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article imageJust Blaze discusses executive producing an album Special

By Layne Weiss     Feb 13, 2014 in Entertainment
New York - Recently, I spoke with Just Blaze, one of the hottest producers in the hip-hop game, about what it takes to make an album.
"A lot of people interchange the term 'producer' with 'beat maker,' As a producer, your job is to do a vision and a finished product," Blaze said.
"So when Puff or Diddy or whatever you wanna call him, came to prominence, his role was a producer. He wasn't sitting there making beats," Blaze explained. "He had a style of beat makers that he brought together called the Hitmen, and he directed that ship. He was the one who knew to put Chucky Thompson together with Stevie J or Nasheim Myrick, or a combination of these musicians and programmers and beat makers to work in tandem to bring his vision to life."
Blaze explained that as a producer, your job is to do that the entire project; bring the artist's vision to life. "There's various degrees of organization that you're responsible for in terms of keeping things in line and keeping things efficient and within the budget and also helping the artist realize their vision or help them put together a vision for that album and deliver that album," he said.
"Being an executive producer doesn’t mean that you’re making every beat on the album. It’s more about making sure the Ts are crossed. The Is are dotted, the record’s mixed properly, the mastering is right. And bringing the best performance out of the artist as you can, by any means necessary."
Blaze is currently executive producing the upcoming Slaughterhouse album, Glasshouse.
I’m executive producing the Slaughterhouse album right now and my thing with that album is that I didn’t want it to be…the four of them are all amazing lyricists, but I didn’t want it to just be an album full of them trying to out rap each other," the legendary producer said. "I wanted them to actually be together during a majority of the process of the album as a group and just make things a little bit more rounded."
"We all know you guys can rap," he added, referring to the group which includes Joe Budden, Crooked I, Joell Ortiz, and Royce Da 5'9.“But now you need to get past the rap phase and get into the song phase. And make sure that all these songs make sense together. That was my objective; making it an album of songs, not just raps or beats. In this day and age that’s not that hard to deliver. The challenge is delivering a cohesive product from start to finish.”
Blaze spoke of his close relationship with Shady Records and how he plans to work in tandem to bring the album to life.
“With the Slaughterhouse project, it will definitely be hands-on, but it’s obviously a Shady Records affair,” Blaze explained. “Shady’s like family to me, so it’s up to me to just look at the product, and from there, it’s on Shady to actually sell it."
Executive producing an album definitely isn't easy and it isn't always glamorous. You definitely need patience and you "have to understand the human psyche," Blaze said. "You want to bring the best out of the artist, but you also have to deliver criticism that doesn't offend them."
Blaze went on to say that music is a "very personal thing" so you have to find a way to offer criticism that doesn't offend the artist. Creative people think, feel, and act differently, so you have to understand creative psychology, Blaze explained. "You have to understand the psyche of a creative person and know how to criticize them while bringing the best out of them."
Blaze reflected on some of his own experiences. From a musical standpoint, he's most proud of Saigon's The Greatest Story Never Told. He is very proud of the way the songs "flow into each other" and the way "it tells a very strong narrative," he said. "We didn't initially plan it that way, but I found a way to make it one of those albums that to really understand it, you have to listen to it from start to finish."
From a political standpoint, there were some issues with The Greatest Story Never Told. Atlantic Records had signed Saigon thinking they were getting an artist like 50 Cent because Saigon was very "street." But he "also had a strong conscious message in his music," Blaze said. The record label didn't really understand the project and the public believed that Saigon was signed to Just Blaze. At a certain point, the perception was that Blaze was "holding up the project," but it wasn't him. There were "internal difficulties with the label." He was hired to be an executive producer, and he did his job."The label just didn't know what to do with it."
That's one of the risks of being an executive producer. Sometimes you get blamed for things that really aren't your fault. You become the fall guy. But Blaze has no regrets.
"Every experience is different. Every project is different," he told me adding that each project will have its share of "positives and negatives."
Blaze looks at each of his experiences, both good and bad, as a learning experience. Everyday he's learning some new in terms of dealing with people or artists or whomever. There may be some negatives, but there are also a "ton of positives," he said. There may be some disappointments, but the key is to learn how to deal those disappointments and "do better next time."
For anyone interested in becoming a producer, Blaze advises you become a DJ first for multiple reasons. One of the major ones is that it will strengthen your understanding of song structure and how to count beats and bars. On a deeper level, being a really "good DJ' will allow you to "move people through music," he tells me. A really good DJ understands how to take people on a "journey" through music. Being a DJ for most of his life, Blaze knows how to help make an album that will take listeners on a journey. He knows how to set up the "high points" and "low points" of an album.
I asked Blaze if he felt all artists should hire an EP to help their put together projects; bring their vision to life, and he said it really depends on their level of experience and intelligence.
"There are plenty of artists who are their own executive producers," he told me citing JayZ as an example. "He [JayZ] knows what he wants his final product to be. He knows what demographic he's targeting. He knows what sounds he needs to cultivate to target that demographic. He's done this enough times where he knows where to get that sound, but he didn't always. That's stuff that comes from experience." Not every artist has the level of experience and intelligence that JayZ does.
In order for an artist to executive produce their own album, he or she must know how to "channel their vision," Blaze tells me. "They may know what their vision is, but they may not know how to get there. You have some artists who are capable of getting there and you have some who aren't."
Just Blaze has been producing for 15 years, which is basically unheard of in the music business.
"I’m thankful to still be doing what I’m doing you know 15 years in...If you know rap, most music in general, most producers get two or three years to have to run and you’re out of there. And as time goes on and as technology becomes more accessible, and the tools that we use to make music become more accessible, the cycle gets shorter every year. So for me to still be here 15 years in, it's a blessing. Because I've done good business and made good music and made good decisions, 15 years later, I'm still here and I'm still relevant in this business."
As fans, we listen to the final product. We don't understand the hard work behind making an album. I truly gained so much insight from this interview.
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