article written by:
Bill Oxford Chicago, IL
FYI, Bill also has other interviews and articles that you may be interested in for your own publication.
“J-Blaze & B-Bond: A Timeless and Classic Empire Made For the Ages”
Come on ladies and gentlemen, be honest. When you listen to West Coast hip hop, usually California (LA and the Bay area to be exact) comes to mind, right? People, am I correct in my assessment? I’m here to introduce an Empire unlike any other. A Classic one to say the least. One whose origins are not in California, folks. It’s a duo composed of a unique artistic rapport between hip hop emcees J-Blaze from Brooklyn, New York and B-Bond from Phoenix, Arizona. Their manager Jacque Schauls, of Coda Grooves Entertainment, offered me the opportunity of a lifetime to sit down and chop it up with 2 of hip hop’s most talented artists breaking into the game. And I graciously accepted. Notice, I didn’t categorize them as West Coast rappers due to how their music is embraced throughout the map. The interview gave me a new perspective on how 2 people brought together from more than a 1,000 miles apart could mesh so perfectly on wax. I love it when the 2 coasts that were at “war” with each other only 15 years ago can come together in some form or fashion to make ageless music. It happened with Tupac and the Boot Camp Click who worked on the “One Nation” album together, but here and now stands Classic Empire. More so than a new sound, they bring a new attitude and approach to the game through their everyday mentality and lyrical presentation. Here’s what they have to say:
Since Arizona really isn’t known for their hip hop music, what do you guys bring to the table that’s unique and that’ll make you relevant and stand out?
B-BOND: You know, we combine a certain amount of R&B in our music. Our last album, “Where the Sky Ends” was commercially based. A lot of people/artists in Arizona have a sound that’s made for Arizona, or just the West Coast, whereas our music can be heard on the East Coast, in the Midwest, the Dirty South, the West Coast, anywhere really in the world for that matter. Outside of that, it’s cool too that we have J-Blaze from Brooklyn and myself B-Bond from Arizona, so I feel like we can give something vocally and lyrically with the musical background we have and the collaborations done with each other as the artists of Classic Empire.
Describe how Classic Empire came together in the first place?
J-BLAZE: In the beginning, I was out there doing my own thing, making a few songs here and there. Through a mutual friend I met up with B-Bond at a party. He told me he rapped. I told him the same about me. We went outside and I spit a verse for him and we’ve been rockin’ ever since.
Who, in the music industry, would you like to record with in an effort to get more notoriety?
J-BLAZE: I think it would be cool to collaborate with Drake, Kanye, Wayne and I think Ross would be cool. I would like to go back and do some work with Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common. Take it back a bit. Lupe Fiasco I think would be dope. As far as R&B artists, I would love to work with Mary J. Blige, Neo and Dream.
B-BOND: To add to that, at the very top of my list is Ryan Leslie. He’s a real genius. Not just based on the fact of how good he is at his craft, but he graduated from an Ivy League school. That is something that’s so important. It’s not like he randomly knew how to play the keys on the piano. He got his degree from an Ivy League school which is really more reserved for white kids. He did something that a lot of kids don’t get the chance to do. I would also add Alicia Keys too. She’s dope.
What music did you guys listen to as kids that stood out from the rest?
B-BOND: I would go back to Black Sheep. I don’t know if you ever banged that, but that was back in the cassette days. Black Sheep, I always thought was raw! That was one of the first hip hop cassettes I ever had and I used to play that shit like all day long. It kind of gave me some of my hip hop influence. Method Man and Redman were real heavy. After the transition from cassettes to Cd’s, I’d listen to Wu-Tang, ect…
J-BLAZE: It really comes down to just 2 names. Biggie and Jay-Z. They made me believe I could do it just because both of them are from the same place I’m from. I’m not going to say that everything was the same about us, but we have some similarities in our backgrounds. They made me believe that anything and everything is possible. 2 people who came from the street that had nothing but talent and ended up being on the top of the world.
Are there any producers you work with whom you’d like to promote?
