Jason "J-Rocc" Jackson, like most musicians, spends a lot of time digging. But whereas most artists do their digging by way of dusting off their catalog of memories or plucking away at a guitar until finding that perfect note, J-Rocc digs in musty old crates of soul, funk and jazz records for his artistic expression. He is a musical collage artist, you see, and while the name might not be all that familiar to those outside of the competitive DJ scene, he is one of the very best in the world at what he does.
Thirteen years ago, J-Rocc formed what has been dubbed Southern California's first real turntable band — the legendary Beat Junkies. Having begun assembling the roots of his sound with the DJ group PSK back in the mid-80s and taking cues from other experimental musicians he loved (John Coltrane is said to be a huge influence), J-Rocc began reimagining the turntable as a musical instrument. Always fond of smooth transitions and slow-building crescendos, he soon developed a signature sound, incorporating scratching and other such techniques while never overpowering the rush of the original work in question. Moreover, J-Rocc always had a thirst for the forgotten, the slept-on, and the downright obscure. This attitude was incorporated to present challenges to himself as well as his audience; anyone can spin the latest hits, after all. To make something old sound completely new? Why, that's what artistic interpretation's all about.
After settling into their sound, the Beat Junkies (core members J-Rocc, Babu, Melo-D, and Rhettmatic, along with about a half-dozen other co-conspirators), were soon crowned International Turntablist Federation (ITF) World Champions two years in a row (1997 and 1998). In 1999, Rawkus Records' Sound Bombing 2 presented J-Rocc's vision to a wider audience. The album, which included such well-known lyricists as Pharaoh Monche, Mos Def and Common, went on to become an underground hit, further introducing the Beat Junkies name and aesthetic to the music world at large. (The previous year, J-Rocc toured the country with Mos Def and musical compatriot Talib Kweli, setting the stage for the compilation).
In 2001, the Beat Junkie collective released an album of Junkie odds and ends entitled Classic Material, which was released on their new self-titled imprint, Beat Junkie Sound. J-Rocc soon began work with new Beat Junkie member Babu for a project that would come to be known as the Bumrush Brothers, with the two also opening the now-legendary Los Angeles record store Fat Beats. Later that year, J-Rocc released Syndromes Remix, an on-wax distillation of the live J-Rocc experience. Featuring artists as diverse as Roy Ayers, Instant Funk, Minnie Riperton, and Grover Washington Jr., it remains an innovative set that probably stands as the pinnacle of J-Rocc's recorded output.
Since that time, J-Rocc has released the live mixtapes Play This (One) and Junkies Pick, and once again taken to the road. But while he does the odd solo date — he'll be at Charlotte's The Room on Saturday — J-Rocc wants everyone to know that once you're a Junkie, you're always a Junkie.
The secret to J-Rocc and the Beat Junkies' longevity? Much like the matching Green Lantern rings all the members wear, both Rocc and the Junkies seem to be everywhere all at once, superhero-like in their omnipresence. Whether hosting their own radio shows, holding a new monthly residency at LA's Knitting Factory, making records, selling records, touring or doing producing work, every team member is constantly creating new work, both in the artistic and financial senses. While the Bay Area's (now-defunct) Invisbl Skratch Piklz got more press, and New York's X-ecutioners sold more records, no DJ crew has affected the entire landscape of hip-hop like the Junkies."Battling was a way to get your name out there, but I think we were all on a mission more than anything," says Babu of the crew. "More than trying to get props, we were on a mission to put new styles out there that hadn't been touched yet."
And they still are. In the past five years, the group hasn't stopped pushing the limits, both musically and otherwise: team member Rhettmatic designed the industry standard PMC 05-PRO mixer for Vestax and spins for The Visionaries, Melo-D is musical director for Vibe's late-night television show, and latter-day Junkie Mr. Choc is mixshow coordinator for Power 106.
"We've definitely tried to spread ourselves around as much as possible," J-Rocc recently told the LA Weekly. "As long as we keep doing what we're doing, it's wide-open, man, (the) sky's the limit."
J-Rocc will be appearing at The Room this Saturday. Call 704-527-4511 or log on to www.theroom.tv for more information.