A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to call up rapper/producer, Jaime Meline (aka: EL-P) on the phone and speak to him from his home in Brooklyn. I was conducting an interview with EL-Producto for a print magazine and, as our conversation exceeded both the allotted time slot set aside for the interview and the maximum word count for the article, a few things became increasingly apparent. EL is a perfectionist and takes pride in every minute aspect of his work. Not only is this true as far as his own albums are concerned–they have consistently taken 5 years to be released, from one to the next–or the work that he produces for others, but there’s also a great attention to detail when it comes to his live tours and every other aspect in everything else that he’s involved with. These weren’t huge revelations; his dedication is always strikingly evident in the final product, but the passion in his voice and within every single detail of every answer was undeniable. In regards to his work ethic and throughout much of his subject matter, Meline is a very serious character. He doesn’t take his work or the necessary focus that it takes to create it lightly. However, EL is also comically cynical at times and always manages to buffer any abrasiveness with tongue-in-cheek winks and nods to his audience, letting everyone know that, while he clearly observes and relays plenty of material that could be considered tragic, conspiratorial, and/or anxiety-inducing, there’s an absurd humor to these extremes that is never lost on the Definitive Jux label founder. His first official video from his recent full-length, Cancer For Cure, displays this tongue-in-cheek view of chaos and tragedy as poignantly as anything that we’ve seen from him up until this point and, featuring a sample from the late-Camu Tao‘s “When You’re Going Down,” it also works to display another defining characteristic of Meline: his undying dedication and appreciation for the artists/friends around him. Read the rest of this entry →
EL-P (aka: Jaime “El Producto” Meline) is, arguably, one of the most important hip-hop producers of all time. I use the term “arguably” because, I’m personally willing to argue that fact, if anyone really wants to get into it. In the 90s, Meline started the highly influential rap crew Company Flow and released the doom-laden classic Funcrusher Plus (an extended version of their independently produced Funcrusher ep), the very first album ever put out by the then-upstart “underground” rap label RAWKUS Records. Eventually, EL-P told RAWKUS to eat a dick and bounced, opting to form Definitive Jux, with the intention of maintaining an artist friendly label, helping to develop the artists’ careers while making sure that they received both the credit and monetary compensation that they were owed (something that he didn’t feel was happening with RAWKUS). Using DEF JUX, EL-P went on to help make household names out of artists like AESOP ROCK and RJD2, while releasing 2 remarkable and highly innovative solo albums of his own.
A little over a year and a half ago, we posted an article which included a statement from EL-P announcing his intention to officially and indefinitely place Def Jux on hiatus. Part of his main reasoning behind the decision was to focus on becoming an artist again, because all of the time and effort put into producing albums for others and running a label was beginning to interfere with his abilities to do so effectively. The silver lining for Def Jux fans is that EL-P has been making good on that promise. Since the announcement, Company Flow has reunited to perform Funcrusher Plus in it’s entirely for ATP in London (plus, a few other select dates), Producto has released another mixtape, and even produced and/or appeared on tracks for artists like Killer Mike and Das Racist. Seeing as the rapper/producer hadn’t released a proper solo album since 2007‘s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, the main question for a lot of us was when that was gonna happen. That answer came back in August with the news that EL-P had signed to Fat Possum records for a 2012 full-length titled Cancer for Cure, and the free download of the sample track, “Drones Over Bklyn.“ Now a remix of Drones has arrived with an extremely well-known and recognizable sample; one that Meline never bothered to disguise in the slightest. What’s more is that he’s actually openly selling it -albeit for for charity (Mr. Dibbs hopital fees)- without ever getting the sample cleared and, thanks to a new service known as LEGITMIX, he may not even have to. Read the rest of this entry →
In the late 1990s, RAWKUS Records grabbed the title as one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, forces in the “underground” hip-hop movement. Co-founders/label heads, Brian Brater and Jarret Myer rounded up and signed local New York artists to form a solid roster of irrefutable talent. The label was formed in 1996, but the first couple of real releases began in 1997 with the Company Flow classic Funcrusher Plus and Soundbombing, the first of several compilations by the label. Soundbombing, itself, featured even more EL-P related material with the inclusion of one Company Flow track and 2 others which were also produced by the Rapper/Producer. This, like future Soundbombing and Lyricist Lounge compilations, helped to bring attention for other label talent and assisted in creating hype and anticipation for their individual solo efforts. Jaime “EL-P” Meline played a key role and was an undeniable factor in the success and development of RAWKUS, in general; something that he never felt that he was adequately compensated for. Although Funcrusher Plus is considered a classic by connoisseurs, neither the EL-Producto or Company Flow would ever become household names at the level of RAWKUS artists like Mos Def and Talib Kweli.
In 1999, RAWKUS entered into a distribution deal with Priority records. Arguably the most vocal opponent of his former label, EL-P told the label to go fuck themselves and struck out to form his own label, later that year. Eventually, many would follow suit, as RAWKUS would slowly, and then much more quickly, fold under itself. Whether you subscribe to the claims of shady dealings and that RAWKUS intentionally swindled their artists out of deserved compensation, believe that they tried to sign too many too fast with poor promotion, or that they were just misguided businessmen, the label, which sold their entire catalog to Interscope/Geffen in 2004, has become little more than a memory.
From his departure until now, EL-P has successfully run the NYC-based Definitive Jux, the label that would help to define “undergound” Hip-Hop for the following decade. While RAWKUS definitely released some great albums and did some great things for the genre in it’s heyday, it’s important to remember that its success relied heavily on the artists, which remained successful beyond the ruins of their former contractors. As much as I respect a good deal of the output and as much as people refer to RAWKUS as an “underground” / “indie” label, they were actually financed by Rupert Murdoch‘s son, James and News Corp. (the world’s second-largest media conglomerate, behind The Walt Disney Company), which officially purchased the label in 1998. Being an artist himself, Meline took a very different approach with DEF JUX and the development of its artists’ careers. The first release for the new label was the critically acclaimed, Cold Vein by Cannibal OX. The album made an immediate impact on the hip hop world, solidifying EL-P as a master producer and DEF JUX as a label to be taken seriously. For the follow-up, EL-Producto used his new found freedom to make the solo album that he wanted the way that he wanted. Even after his previous work with Co-Flo and various guest appearances, many still refused to give the innovator the credit that he deserved. Cold Vein eliminated any questions about his productions skills, but it wasn’t until Fantastic Damage was released that everybody else was forced to stop questioning Meline‘s abilities as a lyricist. From then on, DEF JUX continued to flourish by releasing groundbreaking albums like Dead Ringer (RJD2) and nourishing the careers of artists like Aesop Rock. In recent years, the label has even tempted established artists like Del Tha Funky Homosapien and Dizzee Razcal to release full-lengths with the label. Now, after a highly successful decade as an artist/producer/label-owner, EL-P has announced his intention to put Definitive Jux on hiatus…. more or less. Read the rest of this entry →