Coming from the birthplace of hip hop, a lot can be expected from New York rapper. The history is rich within each borough, let alone the whole state or the entire East Coast. But Justo takes this all in his stride. His heritage enriches his output, evident on new album, Black Ops. There are some head tilts towards the 90s mafioso style and clever quips throughout. Accentuating this further are the beats of Showbiz of D.I.T.C., a 3-decade veteran but still adept on the MPC. The two marry up perfectly, from the stonking grit of The Council to the cruising vibes of title track, Black Ops.
We caught up with Justo for the premiere and discussed the album and what influences his music and his life.
Sampleface: Firstly, congratulations on the release of Black Ops. Would you say this is your best to date?
Justo: Thanks, I sincerely appreciate that. And nah, I wouldn’t say it’s my best work to date. I’m too much of a perfectionist to go out on a limb and say that. I will say it’s my most noted release with the likes of Showbiz as the producer on the project, along with Vic Black & DJ Premier helping to push it. That kinda takes it over the top in that regard.
S: Where did the inspiration for the album come from?
J: Well my OG Vic Black gets the credit for this one. He linked up with Showbiz and was able to grab enough joints off his Rare Breaks beat tape that he put out sometime ago. We were able to get some flips on the samples and turned it into, Black Ops. The inspiration was just to showcase raw, unfiltered Hip-Hop in its purest form. Period.
S: Who influences your music the most at the moment?
J: At this very moment, no one. I grew up listening to all kind of great music and unfortunately in this day and age, unless you’re searching the internet, good music can be tough to find. I’m in a place now where I’m really the only influence on how I approach my craft. I still listen to ‘90s and early 2000’s Hip-Hop for inspiration, with the occasional current artist like Kendrick or Cole, but my influences at this moment comes from me and my experiences.
S: You’re a New York native. How much have your environment, particularly Brooklyn, influenced your music?
J: My music definitely embodies Brooklyn. It embodies New York. That’s how I want and like it to be. I want people to think of Brooklyn when they hear me spit. Rappers don’t differentiate themselves by coast through their music anymore. They might rep where they’re from, but how many artists can you honestly listen to and say oh he’s from wherever, without even thinking about it. Everyone tends to sound the same. I want to be different, I want to sound like my coast, use my cities lingo and big up my Borough anytime I get the chance.
S: Black Ops has that quintessential New York gritty sound. Do you feel some of the EDM elements currently infused in mainstream hip-hop production takes away from its quality?
J: That’s a great question. I don’t think the EDM qualities take away from Hip-Hop. I actually think it’s cool. It adds a new element to the game. However, it’s way over saturated with that one sound in the industry, and that’s where the problem lies. There has to be some kind of balance or like you said, you lose the essence and quality of Hip-Hop. Let’s just balance the game out is all I’m saying.
S: What is your perception of what defines ‘Hip-Hop’?
J: Another solid question man…you’re good. lol. I’d say the definition of Hip-Hop has everything to do with originality, creativity, storytelling, and lyricism. It’s like spoken word over a beat. I think it’s changed significantly over the years due to the lack of the four elements, but I think the absence of authenticity is what’s breaking Hip-Hop down more drastically. Hip-Hop is authentic, and the more real you are, the more your listeners can relate. I feel like more Hip-Hop artists should follow that code at least to be considered under the Hip-Hop umbrella. Otherwise they should start calling it something else.
S: What’s was the biggest obstacle making the album?
J: Man, the biggest obstacle making this album was just the timing honestly. We had a few setbacks, a few not so great moments; plus figuring out how we wanted to present it to the world just combined into a tough stretch. But lo and behold, here we are, and here it is. Divine timing.
S: What are you listening to currently?
J: Right now, besides myself I’d say Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak. The west coast is really doing something special right now. I must salute them. Everything else I listen to isn’t so current lol.
S: What are your nominations for album of the year so far?
J: I think Kendrick’s DAMN LP is tough. The originality, the style, the storyline. One of my favorite records this year. Other than that I live under a rock. lol.
S: Do you have one album you always go back to?
J: As far as my own records are concerned, I always go back to this joint I did in 2010 titled, The Biggie Tape. It was a project I recorded at Jam Master Jay’s studio which at the time he called Hall of Fame Studios with producer/engineer extraordinaire Etan Yravas. His company at the time, Kaos Academy, had the idea to have me rhyme over some classic instrumentals from none other than the Notorious B.I.G. It ended up getting great feedback, and is still one of my most lyrical joints to date. Outside of my own material, my favorite go-to record for just nostalgic purposes is 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin. A lot of my high school memories are linked to that record… still a classic.
S: What are your fondest musical memories?
J: My fondest musical moments in life in general was just being a kid listening to all the different kind of music my parents would play. There was always a soundtrack playing in the background, and it ranged from Soul, to R&B, Hip-Hop to Smooth Jazz and more. There were so many different styles. It truly brought color to my imagination and environment.
S: Are there any artists in the UK that have caught your eye? What are your thoughts on UK Hip-Hop?
J: As I previously stated I live under a rock so I don’t know much about any U.K. artist off-hand. I’d love to be exposed to some though. I have worked with a few underground U.K.-based producers before though. But I def need you to put me on to some notable artists out there.
S: If you weren’t involved in music, what could you see yourself doing instead?
J: I’ve worked with kids for a while doing sports and youth counseling, so something probably dealing with youth development. It’s pretty damn important for our future.
S: Who would play you in your biopic and what would you call it?
J: Wooo this is a tough one, haha. I would have son from the movie Get Out play me…I think he’s dark enough, haha. Nah, but he seems like he would do a good job portraying me though. And the movie would be called, Ghetto Testimony: Rise of A Brooklyn Son.
S: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
J: Best piece of advice I was ever given came separately from both of my parents. My mom’s best advice is always, “Too much of anything isn’t good, you have to have a balance.” And pops always told me that, “Your gifts & abilities aren’t always enough, you also need discipline.” I try to stand by those pillars as my foundation.
S: What advice would you give to beginners starting out?
J: Best advice—don’t get comfortable. Constantly push yourself to new creative heights and never settle. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket or think there’s only one way to get on. Make your own lane if there’s no room in the one you’re currently in and last but not least, KEEP WRITING!!!
All in all, Black Ops is subtly Janusian; it looks at both the past and towards the future whilst remaining in the present. Justo is grounded but ready to keep things moving. Like he said himself, this isn’t even his best work as he’s too much of a perfectionist. If something this good isn’t his best work, lord helps us when he reaches that summit.