When you’re eleven albums deep in the game, it’d be easy to get stuck in your ways, settle into an easy formula, and let cruise control take over. Lucky for us, junclassic, keeps finding new ways to reinvent himself and continues to show growth. On Better Than Fiction Too, the sequel to Better Than Fiction, the Queens product continues exploring his identity while crafting clever punchlines and getting personal, like on the tribute “Father’s Day.” jun chops it up with us while remembering an MC near and dear to our hearts, Nut Nillz.
It’s always good to chop it up with you. Before we get into the album, Better Than Fiction Too, I wanted to talk to you about the tragic passing of Nut Nillz, who you’ve been down with for such a long time.
Oh, man, Nut Nillz was just such a dope dude. One of the illest cats and one of the hungriest MCs. One of the livest brothers that you’ll meet, straight from the streets of Brick City, Newark, New Jerz. Lived a life a lot of these rappers fabricate. You could never even imagine the reality of it but he was such a humble dude. He lived hard, man, and was such a dope MC and was so live on stage. He was just the embodiment of a live dude. If you was wack on the mic, he would let you know. He was the type to go to your show and challenge you if he didn’t feel that you were dope. He showed me and K-Sise a lot of love from the outset.
He had sent me an email when I put out a video called “Sleep Ap” from my Words are Weapons album that I dropped in 2015. He sent that in March of 2015 and he was like, “Big bro, I always rock with you and always fuck with you and I thought you were dope.” I missed him. It had been a few years since I had seen him. His passing really affected the whole squad – Manifest Destiny, Triple Deuce, Ceez and E-Mid, Funka Nite, Falo, Big Ray, the whole squad, of course K-Sise. We were all really devastated. We got up recently as a tribute to him and we still carry that very heavy on our hearts, man.
Nut Nillz was a blessing to this world and we really try to carry in his honor and his memory. One of the truest, one of the dopest, one of the livest you could ever hope to know in your life, man. His passing was a big loss for hip-hop and a big loss for Brick City, a big loss for the world itself. A good dude, a stand-up dude who was not playing with anybody. God bless Nut Nillz.
As an artist, how would you describe his music?
Nut was just a beast, man. He had the dope punchlines and the crazy energy, the illest stage presence. He was influenced by his city, The Artifacts, Pacewon, all the dope MCs that came from Jerz, man. He was definitely punchline-heavy, dope flows, talking a lot of reality rap and just bringing his A-game to the table. He was a live dude and he would come to your show, regardless of where it was at and regardless of how deep your squad was. Nut would show up and it would often come to blows. A lot of shows would end up in fisticuffs due to Nut keeping it too real. He was just one of those dudes that was ready to set it off at any time.
He was real dope lyrically and was real inspirational. He was very witty and he often talked about the game and how brothers perpetrate a fraud and are not who they claim to be and he was really about what he claimed to talk about. He was about that keeping it thorough, keeping it street, and at the same time, keeping it right and keeping it family. Nut would let you know in a heartbeat and start battling you at your own show. He was that type of dude. A very rare type of individual. He was just really talented and I’m honored that he thought highly of me and his cousin Ceez is a big inspiration to me as well. He’s on the Better Than Fiction Too album too. Shout out to Ceez and the whole Triple Deuce fam. Nut was a real diamond in the rough. He would stand out. Good, bad, or indifferent, you were going to know who Nut Nillz was at the end of the night and you didn’t have to like it but you had to respect it.
I met you and K-Sise through a Manifest Destiny show when I worked with them. You go back with Ceez, who was half of Manifest Destiny, and still work with him today. What does that mean to you?
