Just Jack: Simply Put

With a single that is the most unHip-hop offering on his sophomore album Overtones, recent nominations prove that some are still toying with how to classify Just Jack. A fusion of disco, house and pop with his simplistic narration has been mistaken as Hip-Hop by some. But North London based Jack is quick to shoot […]

With a single that is the most unHip-hop offering on his sophomore album Overtones, recent nominations prove that some are still toying with how to classify Just Jack. A fusion of disco, house and pop with his simplistic narration has been mistaken as Hip-Hop by some. But North London based Jack is quick to shoot that down. Coming into the music industry a little later than his contemporaries, he’s laid a more solid foundation.  Attacking an already established blueprint is easy for Jack, he wants to be different; he is different. He isn’t trying to wear a coat that doesn’t fit. Taking on the 50 states with his second album, Jack addressed the daunting (to some) task of invading an American market, what soccer really means to him and just why the English may have problems with the French. AllHipHop.com Alternatives: You are trying to make a name for yourself in America. Are you nervous about trying to break the American market? Just Jack: No. Because what will be will be. I am not nervous, because I am not relying on it. I think it would be silly to rely on it to do well. I haven’t got a big mortgage or anything depending on it, thinking I might be up there with Kanye. If people get it over there, they get it but if not then they don’t. If I was a traditional MC, like a Hip-Hop artist, I would be sh*tting myself. AHHA: Yeah the British artists haven’t really broken the mold over there. Just Jack: Well they have the big boys over there. In terms of mainstream success, I think it would be really difficult for a Hip-Hop artist to go over there and have success as the mainstream is sewn up. It is done.AHHA: How do you define yourself then?Just Jack: I try not to, as I really don’t know how to. The fact is, the album has got so many different styles in it that I don’t really know what it is. There is disco in there, there is house in there, there is electronic in there and break beats and of course there are tracks in there that are kind of Hip-Hop. You know rappy without being proper Hip-Hop. I am not of a competitive, battle, aggressive mentality and that is probably why it isn’t that Hip-Hoppy; as a lot of it is like that. I think the main thing is the way I make tracks is a very Hip-Hop way of making tracks. I sit there with the sampler and a stack of records and make beats. I started making beats that were always kind of Hip-Hop beats, but I branched out and made other types of music. AHHA: Did you produce the whole album? Just Jack: I co-produced. Most of the programmed stuff I put together in my home studio, and then I take it to another studio and to a friend of mine Jay Reynolds who is an engineer. He comes from a background that deals with a lot of pop acts and because I come from an underground place, it kind of works. We might have a few arguments, but we seem to have a good combination going on. AHHA: You have recently been nominated for Best Hip-Hop act in the Urban Music Awards. Just Jack: Have I? AHHA: Yes. I was just curious as you don’t see yourself as a Hip-Hop act, yet there you are in the running for Best Hip-Hop Act for 2007. Just Jack: [laughs] That is f**king hilarious…classic. I bet those lot are well chuffed. [laughs]AHHA: So how do you feel when you get nominations like that then? Just Jack: I just think it is quite funny and quite nice in a way. At the end of the day, I don’t know what to say to that, I just find it quite amusing. AHHA: Are you a Hip-Hop fan?Just Jack: I absolutely love Hip-Hop. AHHA: So in saying that, seeing yourself considered as a Hip-Hop act does it bother you how Hip-Hop is viewed in the UK? Just Jack: It is like everyone else. To be honest, I try not to look at music as if Hip-Hop is an enclosed thing. If you look at what Outkast are doing, you played a track from The Love Below in 1993 [to someone] who is a Black Moon fan, they would be like, “That isn’t Hip-Hop.” It has branched out and it has spread out. With UK Hip-Hop, a lot of the acts that I am up against for that award are great, but I think a lot of people who are having success and come from that area are people who are stepping outside of the traditions, which British people do anyway. If you look at Mike Skinner – who isn’t Hip-Hop, but he definitely raps – he steps outside of the form and even Dizzee Rascal, he has stepped out. A lot of those people who are having that success are not just straight up Hip-Hop. I know people like Young Gun, Doc Brown who are straight up Hip-Hop boys, and they are having quite a tough time with it in making a mark. I think it is quite funny though that nomination. AHHA: Being that you are 31 and not wanting to sound ageist, how long has it taken you to get to where you are?Just Jack: Yeah I am an old man. [laughs] I look young, which is why I get away with it. I just didn’t know that I wanted to make music. I started making music when I was 22, which is very late compared to most people. But I loved music and I loved mixing tracks together when I would DJ, but I didn’t think that I would learn enough about the nuts and bolts to put tracks together. It was kind of by accident. When I finished university, I did a little course and I think at the time, I was very into house music. The first people to teach me how to use the equipment, all made Hip-Hop beats or made break beats. So I started doing the same, because they were and I think that is partly why things went off in the direction that they did. I think when I first started making music, in my head I wanted to be this incredible