J Hart, French DJ and Producer Extraordinaire:
An Interview with AWKWORD
I met the DJ, producer and journalist born Johnatan Hart in 2013 at Penn Station in New York City. Then, in his first year in the U.S., he was interviewing me about my music and activism for his Big Bang Show video interview series. In 2015, J featured me on his critically acclaimed DJBooth-sponsored Passport EP, a project fittingly titled due to the massive amount of traveling he has done to make real his dreams of becoming a noteworthy contributor in this rap game. From France to NYC, from Great Britain to mainland Europe, from Japan to Australia, the young talent has been hustling worldwide, making connections with major players. Today, I return the favor, interviewing him about his aspirations, his album, his travels, and his future plans. As the late, great Praverb would appreciate, I believe J Hart's story can inspire other up-and-coming independent artists. You tell me.
1. Birth Place:
3. Political Ideology:
4. Father's/Mother's Profession(s):
5. Childhood Memory:
Music, bullsh*t and sports
6. Favorite Rapper:
7. Favorite Producer:
8. Favorite Food at 3 AM:
9. Quote to Live By:
Do the right thing
10. Actor to Play You in a Movie:
It would be a TV show, titled Hart to Hart
Yes, I did. First, I wanted to show the world that I'm a music producer, in addition to a DJ, because most people knew me ad a DJ, or for my Big Bang Show interviews. On top of that, doing an album in NYC with rappers from NYC was always on my mind since I was 15 years old. So, making The Passport EP at this moment was obvious to me.
2. So was that your reason for coming to New York? How did the move to the UK come about? And how does your wife handle all the moving around?
5. Wow, crazy. How is pops today? Did/Does that help motivate you? What else motivates you to take the risk that is investing in yourself; in a career in music? And when in NYC did you think: wait, maybe this is going to work? Was there one interview, one beat placement or one connection that really convinced you that you were on the right path?
8. How did you guys meet? And, why, with such different backgrounds, do you think you connected so strongly? What did you talk about most often? And what's the craziest, funniest or most heart-warming story you have of Sean?
My reason for coming to New York was music. I wanted to learn in the Mecca of Hip Hop, get a new experience, and know a new way of work and life. I learned and am still learning a lot. The USA and Europe are very different. I try to keep the best of both worlds.
The UK move was because of family. London was the best option. It's only six hours by plane to NYC and has good opportunities as well.
Thank God my wife is good with my life, even if it's not always easy. You know music ain't peaceful work.3. I certainly do. We owe a lot to our wives, for sure. What was it like growing up in France? What was your childhood like? How did you get into Hip Hop, and decide you wanted to become a participant in -- and not just an observer of -- the culture?
I grew up in Viry-Chatillon, a suburb of Paris. It's like living in East New York, to compare. In France, the suburbs are where the 'hoods' are located, in contrast to the US. My childhood was cool. I was into sports, music, and chilling with friends. I was not very about school, unfortunately, even if I had good results.
I started to listen to Hip Hop when I was 13 years old. It started with French Hip Hop: La Cliqua, and Expression Direkt. Then a friend played me Wu Tang's 36 Chambers, and it was a wrap.
I first wanted to be a DJ after watching the movie La Haine. There is a scene with DJ Cut Killer scratching from his crib window for all the projects of a Paris hood. When I saw that I told myself, I am going to do this. I looked for a plug, and a friend put me in contact with a local DJ, DJ Shaft, who learned me how to blend and scratch. We became friends and practiced a lot together. And little by little, I did my stuff.4. What was your first big break, so to speak? When did it go from hobby to profession? Describe the moment, and then explain how that led to the Big Bang Show, DJing events, producing music, and becoming affiliated with Cyclones Mag.
Moving to New York was really the big break. I left everything, and I had no option but doing music. It was not easy. My first six months were maybe the most difficult in my life. I was starting from scratch in NYC, where the competition is crazy, learning a new culture and, on top of that, I left my family at a time when my daddy was doing chemo for cancer. I used all this frustration to work even better and harder.
I never really saw music as a hobby or a profession. It's something I live for.
Thank God my pops is doing good now -- and, yeah, it helps motivate me to stay focused. And my fam and supporters who push me, get my projects, send me messages, tweets, comments, etc., motivate me a lot, as well. That's my fuel.
I've always known I could do something with music, though sometimes I had (and still have) doubt. But since I dropped The Passport EP, I've been even more convinced that I have to keep pushing, because this is my thing. The feedback has been amazing from all over the world. I did not expect that Peter Rosenberg from Hot 97 would premiere my lead single "Barzini" with Sean Price (RIP) and Rim P; that I would perform at Jazzy Sport Tokyo or Boney Lounge in Melbourne; or that I would get messages from Malaysians saying they're rocking the EP on their radio shows.
6. I dig it. You're such a humble, good dude, which makes your success easy to celebrate -- and (sure, I'm biased, because I'm on it, but) I love the album. It's a top-three-of-2015 for me, easily. Actually, just today, I was playing the CD you sent me over and over in the whip with the wife and kids. So, how did you decide who would be on each song?
Thanks man. The fact that you can listen to my EP with your kids is something I really appreciate and wanted. That's very important to me: to make music that makes sense -- something you can listen to with your kids or your parents. Even if there are 'street' songs on the album, it's street poetry, you know what I mean?
My first criteria is to make songs with artists with great lyrics. My second criteria is that I needed to have good feelings with the artists to work with them. So, I chose artists who I already knew; or I went to meet them directly to check how they are in real life... And, well, they they'll learn this for the first time from this interview too. (laughing)7. Which feature were you most excited or surprised to land?
