Interview: J Reno Unveils the Politikilla!

J Reno Interview October 2016 Vandala MagazineHailing from Windsor, Canada; J Reno represents the underground to it’s fullest! For over twenty years he’s been on the mic and even charted on the billboard top twenty-five  hip-hop with his masterpiece single, “Snap Music”. “Snap Music” originally appeared on the hip-hop compilation “Tunnel Runners” released by Psychopathic Records. His new record “Politikillia” just dropped through Reel Wolf Records and is completely taking hip-hop back to its early roots! Don’t sleep!

Interview by Chad Thomas Carsten
From October 2016 Vandala Magazine 

You’ve been rapping for twenty years, what keeps you coming back to the mic?

J-Reno: Probably because I love making music, I love all the fans who have supported me and I have a lot of fun doing what I do. It’s really as simple as that. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and a lot of points where it becomes like a job and the fun goes away. It’s been 3 year’s since I’ve released a full-length album and the only real reason that I did is because I was in the studio having fun creating this project and I really reignited my passion and love for hip hop music. Not the business end, not the political aspects but how much I truly enjoy creating and making music. Most emcees hit the point I am at in their careers walk because it didn’t pan out the way they wanted and for me, I’ve come to terms with the fact that being rich and famous isn’t the goal. As long as I love making the music and there is a market for me to release it in I will continue to do it. I love the creative control and freedom to do music how I want when I want and where I want.

What’s life like in Windsor, Canada?

J-Reno: Life in Windsor is pretty much like life in any industrial city, especially in our current economy. We have the highest unemployment rate in Canada but it seems to be turning around with the big auto industry picking up and more people getting jobs. The city is a very blue collar. Everybody is either working 40 to 60 hours a week or scamming the government and doing drugs. There isn’t much of an in-between here. We’re also the most Americanized city in the country being the border city of Detroit so the news and radio is all American which really led to a heavy influence in music and culture here. Some of the greatest music in history across all genres came out of Detroit and that has always played a role in this city’s development. There are a ton of talented musicians and artists in Windsor spanning across all genre’s and it’s a direct influence of our neighbors across the river. As much as I like to call Windsor home, it is a small city with a very limited opportunity when it comes to what I do but I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else.

For someone who has never had the chance to see J-Reno live; what’s a J-Reno show like and why should a music fan attend?

J-Reno: Well when it comes to live shows I tend to bring a certain energy that is rarely seen in hip hop nowadays. I see a lot of solo artists on stage not moving around much, rapping with their eyes closed, not really interacting with the crowd. I like to keep it high energy, keep the crowd involved, mix some comedy in-between songs and just generally focus on getting a reaction out of the people in the crowd. If it’s an up close and personal type of crowd I like to really engage everybody. When it’s the bigger shows I like to get the crowd as active as I can. We like to throw a lot of merch and cd’s to the front row people and I love to get the crowd chanting and reacting to the words. I leave everything on the stage and after so many years of touring and shows, I feel like the live aspect is something I have really gotten the hang of and there hasn’t been a crowd yet that I haven’t gotten over on. You can rock out to the beats, you can soak in the lyrics, you can mosh, you can flip me off or whatever it may be but I will get a reaction out of you if you’re at my show.

Your true thoughts on the current state of Canadian Hip Hop?

J-Reno: I can say with confidence that it is absolutely amazing. There are so many talented artists from Canada that are doing things on so many levels. Hip Hop in Canada now is what Hip Hop used to be in America. There’s so much more substance in Canadian Hip Hop. In America, the new wave of “hip hop” has tarnished what to me was something so special but here in Canada, the true elements of Hip Hop are still very alive and well. It’s also amazing to see so many Canadian Hip Hop artists being accepted internationally in countries like America, Russia, the UK, Germany and all over the world. I am very proud to be a part of Canadian hip hop and it is taken very seriously here.

What is it like being part of the Reel Wolf Productions family?

J-Reno: Awesome. Tom Vujcic is a genius when it comes to independent music, video and everything in between. Reel Wolf has a huge reputation worldwide for doing some of the biggest music videos in underground hip hop’s history and to be involved with a team like this is an unreal feeling. I have been featured in a handful of Reel Wolf videos and have gotten to meet and work with a lot of very talented artists on all levels through it. The main reason I love being a part of Reel Wolf is the fact that they are always pushing the envelope and constantly inspiring me to do better by putting me in so many opportunities to shine alongside some of the biggest names in hip-hop. It keeps me sharp and ready for anything. Reel Wolf is just getting started and is really about to solidify itself as a top independent record company in 2016 and 17.

How is Politikilla keeping hip-hop alive?

