Knowing nothing about his sleeping patterns, Just looking at his discography, one gets the sense that producer/rapper Jel (born Jeffrey Logan) lives and breathes on beats alone — that for him, rest is but an afterthought. Ever since the 1997 formation of hip-hop duo Themselves, in which he partners with Adam “Doseone” Drucker, the prolific artist has put out multiple releases every year either under his own name, with Themselves, with other projects such as Subtle and 13 & God, or as producer for other innovative rap artists such as Serengeti. Oh, and he co-founded LA-based indie hip-hop label Anticon. No big deal.
This week, Jel returned with his eighth solo release — the fourth in his Greenball series — Greenball 3.5. Sticking to his sampling roots, much of the album was created on an ’80s SP-1200, a drum machine / sampler combo, giving it an old-school, beat-driven feel and adhering to a less-is-more philosophy by giving weight to negative space.
Jel’s signature boom-bap works its way into each track, centering the instrumental works on his hand-performed beats, and songs like the pulsing, scratching “Montro” and the vibrating, synth-driven “Ignition Key” are injected with the raw hip-hop production that makes 3.5 unmistakably Jel.
ALARM recently spoke with Jel about the Greenball series and new album, as well as other projects in the works.
There hasn’t been a solo Jel release since 2007. How much have you been able to work on solo material since that time?
Well, I have been working on my follow-up to Soft Money since about 2008. I didn’t make enough time for solo music while working on the last Themselves albums, Crowns Down and The Free Houdini, as well as working on the last 13 & God album and also being involved in all the next Serengeti releases on Anticon this year. I have been very anxious to get a new Jel LP out on Anticon.
Can you tell us a bit about the Greenball series and what sets it apart from the rest of your work? How does 3.5 compare to the rest of the series?
Greenball has always been a compilation of instrumental beats that were either released with vocals or never released at all. The first and second are mainly E-mu SP-1200 beats, but as time went on, as I started using the Akai live, I started making beats on the MPC2000XL more and more, and the later Greenballs aren’t strictly SP-1200 beats.
3.5 is taking old SP-1200 beats and playing MPC over the top. It’s got a bit more live element to it than GB I, 2, and 3rd.
What do you prefer about using an MPC, both live and on record?
I don’t really prefer the MPC. It has more memory and the pads are soft compared to the SP-1200; those are the main reasons for me using the MPC live. It’s just easy to play it like an instrument. And when I started using it in Themselves and Subtle back in 2001, I couldn’t use anything else, and now I use it in every band I play in live. I’ve just been stuck with the same equipment for years, and now that equipment is just about obsolete.
How did you become affiliated with Fieldwerk, and why did you choose to release Greenball 3.5 on the label as opposed to on Anticon?
I think Kevin Beacham of [Rhymesayers Entertainment] made the connection. Then I was talking to them about doing a split seven-inch for the label.
Around the same time, I released the first side of the 3.5 on Grown Kids Radio as a free chunk of streaming music. I thought about it, and Dave from Fieldwerk Recordings sent me a bunch of their releases. I was definitely impressed with the aesthetic of the label and how it is totally focused on beat-makers/producers, so I was down to put out Greenball 3.5 through Fieldwerk. I could have put it out through Anticon; it just would have been a different process, and might not have dropped in April 2012. Plus, I am finishing a Jel LP for Anticon now, hopefully to be out Fall 2012.
How much of your day-to-day is spent on Anticon stuff?
Not much at all, unless it’s working with Odd Nosdam and Serengeti. Anticon hasn’t been day-to-day for the artists/owners for a few years now.
What can you tell us about the Mars Safari soundtrack with Doseone?
It was fun to make mock popular songs for the pilot. It was [Kenny Loggins’] “Highway to the Danger Zone” and [Survivor’s] “Eye of the Tiger,” which we changed to “Danger Show” and “The Horn of the Tiger” — all just nonsense, but a fun way to make music. It’s always good not to take yourself too seriously.
What other projects are in the works? Any more Serengeti productions?
Between Nosdam, Serengeti, and I, we have the Kenny Dennis EP that just dropped on Anticon, a Serengeti LP and EP called CAR and CAB to be released before the year is over, and the new Jel LP on Anticon, [for] which I’m finishing the mixes with Nosdam.