Talking Hip-Hop with J. Plaza

J. Plaza
Hip-hop artist J. Plaza (courtesy the artist)
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Jeffrey Bissoy-Mattis interviews J. Plaza
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I caught up with St. Paul rapper, J Plaza, fresh from the A3C Music Festival in Atlanta, to discuss local artists in the Twin Cities, the life of an up-and-coming rapper and the state of hip-hop in Minnesota. He gave some interesting tips on how artists can build their brand and grow their audience.

Take a listen using the audio player above, or read the interview transcription below:

Jeff: Welcome to The Current, I'm Jeffrey Bissoy, I'm talking to my man J Plaza right now; how you living?

J Plaza: What's the deal man? I'm living good, just in traffic right now, here in Minnesota, what's the dealing?

Jeff: We out here trying to make it, trying to do our thing, man. So, I just wanted to touch base a little bit with you, because you know, couple weeks ago, you had this interesting tweet. You know, you were talking about Twin Cities rappers and Twin Cities Hip-Hop, and how rappers got to come together instead of all this competitive stuff, so what exactly did you mean [by] that? What's going on?

J Plaza: I mean, I just felt like since there's not as much resources for hip-hop, as there is in states like California, Georgia, New York, and stuff like that. I mean we barely have any Hip-Hop resources that can get us out there, you know what I'm saying? It's definitely happening though, with the new radio station this year and all the local blogs and everything like that. And that's definitely much appreciated, but I feel like, you know, me saying, "artists come together," [is] not saying that we need to all be collaborating with each other or all the time, and do come to every single show, whoopty-whoop, this and that. I mean we can, you know what I'm saying, but that has to be generous.

I feel like, as far as the support goes or like you know like showing love, when you see somebody or like kinda putting the dope ones on to what you know that could help them out, it could just help us (local artists) a lot more. You know what I mean? Because, when I see young talent, or when I see any type of talent, if I feel like they need help in something, or if I feel like they're missing something, you know, I'm going to put them onto it, instead of like of holding it back though.

I feel like a lot of people out here hold back from supporting what's dope, and a lot of people also just support their friends and stuff like that. Which is cool and everything, to each his own, but at the same time, kind of expand your mind around the scene and understand that there's a lot of other dope artists that you could get a hold of, too. You just got to support what's dope. If everyone out here just keeps supporting what's dope, you know, like we support the bigger artists outside of the state, then we can definitely do a lot more damage, not even damage, but just turn the whole thing up. Turn the whole Minnesota scene up. That's what I mean.

Jeff: So, is that kind of what you're seeing from the local level, local rappers out here turning more into the national stuff, so when it comes to local things and local rappers trying to make a name for themselves, whether it's like, "I got this show going on at Icehouse," or, "I'm doing this thing," and people not showing out because folks probably thinking to themselves, "Oh, you not big enough, like, why would I show up?" Do you think part of that comes into play?

J Plaza: I mean it can come into play, but that has to deal with whoever is throwing the show and the promotion and stuff like that. I mean, obviously, if I just got started and I just threw a show and nobody knew who I was or anybody on the bill, then you know, a lot of people probably won't show up. Unless, I just went out there and just hustled my ass off to sell tickets and stuff like that and tried to get people to show up, somehow, some way, or pulled some type of stunt, you know, to make people want to come out.

If I were to throw a show — when I first started into the music scene, in 2014, nobody knew who I was or anything, I just kept going to the open mics, I just kept introducing myself to people and trying to get people to listen to my music, so it has to do with you interacting with people and you trying to put yourself out there. You can't just drop a song or you can't just perform a set and just get off stage and leave. You got to interact with people.

Jeff: You got to network, right?

J Plaza: Yeah, yeah, and not be scared to put yourself out there.

Jeff: So, by that then, networking and reaching out to folks, I mean, you talking other artists, you talking producers, you talking managers? I mean, what type of branching out are you trying to do?

J Plaza: I mean, I feel like that goes for anybody, in whatever you do. Like, even if you were trying to be like some type of big stockbroker or something like that, you know what I'm saying, you'll try to network with people that know more than you or that could put you on game, somehow, some way. So that there is enough for everybody to eat.

