing anything.

I think you got it down…
You got to find someone who has a great work ethic. They need to have a good knowledge of hip-hop history. And you have to find someone who has a good knowledge of themselves. A lot of dudes rhyme and they so conceptual and all these different characters, but who are you? I’m trying to buy you…they can rap but they haven’t found themselves on the mic.


Tell us about the new label FT Knox.
Right now we have our first artist Saigon. We’re doing his album through Atlantic. I also have an R&B artist called Dave Young, whose album should be coming out shortly after that. Those are the only two artists I have right now. I’ve been in the process of putting this together for the past 3 years and I’ve been really picky about whom I work with.

You’ve been in the production game for a while and have been very successful at it. Why launch a label? And why now?
I’ve been in the game since ‘97 or ’98 and I just never wanted to do a label before. But I have come to a point where I’ve done all I can do with producing. With a lot of producers, some of them decide they want to go on to rap or sing and become an artist themselves. They have to transcend past just making beats for somebody. After spending so many years making so many records with great artists, you start to pick up what it takes to really make a hit record. Some producers just fall off. I don’t have any intentions of really falling off but I also don’t have any intentions to rap.

People had been coming at me with deals but I already had other commitments and I didn’t feel like I was ready. If I had started doing these deals when people started bringing them to me, I probably wouldn’t have got it off the ground until now anyway. I wanted to build my worth up, build my experience up, and at the same time find the right artist. Some producers do it too early, some wait too long. That’s one of the reasons why you never see so many successful producers with labels.

So you think Saigon has ‘it’. Can you be specific?
Oh yeah. I think what makes Saigon a star is that he has a real good stage presence. But aside from that, he has a street appeal without having to talk about blowing somebody’s head off. His music comes with a message.

It’s one thing to be able to rap. Anybody can rap. I can rap. That doesn’t mean I’m going to come out as an artist. I didn’t want to find just anybody who can rap. They have to have something that makes them special, something that makes them a star, essentially something that differentiates them from everybody else that can rap. That’s the reason I’ve been taking it slow. I was waiting for that artist.

How did you get into production in the first place?
I’ve been into music since I was kid. My father was a musician so he always had keyboards in the house. So that’s where I picked up the music from. I had also been DJing since I was 9 years old. It was all types of music, not just hip-hop. Later on as my DJ career progressed, my interest went from playing someone else’s music to wanting to make my own. I actually started trying to learn how to make beats in ’89/‘90. Eventually I convinced my aunt to buy me some equipment. It was slow at first but I kept working at it. A couple of years went by until I met my current manager, who back then was an NYU student working at a recording studio in Manhattan. She worked her way up to being studio manager and asked me if I wanted an internship when she got in the position to offer me one. From that internship I worked my way to running that studio when she left. While I was in the studio I got to meet a lot of major producers and see how real records were made. The internship was a good opportunity and I took if for whatever I could. Almost every night, when I get off from work, I tried to work on my stuff. One night some of Mase’s people walked past the room where I was working, they liked it and it ended up becoming one of Mase’s first singles off one of his albums. However, for a long while after that I still didn’t take producing seriously.

At what point in your career were you like “wow, this is it”. When Jay Z started calling?
I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think it has really hit me yet.

It hits me once in a while when I go back and look at my discography and it has 250 to 300 records on it. That’s when I’m like ‘ok, wow’…

Ok so at what point did you realize producing was a full-time job?
I don’t know. I still get nervous (laughs). I keep thinking this will all stop tomorrow!

It better hit you fast…
In the back of my mind I always have to have some kind of back up plan. But I can tell you this, the first year, or maybe even the first 2 years, I still had my day job at the studio. And it was crazy. No one understood why I was still there. My thing was, even though it wasn’t a lot of money (my day job), I knew at the end of the week I had that security of that five or six hundred dollars coming in. And I had rent to pay.

It got to a point where my production work was affecting my day job and my day job was affecting my production work. It was around the year I got my tax return. At around that time; I was making roughly $35,000 a year. I had that tax return in one hand and in the other hand I had a check for the same amount for about 2 or 3 beats. One took me a whole year to make and the other took me a few hours.

At that point, I knew if I didn’t go full fledge with this production thing I may never really know what could come out of it…

You are a very low-key person. A lot of people don’t know much about Just Blaze, other than the production.
Yeah, there’s a tone of stuff that people don’t know about me. I want to keep it that way. I’m not a show-off kind of dude. I want it to be more about the music. Right now I’m working with two artists trying to get them off the ground. Five years from now who is to say I won’t be doing a FT Knox tour? But my only point is you won’t see me running around with the artist. You might catch me in the video or catch me on stage but I won’t be performing my new single!

If you were to look back at the 70s, even outside of hip-hop, it didn’t matter what label you were on, it was all about the music. There came a point where people were buying albums based on what label you were associated with. It doesn’t mean everything the labels were putting out was great. Labels put out classics but they also put out a lot of garbage. I don’t want it to be Just Blaze’s label; I want it to be FT Knox Entertainment.

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