Johnny J I won’t forget the day I heard the news October 3, 2008. I was checking my email and I received the news from one of the many hip hop oriented sites that I subscribe to. Producer Johnny J died while in police custody of an apparent suicide. I ran and told my younger brother the news. We were both in shock and in disbelief. August 2006; after setting my friend Deejay Ra out of Toronto, Canada told me he would help me get Johnny J for an interview. I get a call from the man himself. I couldn’t believe it! I thought it must have been a prank or something. I told him you’re a multiplatinum producer calling me. He said that we got to the interview so here I’m calling. That showed me how humble he was even though he had all the accolades and was well off financially to be an arrogant guy. After digging through my plastic container of tapes of old interviews for 2 years; I was able to find it. This one of the last known interviews he did before his untimely death. Rest in Peace Johnny J. Thank You for all the great music you did through out your career.
By William Hernandez
WHO?MAG: Give the people that don’t know you a little summary of your history in the music business? Johnny J: You’re talking to the one and only Johnny J, man! It starts back way back when I was like 17 years old; like 1986. It was when I first hit the scene. On the music business thing, Candyman “Knocking Boots” was my first hit. Always involved in the hip hop game. DJing, break dancing, you name it I did all man. The history speaks for itself, I’ve been doing it ever since.
WHO?MAG: How’d you get into DJing? Johnny J: Ah man! That was the thing that was always going on during my time period. During my junior high and high school years DJing was the thing to do. I was real quick to go into music so I got involved, I started spinning some turntables and doing my thing. I was the Mexican that was known to put it down in my neighborhood. I just stuck with it, stayed involved. I got into break dancing and eventually that evolved into wanting to know about the music business and I started producing and doing my thing. It all evolved into one big thing.
WHO?MAG: Equipment-wise what did you start off with back in the days? Johnny J: Way back was the Mattel Synsonic. It was a 4 plate drum machine. That was way back in the 80’s, everybody thought that was the shit. I went on and got me one and thought I was the shit with it. It was a little toy, but it definitely did a lot for me. I did some of my first early beats in the street with that Mattel drum machine. That was it.
WHO?MAG: After that what did you use? The SP-1200? Johnny J: Yeah man! I went through all different drum machines. I went through TR Roland 808 to you name it. Yamaha had drum machines out at the time. Then I bought this SP-12 and I fell in love. At the time it didn’t have a disc drive to it. It was just a regular unit that you had to plug a separate disc drive unit to it. I just started working on that, then the [SP]-1200 came out and that was all she wrote after that. I’ve been working with the SP-1200 since like ’87, ’88. All the way to this day I still use the same drum machine everyday. I still use it.
WHO?MAG: Have you ever used the MPC? Johnny J: Nah! You know why man? Because I’ve always stayed true to what I feel has done the job for me. Whatever made my hit that’s what I stuck with. I never wanted to change up too much. I didn’t mind changing keyboards and different musical instruments, but the drum machine I kept it the same. I wasn’t into what everybody else was into. I said “If it ain’t broke don’t try and mess with it”.
WHO?MAG: How do you feel about musical technology? Johnny J: It’s made things a lot easier. As far as production in itself I still keep the musical, a lot of instrumentation in my production. Technology has made things a lot easier for us. I used to always do it on 2 inch tapes which is like 48 track machines and 2 inch tape machines which was old school. Those are dinosaurs now. It took forever to get those things running and going good. I was quick on the beat but I still got to it. The technology today has made it better and a lot easier. I don’t use it the way some people do. They want to use autotune and kind of do it the cheap way and not put the creativity into the computer like they should. They’re kind of cheating the game. Why don’t you show what you really can do? With out using too much high tech stuff to fine-tune things. I don’t really use my stuff like that. Even though I have the high technology.
WHO?MAG: Do you use musicians in the studio? Johnny J: Sometimes I do. There’s always a live bass player, guitar player. I’m a drummer myself. I play all different instruments myself, but I keep live instruments and musicians with me every single time I do music because that’s a part of me and it’s been with me since I’ve been doing music. Since I’ve been in the music industry I’ve kept like that and it’s going to stay like that till I die. That’s the way I feel about it.
