Album: The Movement
Label: So So Def
Just Blaze: “I went to college at Rutgers and studied computer science. When I was in college I got the opportunity to intern at a corporate studio in New York City called The Cutting Room. Once I started interning at The Cutting Room everything changed.
“I went from this local studio in New Jersey to being in the same room as Mobb Deep, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. I got to watch a lot of classic albums get made. During that time when I was at the studio, a lot of the connections and relationships I made eventually turned into opportunities.
“I was never a good salesman. I’m not the salesman type. I was just a fly on the wall. I would soak things up and watch everyone. Most people didn’t know what I was there for. I was just fortunate to be able to watch these legendary producers LIKE WHO? work. I never got in the way but every once in a while, I’d ask a question when it was the proper time and nobody else was around.
“I was around so much good music being made because of these engineers who were kind enough to let me sit in on their sessions. When I would get off work, I would stay in the studio and work on my craft all night. Like I said, I wasn’t a salesman, so I would just leave the door cracked and hope that somebody would walk past. It paid off.
“I think people appreciated the humility aspect of it, because it got to a point where me leaving the door cracked would lead people to walk in and be like, ‘Yo, what’s that?’ They started to take notice and were like, ‘Yo, there’s this kid that works in the studio. He’s got mad beats, but you would never know it.’ People appreciated that and it made them more curious about what I was doing.
“One day, Ma$e’s management and production company happened to be at the studio and they overheard me working on stuff when they came in. They said, ‘Yo, who manages you? What is your deal?’ We started talking and they wanted to sign me.
“I wasn’t trying to sign to anybody. My thing was if I could do it for myself, I’d do it for myself. Producers like Trackmasters, Teddy Riley, and RZA—those dudes didn’t sign to anybody. What would they sign to somebody for?
“That was another thing—sometimes producers who were at the studio would get contracts faxed to them. Since I was the dude answering the phones and the fax machines I would see those contracts. Some of these dudes were signed to companies and I would see some of their deals and be like, ‘Wow, I’m definitely not signing.’
“People weren’t getting the money they should have gotten. Without getting into specifics, I saw two or three contracts where I was like, ‘Wow, he’s only getting that much money?’ Even if I had never seen those contracts, I wasn’t signing to anybody. [Seeing those contracts] only helped reinforce it.
“Also, I couldn’t trust anybody. I was brand new to this and didn’t really have the foundation or team for anything like that. So when the opportunity landed in my lap I thought, ‘I’ve been this far on my own, let’s see how far I can take it on my own.’ Twelve, thirteen years later, here we are.
“I ended up becoming good friends with one of [the guys from Ma$e’s management]. He was like, ‘You should come down and meet Ma$e at The Hit Factory on Thursday.’ I said, ‘Alright, let me know.’ So, they called me on Thursday like, ‘Yo, Ma$e is here.’”
“[My first impression of Ma$e was] he was cool. He was definitely a little cocky, but he was on top of the world at that time so the cockiness was warranted to a certain degree. He wasn’t cocky towards me. He just had cocky energy because he was selling records left and right.
“I never had any issues with him, we did probably six records, two of which made the album and one got while-labeled. I took ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and his group, Harlem World, rhymed on that. After that, it was like, ‘Whoa, who is this guy?’ Then Jay and M.O.P. ended up coming out with that as well for ‘Four Alarm Blaze.’
“I was still working at the studio for the first two years of my career. From like, 10 AM to 7 PM, I was Justin Smith, studio employee. After that, from 7 PM to 9 AM I was Just Blaze in-training. I would sleep for an hour or two and get right back to work.