Just Blaze Discusses His First Beat, New Busta Rhymes and the Importance of Giving Back

"I had a signature energy. None of my beats sound the same. That's something I learned from being a DJ"
Just Blaze Discusses His First Beat, New Busta Rhymes and the Importance of Giving Back
Photo: Wendy Wei
When it comes to entry into the game, not may producers can claim a body of work as influential and commercially successful as Patterson, NJ native Justin Smith, better known as Just Blaze. For the iconic producer, an internship at the storied Cutting Room studio in New York City led to him landing major placements that spun into a run that snapped the sound of hip-hop at the turn of the century.
 
"[Ma$e] and his manager were editing something in one of the rooms," Blaze tells Exclaim! of the fateful day that changed his life. "I got off work and I put some stuff together. I played it loud and left the door cracked open, hoping they might hear me." Luckily for him, they did. "Two days later, I was in the Hit Factory with Ma$e. We did five records, and the first record I played ended up being the first single from that album."
 
The song was "I Like It" from the album The Movement, by Ma$e's ill-fated group Harlem World, which peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 200. "It was pretty good. First time out and I had a gold record within a month."
 
From there, Just landed incredibly high-profile placements, like "Girls, Girls, Girls" on JAY-Z's Blueprint LP, "Oh Boy" on Cam'ron's Come Home With Me, Joe Budden's "Pump It Up," and so (so) much more. The most interesting part was that he did it all without confirming to a signature sound, like many of his peers.
 
"I had a signature energy," he notes. "None of my beats sound the same, you know? That's something I learned from being a DJ, is being able to have great diverse sounds because we're pulling sources. We're pulling from everywhere. I'm not really worried about having a signature sound, I'm more so concerned with being consistent."
 
Now, 21 years since his first placement, he revels in the ability to give back, to help foster a new generation of game-changing producers.
 
"Nothing like this existed when I was younger," he says, sitting in the media room at the "Battle of the Beatmakers" conference in Toronto. "I'm pretty much self-taught when it comes to the technical side of things. Production wasn't as well known of an art form back then. I have the chance to give that knowledge to the next generation in a way that previous generations before me couldn't.
 
"If I could be a part of that, you know, it's great, he adds. "There's no point in hoarding the knowledge and the experience. You've got to pass it down; I'm going to continue to cultivate the culture."
 
Ultimately, he remains thankful for his longevity. "I'm fortunate that I've been doing this now 20 years. A lot of producers are lucky if they get three or four," he says with a smile. "What keeps me going is the fact that I'm always learning and I'm appreciative of the fact that I can still maintain some kind of relevance."
 
Some listeners may not even have realized that he's managed to quietly stay busy over the past year. "It's all part of the wave. The wave comes and goes in cycles. You know, you can be hot for like a year-and-a-half straight. Then go quietly." Having just completed work on T.I.'s latest LP, next up for the legendary beatsmith is work on the long- (very long) awaited return of Busta Rhymes. "We're all waiting on that one," he says with a laugh.