WHO?MAG: When did you first meet 2pac? Johnny J: Ah man! That was like 1990, ’91. He had just finished Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson and we hit it off. I was working on an independent album with Big Syke who was part of the group Thug Life. Before Thug Life was even going down I was working [Big] Syke’s early material. 2pac heard about it and heard the music I did on Big Syke. I got introduced to him through Big Syke and the rest was history. 2pac was like “I got to meet the dude who did your beats!” Syke brought me through and it went down. We started tracking early stuff like Death around the Corner, Pour out a little liquor, and all them records.
WHO?MAG: What was your first impression of 2pac? Johnny J: It was like a marriage that was meant to be. I was blown away. It was just like something that I was waiting forever to happen because I was working on beats, working on music so much there wasn’t too many emcees or rappers at the time that could keep up with my pace. So I was like “damn! Am I finally going to meet somebody who can put the right subject matter in thought to what I was doing with this music?” Kind of meet me there 50/50. I’ll be there fifty percent on the music and somebody meet me fifty percent on the lyrics, and Pac was the one. That dream came true.
WHO?MAG: How was the vibe in the studio when you guys worked together? Johnny J: It was just energetic, spontaneous, ready to roll, right on the spot – no bullshitting. We got to play around and joke around a lot but at the same time we got work done. It wasn’t like procrastinating, all shitting around, everybody getting high and stupid. It was like do what we got to do and get this job done. That’s all it was, a consistent creative flow all day all night until the sun came up. So no matter whether everybody was having some Hennessey and whatever, we got work done! That’s what meant a lot to me about it, we were concentrating on what we needed to do. He had a lot of things on his mind and I was there to deliver music, so it all worked out.
WHO?MAG: Did you work on all 2pac’s albums? Johnny J: Not on Strictly for my Niggaz. I didn’t do that. I didn’t get with Pac till Thug Life vol. 1/Above the Rim the soundtrack to the movie. Me against the World where I did Death around the Corner and all that on down. Strictly for my Niggaz I wasn’t a part of.
WHO?MAG: How did you hook up with Big Syke? Johnny J: We had been working together since like 1987, 88, before I even met 2pac. It was a beautiful thing. I was doing underground gangsta rap for a lot of people in the hood; different bloods, different crips, different dudes that was doing everything. But once me, Syke, Pac, and all of us locked in, it was just a beautiful thing because I felt good. Finally this music is going to get across through a major entity, which was at the time Interscope. Interscope was doing their thing. It worked out man and I loved it.
WHO?MAG: You worked on Me against the Word? Johnny J: Yup. The song I did on there is called “Death Around the Corner”. Keep in mind, Thug Life vol. 1 the song that really opened the doors that introduced Johnny J and 2pac was a song called “Pour out a little Liquor”. That was like the introduction of like “Oh my God! Pac has finally met a producer he needs to get with.” This is the dude that really brings the music out. That was when our whole relationship started.
WHO?MAG: You never tried to make money off Pac? Johnny J: Before the success came and after he passed away there was no need for me to sit up there and capitalize off my man’s death. You got to remember when he was living I was a major part of history with 2pac. I made major hit records with him while he was walking this earth, so no one can sit up there and say “Johnny J ah man he just came up on Pac because Pac passed away, Johnny J is making all that paper now.” No, Johnny J was making his money and making his mark before he (2pac) passed away. Without good quality music from Johnny J there wouldn’t be no major 2pac hits anyway. I was a major part of that shit, so nobody can take that away from me. People can’t say “Pac’s lyrics is what did it.” No, it was Pac’s lyrics on top of some bomb ass Johnny J music, it was me and him together. We did it together. So that the thing about me, I don’t want to capitalize off Pac’s. He’s gone let me use that to come up and use that to capitalize off him. There is no need. I just keep his legacy and all his shit alive because it’s in me to do that and that just a part of me; and I’ll always be like that till I die.
WHO?MAG: When 2pac got out of jail and signed with Death Row how did he get in touch with you? Johnny J: When he was released I was totally thrown off guard. I didn’t really know it was him on the phone. I got a call from Syke and Syke was like “Somebody wants to talk to you”, and it’s Pac on the phone and somebody gets on the phone and says “it’s 2pac”. I was like “yeah ok” somebody’s cracking jokes, playing games. Next thing I know I’m listening to him and he’s like, “Nah man! I’m out of jail. I’m at Death Row. Let’s do this, I want to see you at the studio. Bring your beats and let’s make it happen.” Next thing you know I was there at Can Am [studios] laying down beats. The first track I made was All Eyez on Me. It was all she wrote after that.
