Interview: Jake Biz – Commercial Hell

It’s been many years in the brewing, now finally Brisbane underground hip hop legend Jake Biz’s debut album Commercial Hell is ready for the tasting. Riding off the back of his highly successful debut single, Deuce DeuceCommercial Hell dropped through Karsniogenics and Obese Records Distribution.

aahh: Your new LP Commercial Hell is out now. The album art and the title to the album both seem to be inspired by Run DMC’s album Raising Hell. Explain to us the concept behind that?
Jake Biz: The title track itself wasn’t at all inspired by Run DMC, though the overall concept certainly was. I’m an enormous Run DMC fan, as is most my crew, though me and DJ Lopsided definitely share that passion a little more than the others. I’m aware of the irony (of sorts) being that Run DMC were certainly the first rap group to really trancend the underground culture of the time and move into the mainstream with platinum albums, movies and sneaker deals. For me it’s the purity and raw energy of their 2nd, 3rd and 4th albums. Rap music exsits in it’s current form due to the exsitence of Run DMC. Pick your favorite rappers and most will inevetibly site the influence of Run, D and JMJ. We took a very back to basics approach with Commercial Hell, attempting to craft what we considered a complete record the whole Raising Hell concept seemed a natural progression. There hasn’t been too many albums come out of this country that look or sound like Commercial Hell and we’re incredibly proud of that. A massive thanks has to go out to our man Beza who took care of the entire concept flawlessly.

aahh: The whole album doesn’t fuck around, you haven’t curbed your ideas, concepts or censored yourself to appeal to certain sections of the consuming market. Would you agree with that statement and was it a  factor you considered going into the album?
Jake Biz: Absolutely, though it wasn’t entirely intentional. We approached the album honestly and we approached it being true to who we are, knowing full well that we’ll never really transcend the underground and we’re completely fine with that. Proof and I aren’t kids anymore, we’re both in our early thirties and don’t really feel as though we need to be all things to everyone, so to speak. I truly and honestly couldn’t give a fuck about the “mass appeal”. At no point did we write a hook that I thought would appeal to the radio, at no point did we do radio edits of tracks off the album and we also at no point wanted Commercial Hell marketed towards the Nova/triple j audience. The opinions and approach conveyed on the record are mine and Proof’s, and while it certainly was important to get that across it was also more than natural. We do what we do and we certainly don’t censore that.

aahh: The opening ‘Introductions Aside’ sets the tone for the album and leads perfectly into the title track Commercial Hell. In other interviews we’ve seen you’ve been quite vocal on the state of radio in Australia, particularly triple j. Would you like to tell us about that?
Jake Biz: I don’t care for the radio one bit, be it triple j, Nova, B105, Triple M or whoever. The way certain stations promote themselves as being youth oriented, uncensored and independent is bordering on farcical to me personally. I detest commercial radio for the most part and those that promote themselves towards that market, I have a firm belief in hard work and gigging to establish yourself. Commercial radio and those professing to be youth-oriented aren’t, simple and plain. They’re in my opinion little more than faceless puppets perpetuating a false ideal of what they are while pandering to their equivalents at major record labels. Turn off that bullshit! Fuck the radio and fuck those that compromise themselves in order to reach that audience. Real street-oriented rap is rarely played on the radio and neglected in favor of these more palatable, marketable, ring tone oriented individuals. Of course there’s exceptions but they’re really becoming few and far between.

aahh: Have you had any trolling from any of the artists fans who’s samples were featured in the introduction, we have heard some of them can be quite persistent?
Jake Biz: To be honest with ya I’m not even sure what trolling is. I don’t think I share fanbases with a lot of those radio rappers so I couldn’t really give a fuck about any of them, though I’m more than open and welcoming of anybody that wants to listen to me, my crew and any other influences. I don’t concern myself with too much of the bullshit, I’d be half surprised if those guys and their fans are even aware of me, I don’t really appeal to the 15-year-old female demographic. As soon as I find out exactly what “trolling” is I’ll get back to ya… Ha.

aahh: The album was produced by fellow 750 Rebel Overproof Pete aka Brookes Cullings. Was it always the plan to have Overproof produce the whole album?
Jake Biz: Absolutely, 100 percent! But the most integral part of Peter producing Commercial Hell is the fact that he’s a brother to me. I’ve known him for more than half my life. My parents used to get called up to our school for bullshit all the time and they’d be told that we had to be separated in classes because we were bad influences on one anothes. We were little shit cunts and now we make records together?! The shit’s bizarre sometimes but that’s something that means a great deal more to me than the music itself. We had bands and shit when we were 15 and Peter’s always been amazing with music, he has a natural gift. Listen to ‘The Relentless’ and ‘Deuce Deuce’ and the almost industrial like funk of ‘MC Who’ and ‘You Don’t Know Shit’, it’s symphonic and timeless without being pretentious or overstated. That’s my dude and he’s fucking incredible. Listening to ‘Gloves Off’, that beat is ridiculous then he comes in and murders me on the verses as well. Muthafuka!! Seany B who I consider one of the best producers in this country recently said to me that Peter is one of his favorite producers because he does things with records that others can’t, that’s true originality. To me, he’s re-interpretated Lazy’s boom-bap funk and quite often I think I don’t even do his production justice. Commercial Hell is our record, not just mine and that dude right there is my brother from another. We’ve done it all together, from crime to rhyme. He’s the only person that could’ve made this record.