Jeff: So, speaking a little bit more about Hip-Hop in the Twin Cities, I got a few questions for you. What have been your thoughts, as someone, like you said, you came onto the scene in 2014. I heard of you through Team Backpack, that's how I first heard of you, and then I see you at Soundset, so like, when you look at all these young rappers coming out and some of these older heads, I mean you got some nice and amazing sound going on right now. Would you say this is kind of like a Golden Generation of Hip-Hop, going on in the Twin Cities?

J Plaza: As far as I know, yeah, for sure. I see a lot more people coming out of nowhere, a lot more artists coming out of nowhere, with some super dope sound. And it's just starting to show what's going on out here, because all I ever heard of when I first came in, all I ever heard of was Atmosphere. And everyone was like, "Atmosphere," but then when I started going to local shows and started to listen to more people, and now since 95.3 [Go MN] has the radio, and then my guy Dolo, he hosts a lot of shows out here, he does Dolo-hour, where local artists can send songs to him and he'll play it on Facebook live and people will be able to judge it. So those type of things are putting me on to local artists and stuff like that, too.

Atmosphere performing in The Current studio
Atmosphere performing in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

Jeff: Right. And do you feel as if like, there's like a need for more outlets for Hip-Hop artists out here? Like, yeah you got 95.3 and yeah, you got Dolo, but do you sometimes feel that being in a market like Minnesota, there's sometimes a need for more?

J Plaza: There's KMOJ, too, so I don't want to forget about them. There's KMOJ, so shout out to everybody that works over there, and even The Current. Every outlet matters, and yeah, there can be more outlets, but I feel that the more that we get, the more that we build our Hip-Hop scene, the more outlets it will be. 95.3 is definitely pushing for local artists, like, that's one of the biggest radio stations, and they play a lot more local artists then any radio station that I've really ever heard of.

Jeff: I completely agree, and I've been saying for a long time and I've been telling folks, we need to be out in the community, we need to be trying to find who are these local talents, because there are folks out here that have been getting on my radar, and I'm like, "Wait a minute, why this bangin' right now," you know what I'm saying? Folks that really have you think twice about Minnesota Hip-Hop.

Because, I feel like when I was growing up, when I was in high school — I graduated in 2012 from high school — and I'm talking about Hip-Hop in Minnesota, I'm like, "OK, I don't really know too many artists," but you know, outside of being a Hip-Hop writer, when I just sit down and I'm like there are some — you got like the Destiny Roberts, you got like Koffa, you got like Big Black Entertainment, LA and Momoh — you've got so many different individuals really coming together, right now just pushing the wave and making the music happen.

J Plaza: Yeah, there's a lot of [artists], even the ones you named, and I could name like 50 more — that's crazy more, you know what I mean?

Jeff: So, who are five local artists, right now that you've been bangin'?

J Plaza: I would say, I like Why Khaliq, Student 1 and Class Prez, K C Pluto, V.I.C.E. Boys and Leratto, there's so many that I could name, like Ya-Ya; Ya-Ya's dope, there's so many people I could put [on] … Jaybree, there's so many people I could put you on to, there's so many dope songs I could put you on to right now you'll be like, "Damn." I could probably broaden your horizon, just by showing you some sh**.

Jeff: And you already know, I'm gonna tell you to send that to me, right?

J Plaza: I mean, yeah, man. If I get time, I could definitely send you some tracks. If you can literally remember some of those names that I said and kind of be on the lookout for them, then yeah, man. They are definitely out there.

Jeff: You already know [It's] noted on my end. I've been trying to put together the Come Up series, which is where every month, or every other month, I'm just trying to add new artists that maybe I haven't heard of or I just discovered recently to try to get that out to the public. Because I think part of it is not only the artist or the producers making the waves, but we got to get listeners to tune in as well, because I feel like sometimes listeners are like, "Ehhh, its local, OK, whatever. They ain't Kanye, they ain't Drake," but it's like, "Naw, but they could be, but you got to show up."

J Plaza: And that's the thing, and every artist that you just named started from a local-artist level, every mainstream artist started from a small-ass level. They ain't just all of a sudden, they were born, now I'm this big out of nowhere. It happens, you gotta take work. And then another thing that could help put artists out there is every DJ that is doing shows, every single week, always playing something. Play a couple local artists every single time you DJ. You know what I mean?

Jeff: That's crucial.