J-Reno: Politikilla is keeping hip hop alive by inspiring these up and coming kids who still have that love and passion for real hip-hop music that it can still be done. There is still an audience and you can do it on your own terms without having to dumb down or conform to reach an audience. I believe with or without it hip hop would still be alive you just have to dig a bit deeper to find the true art form nowadays but I feel it’s a solid contribution to the culture that I love so much.

Can you describe what type of record Politikilla represents?

J-Reno: Politikilla represents exactly what it says. I came out to kill the politics and expose the shady underbelly of the scene. Even in the underground, there are a lot of divas and artists and labels that act no different than the industry or celebrities. There’s a lot of “independent” and “underground” that built everything they have off being exactly that but will have you jumping through hoops just to gain an opportunity. To me they are no different then the industry they claimed to be against. The politics in the music industry and the amount of snakes trying to get in your wallets or get in your profits just to get you an opportunity or two; that if you work hard enough you could just get yourself. The album as a whole represents the fact that I can do everything I need to do myself and still get results without having to have a label or publicist or promoter or headlining artist digging into my pockets or limiting me.

Why should a hip-hop fan listen to Politikilla?

J-Reno: A hip hop fan should listen to it because it’s 100% raw, uncut, unsanctioned and underground. I speak my mind on many issues and I have complete freedom to do what I want. That’s when music comes out the best. When you have full control of it and nobody involved picking at what your doing. There’s a great variety on the record but it all fits within the realm of my style and it takes a heavy influence from the golden age of hip-hop with a lot of focus on rhyming, lyrics, scratching and beats.

What Political issue inspired the title”Politikilla”?

J-Reno: Just the state of underground hip hop in general. In 16 years I have come across a lot of people who would want you to believe that they do this for the love of hip-hop and the culture but in reality are only sitting in wait to catch you at the right time to dig in your pockets. Nobody really wants to help you they just want to get something out of what you do. The title politikilla doesn’t directly relate to the government politics as much as it does the politics of the music industry be it underground or mainstream. The album was inspired by the fact that I am going to prove that you do not need all these greedy hands in the pot to accomplish something with music. You can do it on your terms and you can see the success that way.

What did you set out to accomplish with “Politikilla”?

J-Reno: Man, to be honest, I didn’t set out to accomplish anything other than making a dope record that people will enjoy. At the end of the day, my main goal is to create good music. After the album came together and I realized what I had on my hands; that’s what I really wanted to accomplish with the album was to inspire people and also expose some of the things that usually stay hidden from the general listener. Being 99% self-sufficient and coming out with a product like this is an amazing thing!

Biggest challenged you faced when recording Politikilla and how did you overcome it?

J-Reno: The biggest challenge I faced with the album was the decision on the artwork. I really had a vision and if you follow my music or me you know that I pride myself on being very self-sufficient but I just could not for the life of me bring the concept that I came up with to life. I hand drew like three separate images, did some photoshop mock-ups and all of that. I wanted the album artwork to be completely off the wall and perfectly embody the music within. The solution to that was to outsource the work to a local artist named Ellis that I have known for many years. I had to let go of the idea that I could do it myself and really just let him take my idea and bring it to life. I feel like that was the best decision I made in terms of this project because the artwork is some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen on a hip hop album period. It came out exactly how I envisioned it, maybe even better.

How did you prepare yourself in the booth before recording Politikilla?

J-Reno: No word of a lie. Before I get in the booth I always jump around like a cage fighter during the introductions. I also do it before I hit the stage. It helps get my energy and cardio moving and it’s a big part of how I get into my zone. Once I am in it I can’t be stopped. I’m very calm in the booth after all these years. A lot of artists get flustered when they mess up or put pressure on themselves and really make it harder to get the job done. I go into the booth like a trained assassin. I know my mission, I am in my zone and I complete my tasks.

Who primarily produced “Politikilla” and where was the album mainly recorded?

J-Reno: That’s the best part of all this album. I made EVERY beat on the record. I engineered the entire project myself (aside from the guest features from other cities). I did all the mixing as well. The process was very simple for me. I would be in the studio making a beat and if it hit me a certain way then I would continue to produce the track and write my verses and hooks at the same time. All the tracks were produced, written and recorded one by one as I made the beats. I run Lunatic Studios and I have the freedom to work as I please, so there was never any pressure and I could really just lock myself in the studio and work. This album is a true declaration of independence because aside from the mastering and the cover art, I did everything.

Any behind the scene details you’d like to share when first recording “Politikilla”?

J-Reno: Truthfully behind the scenes recording isn’t the show most of these artists want you to believe it is. I get in the studio and get the job done. Back in the day we used to always be drinking and smoking and kinda partying while recording but at this point in the game it was all business in the studio. I was also alone for the most part doing the record, aside from a couple sessions my homie OD would sit in on and help me run the board.

