Interview: Koncept and J57 Prepare For Departure

Koncept J57Through a potent mixture of fortunate events and hard work, New York rapper Koncept found himself and his friend and co-creator J57 on a flight to Los Angeles, headed to Red Bull’s recording studios. Realizing the significance of this opportunity, the pair planned every moment of their trip with meticulous detail, even their downtime, which they didn’t even expect to have. The result of this rigorous planning is their soon-to-be-released joint album, Flight, and irreversible alterations to their recording process. Detailing this life-changing experience and its consequences, as well as their least favorite trains, their new direction as artists and their favorite albums of the year, the pair sat down with us for a lengthy and engaging talk. Boarding passes in hand, they’re ready to go.

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RESPECT: So [J57] you rap as well as produce, but for this project you’re just producing. Why’d you make that decision?

J57: We were already gonna do an album where I produced the whole thing anyway and I kind of just brought the idea that we could it make it a little different from regular Koncept albums if we set it aside and just do Koncept and J57 and he was like, “I’m with that.” And then when we were in L.A., I remember we were going to do a show and we get to the venue and we were chillin’ because we didn’t want to go into the venue and talk to people and lose our voices. So we’re chillin’ outside still and he’s like, “Yo, I don’t think I want anybody else to do my beats.” And I was like, “Done!” So we were just like from here on out we’re gonna do this as a group. So now it’s a group dynamic. It’s always been fifty-fifty when we work on stuff anyway, but now it’s like official.

Koncept: And the sound is different as well from the previous stuff that we’ve done -

J57:  - Yeah and that’s why I thought it would be cool to separate it from all the other shit because it doesn’t sound like Awaken – and those are incredible records – but it just doesn’t sound like the other shit. It’s just bigger sounding.

Koncept: It’s the best music we’ve ever made. I feel and he feels and we feel like everything else – I’m proud of all my previous work – was learning. At this point I feel like I’ve really found my sound and my delivery and how to use my voice. And just how to make better music. Again, all that stuff, I’m proud of it, but it was just all to learn, to get us to where we are now. So with this new music it’s just bigger and better. So being a group will just make it stand out a bit more and make people see, before they even hear it, that that’s different from what they’ve done previously because now it’s actually a group dynamic.

Did you two come with a name for the group?

Koncept: Well the name is just gonna be Koncept and J57. The album is gonna be called Flight. And we have an EP we’re gonna drop before that called The Fuel.

You said that it’s always fifty-fifty when you two work together. Is there ever any overlap between your roles as producer and rapper?

J57: Oh yeah! Totally, totally! When we’re in the studio, he’ll come up with ideas for beats as well. It’s not like it’s all me. Or even just a creative idea in general. It’s not like a hundred percent half and half.

Koncept: It’s fifty-fifty in the sense that we do everything together. He may be like, “Yo, I love that verse, but what if we switch it up and have you do a bridge here instead of that?” Or, “What if you flip this line a little bit?” And I’ll be the same way. I’ll be like, “Yo this beat is crazy but what if we have this change-up here.” So it’s fifty-fifty in the sense that we’re both involved in everything.

J57: Like a real group! [laughs] It’s more than a rapper and a producer linking up for a real quick project. It really is like a group, like all the classic duos like Gang Starr. It wasn’t just like Premier made the beats and he was like, “Guru, go do some raps!” [laughs]. [Guru] was in the lab next to him. That dynamic is dire. There are people who are doing it, but they’re doing like one-and-off albums. We wanted to bring more to the table than that. That’s why we’re keeping it kind of old school with just “Koncept and J57.” It’s modern, but it’s old school at the same time because cats aren’t really doing that anymore, where there’s just two names together…well they are, but it’s just for those one-and-off projects, not for a real group.

Yeah like for an EP.

J57: Yeah, like me and some random dude link up for an EP, which we do all the time because that’s dope, but we’re not trying to do that anymore. We’re not trying to just make some shit. We’re trying to bring it to the next level.

Do you feel like that interaction that you have is possible only because of your previous relationship?

Koncept: Yeah, we’ve been close friends for years now, so our relationship in general just allows us to work together. And we both have the same goals and the same place that we both want to reach. So that forms the chemistry right there.

 So before we started the interview you mentioned labels that you’re possibly working with for this album. Is Fat Beats one of them? You two both used to work at the store.

Koncept: Yeah, we worked there together for awhile. For these projects, we’ve been talking to some majors and just different outlets. We recorded the album with Red Bull, so we’ve obviously been in contact with them to figure out some different options. And we’ve been in contact with Interscope and some other majors. And right now everything’s looking good. We’re just trying to find the best place for us to go.

Why did you name it Flight?

Koncept: So the album is my autobiography and it starts with me and J in Brooklyn, getting into a cab to go to L.A. and record the album. And I wrote the album like a movie, so then throughout the whole album, I talk about my childhood and my dad passing and growing up with a single mom, then high school, then moving out of the city to live in Vermont for a little bit and then moving back to the city. So I talk about everything in my life and the album ends with me and J recording the album in LA.

So it’s like a journey.

 Koncept: Yeah, exactly.

J57: And we recorded a lot of sound-bites, when we’re on our phones, when we’re taking the actual flight, when we’re at the airport, getting into the cab, the whole nine, from beginning to end while we were traveling. And we chopped them out and sprinkled throughout the whole album so it’s really cohesive. It has a real story.

So before you two even flew out to L.A., you two already had a very coherent idea of what this would be.

Koncept: Yeah yeah, exactly.

Koncept, you mentioned your dad passing. On “Awaken,” you said that his death scared you straight. What did you mean by that?

Because my dad died of drugs, so basically his death sent me in the direction of not going down the path.

Written by Stephen Kearse

Stephen writes about the raps. He’s currently living, working and studying in NYC. If you want to talk comedy, hip-hop, film or feminism, he’s your guy. Word? Word.

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