It means family, man. It means love. It means a foundation, longevity, resilience, tenacity, endurance. And it shows that we love this game. We’re not in it for the hoopla and we’re not in it for the gimmicks. Rich or poor, we’re going to always do it. It just shows that they were meant to be our brother and we were meant to be rocking together because we’re still doing it and we have a genuine love for it and a genuine appreciation for the art. That’s what Nut was all about. Do this shit from the heart. If you’re not really about this, don’t be in it beacu the real heads can tell. That’s why we make music about real life. We make music about the ups and downs. We make music about the fraudulent and the realness and it means alot to have that foundation and to have grown with Manifest Destiny and E and Ceez and Nite and Nut, man. It’s a testament to why we got into this game in the first place.
We started doing this on the corners in the streets, rhyming in school and through the hard times and it’s what we do to get through. And those are our a-alikes right there. Me and K, Dynamix, that’s our brothers forever because we all have a pure appreciation for it and we’re trying to add to it. We’re not trying to take nothing from it or shine off of it. We’re trying to continue to it and make our mark. It means everything to have the five brothers across the water in New Jersey that subscribe to that same ideology. It’s a rare thing. There’s a lot of people I started this with that I no longer talk to and those are my brothers today just like they were 12 years ago, 14 years ago.
That doesn’t happen too often. You talk about how Nut gave a realistic and lyrical picture of what happens, which is what you do on Better Than Fiction Too. What did you set about to create here?
Better Than Fiction was inspired by a show I used to watch that I still watch that was Locked Up Abroad and the slogan was that real life was better than fiction and I just loved how true that rang and I feel the same way. There’s some things that we can speak on and people will be like, Wow, that really happened? That’s crazy. It’s true, man. That’s what inspired that album and what inspires a lot of my music. On “More People” I’m talking about the stuff that’s going on in my family, the good and the bad stuff. There’s lyrics on there about the 9-5 struggle. Lyrics on there about falling out with friends and trying to get over life and what you feel with people that you love and moving past that and finding that love and that reason that you called this person a friend in the beginning. Better Than Fiction Too is just a testament to resilience and endurance.
It’s my eleventh album and also, it’s a very witty album. There’s a lot of punchlines on there and it’s showcasing my simile prowess and how busy I get in this game. I’m a very humble individual but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I was talented and I didn’t have a gift for words. This a testament to that, just being able to showcase my ability to stand out from a lot of other MCs, be it by my delivery, trying different flows, and talking about life in an innovative way and just being dope at it. Hard times inspired this project, but also good times as well. I think what makes an MC really dope is when they can be versatile and when they can speak about more than just one subject, when you almost have to guess what they’re going to talk about before you hear them. When you can predict what they’re going to talk about before they do, I think that’s wack. I think I can keep them guessing on this album and that’s something that really motivates me and keeps me going. I think that’s what really makes me stand out. This album was about the good, the bad, the ugly and that’s it.
“Father’s Day” stood out as a unique take on fathers. Where did that come from?
Ah, man. That song was a long time coming. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with my father but ultimately, my father stuck around. Growing up, I always recognized that I was one of a few of my homies to actually have my father in the house. Growing up, I started to embrace some of the negative goings-on, if that’s even a saying, the negativity in the hood. Part of being a man is embracing the wong and he didn’t like some of the choices I made and that led to clashes going on, but ultimately I think he learned to respect me because he knew I had a good heart and I want what’s best for good people. So I just wanted to do a song that speaks about the ups and downs of having that relationship but ultimately appreciating the fact that my father stuck around.
We’ve heard a lot of songs about people having negative things to say about fathers and that’s deservedly so. If you abandon your child, you have that coming to you. But my father stuck around and I just wanted to show my appreciation. I also know at the same time that plenty of Black males from his generation dealt with a lot of hardship from family stuff to economic turmoil and he still managed to instill a certain pride in me and a certain self-respect and self-reliance and that’s made me the man I am today and I’m so lucky and so thankful to have that. I’m able to say, “Thank you, Pop, for being hard on me and not always agreeing with the choices I made. And thank you for taking me to the park and teaching me how to swing a bat and for teaching me how to play pool. Thank you for not judging me all the time even though there was some judgement.” It was an appreciation song and I loved “Dear Mama” and I always wanted to make an appreciation song and this is one of my attempts to do that.
