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[rock the dub Interview]: J. Slikk

One thing that the forthcoming rock the dub compilation has done, aside from getting me some SICK tracks, is introduced me to even more new talent. Chicago's J. Slikk is just one of the talented cats I've had the pleasure of building with recently. He passed me a cut from R.O.E. entitled "Can't Help Myself", and, being a blogger, I get passed MP3s all the time. Not very often do I get "that feeling" when I hit play on a track anymore. Just the bounce of the sample, the way it was flipped to match the beat, then the smooth lyrics? I was in awe. Since that time, I've gotten to know J. Slikk on a couple of levels, and from the heat I'm hearing from him and his BPA crew, I am honored to hit you guys off with this interview we wrapped up a month or so ago...

khal: First off, how did you get your start producing tracks? Do you know how to play any instruments?

J. Slikk: Well, I’d have to say I got my start when I was 13. One day I was sitting in my room listening to music, when, for whatever reason, I decided to take the first line of Snoop’s version of “Lodi Dodi”, chop it, loop it over and over again, then dub the final product to another tape. I like to call that one my first official beat. I did it a few more times with other tapes, then quit for a minute. Then I began to just study how others got their start and what was hot at that point. By the time I was about 16 I saved up, grabbed me some gear and got to work… I’ve been at it ever since. As far as instruments, I was always a percussionist. I can play the drums, xylophone as odd as that seems, Timpani (even odder) and a couple more. For the most part, I taught myself how to play the piano as well.

khal: What equipment do you use to produce? Do you have one piece that you absolutely must use to produce, and why is this piece so cherished?

J. Slikk: Currently, I use a Numark TT200 turntable, an old HP Pavilion desktop circa 1999 that I upgrade from time to time (I also use a brand new HP laptop when traveling or at school), Cool Edit Pro 2.0, and a program called Modplug Tracker. It’s not a program a lot of people have heard of, but for a little history lesson, it was actually used many years ago to create a lot of background music for old Nintendo games. I used to use an old Casio keyboard but it shorted out, and an old EMU sampler that I had to pawn for financial reasons. It’s tough being a struggling musician and college student. I can’t go without my Modplug though. That is the basis of all my beats. Where I transfer my samples, drums, EQ, just everything. I can’t function at all with out it.

khal: Who are some of your idols, production-wise?

J. Slikk: I always looked up to Pete Rock the most. From the Mecca till now, it’s always been about the Chocolate Boy Wonder. In addition to that, DJ Premier has a huge influence on my sound. Others would probably be RZA, Kanye, No I.D., Alchemist, The Neptunes, Jay Dee, the Ummah, 9th wonder, Khrysis, and the Bomb Squad, to name a few.

khal: The tracks I’ve heard from you have been on that straight Hip-Hop, but not necessarily stuck in today’s sound. It seems like you hark back to the classic boom-bap of years past. Is that a conscious move?

J. Slikk: Well, yeah it is. When you listened to joints back in the day and even now when you listen to joints FROM back in the day, you’ll just hear sound that’s fuller than you hear from a lot of today’s records. I used to be a person who listened to the “now”, whether on WGCI (here in the city) or on BET, but when things just started sounding “dumbed down” and repetitive for a lack of better wording; that’s when I turned off the TV & the radio and just focused on all the things I grew up on. All the things my big brother used to bump in car when he’d take me places when I was a kid. All the things my mom and dad, aunts and uncles played in the house growing up. All those things put together equal a better sound in a better time for music. I’ll pull out my old Mecca And The Soul Brother, Labcabincalifornia, some Curtis Mayfield or whatever else I have in my crates that I got on my mind that day, zone out to it, then just go to the boards and zone out based on that feeling I get from listening to those kinda records. I want the listener to get the same feeling from my records that I get from listening to the ones I have in my collection. I fully understand that times change, but just like the concept of sampling in the generic sense, why not make the old (boom-bap) new again.

khal: Who do you rate as dope producers/MCs in the game right now?

J. Slikk: Funny you should ask that! For producers, I’d probably say Pete Rock and Primo are definitely still relevant as ever. Madlib is a beast. I listen to a lot of 9th Wonder. Khrysis, Cynergy Soundz (my good friend and collaborator), obviously Kanye, Nottz, Illmind, Fatin, Hezekiah, Just Blaze, No I.D., Tall Black Guy is dope, 5th Element (5.I.F.), Kenny Keys from All Natural Inc, and a hand full of producers from the Chi that really aren’t getting their just due.

khal: I first heard you through cats like Cy Yung and R.O.E., who I understand are all affiliated in the “BackPacker’s Anonymous” crew. How did B.P.A. come together?