B-BOND: No, not really.
Do you make all your own beats?
B-BOND: We work with a lot of random producers. No one in-house, but as far as engineers, probably John Keenan. J-Blaze would you agree?
J-BLAZE: Yeah, you already know.
We already know that in New York, hip hop is the prominent music, but what seems to be the most commonly listened to music genre in the Phoenix AZ?
J-BLAZE: You have a lot of pop music in Arizona. It’s not like out east, or in the Midwest where they have more local artists. Out here, it’s more of a pop scene.
B-BOND: It’s some of that underground too. More pop than anything.
Define yourself as everyday human beings outside of the music industry?
B-BOND: I’d have to say we don’t have much else going on now outside of the music. This is us, 24-7.
J-BLAZE: It really is, between the music, the promotions, the business, our new management, Coda Grooves Entertainment. That’s really been it, just a 24-7 grind.
When you sky-rocket to the top of the charts and have your hands on excessive funds, how do you plan on giving back to those you grew up with in your respective communities?
J-BLAZE: As far as giving back, I believe in talking to the kids that feel like they really don’t have too much to look forward to. I want people I feel I represent to know that it is possible to get out of whatever situation you’re in, whatever you feel is holding you back, whatever your excuse is. You can change whatever circumstances you’re in and be whoever you want to be as long as you decide that’s what you really want to be and you’re willing to put the work in to get that. That’s what I want to do to give back because I know when I was a kid, if I had someone that came from where I came from come back and talk to me like “It is possible”, that would’ve been a real boost in my life. I want to give people the hope and the drive to know that everything they want to do is possible. I always thought that if we popped off and made it big I’d want to give back to the families over the holidays because that’s the trying time of the year for most. You have to look at your parents, who you have and what’s available for your family. Us coming up from not having a lot, it would be nice to provide during that time of the year.
As of right now, what’s the biggest obstacle in your path to stardom?
J-BLAZE: The biggest challenge is trying to stand out in a market that’s really over-saturated with people that want to do the same thing we’re doing. We’re just inventing ourselves, inventing our own sound, trying to find our own lane and stand out in the crowd.
What your first live performance like and where was the venue?
J-BLAZE: Crazy Fish, or Club Red.
Did the 2 of you get nervous at all?
J-BLAZE: Me, personally, I haven’t really been nervous per say because I haven’t been in front of a crowd that made me nervous. Not to say it wouldn’t happen, it just hasn’t yet.
B-BOND: I keep it 100. I get nervous. I do. I get a little nervous before any show whether it’s a song or a whole set. One day someone told me that Frank Sinatra said the day he stopped getting nervous, the anxiety would start to show and that was the day he stopped being an artist and performer. And that’s Frank Sinatra saying that. So, yeah, I think it’s the excitement for the show and the idea of us doing what we love to do.
Who was the person outside of music that made you gravitate towards music?
J-BLAZE: Probably my mother. She inspired me to make music because I’ve seen her struggle with a 9 to 5 all my life and I knew I didn’t want to live that way and I wanted to give her everything I felt she deserved. I knew I had musical talent so I decided to take that talent and work to give my mother all she deserves.
B-BOND: My dad was a saxophone player, so when I was kid we would roll around listening to old jazz records. I eventually picked up the saxophone myself and starting playing it. My music started to develop from there and my interests turned towards hip hop. But yeah, that was really my beginning in music; my father and his jazz.
How did your upbringing as children shape your attitude towards society and the music you make?
J-BLAZE: Growing up in Brooklyn, I noticed that a lot of things weren’t fair in a sense that being Black in America is not a cake walk at all. Especially being from a city where there’s a lot of racial tension even to this day. You notice a lot of things that are geared for other people and not you and it makes me feel like I want to break down those doors. I want to be able to go to Park Ave. and Carnegie Hall and make people respect us.