You talk about how important wordplay is to you. What is your writing process like?
I’m a product of the cafeteria, the street corner cypers. That’s what got me started in this hip-hop shit, rhyming amongst my peers and learning early that you have to stand out. I’m from the early ‘90s and if you think there are a lot of MCs today, there were a lot of MC’s back then. You had to say something that somebody would walk up to you the next day and remember it. “Damn, B, I remember you spout this shit yesterday.” That’s when you knew you were good, when people would talk about your line, that one line that made people scratch their head like, How did he come up with that? That never left me.
I’ve always been fans of Biggie and Big L, the Half-A-Mils, Andre 3000s, the brothers that had those lines that made you say wow. Big Daddy Kane, he said, “Put a quarter in your ass because you played yourself.” That’s amazing to me. That was the foundation. When I was writing, sometimes I would get stuck and there would be times where I would be writing or a line would just come to me and I would put those really dope lines in the back of my book so I would write the 16s in the front and I would have all these dope lines in the back in case I ever got stuck and needed something to fall back on. Somebody told me that Big Daddy Kane writes like that too. I would love to meet him and discuss it. I would always jot down those lines that would come to me and keep them tucked away. That’s the writing process right there. I can always bang out a 16 but I always have those punchlines in the back of the book and if I ever get stuck, I can always go there and pull something crazy out.
Is there a place or a time when you do your best writing?
I would say the nighttime. I’m definitely nocturnal. When I really started embracing this thing, I just noticed that there was something about the night time. It just felt like it really came alive and I think a lot of the stuff that happens at night inspired this album. A lot of bad stuff and some good stuff. For some reason I’m nocturnal-driven. It’s the peace and quiet. Sometimes writing on the train, that used to be a big thing for me. I could write a banger on the train. But at the same time, I’m getting a little older and it just comes when it comes. Some days I can write a dope verse in 20 minutes, a half an hour, and other days it might take me longer than that or I might not be able to and I have to stop. But if I had to choose a time, it is definitely the nighttime.
You do a lot of your own recording. What are the pros and cons to that set up?
It’s ill that you said that because I just went out of town last week and banged out an album in two days with two of my homies, they’re called The Live Percenters and they had the engineer and all of that. That was a bit of a different experience than what I’m used to. That’s how I used to rock in the late 90’s up until about 2010. I used to rock like that and it’s cool to have the engineer and it’s cool to have somebody give you a little feedback, but I love rocking on my own because sometimes when I’m on other people’s time, I feel like I gotta rush and get used to their equipment and the playback but when I do it on my own, it’s very simple and I can take my time. I spit my verse and I just play it back acapella or however I need to and see how I laid it.
But most of all I don’t like feeling rushed. When I do it on my own, I don’t feel rushed and I do it on my own time. I prefer it that way. But if I got a dope engineer, we can make it work that way too. My man Brad was a great engineer when we did the Live Percenters joint and I was banging them out quick. It didn’t take me more than two or three takes to bang out each one. I think they were pretty impressed with that. I try to be a professional. Sometimes it takes people longer. I know my flows and i don’t like to mess around. I don’t have a booth or anything though. I put the mic on top of the dresser, plug it into the laptop, and go.
When you send the tracks out after you’ve recorded on your own, does the process ever take longer when you’re going back and forth with the producer?
I just record it and send them the acapella and a rough of the mp3 and let them go from there. They usually just mix it and send me the final mix. It’s real simple, man. For the most part, it goes pretty smoothly. Every now and then they would prefer for me to come and record it somewhere else. I don’t have no problem doing that and I want everybody to be happy with their finished product.
You talked about K-Sise earlier, your partner in the Dynamix. You’ve hinted at getting back together as a group. Where are you at with that now?