Definitely the one with Sean Price and Rim P. But, unfortunately, Sean died before The Passport EP was released. My heart broke when I heard the news that he passed away. I love him a lot. Please, if you're reading this interview and if you can, make a donation to help Sean's family.
I met Sean P in NYC, randomly. I came at him, we talked briefly, and I asked if he wanted to do an interview for the Big Bang Show. He had me as a guest at his house, and we did that famous interview in his kitchen. We had a good feeling doing this interview. I can't explain why. But after we stopped recording, we talked for hours more. And since that time we stayed in touch. We talked about music and Islam for the most part... When I sent him the "Barzini" video to review, he wrote to me: "It's dope. I don't want to wait to drop it. I'm a leak it now." When I read this message, I called him right away to stop him. He was with Rim, who's also in the video, and they were laughing crazy, because they were pranking me. (laughing)
9. That makes me so happy and so sad all at the same time. Man, I had a blast shooting the "Bars & Hooks" video with P. So, was there anyone you really wanted for the album who didn't work out?
I feel you... And, no. I'm lucky to have had everything I wanted on The Passport EP.
10. That's great. Were you in the studio for any of the recordings? If so, what were they like? Any funny or inspiring stories?
Yeah, I was, for the most part. I talked a lot with the artists and shared visions to make my music. It's very important to me to create a vibe with the artist for the song. And I prefer to be in the studio, creating something from nothing with the artists.
11. Any songs finished but left on the chopping block?
Nope. Every song I did for the album ended up on the album.
12. Simple and clean. OK, switching it up, since you are a triple threat, at least. Who is the most interesting/exciting person you've interviewed? Why?
Sean Price and Brother Ali -- Sean for the reasons I explained; and Brother Ali because we talked deeply about politics and Islam, and then spent the afternoon together in Paris and went and ate some baklava... It's always really improvised, which makes these moments so special.
13. I'd love to hear Brother Ali over a J Hart beat. Who was the weirdest or toughest person to interview? And why?
Hmmm... Nobody, really, since I work for myself and choose who I interview.
14. Ahhh, the upside of going it alone... Speaking of collaborating, though, how did you hook up with Top Shelf Premium? And how did the Off Top series come about?
I hooked up with Top Shelf through a friend who works for Cross Colours. She told me to reach out to Top Shelf because she felt we were on the same vibe and, indeed, she was right. Top Shelf is more than music to me. The Off Top freestyle series was a dream of Top Shelf. He shared his vision with me, and we worked it out with Josh on the VHS and AJ on the editing. We try to bring back that '90s Hip Hop essence with a 21st century flavor. Most recently, we've featured Termanology, Skyzoo, and Your Old Droog.
15. So fresh. How did you manage the world tour you've pulled off since releasing The Passport EP? You've been everywhere -- all over the US, Europe, Japan, Australia... Where else? What's it been like? How has the album been received? And, for selfish reasons, what have you heard around the world about the album's final track?
Traveling to promote the album was something I wanted to do because the main goal was to put my name out there as a producer, and show my skills. I chose not to invest my money into marketing or pressing vinyl. I wanted to put my money into hand-to-hand promotion. I did my release party in NYC, my home town now, then traveled to Europe, then Japan and Australia. It was really organic, and I still can't believe it.
The feedback has been amazing, man. Really crazy. I worked hard for two years. I was betting on myself, some days wondering if I was insane to work so hard for something I didn't even know if people would even enjoy or understand... I bet you know what I'm talking about.
Performing in Japan was one of my life dreams, and I'm so happy I did it. I can't wait to go back there.
And about that last song, it's in the top four: "Barzini", the SkyBlew song, HD's song, and "Love Is Better" are the most popular, as far as what I heard from performing... Thank you for your contribution, my man.16. So, so dope. But wait, where are you now? You're not in NYC, ducking out on me, are you? I thought you were in England...
Sorry, I am now based in London. But I do go back and forth to NYC. At this time, Passport is a way of life. (laughing)
Nothing crazy happened during my travels. I just met a lot of great people, and a couple of *ssholes, of course... My favorite places to visit, so far, have been Paris, Tokyo, NYC, LA, and Oman, in the Middle East.18. What is it about these places? And what makes an *sshole an *sshole?
NYC, because of the energy of the city. It's something unique. Everything moves fast and forward. I love it. Tokyo, because everything is different. They have good food and people are so nice. Oman, because of the landscape, the good weather, the beaches, and the amazing people and food. It's a must-see, especially the desert. I believe in God, and the desert is where you feel God so well.
And, *ssholes, most of the time, are people who feel themselves too much. I don't have to explain. I prefer to talk about good people.19. Word. What does it mean to be a part of the forthcoming global posse cut I'm executive producing, repping France amongst the USA, Jamaica, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi?
It means a lot, man. Hip Hop is universal. It means I'm doing good enough to rep my country on a global record. It's an honor.20. That's what's up! Song's coming very soon... In the future, with whom would you love to work, musically? Interview? Feature on Off Top? And, what is next for the great (but ever-humble) J Hart?
My main goal would be to make a song with Nas. For an interview, I would say Mike Tyson. For Off Top, we have a big surprise coming, so just stay tuned to Top Shelf Premium on social media. For my next move, I can't say yet. But what I can say is that my next video -- for my song "So Many" with HD Been Dope off The Passport EP -- will drop in early 2016.