B-BOND: My family was poverty stricken and we were struggling a lot, so I got to a certain age and hit the block and started getting that fast money. My rhymes and music used to be based off a lot of that, but getting older, you realize that’s not really something you’d want to talk about and pass on to other people through music, nor want to experience yourself, so I stopped talking about that and started talking about more positive things, enjoying your time, just the good life overall, instead of so much of what I experienced as a child.
What do you do when you step away from the musical creative vibe?
J-BLAZE: I don’t do anything to get out of that creative vibe. As soon as I stop that creative vibe, I might as well go to school or something. When you get into this business, as saturated as the game is today, there’s not a day that passes when we’re not on a business phone call. We’re always trying to take a step forward every day and to make it in this business and be hugely successful that’s what you do. I believe if this is what you really want to do, not just music, but if you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, I don’t think you have the time to get out of that mode because there are 50,000 other people trying to fill your position. If you want to make it to the NBA, you have to shoot those 500 jump shots a day, do all those push-ups, run those suicides, ect... That separates the men from the boys and shows who really wants it. If you’d rather go and hang out with your friends instead of being at the studio, then this isn’t the industry for you.
B-BOND: Word. I was thinking about that the other day. It’s crazy because this business is not something you can put together a resume, you know what I’m saying? You really have to come with credentials and hustle and whole lot more behind you before anybody pays you any attention at all. So it’s like every single day we’re talking about some business, or about something that’ll help Classic Empire’s survival.
Describe your creative process during the making of your hit, “Rock Star Life”?
B-BOND: We were working on a track with this guy and consider the fact that when we work on a big project, we diversify the project. We suggested to each other that we come up with a track that reflects our lifestyles to a certain degree on us being “rock stars”. We figured it would be dope for the album if we put it over a heavy metal type of track. We came up with the hook, wrote the verses for it and it came out sounding Crazy!
As the years have progressed in your careers, there have been other artists out there who signed deals with majors who you might be willing to battle rap for their contracts. It’s a competition in hip hop, so who would you go at lyrically to earn your spot at their expense?
J-BLAZE: In the industry, I see everybody as competition. I don’t look at it like, ‘I want to compete against this person or that person’. Even Souljah Boy, who everyone knows is not the most lyrical rapper in the world, but you know people out there buy his ringtones, his tracks too, and they do his dance, but that
makes him competition. All the way to the good, lyrical rappers like Drake. From the bottom to the top, they’re all competition.
If you were to go overseas to tour and travel, where would you go first?
J-BLAZE: I want to go everywhere.
B-BOND: We know a lot of stuff is going on in Germany, even London, England. They’re getting it in. China has a lot going on too. Wherever the market is at. There’s nowhere that we don’t want to go.
What’s your definition of “success”?
J-BLAZE: It’s being happy with who you are verses the man or woman you’ve become. Being able to take care of loved ones and not awaken to hating what you have to do. That’s success. If you wake up and hate what you have to do, you’re not successful.
B-BOND: That’s real talk. There are a lot of different ways to measure success, but Blaze and I talk about how it would be crazy to be able to just wake up and go straight into the studio, or go do an interview like this, or go to a radio show, or go perform at a show. So, if we can do music as a living and it pays the bills to the point where we’re financially independent, then in Classic Empire terms, that would be considered a great deal of success for us.
Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?
J-BLAZE: In 10 years we’ll have 5 albums topping the charts, at least.
B-BOND: That’s a long time from now, you know. If things go the right way for us, then there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. I would like to see us working on bringing in new artists. Helping people along even who are hustling just like we are today. Giving other artists the opportunity we are getting today. We’re focused on diversifying, not only in music, but in other businesses while trying to leave a stamp on the whole music and entertainment industry.
As an artist, everyone has strengths and weaknesses? To start, what are you strengths?
J-BLAZE: We can get on a record with anyone and hold our own.
B-BOND: Yeah, I’d have to agree.
J-BLAZE: A lot of people can’t do that. They get on a record and get out-shined by the other artist.
Secondly, what do you think you can improve on?
J-BLAZE: I think it’s our stage presence and live-show visual more than anything, to be honest.