I can’t speak on my brother. I can just talk about what I’m trying to do. I’m still in the grind and pumping out music. I know that K is doing music too. We haven’t really made any plans officially to get up and do any Dynamix stuff. That may happen one day, but I can’t really speak on exactly when that will happen. I mean, we’re getting older and real life is definitely taking over. We got bills to pay and we got things going on, but I’d like to believe that we can just jump in the booth and make it happen. But I couldn’t give you a date or any specificities of where. I can’t speak on it but huge shout out to K-Sise. We both know that he’s a beast and I’m very eager to hear some new music from him because he’s so talented and I’m thankful that we do have the catalog of music together that we do have.
You’re eleven albums deep at this point. What are you most proud of so far?
Ah, man. There’s so many moments, man. Just sitting there thinking about it, man. With this album, Better Than FIction Too, this will be the fourth album in the last five years on a different label. In the last five years, I’ve dropped albums on four labels. In 2011 and 2013, I dropped albums on HipNott. In 2014, I dropped an album on Black Milk Music in France. 2015 I dropped an album on Stereo Boom Records in Germany. And 2016, I’m dropping an album on Vinyl Digital in Germany. So in the past five years, that’s four labels and that’s not including the single “New York Won’t Stop” on Heavy Crates in the UK. I have another song from my Boulevard Backdrop album that was released on vinyl in the UK on Beeline Records.
A big thing I’m proud of is just being able to pop up on these different labels and be able to get deals and release music, not only independently but a physical release. I remember in 2009, or maybe 2010, talking about trying to to put out an album on vinyl and my man from a dope independent label, one of my favorite independent labels, was asking me how I was going to put out vinyl and I didn’t even have a vinyl fanbase. That kind of shook me up. I was like, Damn, he’s right. But the last five years, I’ve had vinyl releases and I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, but that’s one big thing.
Also, I feel like I have a three-pronged approach that’s really helped me build a fanbase. I think number one, people know that I deliver dope product consistently. Every year I’m dropping something and it’s mostly physically released. And that’s since 2007. People know that I’m going to drop something dope lyrically and it’ll have dope production with probably one producer. And my video output. The last few years I’ve been putting out dope videos. I’ve also been dropped conceptual album trailers. I got these conceptual album trailers followed by these videos and the third prong, which I think is the most important, is engaging with the supporters. I learned from Killer Mike that the dope MC’s don’t have fans, they have supporters.
When I get Facebook requests, no matter where it’s from, I engage with them. I let people know that I appreciate them reaching out to me and that I engage in their music and hoping that there’s some form of interaction. I would say six out of seven friend requests are people asking where they can get the music at and I feel like that’s led to me having a connection with these supporters and I feel like that’s gone a long way for me and let me build a fanbase, or a support base, where people appreciated what I’m doing and I know that and that dries me to continue to put out the good content, the audio content and the visual content, and build that engagement. You asked what’s good moments for me but all of it, and that I can actually make some money off of it and at the same time, have people anticipating more, knowing that people want to hear my next release and they want to hear what’s going on with me. That gets me excited.
What’s next for you?
The sky’s the limit, my bro. Shout out to Vinyl Digital and One-Two. He’s got a dope sound and he’s really blowing up. We met in the MySpace days and he came out to Jamaica, Queens from Germany. I took him to the weed gate, we got to light up on my brother’s porch, shout out to my brother, he passed away. He’s a really dope dude and he has a really warm sound that the game is missing. I’m really glad to link with him and make this dope album. I got the Live Percenters album. That should be coming out in the fall of 2016 and the sky’s the limit, man. There could be a lot of different things bubbling. There’s things in the works but I don’t know what will really pop off first, so I don’t want to speak on it now. Better Than Fiction Too is my eleventh album and this Live Percenters joint, I’m looking forward to putting this out for y’all, produced entirely by Theory Hazard. He’s really dope. That’s where we’re at right now.
Cop 730’s debut interview collection Words, featuring some of his best interviews, here.