Beats, rhymes and life are three of the corners where hip hop intersects. Few other TV shows have been able to cover all of these angles in-depth and authentically quite like REVOLT TV’s “Drink Champs,” which thrives on its candid conversations with the biggest and most influential figures in the game. In honor of such a one-of-a-kind show, REVOLT will be recapping each weekly “Drink Champs” episode, so you can always catch the gems that are dropped in each lit interview.
In the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” Brooklyn rap legend Jaz-O makes his first appearance to talk about being the first rap artist ever signed to EMI, introducing JAY-Z to the music business, and what he’s got up his sleeve for the future. A product of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, Jaz-O came of age in the Marcy Housing Projects, and was the first artist from the area to receive a major label record deal, which he inked in 1988. From there, he released his debut album, Word to the Jaz, which included the official recording debut of Hov, who appeared on the album’s lead-single, “Hawaiian Sophie,” a minor hit that peaked at No. 18 on the Hot Rap Songs chart.
Releasing his sophomore album, To Your Soul, in 1991, Jaz-O turned his focus toward production and worked with acts like The LOX, whom he helped record the demo that ultimately landed them at Bad Boy Records. However, the legend’s most noteworthy credit came via his production work on “Ain’t No,” a single from JAY-Z featuring Foxy Brown that helped put his former protege on the map. He also appeared on “Bring It On” from JAY-Z’s Reasonable Doubt album, as well as ”Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99).”
However, Jaz-O and JAY-Z would fall out with each other shortly after. Since then, they’ve have reunited. With over thirty years worth of knowledge of the game, and plenty of dues paid, Jaz-O is regarded by many as an unsung legend.
To help give fans a recap of the conversation, REVOLT compiled a list of nine things we learned from the Jaz-O episode of “Drink Champs.” Take a look at them below.
1. How He Became A Rapper
When asked about the moment he decided to become a rapper, Jaz-O points to an experience rocking a party alongside a childhood friend Rondu, and Rondu’s Uncle Mango, who was a popular local DJ at the time. “So Uncle Mango, he used to do house parties...” Jaz-O explains. “One night, we went out to Red Hook and he was doing a house party. So, my man Ron put me on the spot, he was like, ‘Don’t you be rhyming and shit?’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t really be rhyming and shit,’ but he was like, ‘Go ‘head, man.’ ‘Cause you know how the house party was set up, the DJ set-up was in the bedroom and everybody was in the living room and they had the extension cord, all that shit. So anyway, I start rhyming, then we start hearing the reaction. I was like, ‘Shit, I got two or three more in the stash.’ So, I just went at it and that’s what really started it.”
2. His Mother’s Influence On His Vocabulary
Brooklyn rap artists are renowned for their complex rhyme schemes, which lean heavily on having a vast vocabulary. In this interview, Jaz-O credits his mother with helping build his love for linguistics. “It was my mom to be honest,” he admits when asked of his clever quips. “It was my mother ‘cause, I told this story before, but she used to always just introduce new words to me. Like, one day, I was either five or six, and I was being silly and she was like, ‘Oh, Johnny, you’re being so facetious,’ and I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ And she already knew I was very inquisitive, so I always asked her what does that mean? How do I use [that word], everything. It just went on like that. And she knew I was gonna dive in anyway because I was always asking questions.
3. On His Involvement In JAY-Z’s Battle Against Nas
During JAY-Z’s war of words with Nas, Jaz-O caught a stray shot when Esco referenced Hov’s involvement in Jaz-O’s 1989 single “Hawaiian Sophie” on scathing diss track “Ether.” However, many may not know about the accusations levied against Jaz-O in the midst of the battle, which he speaks on during his sit-down with N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. “It was awkward,” he says of being caught in the middle of the rift. “It was awkward because I was accused of giving Nas information, and it’s like me and Nas, we didn’t talk like that. We had great rapport, but we didn’t talk, so I was accused of that because people in the circle. They was saying, like, ‘How does he know this? How does he know that?’ I was like, ‘He saw it.’ When I was signed to EMI, we did a college tour. He didn’t stay on the tour, but he came out for Main Source. He came out for Large Professor when they did [‘Live at the BBQ’]. We were at Norfolk State. That’s where I met Nas, and he got onstage and they did the song, and me and JAY was standing there and we was like, ‘Yeah, that dude’s gonna be something.’ We were analysts, that’s how we did everything. We watched everything. So, I was accused of that and I didn’t give him any information.
4. On Meeting JAY-Z For The First Time
Jaz-O’s relationship with Jigga is well documented, but one mystery that remains is how the pair originally partnered up with one another. Jaz-O gives his account on their initial meeting. ”This is what happened,” he begins. “We’re gonna throw Queens in the mix, so Shirt Kings, you know Nike? Well Nike from The Shirt Kings, Nike actually lived around the same way that JAY did... I was coming from college after those two years basically. I dropped out of that shit. Nike found out I was back in Brooklyn, so I guess he had a hated discussion with someone else ‘cause they was talking about this young cat that’s supposed to be nicer than everybody, and then Nike was like, ‘That nigga ain’t nicer than Jaz. Jaz the nicest nigga, period, point, blank.’ They was going back and forth, and they were like, ‘All right, let’s find out. So, he set up the meeting and that’s when me and JAY first met. So, I rhymed first and then, he rhymed, and he was the first person that I ever heard rhyme [that reminded me of me]. So I was like, ‘Yeah, I gotta keep my eye on him.’”