J. Slikk: Well, we came together in 2005. I was at home sick for a few months (with something a lot worse than a cold), so when I had the energy and wasn’t in pain, I would sit up and spend all my time doing new beats and trying to craft a new sound. You see, I had also just gotten out of a bad deal with an upstart record label; I had lost all my previous beats when my hard drive crashed on my computer, and I was just looking for a fresh start altogether. In my new found free time, I decided to advertise my new stuff over at MySpace. So when I got my page up, Cynergy Soundz hit me up and complimented me on the joints I had up. I did the same. From there we exchanged feedback back and forth, ‘til one day, I had an idea. I asked him to do a compilation with me to showcase our beats with upcoming artists, rhymes or vocals. The first one to sign up for the idea was a cat who Cynergy had already worked with before. One of the greatest lyricists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with: Cy Yung. From there we found more and more people to work with on the compilation. We would call the compilation Foreign Currency after the fact that he was from Toronto and I was from Chicago and the fact that we were both broke and struggling. After FC was finished, with the exception of 4 or 5 artist on the compilation, we had asked the participants if they wanted to join up and start a force for good music. We wanted to hit people like the Native Tongues and just bring back quality music in tremendous quantity. 3 years later, here we are: Cynergy, Cyrano (Cy Yung), S.H.Y., Izzy, R.O.E., Oscah, and myself. All but 3 of the faces have changed but the team is as strong as ever and now we’re starting to make noise.

khal: What made you guys want to start your own blog? How do you see the role of Hip-Hop Blogs in the game as a whole – are they a gift or a curse?

J. Slikk: We wanted to have a place to put all our projects, news, and sneak previews of things yet to come. You can’t squeeze all that on a MySpace Music page, so Cy cooked up a blog where we could all go and put up various things and keep the people posted on what we’re working on. It’s a gift in a sense that we’re keeping the public informed, and the fact that the few fans we have can check us out, give us feedback, and spread the word at the same time without having to go through add me’s, message me’s, comments, and all that craziness. The blog is less about the individual and more about the collective. The only way I can think of it as being a curse is just the fact of time. I, for one, go to school, come home from school, go to Best Buy to make a living for a few hours, and spend quality time with my lady. In the little free time I have, I got to make the most of and get whatever music I need to complete done for the day. I never have too much time for the “blogging” unless I check my email or MySpace or whatever for a few minutes a day.

khal: How do you guys work – are you tailor making beats for people, or do you all create and write on the spot?

J. Slikk: It’s a little half and half. Half the time, I do a beat, send it off and wait for a finished product. The other half, I do a beat right then and there, someone writes to it, then we record. In a lot of cases, I do beats based on the personality and style of the artist. I’ve not only done Hip-Hop, but R&B, Soul and even some Pop in the past. It’s all about molding a beat that possesses your sound to the artist. Once you do that, you let the artist work however the situation sees fit.

khal: In speaking with you, I know you have a serious batch of projects coming, both from yourself and the crew as a whole. The R.O.E. mixtape is out, as well as Oscah’s album – what’s next?

J. Slikk: Man oh man it’s a lot! Let’s see how good the old 23 year old memory is! I got three major projects I’m working on right now. After 2 Foreign Currencies, and 2 mixtapes, I’m finally doing my first solo compilation called Flavor Spectrum. So far I’ve got all the beats done, 3 or 4 full tracks are complete, with at least ten more on the way. A single will be picked and out in the next month or so. I’ve also got Cy’s album, A Tribute To Rosie Perez. It’s a throwback and tribute to classic hip hop albums. The major influences for the album are albums like Mecca And The Soul Brother, Midnight Marauders, Little Brother’s The Listening, and a couple more. From there we start R.O.E.’s album. As you know, it’s already gotten off with a bang with his song “Can’t Help Myself” and we hope to build on that. We’re also going to get started on S.H.Y.’s album soon. He’s already got a few done with Cynergy and myself. I did “Great Day” on his album and there’s a few more to come. I just did 3 tracks off of Oscah’s album. including the first single “Lose You 2 Love You”. With a bunch of other side projects and hopes and aspirations of landing on a bigger name project, it’s going to be a busy but productive year.

khal: Are there any MCs or artists that you would like to get down with?

J. Slikk: I’d love the opportunity to work with a lot of people. People like Common, Talib Kweli, Jean Grae, Mos Def, Slum Village, Pharrell, Kanye, Jay-Z, ATCQ, De La Soul, Darien Brockington, Little Brother (group or solo’s), L.E.G.A.C.Y., Latoiya Williams, John Legend, Pharoahe Monch, MF Doom and many more. Just about anybody who’ll give the kid a shot really.

khal: What are some of your favorite beats – both things you produced and stuff from other producers?