WHO?MAG: You also worked on the Makaveli album, right? Johnny J: I did the original Makaveli material with Pac, before the Makaveli material was even released. The Makaveli album that’s out now, I have no songs on that album whatsoever. Before that, after that, and Johnny J.
WHO?MAG: You told me a few days earlier you have at least 150 unreleased songs you did with 2pac in vaults? Johnny J: Damn near 150 that we did. It has to be over 150 cuts. Over a 100 songs me and Pac definitely did together.
WHO?MAG: A lot have been released, right? Johnny J: You can see they’re already coming out. Quite a few have been released, and still more marinating in the vaults. Some have been remixed and a lot of people are not too happy with the remixes that people have done to them, which I hear that shit everyday because they’re not excited on who put their hands on it. I’m sure you know about that. There’s a lot still in the vaults, still marinating. They’re coming out slowly but surely.
WHO?MAG: How do you feel about those remixes to Pac’s work? Johnny J: I’m not too happy with the way they did remixes. When they are not my versions, when other remixers doing they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing half the time because they had no kind of relationship with him and they’re throwing anything under him just to make that quick money to get that quick check. Those are the muthafucka’s that try to make the quick money. To me personally, in my heart the way I feel, they don’t give a fuck about Pac the human being, the person. It’s just that quick royalty check, lets make that quick money so we can come up off this shit.
That’s how I look it, that’s my opinion. Who ever wants to respond to that I don’t give a fuck personally, because I’m intimately involved and I’m going to be always a part of Pac. No one can ever erase me being the producer of Tupac Shakur, so the name is always going to be right there inside the CD booklet. When you open the shit: “Produced by Johnny J”. The original production is Johnny J, so you can never erase the muthafucking legend behind the music, and that’s me. That’s how I feel, so I’m going to always be concerned about it. If they want to keep fucking records up it’s going to always come back full circle when I’m going to end up producing the muthafucka’s again or people out there – the fans – are going to say, “we love the original anyway.” It don’t matter to me either way.
WHO?MAG: How’d you feel after 2pac’s death with all those bootleg Makaveli 1, 2, 3, etc? Johnny J: Ah man! I was so fucking pissed. It was just heart breaking because that wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. It was way different patterns and different time frames of when they were supposed to be released; it financially fucked a lot of us up. A Pac is a Pac. He ain’t here to enjoy the fame or the money, but that shit fucked a lot of families up because there’s a lot of us that, we have to eat. I maintained, I still kept on surviving and doing my thing. I was doing other music regardless because it was fucked up the way they did that. It ruined a lot of shit, but it gets remixed and redone anyway. One way or the other it gets worked out. It damaged us a lot man, Millions and millions of bootlegs was spread all over and that really fucked a lot of things up. To me it was disrespectful to Pac and a way of saying, “Fuck 2pac, who gives a shit, and fuck Johnny J, and fuck the music. We don’t give a fuck, we’re going to bootleg this shit to capitalize and make this money man”. It was fucked up. I know I speak for a lot of people. It was real fucked up.
WHO?MAG: Now to the tough questions Johnny. Johnny J: Go for it.
WHO?MAG: Why do you think 2pac was killed? Johnny J: In my case, in my opinion; no idea whatsoever. All I know wrong place, wrong time. The involvement of dealing with individuals that he got into it with at that MGM shit or whatever the fuck was going on, (which I half the time I was never around to ever see the shit go on) it was just bullshit man. It was fucked up situations that he got into it with fucked up people. I was never around all that ignorant shit so I never even knew what the fuck was happening. It blew me away when I was told he was shot again on Sept. 7th. I’m like, “what, it’s got to be a fucking joke again, I know this shit can’t be real”. I’m thinking somebody is creating a prank or some shit. I don’t know, I have no fucking idea. Whatever the case may be the karma always comes back. Whatever comes back it comes back to haunt a muthafucker either way. If this person had something to do with it ,or that person, or who you think would be involved and why? Look I don’t fucking know. All I know is me and him did music. Me and him did beautiful music together.
