Just Blaze Shares DJ Beginnings, Most Insane Experience While Spinning
Renowned producer Just Blaze has simple advice for those wanting to follow in his footsteps: learn how to DJ.
“I always tell them to learn how to DJ first,” he tells TheDrop.fm. “That’s where I learned the concept of song structure, how rhythms work, what moves people, what doesn’t and that became a part of my production process.”
The New Jersey native caught the hip-hop bug by the time he was 6 years old, thanks to an older cousin who was fairly versed in the young but growing genre. Just recalls one weekend spent with his cousin where the teenager took two turntables from his sister and rigged them to play two records simultaneously.
“The drums [from Michael Jackson’s 'Beat It'] were basically juggling off of each other,” he recounts. “That was the first time I’d actually seen someone play two records at the same time and it was all downhill from there, or uphill depending on how you wanna look at it." Just Blaze was blown away and maybe more importantly, intrigued.
At that time during the 1980s, radio wasn’t playing much, if any, hip-hop during daytime hours, so on the weekends, young Justin eagerly popped a tape in the deck and pressed record. He intently studied sets from legendary pioneer DJs like Red Alert, Chuck Chill Out, Mr. Magic and Marley Marl. Just watched Terminator X concert tapes and paid attention to the techniques of Jam Master Jay and Jazzy Jeff. A few years later, Just was confident enough to start spinning his own sets.
At 14 years old, DJ Just was clocking hours at local nightclubs. His mother would drop him off and pick him up at night then take him to school the following morning. Two years later, Just Blaze was working regular nights at the club, spinning at high school parties and making actual mixtapes that, to his amazement, circulated through his hood in no time. “After school I would go to my great grandmother’s house because my mother used to work late,” he recalls. “One day, I was walking up my great grandmother’s steps and I heard these two cars drive by blasting my mixtape.”
“I was barely 16 at the time,” he adds. “To a kid, that’s mind-blowing. It was like, ‘I put my heart and soul into that mixtape,’ so to hear people actually playing it in their cars was just amazing.”
Through the years, his initial love for hip-hop moved from one point of expression to the next. The career of Just Blaze, the producer, exploded during the Roc-A-Fella era of the 1990s and early 2000s. Although he still does a track or two nowadays (Kendrick Lamar’s 'Compton,' Drake’s 'Lord Knows'), Just has ultimately come full circle, deejaying more than anything else.
Of all the experiences he’s had during his ongoing DJ career, Just says the most insane occurrence happened at a party in Europe. “I was deejaying a festival at a country just outside of France,” he says. “And this guy, um, as soon as I dropped Fabolous’ 'Breathe,' he set himself on fire.”
“You could tell he was waiting on that record to come on,” he continues. ”When it did, he lit a flare, and I don’t know what this guy was thinking -- lighting a flare in a crowd of 10,000 people -- but he did. And then it blew back on him and he set himself on fire. The funny thing is: the crowd was partying, they stopped to watch him, then kept going.
"I stopped the music for a second because I didn’t know what to do about this guy on fire. The security runs over there and he runs away and then they caught on fire.”
There are always memorable moments for Just Blaze when he looks back at his career. From his days of spinning records in his mother’s living room to spinning all over the world, he says he has much to be grateful for. After building a marketable brand in the industry, Just admits that now he really can kick back and allow the work to come to him. “As time went on, throughout the years, I was able to be a little more selective about things,” he states. “My name’s solidified. My finances were pretty good and I didn’t need to jump at every opportunity that came across, but I can take the ones that matter.”
Listen to Just Blaze & Baauer's 'Higher'