J. Slikk: Some of my all time favorites would have to be… Pete and CL’s “T.R.O.Y.”, “Lots Of Lovin’”, “Soul Brother #1”, pretty much the rest of the Mecca album, Public Enemy’s “Shut ‘Em Down (Remix)”, House of Pain’s “Jump Around (Remix)”, a lot of Primo and Gangstarr, Tribe’s first two albums were full of amazing sounds, as was Little Brother’s The Listening. There’s so many from other people, I can’t really name them in one sitting. As far as mine, I’d probably say R.O.E.’s “Cant Help Myself” is my all time favorite. I’m loving a lot of the newer stuff I’ve done. In years past, I’d say Kas’ “The Theory” was one of my fav’s. R.O.E.’s “Sweet Love” from his mixtape before last. Etmet’s “No Better Love” and “Somebody Else” as well, just to name a few.

khal: I also know that you used to hop on the mic and get busy! Do you ever have any plans to release tracks that you’ve rhymed on? Do you think something like that would lump you into the pocket of rapping producers (Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Madlib, etc.)?

J. Slikk: I actually released an album of my rhymes when I was 16. I didn’t do any of the beats, though. People liked it - naturally I hated it, so it hasn’t seen light of day since. I may drop an album again, but at this point, I’m trying to get my beats out there, so it’s not likely. Early on, I was compared to Kanye in the sense that I was sampling records for beats and being an emcee as well, I didn’t have a problem with it to be honest. It’s actually a good thing to be versatile in that sense.

khal: Where do you see the music industry going in the next, say, 10 years?

J. Slikk: I can’t really say where it will go, more so where I hope it goes. I hope it just gets better. More classic sounds, less watered down sounds. No matter what part of the world you come from, there was always a better sound that came before you for the most part. People should recognize that and take advantage. It’s not always a good thing to be innovative, especially when that innovation leads to taking away from something that was already done very well to begin with. You don’t have to be a carbon copy, just put your own touch to things. Better music on a more consistent basis is the best thing we can possibly hope for in the next 10 years.

khal: Where would you like to see yourself in the game? Do you have plans to be signed to bigger labels, or running your own label in the “big leagues”?

J. Slikk: Well, for the last two years I’ve been shopping beats to bigger name artists. I’ve sat and talked face to face with a handful of them… corresponded through the proper channels with the rest of them. I’ve gotten close to closing deals a many times, but to my luck, no deals have been reached. I keep doing it with optimism though. Somebody will call at some point. After all, there is no promise in this business. Just hustle. Out side of that, I plan to keep advancing my crew in any way I can hoping if I cant get through the door, one of them can.

khal: What do you do outside of music?

J. Slikk: Let’s see… nothing really. I go to school (working on two degrees), I work after school, spend time with my lovely lady after that, and that’s it. I was a popular guy in high school, but pretty much haven’t had a lot of friends since. But I’m not going to get into the many reasons why at the moment. Other than that, everything else I do pretty much revolves around music.

khal: Do you have any tips for cats who might be in your position?

J. Slikk: Yeah... Work hard, have fun, and STAY PATIENT! Everything will come in due time, as long as you pay those dues. I’ve been working hard at this for a good part of this decade, but the window’s definitely still wide open. I’m in a position where 4 people I went to high school and college with are entering professional sports league drafts ranging from last year to next, one actress has gotten several big roles in Hollywood, two fashion models have gone big time, one family member and a handful of my musical peers have gotten their big breaks already… all this before me. Yes, it drives me crazy to think about all the success others I know have had before me when I feel I should have gotten at least one break by now, but I know that if I’m patient, my time is coming. Keep plugging at it. You just have to be at the right place at the right time.

khal: Do you have any shout outs or final thoughts?

J. Slikk: Yessir, Oscah’s Reinventing The SoulStar is out right now, go get it! Flavor Spectrum will be out this summer, Cy Yung’s A Tribute to Rosie Perez, will be out this summer, S.H.Y.’s Risky Business will be out this summer, R.O.E.… well, you get my point. I’d shout out any and all fans. Thank you for your support. We wouldn’t be where we are (if you can consider us being anywhere) without your ears. Keep listening and spreading the word. WE WILL NOT DISAPPOINT! The family and friends who’ve shown their undying love and support: I appreciate and love you all very much. For the family and friends who turned their heads the other way and focused on other things and basically insinuated things others were doing weren’t near as important as what I was doing. You all know who you are. No hard feelings. Just know that anybody can dream. It takes a strong person to aim higher and make that dream a reality in the face of people who don’t take other’s dreams seriously. With that said, thank rock the dub for the opportunities for exposure. Stay tuned, ‘cause B.P.A. is coming!

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