J Plaza: So that people can kind of get used to like, yeah, these songs are now in our rotation. These people are in our state and we got to stand behind everyone that's dope in our state.

Jeff: Yeah, I fully agree with you. So, flashback to early, mid-September, I actually ran into you. You didn't even recognize me, I'm a nobody, but you were at that club Privé for that listening party for Black Bag Entertainment; Momoh and LA put on that show. Yo, tell me about your thoughts about that particular event. Of course, that continues with your whole mantra of "let's support the local artist." What were you thinking when you were at that show? What was that energy like?

J Plaza: That was good energy, and there was a lot of big artists in Minnesota there, and that was the first time that I had heard of that dude [Momoh]. I haven't even heard of that dude, I haven't heard him on the radio or anything like that. But me seeing what he's doing and seeing how he brought all those people together that's amazing … And seeing all the features he got, that's a hard-working brother, so shout out to him.

Minneapolis rapper Momoh
Minneapolis rapper Momoh. (via Facebook)

Jeff: Right, and when you see events like that happen, what does that do for you as an artist? Obviously, you want to support and show love, but does that kind of fire you up a little bit like "Man, I got to get back on my grizzly," like, "I really got to keep pushing forward."

J Plaza: Yeah, I mean, I'm always gonna be on the grind, you know what I'm saying, but it's definitely a spark, it's definitely a motivation to make you want do something different, something different and better, and not a lot of people do what he did that day, you know? It was packed out, and the drinks and everything was on lock, and you could take pictures and stuff. It was like an event in L.A.

Jeff: All I can say as a journalist covering that event, it was something surreal to me. I had been to a few listening parties beforehand, but that was one of the first ones where I was like, "Yo, the energy that's in this room right now," like Minnesota don't know. I was real excited. And also, the other side of it was all the big-time local artists, the young ones, the old folks, like really just trying to push the music and push the wave and the movement. You had yourself, you had like Bobby Raps, just so many different individuals in that joint, just like, "Yeah, this is happening right now, we bout it."

J Plaza: Yeah, that was definitely a good day, we had a good a night. We had to leave that a little early to shoot our little video that we're about to release on Friday.

Jeff: Ahhh, OK. Tell me about that, is that part of the single that you're about to drop?

J Plaza: We already dropped the single, we dropped the single on Monday. It's called, "Ghost," produced by DJ Smooth from Eardrummers, and you know Eardrummers. Those producers are heavy in the game right now. Definitely, making a lot of hits, all the dope ones and stuff like that. We dropped that song on Monday and Friday, we dropping the video for it, and we're also dropping it on Apple and Spotify, and everywhere else. So definitely be on the lookout for that. It's called, "Ghost," and the group that I'm with is called FREEWIFI.

Jeff: Word, FREEWIFI. I'm definitely taking note of that, and I think you told me last time we briefly talked you were going down to Atlanta for a concert? Did that end up happening?

J Plaza: Yeah, we went to A3C and that's like a little music festival out there and I got a lot of knowledge from out there too, talking about networking and building your brand and stuff like that. I definitely suggest any artist to go out there next year, or whenever they do it again.

FREEWIFI are Twin Cities MCs Tha Rift, J. Plaza and Daddy Dinero.
FREEWIFI are Twin Cities MCs Tha Rift, J. Plaza and Daddy Dinero. (Rostrum Records)

Jeff: So two questions for you on that front: first and foremost, how do local artists make that jump from just being a local artist and then going to national events like the one down in ATL? And then second part of that question, how did you start thinking about your brand or how did you start thinking about, "How can I grow my following?"

J Plaza: So, we — Rostrum, the record label that I'm under — they set up a show out there for us to perform and for all the other label names to perform, and that's how we ended up out there. And we ended up going to a lot of the different events, like Soundcloud and Pandora, and some big social-media owners were putting us on game on how to increase our following and build our brand and stuff like that, and it was just a lot of knowledge. And after I was taking all that in, and I was writing notes and stuff like that.

The game is changing every day, there's something new going on every day, so you just got to keep up and you got to keep creating. And you got to figure out new things and send trends, and it's a lot of things you can do man. This music thing is crazy, man; you really just got to stay on it, because anybody could just drop a dope-ass song. Like, I could drop the dopest song in the world, but if I just throw it out there, like don't even promote, don't put no money behind it, don't do anything, no type of time invested into it, no emails sent, no anything, then this sh** ain't going nowhere.