B-BOND: I’d like to add that every day the music industry is changing and there’s always room for improvements. I would never want to be that arrogant or cocky, you see? It’s something that we always try to get better at.
Are there any mistakes you’ve made that you feel set you back a step or 2? Without that, you’d be further along right now. What would you change, if anything?
B-BOND: That would’ve been linking up with Coda Grooves Entertainment 5 years ago.
(I shared a laugh with Classic Empire)
J-BLAZE: At the same time, it’s all a learning process. Of course, we would go back and fine tune things and say that we wish we could’ve done better, but we’re learning as we go. Our management will tell you we’re doing real well.
I’ve heard from other execs in the music and entertainment industry, that you as an artist need to make yourself relevant. What is it about you that make you relevant?
J-BLAZE: We deliver what a lot of artists out there are lacking, which is, well I don’t want to sound really bad, but a lot of rappers just don’t have true lyrical talent. Lyrics aren’t what the labels are going after anymore. I think that sets us aside from other people. There are top artists out there with lyrical ability and they’re the ones who last longer. We’re not trying to be the artists with the one-hits. We’re trying to have longevity. I believe in actually having something to say and entertaining people with your wordplay. That’s what we have up on other people/artists.
B-BOND: I’d like to add to that. If you listen to music and see how it evolves, which I’m sure you do, you hear the beat and how everyone is rocking it and how people switch up how they deliver their bars. What we did to make ourselves more relevant is that we still keep that hip hop, lyrical, metaphorical phrase and switch up the beat a little bit. The true lyrical skills show through and we’ll remain relevant as time passes.
If it wasn’t music, then what would be your second passion in life?
J-BLAZE: Probably a basketball player (he carries on laughing)
B-BOND: If it wasn’t music??? Oh man, I haven’t really thought about that. Music is all I ever really thought about. I don’t think there would be anything else, to be honest.
As an artist, what’s your perspective on major labels trying to change your image to sell more units?
J-BLAZE: I don’t agree with that at all. I believe the reason why the label picked that artist is because they see and believe in what that artist does. To change what that artist does and to make them sound like someone else is wrong. They could be missing out on something about the artist themselves that make them unique because they’d rather look at the person who can dance really well, as opposed to hearing someone on a record who’s giving something completely different to the game. If I was running a label, I wouldn’t sign someone with the intentions of changing their whole style and making them something they weren’t. I would let them be themselves.
B-BOND: If you want to go around, do auditions, make a boy band and a girl band, at that point I’d say you have the room and the power to make whatever type of music you want; to write your lyrics and make your songs. When people approach us, it’s based on the lyrics we wrote and the beats made. It’s something we made that they heard and like a lot. So I think that if someone were to try and take away our creative right that would be wack! We’ve obviously garnered enough attention to bring us to your table in the first place.
J-BLAZE: I wouldn’t even sign that deal. I don’t care who it was. Diddy could come to me tomorrow with a million dollar signing bonus saying, ‘I want you to sound like Machine Gun Kelly’, and I’d say, ‘Sorry’. If Diddy wants to sign me cause of my sound and what I look like, then I’m sure Diddy’s not the only one whose attention I’ve grabbed. Those other people who have heard me would be willing to let me be myself. Just because a label flashes all the money in front of you, doesn’t mean it’s always the best deal. I believe in having the rights to what and how I work my craft. You’re giving them enough already. You’re giving them your publishing and your masters, so I don’t think they have the right to tell you what kind of music to put out.
So you guys believe in complete creative control?
B-BOND: Definitely. We’re open-minded with the music, but at the end of the day, it has to be Classic Empire material. Obviously, if we’re in the studio with a dope producer, say Kanye for example, we’re going to listen to what he has to say and take some of his suggestions, but we won’t change the basis of what we do. Nobody will tell us to change how we work as artists. When it’s all said and done, its Classic Empire music!
For more info on Classic Empire and their worldwide conquest, go to the following links:
http://codagroovesent.ning. com/group/classic-empire-fan- group
Written by: Bill Oxford, 4-24-12