The Bay Area is full of legends. You have Mac Dre, you have The Jacka, you have the Unc E-40, you have Keak Da Sneak, you have Husalah… and you have J. Stalin. Hailing from West Oakland, real name Jovan Smith is a product of his environment, delivering only the realist rhymes over the hardest West Coast beats. Read more…
Having transitioned from the party anthems to the more enlightening, soul-filled hip-hop, J. Stalin plans to teach and pave the way for this next generation of aspiring rappers. Now, he returns with a brand new project, Tears Of Joy 2, released through Empire as well as his own label, LiveWire.
For those who don’t know, who is J. Stalin?
J. Stalin is a kid from Oakland, California who made it through the trenches through rap music, and through rap music was able to become an entrepreneur. I opened up barber shops, clothing lines — got a clothing store finna open up. I’m just a kid from around the corner, off the porch next door, that made something out of nothing.
You’ve been in the rap game for over 15 years. How has your sound evolved?
I made a lot of songs back in the day just about partying and drugs and stuff like that. Now, I try to give more wisdom in my music. I try to teach up and coming rappers. I talk about investing your money and being an entrepreneur, and just trying to stay on different topics. But at the same time, try to teach and give guidance in my music. And show them it’s bigger than just partying and doing drugs, and glorifying the street life. You gotta evolve.
Talk about being from the Bay Area and how it plays into your life and music.
One thing I love and respect about the Bay Area is that we support each other so much, that you can actually be an extremely successful rapper without ever leaving the Bay. Like how New York rappers can do that, LA rappers can do that, Atlanta rappers can do that, Texas rappers can do that. What I admire about the Bay is we’re starting to have our own music scene.
When I say music scene, I mean actual labels that are really putting artists on and helping them. When I started Livewire, my vision was for the Bay Area to have their Death Row like LA, or No Limit in New Orleans, or Def Jam in New York, or So So Def in Atlanta. I wanted the Bay Area to have a home base/foundation for that.
What do you look for in an artist when signing to your label?
Basically, I look for talent, work ethic, and drive. And then swag — I don’t want to say swag, but you can be a great artist and make great music, but not be marketable. I like a person that knows how to promote and market themselves outside or besides the music. If you can do that, then you’re going to have a long career in this game.
How important do you feel is it to come to LA as an up and coming artist?
It’s very important, just because everyone comes to LA. You don’t come to LA just to work with artists from LA. Everyone is in LA: New York artists, Atlanta artists, Bay Area artists, overseas artists, R&B, hip-hop — it’s just a big boiling pot of artists. And you can meet them anywhere just walking down the street. I saw Pusha T not too long ago at Roscoes, just sitting there eating.
What are your thoughts on his beef with Drake?
I like facts.
He really said Drake’s hiding a child though.
I went and looked it up after that! He said he really do got a lil baby. What I admire about beefs, and rap battles is, it’s like steel sharpening steel. What I really respect about it is it’s more than just jumping in the booth and just writing a rap. They’re putting so much thought into these beefs now. You’re really doing research and homework on a person, before doing a diss song about them. It’s evolved so much from just showing up in a room and battle rapping.
Congrats on the release of your new album, Tears of Joy 2. What do you want fans to get from your story this time around?
I want fans to hear the album and be like, “Damn, Stalin’s still got it. He’s still a great artist. But the message he’s sending is so much more relevant and helpful now, than 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 years ago.”
How difficult was it to fit your life into “Five Minutes of Game?”
There wasn’t no room for a hook. I almost stopped it at 3 minutes, but my engineer was like, “Nah! Just finish the beat off. Keep going! ‘Cause when you stopped, I wasn’t ready for you to stop!” That’s what he told me from listening to the song. I asked if he thinks I need a hook, and he said, “Nah, no hook. Just gas it all the way out.”
What game do you have for these new cats?
It’s not cool dressing like females. Invest your money, please. You can hire a financial advisor to show you how to do all that. We don’t have 401(k). You get your big check, don’t go spend all your money on 10,000 chains and a car, when you still live with your moms.
Speaking of, what did you do with your first advance?
I already had money. I went and bought a Porsche truck, but I already had a house and all that shit! [laughs]
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Maybe writing movies.
“Wanna Get On” is so nostalgic for me. What’s your favorite song to perform in a set?
My favorite song to perform is “Who r u.”
Best encounter you had with a fan?
I kissed this girl on the cheek at a show, and she started crying.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
At the moment, Prince.
Prince and Tupac.
What about someone still alive?
Maybe Meek Mill and Drake! [laughs]
Anything else you want to let anyone in California know?
My new album Tears of Joy out now. I’ve got 10 videos from it. We’re going to drop one every two weeks. I also own two barber shops: Livewire Hip-Hop Barber Shop in Modesto and Livewire Urban Cuts and Styles in Oakland. And I’ve got a Livewire clothing store coming soon.