Journalist’s musical palette is flecked with words, strategic intonations, acute ideas. He’s been wading through hip-hop for over a decade, and in that time he has shared the booth with incisor-flashing mavericks such as Canibus. Once signed to Motown, the lyricist is now on Hardrout, his own label. Mastering the craft of internal rhymes and battle hardened metaphors, we spoke to the mc about his newest record, his view on the current state of hip-hop, and how he feels about the disintegration of freestyling in modern music.
ROBERT PATRICK: You have always been one of the best emcees with rhyme structure (internal rhymes, metaphors, delivery). Do you think that having the capacity to construct internal rhymes is important to being a complete lyricist?
JOURNALIST: Absolutely. Some of the earlier artists were nice for their time; they were doing them. But then to hear the Rakims [of the hip-hop world], to hear the Nas’s to the Biggies, Pacs, Jays, Eminems and so on – it takes that [level of skill] to be separated as one of the elite.
Many freshman emcees – Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and Tyler the Creator – forgo elaborate verses in favor of a more simplistic rhyme structure. Do you think the practice of using multiples is decreasing over time?
I don’t feel it’s decreasing overall, but it has been dumbed down. I actually like Kendrick’s flow and subject matter. I think the game has become more universal. The playing field is bigger, and you get more variety.
Your debut album, Scribes of Life, was both lyrically and production-wise on point. Why do you think, commercially, that it didn’t catch on?
I just feel the set up could of been better. There were a lot of internal differences in the decision making, and a lot of ignorance with people involved in running the project, including myself. We learn by trial and error sometimes.
Even though you have been releasing tracks, you haven’t come out with a studio album in a decade-plus. On your site you’re quoted as saying “I like to put music out when I feel the timing is right.” What about 2014 seemed right to you?
[laughs] The timing was perfect for that. Unfortunately, the project that I was working on with a local producer never came to pass because we couldn’t get on the same page, timing wise. The project kind of was at a standstill halfway through. And I like to keep joints fresh, as soon as I record them, because I’m always challenging myself on the recording and sonic side of the art. On top of that, I had the birth of my beautiful princess. I’m still enjoying that blessing like it happened yesterday. But as promised, I will be releasing my project very soon.
Are you working with Canibus, in any capacity, on the new album?
No, I haven’t spoken to Canibus for some time now. But that would be interesting – I’m still a fan of his.
What is your take on the Canibus and Dizaster battle?
I was taken back when I first saw it. I was in shock just as a lot of others were. I understand how a moment can go left field real fast. I was making sense of it. The streets wasn’t trying to hear that, though [laughs]. I linked with a mutual friend, Donnel, who was actually there throughout the whole battle, and he help me understand more of how it went down.
You and Masta Ace are absolute beasts with rhyming ability. Any chance of you working with him?
I have the utmost respect for Masta Ace. Salutes. I had a chance to build with him, briefly, a few years ago. He still got bars, too. Any legend in the game of Ace’s status I would be privileged to throw bars with. Come on, he was on “The Symphony,” my nig [laughs].
Hip-hop has changed, significantly, over the years. Are you surprised where it has gone in both underground and commercial forums?
It’s a bitter sweet situation for me, personally. More sweet than bitter, though. I enjoy seeing the longevity of the successful artists I came up listening to. It still motivates me. It’s called a game though and every player brings their ability to the court. Me, I feel I been blessed to be able to play any position. #Lebron [laughs]
How has your own style changed over time?
My style has definitely changed. It would be senseless not to adapt with the times, but you still have to remain true to self. I like the challenge of growth. And I’m a guy who loves music as a whole: meaning a variety of genres. I’m always evolving.
Having been on both larger and smaller labels, do you feel that you have more control in an independent environment?
Well, the smaller label would be that of our own. One of the reasons of not rushing to another label after I left Motown/Universal was so I can appreciate the independence more.
What emcee, in your opinion, is the best representation of where hip-hop should be right now?
I like several of the newer artist as well as the older ones. I like J. Cole, but that’s an open-ended question, because hip-hop always had several levels of mcs; I’ve played it all from Native Tongues to NWA.
Do you think that freestyling is important to hip-hop at this point in time?
That depends on the artist, more so, and what they want to get out of they craft. Me, I have no rules as far as my craft. In all honesty, I’m the one behind the easel. I don’t think Picasso consulted with the whole town before painting a masterpiece. I believe if it’s quality, people will take to it. If you can burp on a track, and if it’s done uniquely and creatively, it may fly, so freestyling definitely has its place. Black Thought is one of the most prolific freestylers I have ever heard, and he seems to be doing well for himself.
What can we expect from your newest album?
You will definitely hear a more groomed Journ, but you will still hear Journ. And it sounds cliche, but it will be a game changer.
If you could pick one song for a first time listener to hear, out of your entire catalog, what track would it be?
That track would be “Daily Grace,” produced by Tracknique. But that could change by tonight; I get jaded easily [laughs]
For more on Journalist, visit his official site.