J.Lately is a Sebastopol native who has been making music for years. With enough success to be on tour for a couple months out of the year, and open up for hip-hop legends such as Zion I, Talib Kweli, and Slum Village, he seems to be at a steady pace in the marathon called “music.” J. Lately’s latest album, The Good Panda EP, is getting thousands of plays online, and his last tour made eleven stops throughout California, Washington, and Oregon.
Backstage at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, just outside the green room, in an enclosed cage-like patio, J. Lately and I discuss what it means to be a hip-hop artist in 2016. Around a small, dusty table, in the midst of weed smoke and soundcheck, I ask, “do you consider yourself an underground hip-hop artist?”
With a little hesitation, he smiles and says, “yeah, but I wouldn’t say that my goal was to be an underground hip-hop artist.”
“My goal is to make good music, music that a lot of people connect with.”
J. Lately says that this is the reason he does hip-hop. “As long as I am able to be successful, while doing what the fuck I want to do…” he pauses, “well, that’s all I really want.” He explains that his goals over the years have always included doing what he wants, comfortably. This humble notion is unique compared to the norm in music today. With commercial radio and reality TV, the perceived goal of hip-hop artists is to “pop bottles and make it rain.”
Sure, more spins on the radio feels great, and a few hundred views on YouTube is something to be excited about, but these goals are short-lived. Contentment lasts much longer.
With J. Lately’s next big showcase: The Lock Sessions Tour, with Locksmith. I ask, “What are you looking forward to the most in going back out on tour?”
“I get to study everyone I have the opportunity to be around,” says J. Lately.
If this wasn’t already a wise perspective, J. Lately continues by saying that he learns from other artists that he goes on tour with. And hypothetically speaking, if given the chance to work with a “Top 40 Artist” like Rihanna or Drake, he would make sure to adapt to their sound, without changing his.
Thinking of how versatile he could be, he cites a song by Rihanna called “Same Ol’ Mistakes” and says, “That’s my jam!”
Curious about his use of social media in today’s media-heavy society, I ask J. Lately if he uses technology to his advantage.
“Social media has definitely helped me in my career. The only way it has ever hurt me, is simply by the fact that everyone else has access to it too.” J. Lately continues, “I think a lot of people don’t understand that there are [many] ways to go about it… and it’s just about finding the way that works best for you.”
Fans want a real personal connection. And as a fan, I agree. J. Lately runs all his own social media and has an ample presence on all platforms. He credits his internet upkeep to the fact that he’s “always super anxious” and constantly thinking of things to post.
He also says, “It’s a great way to connect with fans while I’m on the road.” While it isn’t so much necessary as it is resourceful, he says that it’s a tool for fans too. He says, “If someone likes my stuff, and I’m coming to their city, I want them to know, so they can come out and support.”
“The best advice I ever got was from my basketball coach.” J. Lately paused, “He said that everyone is too scared to give one hundred percent because, if you give one hundred percent and you lose the game, then you know for sure the other team was better, but if you only give ninety percent, and you lose–well then we would never know who was better.”
He explains that some artists use this as an excuse. Many try to justify why they can’t give a hundred percent. J. Lately says, “it’s just an easy out,” and by doing this, “you’re giving yourself less of a chance at becoming successful.”
Coming from someone who does full body stretches before his set, and performs happily under the weather, J. Lately is proof that underground hip-hop is thriving. Not everyone makes it in the music industry, but with a few goals, some flexibility, and the willingness to go all out, some might get a taste of what it’s like to really do hip-hop in 2016.
Check out www.justlatelymusic.com for the latest on J. Lately, tour dates, music, merchandise, and more.