You really got to push that sh**, and there's a lot of artists that have number-one hit songs that it took people two years for people in the world to catch on to it. They didn't just give up on it, after a couple of weeks, like, "This not going anywhere." People push the same sh** for years. Ain't no tellin', sh** could just all of sudden blow up. You just got to keep going and keep pushing it out there. Just because the local scene heard it, that don't mean it's old to the world. It's going to be new because the world hasn't heard it yet.

Jeff: So, do you feel that after this ATL gig, you already got plan for other tours or other cities you're trying to hit?

J Plaza: For now, we're just working on this album, which is dropping later this year.

Jeff: Oh, you working on an album?

J Plaza: Yeah, we're working on an album right now.

Jeff: No sneak peaks?

J Plaza: I mean, the song that we just dropped, "Ghost," will be on the album. This first album, we're just going to give the people some of the songs that have already dropped, and some new stuff. The second album that we're working on, I probably can't even get into the second album, but we got so many songs. I swear to God that every song that we got is crazy. We're just dropping the light ones first, and it's just going to build up to more craziness.

Jeff: Right, right, right. I believe it, everything that you been putting out has been fire, you know what I'm saying, and I think you of all people know that the momentum that you got right now is strong. I think I can speak for your fans, I can speak for the journalists out here, we're all looking forward to what you're about to drop.

J Plaza: Hell yeah, it's a great thing, but I'm not super big yet, you know what I mean? There's bigger artists, I'm trying to build my following to the point where it's like millions of people listening every day. So, I still have a lot of work to do. People be thinking I made it and I'm like, "I'm not there." You know what I'm saying? It's definitely a step ahead of what I was.

Jeff: So, before I let you go in a bit, any last thoughts about Hip-Hop in the Twin Cities? What's the hardest thing about being an artist in the Twin Cities, and one of the hardest things that you had to learn for yourself, outside of networking?

J Plaza: Just realizing that nobody is going to do anything for you, you have to go out there and do it yourself. You can't depend on anybody. You got to do the best you can, you got to create the best you can. You got to stay patient, and you got to be humble, you know what I mean, even though you got to be confident at the same time. You got to believe in yourself. The hardest part for me, because there wasn't a hip-hop radio station or anything, and I didn't know anything about the hip-hop community, so I didn't know when I put myself out there, and now I know. People also have to realize that Minnesota is not the only place you have to promote to, you can target different cities and different states and try to get out there, too.

Jeff: Yeah, without a doubt. One last question for you: Having gone to Atlanta and seeing how the Hip-Hop culture down there is crazy, right. I'm actually currently working on a piece about how Atlanta, today, is kind of like the Motown of Hip-Hop in 2017. Right? So many big-time artists, when we talk about the movement, when we talk about the culture, you got so much coming out of there. What's it like for you to go down to Atlanta, witnessing that, and learning from people down there, does it make you want to bring some of that back here to the Twin Cities and push the culture up North?

J Plaza: Yeah, definitely, I feel like the Twin Cities is growing and all it can do is just grow. So, the more that we put out and the more that we support one another, because you only support dope sh**, cause there's a lot of whack sh** out there too that you're not just going to support. So, just support the dope sh** and even just show love to the motherf****** that are just not that good. Just let them know what they could do better, just don't lie to nobody, you know what I mean, and just keep it genuine. Yeah, that's pretty much it man. that's all we can pretty much do is just keep growing.

Jeff: I appreciate that. Yo, J Plaza, I appreciate you tuning in today, man.

J Plaza: Hell yeah, thanks for having me man, I appreciate y'all.

Jeff: Yeah, definitely.

J-Plaza is man who seldom sleeps. As we speak, he's working on two albums for the upcoming year. If you're reading J, don't wait too long drop the heat. As we anticipate, the release of those projects, check out J-Plaza's most recent single, "Ghost":

Much love,

Jeff

Jeffrey Bissoy is a Twin Cities native by way of Yaoundé, Cameroon. Outside of reporting Hip-Hop for The Current, he's the Host of Maintainin' & Co-host of the NBA podcast, The Come Up. Got a suggestion or wanna leave a comment? Follow him on Twitter, @JeffEmbiid.

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FREEWIFI - official site

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