DJ John Blaze Talks SB 1070, Public Enemy, Capone-N-Noreaga, Local Hip-hop, and More
Besides pissing off big-name recording artists and motivating them to boycott Arizona, last month's passage of SB 1070 became an absolute call to arms for those in the local music scene. And one of the first artists to answer the call was DJ John Blaze.
Along with P-Town hip-hop siren Queen YoNasDa, the outspoken mixmaster and producer helped organize the creation of "Back 2 AZ (Anti 1070)," a fierce eight-minute "fuck you" to Governor Jan Brewer, state senator Russell Pearce, and anyone else behind the passage of the "papers please" law. It features a slew of local rappers and other wordsmiths (including Tajji Sharp, Atllas, Yung Face, Mr. Miranda, and Ocean) and -- fittingly enough -- samples the same backing beat as Public Enemy's 1991 track "By The Time I Get To Arizona."
Blaze not only contributed the song to our recently released protest compilation A Line In The Sand (click here to purchase a copy) but also took time out of his busy schedule to participate in this week's DJ Dossier.
Name: John Blaze
AKA: The Talk of the Town
How did you I got started as a DJ: I've loved all kind of music, but I wasn't to get to it until a certain point in my life. I played basketball a lot growing up, so that was kind of my number one thing. But once I got to the end of that I picked up the music thing, I knew I had a passion for music and I loved hip-hop and kind of just went from there.
Current club nights: I've been a resident at PHX Nightclub in the past, I've done nights at Club Rain, and I'm gonna be doing some nights at Suede in July. But for the most part I'm doing a lot of guest appearances right now.
Genres spun: Mostly just hip-hop, R&B, and Top 40. I like to include everything, depending on the crowd, which really is what I base everything off of. But for the most part it's hip-hop. I like doing the classic stuff, but -- like I said -- it just depends on the crowd.
Best experience as a DJ: I DJ for Arizona artist Queen YoNasDa and she tours a lot with Wu-Tang Clan and others. And this past winter we did a tour with Raekwon, which also featured Capone-N-Noreaga, and we did West Coast dates through the Midwest and all the way to the East Coast. That was a pretty cool experience because it's not just a club thing. I don't consider myself just a club DJ. I do the clubs, I do the mixtapes, and I perform onstage with artists. That might be the coolest, to be in a new city every night and to be places I've never been before.
What's your opinion of the Phoenix hip-hop scene? There's a lot of talent and it's just kinda like a ticking bomb waiting to blow up. I work a lot with the local artists and I see talent all over the place, and it just amazes me how some of these artists aren't known more than they are.
What would you do to change it? I'm doing my part as a DJ in making the hip-hop scene (or just the music scene in general) in Phoenix more than what it is by working with these artists, putting these projects together, and making them shine more than they would on their own. A lot of DJs here don't take the time to work with the local artists. Hip-hop has always been DJs breaking the records of new artist, and that doesn't happen here. There's maybe a couple that might work with underground or local artists, but for the most part there isn't many. I like to bring people together in my projects. The whole 1070 song kinda represents what I do.
How so? I had a vision of what needed to be said and how it needed to be done. And we brought in artists that didn't even know each other. There were artists on there that didn't even know that the other artist rapped or did music. It was kind of cool because I just sat back and watched, when we recorded the video, all these artists meeting each other. One thing that I've always said is that Arizona hip-hop is not gonna go anywhere until people start backing and supporting each other.
How did the idea for "Back 2 AZ" originate? Around the time the law was passed, I was really upset and wanted to express myself but didn't know how, because as a DJ I can't just go make a song. So I'm thinking, "Do I make a mixtape or something?" Queen YoNasDa calls me and we're talking about the law. And she asked if I remembered old Public Enemy joint "By The Time I get to Arizona"? She told me, "I wanna redo it." I was like, "Say no more." So I went back and dug in the crates, found the old joint, redid the beat from the original sample, looped it, and it just spiraled into what it came out to be.
How did you and her recruit all the hip-hop artists involved? Queen YoNasDa put out a tweet to local artists that said, 'We're gonna do this...lemme know what y'all think." In the meantime I talked to the Latino artists that I knew, because I thought it'd be cool to have them participate. And in doing that, one of the artists who got involved called me and said, 'Blaze, listen to what I'm listening too.' And he played the same song and said 'I'm gonna redo that old Public Enemy joint.' I was line , 'Yo, we're already in the middle of doing it. Get on it with us, we're gonna do it up big.' It was crazy how it all happened.
How long did it take to produce? That was a Thursday evening. We had contacted all the artists that night, so I hurried and made the beats, something for everyone to rap too. That night I e-mailed it out and told people we needed things done that weekend because timing is everything. If we didn't do it, someone would eventually beat us to it. Getting 12 people to record their vocals, master it, and send it back to me was a project in itself. But everybody laid down their vocals and I had all the verses in place by late Sunday night.
Meanwhile, plans were in place to shoot the video the following day. All day Monday, all the same artists who recorded made an appearance to shoot their scenes for the video, which went up by the following Thursday. So literally in only one week, we had both the video and the song up on the Internet.
Are you a fan of politically oriented hip-hop? What's funny is that I've never considered myself like a revolutionary-type person. I enjoyed listening to some of the revolutionary music, like Dead Prez, Public Enemy back in the day, or occasionally some Immortal Technique or Rage Against the Machine, but I was never really heavy on that type of stuff. But with all this 1070 stuff being down in Arizona, it felt kind of natural that we needed to do something in response to all this. We had something that needed to be said. It's the first time I've ever produced anything like this before.
What sites do you use for new music? There are certain DJ sites I go to, like Digiwax. But as far as keeping up on hip-hop music, sites like Real Talk NY or AllHipHop.com.
Last album purchased: I believe it was Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3 and Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II.
Last song you downloaded: I download so much music, but I think it was "The Reserves" from for Capone-N-Noreaga's new album.
Track currently stuck in your head: Honestly, the song that's been in my head lately is that Usher one "OMG." It's just a great song.
Any other projects you got going on? I have a mixtape series I do with Arizona artists that's called One in the Chamber, and I just put out two mixtapes this past week. One with King Jay called King of Flowz, and the other one was with Tray Gutter and Young Money called Hoodstars. You can go on DatPiff and the collection of all my mixtapes are on there.
Anything else you'd like to plug: I also do a radio show every Wednesday night online that's called "Live From Central Avenue." I play all exclusive music, remixes, and I have special guests.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.