Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon. These artists are all recognized for songwriting, an art that seems to be lost in hip-hop's oft-braggadocio schemata. The etymology of “rap” is from the literal word meaning “to talk.” English major, former schoolteacher and hip-hop artist J-Live seeks to transcend the confine of just talking and write songs that reflect “knowledge, wisdom and understanding.” It's the credo on which his record label-Triple Threat-was built.
A triple threat himself, J-Live acts as MC, DJ and producer on his “second first album,” appropriately titled All of the Above. A myriad of label obstacles prolonged the release of his actual first album The Best Part. Subsequently, J made his way to the Coup d'Etat label to present the hip-hop listening public with an earful of his adept songwriting.
“I am trying to maintain the integrity and ethics of being an MC and being a songwriter, push the envelope of hip-hop as an artistic movement and pretty much just give people an opportunity to be critical listeners and provoke the kind of thought that can inspire greatness from individuals,” says J-Live.
These are lofty aspirations for a virtually unknown emcee, but being unknown doesn't necessarily discredit an artist's abilities.
“I think there's more than enough MCs that are doing what they ought to be doing, but the fact of the matter is there's only a couple of major markets where you can expose artists,” he says. “There's a whole world of music out there that has to be dug up, that has to be found from beneath, which is why it's called ‘underground'... You can accept the music that's on the surface or fed to you or you can dig deeper and find what else there is.”
J-Live's The Best Part was one of the most highly anticipated albums in hip-hop's recent history, which explains its heavily bootlegged circulation. He persevered, though, and achieved what hip-hop heads hope The Last Emperor will accomplish (thank the good folks at Rawkus Records for that one).
“If you really want to win a revolution, the idea is not to conform and become the oppressor yourself,” J-Live proposes. “The idea is to develop a system that is fair and just and that should be in place of whatever system you're trying to revolt against.”