WHO?MAG: How do you feel about the music you did with him still being played today? Johnny J: It’s an honor man. Even to this day it’s the most beautiful feeling I think I can ever feel because I feel as those it’s the first time hearing my song on the radio. It’s inspirational. It totally takes you to another level. I get that everywhere I go: I go to the shopping mall, I go to the grocery store, some kid recognizes me. Different people pull up in cars and tell me they’re bumping my songs. These are your cuts, this is Pac stuff. It’s an honor. I’m loving it. It’s the resurrection of Johnny J’s music and 2pac again, it almost as we never left the scene. We’re still here. We’re here forever. ‘Till this fucking world ends, ’till the day I go, I’m going to keep this shit living. When I leave this earth my music is going to continue to live way past Johnny J! It’s an honor to see people pull up in their cars and bumping my shit and Pac’s shit. I love that man. It’s a beautiful feeling, it’s inspirational. It keeps me going. It keeps me driving on to the next level to say let me go produce the next set of records, the next set of hits. All I can say very motivational for me.
WHO?MAG: What are you working on now? Johnny J: I’m working with this 19 year old kid named T Jay that I feel in love with who’s followed me since he was 4 years old; one of the baddest muthafuckers I’ve ever known. That’s what Clockwork [Entertainment] is working on right now, taking music to a whole different phase and level. Country Western, Alternative, you name it I do it all, not just hip hop. I do R&B, I do everything, so we got to every avenue and every level music from Reggae songs or whatever. Johnny J will be putting it down on that shit. So get ready for it when people start to see Johnny J’s face more and more, whether it be BET, MTV, or whatever network it is. It could be a Latin network. I got a lot to say, a lot to reveal, a lot to let out. I’m going to let it be known where I’m taking this music shit today.
WHO?MAG: I heard a 2pac tribute song you did with Napoleon of the Outlawz? Johnny J: That’s a song called Never Forget that we did which is a tribute to 2pac that I kept out and I kept that going, me and Napoleon. That we did from our hearts to 2pac. We kept that one winning. That one is still rolling right now. On the myspace and everybody knows about it. There’s a video on youtube, everyone has seen that. I’m going to keep that one going, the rest of the material we did on Napoleon, we just put that away for the time being. When the right time comes, when we feel like releasing it, we may end up releasing it. We’ll see what happens.
WHO?MAG: You still talk to the other members of the Outlawz? Johnny J: You know I haven’t talked to them in quite some time. We’re all cool with each other and we have respect for one another but I haven’t talked to them in a while. Everybody has gone their direction. Everyone has matured. You got to remember I’m 36, I’ll be 37 Monday; August 28th is my birthday. Everybody has got into this mold that it’s a family thing. People have lives, people have kids, people have responsibilities. I’ve been like that since I’ve been married. I’ve been married with my girl since like, what it’s been 19 years man. I’ve always been a family man. I’ve always been a family oriented man. A lot of people need to understand there’s the real world out there, it’s time to grow up and get out there and handle they business. We’re all cool with each other, nobody is beefing. Nobody at war with each other; me, Outlawz, everybody is straight with each other. You got to remember that every year you get older, but doesn’t mean you have to act old, be an old ass fart and just retire and quit this music thing. I’m going to tell you now there is no retirement plan for me. Everybody it comes to the point where you can’t be on that stage rapping till you’re 45, 50 years old unless you just want to do some old school shit. That’s all good, but it comes to a point in time that some of these rappers are going to wake up and realize that if you ain’t made no muthafucking hits and you still out there trying to rap something is telling you change your game plan up. Go get behind the scenes, become more of an executive. Do something different. It’s crazy man, I’m a producer so I can stay in the back and do what I do till I’m 99 years old. I’ll be producing hip hop till hip hop doesn’t want to come out no more. (laughs) I’m going to always be part of this music scene till I’m old and gray.
WHO?MAG: You have the website? Johnny J: Yeah you have the Clockwork Entertainment/Johnny J myspace page. That’s a cool introduction for a lot of people because everybody’s been wondering where I’ve been? Where can we find Johnny J? Where is he at? He’s like hidden away somewhere; maybe him and 2pac are in Mexico or something. There was this big rumor that 2pac and I were meeting up in Cuba, hooking up and meeting in different places doing these albums. It’s funny as hell. Somebody was spreading rumors that he was in my basement or some crazy shit. He comes to my house in the middle of night to work on these songs. There’s a lot of crazy rumors out there man. It’s just a lot of legendary songs we did in the past that are ready to be out and ready to be released. I’m trying to make them powerful as I can, I can’t help it if the remixes fuck them up. Everybody can’t blame Johnny J for someone else’s choices to make on remixes. Johnny is doing his part to make the best I can to make it happen.