aahh: Do you think that the dj and also the scratch has been a victim of the commercial side of hip hop and it’s followers?
Jake Biz: I think the cut chorus has to a degree but the DJ is still a fairly prominent element of most radio oriented groups, wether or not he’s well utilised is another thing though. I love good cuts, I’m a huge fan of well executed cut chorus’ and I appreciate the role of a true DJ, a person with an ear for selection and love of vinyl first and foremost. I’m a bit of a closet DJ myself, I love getting on the decks, none of this serato shit, picking records and spinning them. I’m not very good, but I love playing records when I’m given the opportunity. DJ Lopsided is my DJ and just like with Proof he’s one of my best friends in the world, on top of being an amazing character. When Lops was 13 in 1988 he told his mum he was going to stay at a friend’s place and instead got on a bus to Sydney to go watch Run DMC at The Hordern Pavillion. He slept in a bus stop over night and caught the greyhound back to Brisbane the next day. He’s an amazing dude in my eye’s and incredible friend and talent. Listen to that Edo G cut on ‘Commercial Hell’ the track, it’s fuckin amazing, a supreme balance of technique, skill and funk while complementing the track perfectly. All his cuts on the record! That’s what a true DJ should bring to the table and Lops brings it in spades. He’s also a massive character, that’s gone through a lot in his life so I respect him a whole lot on other levels as well. Ask anybody that knows him on a personal level and they’ll tell ya, Lops doesn’t give a fuck and he’ll tell ya about too. That’s my dude and I love the grumpy old cunt. Ha ha… Massive shouts to the one and only Drambuie Dan aka Long Island Lops.

aahh: It seems there was a lot of work put in to the cohesive feel of the album. Was this intentional or more a direct result of the subjects, themes or people you were dealing with on Commercial Hell?
Jake Biz: The cohesiveness of the album lies squarely in the hands of DJ Dcide and Overproof Pete. 100 percent. They deserve all the credit, Chubbs also. We spent close to three weeks finalising the track listing and playing order and how the skits would fit in. I do truly believe crafting an actual album is a thing of the past, most emcee’s idea of an album these days is making 15 possible singles and collating them with no real feeling or emotion and very little thought. Dcide did the final mixing and some post production and really made it shine in that regard, while Proof’s production made it naturally cohesive. DJ Dcide runs Karsniogenics as professionally as a Rhymesayers, Rawkus or Stones Throw. He oversees the day-to-day operations, tours, shows and finances while Chubbs has started playing a management, A and R type role and he’s doing it well. The cohesiveness is definitely something that was deliberate, it had to play right and most importantly feel like it played right. Even with the album art, it has to feel like a whole package.

aahh: The lead single Deuce Deuce dropped with a killer film clip and also was released as a limited edition 7″ vinyl pack. Was it vital to drop something on wax for this release?
Jake Biz: Absolutely! Proof and myself are both massive vinyl heads but initially we weren’t too sure on how to approach Deuce Deuce, none of us really thought that much of it as a track and we didn’t even think it’d make it onto Commercial Hell. Long story short, I sent it down to Heata from Full Clip to get his opinion on it and he flipped out over it. I’d initially sent him F.A.G.S., cos I thought that’d make a for a good clip but then he called me up about five minutes after I emailed him Deuce Deuce and we spent the next two hours on the phone plotting how we’d approach it, that was February/March 2011. They (Full Clip) came up to Brisbane a couple of months later and we shot it over a weekend, it was then up to us as to what we’d do with it. When we saw their first cut we decided to put it out as the first official single off the album. The label and really got behind putting it out on wax which can be a bit of a gamble these days, but we did quite well out of it. We pressed 300 and we only have around 30 left so we’re pretty stoked with the response. I give all the credit for Deuce Deuce to Heata, he had a vision for it and sold us all on it and it’s proven to be one of our labels more succesful tracks. If you’re a vinyl head then pressing something to wax is a must, more vinyl releases are on the cards for Karsniogenics in the not too distant future.