MC, technically amazing with a mad flow and really study it. But then after a while, I realized that wasn’t really me. I wander around in music and find things that I like from all types of different genres and put them together, but I have always loved Hip-Hop and I am very kind of seduced by it in a way. I think a lot of people want to be that incredible MC that the underground respects but I don’t think I ever had it in me. AHHA: So who do think is the most respected underground MC out there? Just Jack: There are all kinds of people. Just today I have been listening to Common, Talib Kweli, Dilla, Wu Tang tracks. Someone gave me the Black Milk album and that is pretty f**king good to be honest. I don’t really know who the best is at the moment. I am old school; I have been listening to Big Daddy Kane and Rakim. Guru is the MC I have thought all my life that has more to say than a lot of other people and with him it is what he is saying rather than how he is saying it a lot of the time which interests me a bit more. AHHA: Being that you are a real Guru fan, did you enjoy the Jazmatazz series, as some failed to see where he came from with those projects? Just Jack: You know what, I can totally see where he came from with that. Basically, he had a whole bunch of people who he liked. And his dad might have played their records when he was younger, and the opportunity came for him to work with them. I think maybe some of the tracks were more poppy and more hooky, particularly the first one. AHHA: Where did you grow up?Just Jack: In Camden, I was in Islington for about eight years, and then Camden from then on. AHHA: So you are a north London boy then. Spurs or Arsenal then?Just Jack: I am not a big football fan. I would be an Arsenal fan.AHHA: What’s that geographically?Just Jack: [laughs] Totally, you know what I mean. I can actually hear the ground from my house. I am just not interested in football, never have been, and much to my disappointment sometimes when I am having a conversation with someone and all they want to talk about is football. I see people upset by their teams losing and I just think I have plenty to get upset about without worrying about football. AHHA: To stay unique in your approach to music and particularly production, who inspires you? Just Jack: Well on the house scene I would say Masters at Work, Mood II Swing, that kind of stuff. I don’t really have influences where I listen to something and think to myself I am going to make something sound just like that. There are a lot of people out there doing that and it isn’t a bad thing as long as you are bringing in other influences it is cool. But obviously I listen to Dilla, Premier, Pete Rock, and I listen to Outkast and everything Danger Mouse has done has been an inspiration to me from Gnarls Barkley to the early stuff on Next Record. It is just futuristic production and he is not afraid to just make music and I think he is amazing. There are all kinds of things I like. I listen to all types of music. Singer/songwriters all that kind of thing too. I have been listening to the Beatles, and the Police a lot recently and bands that I should have been into when I was 10 but wasn’t. AHHA: You just appeared at the V Festival which had a pretty good line up this year. How was that experience?Just Jack: It was wicked; it was the main stage, so I can’t complain. I was there three years ago in a small tent and now I was on the main stage so it was pretty amazing. It was a massive crowd as well considering we were on at 12:30, which I thought would be the kind of grave yard shift, it was packed. It was good to open it as you are the first act people see and they are all streaming in there and they come straight to the stage. There were thousands and thousands there. We played to about 12,000 not long ago, but this was bigger than that. AHHA: Do you get stage fright? Just Jack: Not anymore, I think now I get stage excitement or stage buzz. AHHA: How are you pushing the album in the States?Just Jack: I don’t really know, I mean obviously we are trying to get radio play. We are not putting out loads of singles and then putting the album out. I think there will be one single and then the album will be out.AHHA: It’s coming out on TVT over there right?Just Jack: Yeah which is quite a change as they have quite a lot of dirty south Hip-Hop artists on the label. It is a big label thanks to Lil’ Jon. So we will be seeing how the radio goes and I will be going out there to do some more promo in a month or so and just see what happens.AHHA: Do you like it out in America?Just Jack: I do actually; I mean it takes a little getting used to. I went out there with my first album, three years ago and it took me a while to get used to the constant enthusiasm and the real “in your faceness,” but you get used to it, and after a while you begin to miss it. There is a certain type of innocent enthusiasm about everything and I think here we have so much cynicism and sarcasm where as over there it is different. When you get used to it it is something you should embrace; I quite like it. AHHA: Would you ever see yourself settling over there? Just Jack: No, probably somewhere hot in Europe would be more my thing. Somewhere like Barcelona, which I think is one of the best cities in the world. AHHA: How have you been received throughout Europe? Just Jack: France has been wicked, Holland is great, Belgium and Switzerland. Scandinavia has been a bit slower. Spain hasn’t really done much, but France has taken the music to their hearts which is good as I am inspired by a lot of their producers as well.AHHA: So much rivalry between the French and the English too.Just Jack: I don’t really see that, I just think maybe [the English] are a little jealous of [the French] because they have really good looking ladies and really nice clothes. [laughs]