Norfolk based DJ / Producer J Clyde has made a name both for being outspoken in the local Hip Hop community as well as tirelessly prolific in the pursuit of crafting excellent beats and helping artists be the best they can be. He’s worked with some pretty impressive names over the years like Fat Joe and Memphis Bleek.
This Saturday he’ll be involved with the MTS Beat Clinic inside the Slover Memorial Library in downtown Norfolk alongside DJ L.E.S, No Malice, super producers’ Nottz Raw and Bink, and more from 1pm to 5pm.
Special thanks to the sponsor of this post, Norfolk Public Library!
We pulled up for a quick chat about where he’s coming from and what he hopes to accomplish with this event.
AltDaily: Tell me about the Beat Clinic?
J Clyde: It’s from one to five at the Slover Library in downtown Norfolk. Ah.. Okay.. So I’m pretty good at what I do — but the guys that are featured are just out of this world. I’m on this panel with legit, legendary dudes. L.E.S. He’s New York home grown but he’s lived here forever. He got his first big break — the second song on “Illmatic” by Nas. And from there he built a classic discography. Worked with Big Pun. Will Smith. He did “Welcome to Miami.” He’s a multi-platinum Grammy winning producer. We’ve got Nottz Raw. He’s a Norfolk native, one of my mentor heroes. He’s like a producer’s producer. He started out doing a ton of records for Busta Rhymes that became underground classics and just blew up from that. He’s worked with Snoop. He worked with Biggie. We’ve got Bink, who was also born here in Norfolk. He worked on Jay Z’s “The Blueprint.” He had three tracks on there. He worked with Blackstreet. Beanie Sigel. He’s a huge influence for me.
We’re gonna have the panel. We’ll have producers breaking down their process. How they make their beats. What inspires them. What it is they’re listening for. All with step by step demos. There’s going to be a deejay panel. There’s a beat contest they’re running on Instagram. There’s gonna be a graffiti wall! Food trucks. They’re giving away a beat machine. It’s going to be awesome!
How’d you get your start?
I started out.. I’ve been deejaying since I was 14/15 years old. When I got into college I was doing frat parties and the regular college thing. But I really wanted ultimately to get on the radio. There was a thing back then where guys would do live mixing on the air. Guys like Stretch & Bobbito in New York. Funkmaster Flex. Guys like that. Down here, we had The Boodah Brothers on 103 Jamz. That station is actually sponsoring this event.
One of the Brothers — Kool DJ Law, he passed away back of natural causes in 2009. It was a shock. He was just 40 years old. But he was a huge mentor for me. He was the first person who sat me down with a drum machine. Took me to his house and showed me how to work with one. The Boodah Brothers were the pillars of the local hiphop community back for that period. Big B is still around. Still doing his thing. I just ran into him about three weeks ago.
How did you get from there to here?
I realized during college that those jobs are insanely hard to get. You kind of have to be in the loop already. When one opens up there’s already someone in line for the spot. You can’t just, try out. Or know someone. So.. I gave up on that. But at the time there was this wave of great Hip Hop albums coming out. 2001. 2002. Jay Z’s “The Blueprint.” I heard that and it just made me want to do the beat thing. Tons of great stuff came out that year. And I really sat down and worked it out. You know? Deejaying was fun, but I didn’t really see a long term path there. I didn’t really like being in clubs. Half that job is being in a night club. And I wasn’t feeling it.
DJ Law used to put it out on air, “Hey. If you’re an artist and you want someone to listen to your tape, bring it to the station and I’ll hear it.” I was working with this software a friend turned me onto — Fruity Loops. And programs with ACID. So I made this big move.. Back then you had to make an investment to get the equipment to run this stuff. It wasn’t like right now where you can use any cheap computer. I convinced my Dad to let me use some of my college money to spend like, $1300 bucks on a nice rig. A sampler. This was in 2002. It was an Akai MPC 2000XL. And once I had that kind of commitment with the gear, I got in touch with DJ Law. I thought I was finally good enough to try producing someone. Sent him some beats. And he called me back. The first guy I worked with was Mic Lord. He had a pretty good local buzz going on and was making some impressive music. DJ Law passed my CD on to him. He was a tremendous artist. Oddly enough, he died young of natural causes too. But he was signed with Def Jam in the late 90s. Super accomplished. And from there things started to happen.
What’s the local scene look like now, compared to then?