aahh: We have also just seen a drop for the track Flavor Of The Month feat. Lazy Grey, tell us a bit about the clip.
Jake Biz: My dude Heathen Stealberg took care of that alongside DCE and I couldn’t be more happy with the result. We had a shoestring budget for it and I reckon we came out with a really good clip. We shortlisted a few tracks we could do a “street clip” for and I chose that track more or less because Lazy’s on it. I think I’m probably the biggest fan of Lazy Grey and whats strange about that is the fact he’s one of my best friends. It’s a weird dichotomy being in complete awe of someone while also knowing him on that personal level. Lazy is hands down that dude in my opinion. The sole reason for me wanting to make that track the second clip is because I’m a fan first and foremost. I wanted to see Lazy in another clip, that’s it. He’s a mentor to me and I’m honored to know his daughter, missus, brother and family also, they’re all amazing people who’d go out of their way for anyone… But when Laze opens his mouth and rhymes words, it’s fuckin over with! I don’t think people will ever understand how daunting it is just rapping alongside him, most the time I’m just standing there in awe… Laze’s best work is still coming, he’s only getting better and more relevant with age, trust me on that one.

aahh: We hear that the album took around three and a half years to complete from start to finish, how much did the album change over that time?
Jake Biz: It didn’t change too much over the course of that time at all, Proof and myself always knew where we were going with it. Outside of ditching a few of the older tracks we stayed pretty much on target. I’m quite easily sidetracked though and that’s how the Purgatory downloads came about also, if I wasn’t with Proof I was over Dcide’s doing shit there. Purgatory 1 and 2 were the culmination of music that wasn’t for Commercial Hell that was recorded at the same time as we were recording the album, if that makes sense?! I was trying to keep the more focused material for Commercial Hell but then I’d write some shit like Getthefuckouttahere that I knew wouldn’t be on the record so we decided to do the Purgatory downloads to build a greater anticipation for the album when it finally dropped. Purgatory 1 and 2 had collectively over 3000 downloads so they did their job I reckon.

aahh: There are also some huge features on this album, Kings Konekted, Lazy Grey, Fluent Form, Bigfoot, Ken Oath, Tornts and more. You touch on this subject on the track ‘Fuck A Guest Spot’ (FAGS). What does a guest spot mean to you and how was this reflected in the artists that jumped up on Commercial Hell?
Jake Biz: I just never really understood why local dudes here would want to cash some US rapper a check for a sub-par verse or production and then attempt to sell themselves off the back of that guest appearance. It was happening all over the country a year or so ago, damn near every local release had a big sticker on the cover saying featuring such and such. Me, personally I prefer to work with my friends. I try to sell my music off the back of my own skill and merit rather than cashing some third-rate Wu affiliate a check for his lack-lustre performance. I’ve been blessed to have been given a string of noteworthy guest-spots over the last three or four years alongside a lot of my friends, that’s something I cherish and as long as I’m making music I’ll continue to put my mates on my own product. F.A.G.S. isn’t a direct attack on anyone, it’s just me taking issue with what I saw as quite the trend at that point. I think if you’re an aspiring MC in Australia you should work hard and hone your craft even if that means years and years spent in the trenches with next to no recognition. That’s all this bullshit amounts to at the end of the day anyway. Hard work, there’s really no other easier option in my opinion. The limelight is nice but fame is fleeting so why place so much importance on it. I’m kinda old-fashioned like that.

aahh: Do you have plans for any launch shows for Commercial Hell and will we see you doing a Commercial Hell tour in the near future?
Jake Biz: Absolutely, though we’re still ironing out the details and working everybody’s schedules to fit. There’s gunna be some announcements about all that real soon. I won’t say too much more at this stage.

aahh: You’ve been a huge part of the hip hop community in Brisbane for many years now, what has been some of your best hip hop related memories from your area? Jake Biz: The end of the 90’s, into the early 2000’s were a beautiful time up here in Brisbane. We were all out there doing the same thing, drinking, partying and carrying on. It was a far more simple and enjoyable time, most of us were out there just trying to get laid. Dudes like us, K-West and The Optimen, Yuinhuzami, Rainman, Balboa, Ms Brown and DCE, Ken Oath and numerous others that came and went were all on the come up, doing the thing, no ego, no nothing, just good times. At that time up here Brothers Stoney were running things, Hams had all the latest releases at Rockinghorse, you could go to a handful of clubs and rock an open-mic on any given night, bounce from club to club drinking til dawn (running into most of those dudes mentioned earlier) and wind up at some writers party in the middle of fuck-knows-where the following night. Good times! I could probably never narrow it down to one memory because I can’t even remember half of what we used to get up to. There’s definitely a handful of shows we either played or attended in those days that’ll live on in infamy though… One for the history books I reckon.

aahh: Final comments?
Jake Biz: A massive shout to all aussie Hip-Hop for the support and interview. Super shouts to the one and only Rebels Seven Fifty and the label Karsniogenics. Feel free to go cop Commercial Hell, available nationwide now! Stay tuned to all the relevant outlets for more info and coming news…

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