5. On Battling Big Daddy Kane
At the time of Jaz-O’s signing to EMI, Brooklyn already had a rap king in Big Daddy Kane, a legend himself. Jaz-O recalls battling him, and how it led to the infamous recording featuring them and JAY-Z rhyming alongside one another. “Same shit came up with Kane and me,” Jaz-O says of The Shirt Kings’ Nike’s involvement. “Like, ‘Nah, Kane.’ He was like, ‘Nigga ain’t better than Jaz.’ He was always screaming that, ‘Niggas ain’t better than Jaz,’ so he set it up. I don’t know if you guys remember Fresh Gordon. He was a producer. He produced some stuff for the Fat Boys, he had a deal with Tommy Boy. Nike basically set up the meeting. It was supposed to be a battle again. We all met up at Fresh Gordon’s crib and we did this little, back then, you would call it a mixtape. We recorded that and from then on, we all just became cool.
6. His Reaction To Sauce Money’s Issues With JAY-Z
Fellow Marcy Projects rap legend Sauce Money, who appeared on each of JAY-Z’s first three studio albums, has recently aired grievances about his relationships with a number of former collaborators including JAY-Z. When asked about his take on the situation, Jaz-O remains diplomatic. “It’s very simple,” Jaz-O begins. “One of the greatest axioms I ever heard is ‘shit happens.’ But, the flip-side of shit happens is that people react a certain way and that’s the key to it, everybody focuses on the ‘shit happens’ part, but nobody focuses on how do you respond to certain things. So, like you said, similar circumstances, roles reversed, different responses. I’ma keep it right there, I think all of y’all will get it.”
7. The Story Behind JAY-Z’s Introduction To Damon Dash
Another figure credited with ushering JAY-Z into the rap industry is DJ Clark Kent, who Jaz-O remembers facilitating the introduction between him, Sauce Money, Hov, and Damon Dash. “Actually, one of your previous guests, Clark Kent, introduced Dame Dash to JAY, and then me, and the rest of us,” he reveals before adding an interesting tidbit. “And to give you a little something y’all might not have known, the whole set-up, originally, was for me, JAY, and Sauce. We were a group: Hard Pack. We did about six or seven [songs], Clark produced a couple, Ski produced a couple, I produced a couple. There were slight discrepancies as far as the decision was sorta made that Dame would manage us. So, he wanted everybody to sign to his management and everybody didn’t wanna do it. I didn’t feel like I should do it. It had nothing to do with my rapport with Dame. It was just something that I felt that I shouldn’t do. And I think, at the same time, Sauce felt the same way.”
8. His And JAY-Z’s Infamous Trip To London
On the Pusha T track “Dope Boys Anonymous,” JAY-Z references a photo of him sitting in a Mercedes Benz in London during the late ‘80s that has become the subject of hip hop lore. Casual fans may be unaware that the photo was taken during making of Jaz-O’s debut album, which was recorded in London. “We went to London to record my album. It was myself, JAY, and Irv Gotti,” he shares. “So, we were there for like two months, Irv got homesick. He broke out and we stayed. But, it was a very good experience besides the food. We couldn’t find no Roti. They wouldn’t take us to Brixton. They told us go to the studio ‘cause they ain’t know. We went to the Y[MCA] sometimes [to] play some ball and [then] back [home]. I did have a flat in this affluent area somewhere, I don’t know where the hell we were, but we were living good. But, that was a very great experience. I couldn’t believe it and I really couldn’t grasp what was going on until I had an actual release celebration really for the completion of the album in London and we were in a Cadillac stretch, which was almost like having a Bentley stretch... Then, it hit me. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m doing it.’”
9. Reuniting With JAY-Z
Following his decision to not sign with Roc-A-Fella Records following his appearance on “Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99),” Jaz-O’s relationship with JAY-Z soured, as the former friends sent idle shouts at one another over the years. However, after more than fifteen years at odds, the pair would reconcile through mutual friends, an experience Jaz-O recounts during his “Drink Champs” interview. “Firstly, there was somebody I was doing some business with that was in Chicago,” he explains. “They’re actually from Detroit, but they live in Chicago, and one of their main things was to put us together. And I was like, ‘That’s great, but let me press the button on that.’ So, they just jumped the gun and it was like, ‘It’s the perfect opportunity.’ I’m a path of least resistance guy. So, I was like, ‘Alright, let’s see what happens.’ I’m not worried. So, he talked to Emory Jones. Emory set it up. We went to will call and we met in the green room, and it was just regular shit like I ain’t seen him since last month or something like that. He was like, ‘Jaz.’ I was like, ‘JAY, what’s good?’ Handshake, hug, and it was beautiful.”