To celebrate Black Music Month, iOne Digital is going underneath the hood to explore American music through the lens of Black creators with AMERICAN SOUNDS.
This short docuseries will celebrate a bevy of Black musical pioneers and their tireless journey to create some of the most iconic songs in Black culture. We’ll also explore the unique creative process that each artist developed to make the distinct sound that helped them soar to fame and connect with millions of fans worldwide.
Today, we kick off AMERICAN SOUNDS with producer, songwriter, and jack of all trades, Just Blaze. The New Jersey-bred star skyrocketed to fame after he became an integral part of JAY-Z’s iconic label Roc-A-Fella Records in the early 2000s. Just Blaze, real name Justin Smith, put his signature hard-knocking drums and soulful samples on JAY-Z classics like “Public Service Announcement,” “Girls, Girls, Girls, “and “Dear Summer,” anthems that still make hip-hop fans bob their heads today.
JAY-Z and the rise of Roc-A-Fella-Records
Although his reign with Roc-A-Fella lasted a short time, Blaze knew that his contribution to the label would go down in history. “We knew that what we had was special, but we couldn’t have predicted the longevity of so many crews,” the multi-hyphenate said. “There was so much music in that short amount of time. And that was really because we had so many great creative minds under one roof. It was a lot of sleepless nights. Like I always tell people, these bags under my eyes are permanent.”
Music flows through the iconic producer by way of his extraordinary family.
His dad played multiple instruments as a child, and his mother was a professional singer. Growing up in a musically talented household, Just Blaze always had his ear tapped into great music. “I was just very much immersed in it.”
The award-winning hitmaker started his production journey with a RadioShack mixer, “the one without the fader.” It didn’t take him long to build an undeniable sound that would quickly captivate audiences.
“I was able to take one of the boom boxes my aunt had given me and take one of my mom’s old turntables that she wasn’t using, another tape deck that I had in one of my dad’s Casio keyboards and put them all together. ”
Just Blaze’s first track was a mashup of the Jungle Brothers’ “I’ll House You” and Maurice Joshua’s “This is Acid.”
“On the Jungle Brothers record, there was an acapella, just the rhyme, no drums, and Maurice’s record was right around the same tempo. Maybe the exact same.” Blaze placed the Jungle Brothers’ vocals over Joshua’s iconic house track, and the rest was history.
Now, the iconic producer continues injecting that same sense of exploration and creativity into all the music he creates.
“I just have an energy, whatever energy I’m trying to put across within the record, whether it’s supposed to make you angry or aggressive, celebratory or very somber… whatever I’m trying to channel, I do my best to provide it to the degree where people are gonna have to be adjusted because there’s so much detail. I would say energy and detail was really my signature thing,” the producer added.
Hear more about Just Blaze’s incredible story on the first episode of AMERICAN SOUNDS above.
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