I wrote the following interview for the up and coming music video outfit, Sektion Red – they allowed me to put it on my own blog too. J-Zen is one of my musical heroes and it was an absolute privilege to talk to him –
J-Zen is a French producer who has been fascinated by the world of soul, jazz, funk, and world music since his record-collector father offered him his first LP at the age of seven. From then on, he developed an insatiable appetite for music — any kind of music — and transformed that inspiration into his own genre-defying brand of songcraft. This eclecticism can be easily heard in the young producers compositions. At the age of 12, he learned to play bass guitar before discovering Rza, DJ Premier and Jay Dee. These artists proved to be a revelation.
His originals mixes and musical knowledge allowed him the honor to open for some of the greatest in the game: Jazzy Jeff, DJ Premier, and Pharoahe Monch to name a few. In 2004 he got a Mpc200xl and decided to create his own vision of Hip Hop: a mix of samples (soul, jazz, rock), fat beats, and heavy basslines.
”So, you have a new album out, Padwork. It reminds me of DJ Shadows ‘Pre-emptive Strike’. How do you feel about that comparison?
Thanks for the comparison, I’m honored that you even mention my name and Shadow’s in the same sentence! But honestly I’m far from touching Shadow’s work, he’s one of the best
Where do you draw your influences from?
I grew up listening to hip hop, Rza, Primo, Pete Rock, Dilla but I also have a Rock background, I love King Crimson, Pink Floyd…
Your work is sample heavy – did you grow up with these sampled tracks in the background of your childhood? Or, were they found sounds once you left home?
My dad was a record collector, he taught me the love of music but also love of the object himself, I’m still collecting but the essential part of my collection is from my dad
How is it working with a small independent label?
It’s great! The roles are really well defined, the label is taking care of the business side and all I have to do is focus on my music, create. Of course is not always easy but it fits me better
What are the scale of your ambitions in music?
My ambition is to always do what I want to do musically, no boundaries! Doing what I feel, it’s basically what I did until now. I’m realistic about the music business right now and I know I won’t make millions but as long as people love my music and I can do few shows, I’m good
You have released digitally and on vinyl – would you say that hip-hop is keeping vinyl alive?
Definitely! Even when the vinyl sales were really low, hip hop labels kept on releasing vinyl. I would say dj’s and music lovers are keeping vinyl alive to be exact
Moving away from Padwork. Most of my friends now own a copy of Sextape. I am all for female emancipation, but I am also a fan of the ridiculous 1970’s porn films that you sampled in Sextape. Does porn have a place in beat tape culture – and, if so, which 1970’s porn films would you recommend?
Honestly I’m not the biggest specialist in 70’s porn, I collected my samples via streaming, all I can remember is beautiful background music and a lot of hair and moustache! Everything can be inspiring is what I tried to prove with the sextape
What is the hip-hop scene in France like at the minute, especially in your home town? I, for one, have to travel to get to any good gigs – what about you?
I used to live in Rennes there’s a lot of mc’s and producers but not a lot of shows except the festival of my label, now I’m living in Paris, the hip hop scene is amazing here, I made a lot of connections.
I have fond memories of MC Solaar blowing up around 10 years ago in the UK – who do you look up to both in France and internationally?
The biggest French producers in my opinion are 20 Syl and Onra, they’ve been releasing quality music for years and now they achieve to get the recognition of the public. Internationally, I really dig Tall Black Guy’s and Suff Daddy’s work
Who do you dream of working with?
Doing a collab album with Kankick would be dope or working with Common
The first track I bought that you had made was GOD MUSIC (feat. Georgia Anne Muldrow & Declaime) which, had lyrics on it. Why, and how often, do you get an MC to guest on your tracks – will this change?
Sometimes when I produce a track, I can imagine who I’d like to sing on it. Having a mc on a track allows it to go higher, combining his touch and mine
What are your plans, musically for 2013? Tours, gigs, releases?
More music with mc’s and singers and my live beatmaking show”
J-Zen has once again redefined the shape of the French underground with his latest release, Padwork – available now. For J-Zen’s back catalogue, please click here.