There was a golden age, around here — locally. In my opinion, everything started back with Teddy Riley coming down from Harlem back in the late 80s. He was the nucleus. The big bang. From there you get Jay Z coming around. Michael Jackson recorded here. Timbaland. Missy Elliot. That got everything going around here. You got all the New York guys coming down here to kick it. Virginia Beach was like Miami back then. And much of that is still going on.
You look at the NorVa’s Marquee and you see a juxtaposition of the worst of the form with the best of the form. You’ll get a.. Just somebody terrible. And then two days later you’ll see someone like J Cole, who really makes an effort. He’s an artist. Mixes his own beats. There’s a message there. Some of what I don’t like today.. There’s a lot of flash over substance. And then from the business end of it? Units aren’t even a thing any more. It’s all about how many streams you get. It’s all streams now. Spotify. It’s funny. Cause they’ll announce an album as Platinum. But.. You know.. It’s not **really** Platinum. It’s “streaming” Platinum. You didn’t move a million units. You didn’t sell those records. And then there’s.. There’s a lot of guys today that are just about.. Sadly, it’s a lot about hype. You’ve got a whole generation now that’s just about trolling people. Saying wild stuff to get attention. Like, “I’m better than Biggie.” Or even, “I never even heard Biggie before.” (laughs) I’m not making this up. These are things I’ve actually heard. This is really happening. I’m not making it up.
What I really don’t like about right now.. It’s all a different value system right now. There’s an overvaluing of aesthetic over excellence. It used to be that everyone wanted to be the best. You wanted to be the best deejay. The best rapper. The best producer. Hip Hop was all about competition. But somewhere along the line it started being about everyone just working with each others. “Let’s all be friends.” “Everyone’s good at everything.” No one says a critical word. It’s like, everyone’s a little scared to say anything critical about anyone else’s work. And I think that hurts us.
Who do you like locally?
There’s a couple of artists that are great, locally. In my opinion. There’s a guy named Manor Slimm. He’s out of Suffolk. He’s an artist I love working with. He’s like a.. Southern version of Kool G Rap, Beanie Sigel.. Scarface all rolled into one. That’s high praise, but that’s how I see him. There’s another kid — his name is AmirDriver. He’s lyrically incredible. On a level of guys like Kendrick or J Cole. He just takes so much pride in the craft behind his rhymes. There’s a guy — Intalek. He’s the same way. And these guys have been at it for awhile. They’re putting time and effort into their music.
As a producer now? How do you get paid? Is it all front end now? You’re not trying to take a percentage on record sales these days, right? And how do you measure the success of one of your artists today?
Well.. You hope to get on a project that merits that kind of thing. Something huge that warrants me wanting to take a percentage. But yes. Largely you’re charging a fee for the production.
As far as records go.. You’re not looking for big sales numbers. Especially if it’s a regional artist. For example, I’m doing an album with a guy from Richmond, named Noah-O. He’s a Filipino rapper, been around that scene for the past six or eight years. He’s had a few buzz worthy songs. Got on MTV. Stuff like that. Sure. But he’s also one of these really dope indie artists who puts everything into his work. Time and money. He’s putting together vinyl pressings. Goes from town to town playing shows. Creating a buzz. Selling his merch. He’s putting in the work for each project. He’s putting that effort in, and last month he was on the biggest Hip Hop show in the country. And that’s gonna bring people out to his show. That’s what success is now.
What do you hope to accomplish with the Beat Clinic tomorrow?
I think we’re going to have a wide array of people. Some who have no idea what goes into making a beat, who just don’t know what’s involved with it. And then we might have some novices who want to learn some more mixed in with some veterans who have been doing it in their bedrooms for a long time but hope to learn some new stuff. It’s going to be interesting to see how everyone works together.
But at the end of the day, I’m really hoping to see a bunch of kids come out. I’m all for exchanging ideas with peers but I driven by the opportunity to show some kid.. You know.. Give them the building blocks that they’ll use to make what’s comes next.
That’s what excites me the most. A chance to shape that next generation.
For more on this event, click here, or check out the flier:
About the sponsor of this post: The Norfolk Public Library (NPL) became the first free public library in Virginia in 1904, and its collection includes classic and popular items from the late 19th century to today. NPL offers access to information, books, programs, and online resources to meet the needs of our diverse community for life-long learning. The library system consists of one main library, ten branch libraries, one anchor branch library, and the Bookmobile. All NPL library programs are free and open to the public.