Details on the artist responsible for the official album cover and how it relates the world today?

J-Reno: As I mentioned earlier the cover art was hand drawn by a local artist named Ellis. He is one of the most talented individuals I have ever met. He has done a lot of designs for local artists but none of them hit like the one he did for me. He stepped outside of his comfort zone and created something unique, even for him. As far as how it relates; I feel like it relates to the world perfectly because this place is a mess. It’s utter chaos across the globe and it’s all due to political bullshit. In the cover you see the music executive or politician with the puppet strings attached to him and the stage is burning down. The people on the floor are up in arms and the major label symbolism is on fire relating to the awakening of people on the political scale. It really brings the chaos of the world to life and it also directly relates to the business we are in now.

j-reno-albumHow did you go about choosing who you wanted to guest feature on the record?

J-Reno: That was easy. I respect them all and we all are working towards the same goals. There is a lot of Reel Wolf flavour on the record with features from Ironic, Mersinary, Resin and Raw B Snatch. These guys are a part of the team so it’s only right we work and build together. Brad Shank makes two appearances on the album, because that’s my partner and honestly the motivating factor behind me really getting back behind the mic and doing this again at this level. I also have a feature from Odoub of Nah Bro Entertainment, who is a battle rapper out of New York and a hell of an emcee. The album also features the debut of OD, a long time homie that has finally decided to step into the booth and put something dope together which I will be 100% behind. He is also the host of one of the Canadian Bakin Network podcasts with me. The only artist that isn’t in my direct circle that featured on the record is Diabolik The Monster and I hand picked him to feature because I came across one of his songs on social media and I was blown away! I couldn’t believe how dope this kid was and that I had yet to hear of him. I bumped his whole catalog online and reached out. We ended up doing one of my favorite songs on the album.

Is “Wake Em Up” about people sleeping on your skills?

J-Reno: Yes. I think that because I did a lot with certain artists in the underground and that I was generally looked at to be stuck in that box. I am far more than that and Wake Em Up is really me just letting the world know that I can’t be contained in a genre or style and that I am bigger then any label you can throw at me. I can rhyme, I can write, I can hit with punch lines, multi’s, patterns, stories, concepts or whatever. To me the song was basically a welcome back kind of thing. A lot of people slept on me because of where I came from and who I came up with, but if you really just listen you will see that I am much more then a one-sided act.

When you were first writing “The Burial”, what exactly was rushing through your mind when coming up with the concept?

J-Reno: I needed a darker song on the record and having picked out Dieabolik to feature on it I wanted to also cater more to his style while still keeping that J Reno feel to the track. The concept was easy to come up with. Once I had the beat going and I was really happy with the way it sounded; all I could think about was burying anybody who stood in my way on the track. This is one of my favorite songs on the record hands down. I wanted the album to have a more well-rounded feel to it but I knew deep down I needed to do a darker anthem type song and this is it.

Can you break down the track “Friends” and what it means to you personally?

J-Reno: Man, that’s a deep song but to be honest it was written from more of an outside perspective. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any personal connection to the song because I have seen people I really care about go down the wrong path or be easily influenced by “friends” who really weren’t their friends at all. The actual song concept came to me while I was sitting on the couch watching A&E. The show “The First 48” to be exact. They play like four episodes back to back and I got sucked in and watched them all. The one thing I gathered from the show was so many of the victims AND the suspects were all in the situations they were in because of people they called “Friends”. There’s a lot of people dying just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time because they trusted somebody else. A lot of people getting caught up in things they shouldn’t be because of who they associate with. At the end of the day it means a lot to me personally because I have seen it and experienced it myself first hand but the actual idea came from the show. So many of those guys on that show were in the shitty positions they were in because of the people they called friends and after its all said and done, they have thrown their lives away and those friends are nowhere to be found. I’ve also watched a lot of documentaries on prison culture and in every single one there are multiple inmate interviews where they explain their situations and how those people they were involved with at the time are nowhere to be found and they are rotting in a cell. It just all came to me that I should write a story type song about the situations these people deal with and hopefully the bigger picture will be clear to people who listen to it and they really think about who they call a friend.

You already dropped a music video for “Wake Em Up”. How soon until the next single for Politikilla drops and any sneak peek details about the next video you’d like to discuss?

J-Reno: Wake Em Up is a single and on the album is a metal remix of the song, which dropped before Politikilla was even complete. The first single from the album is called “Do What I Want” and can be heard right now on youtube. We are planning some real fun visuals for this with the Reel Wolf team and I can tell you that with them behind the lens it will be nothing short of a classic. I also have plans to drop at least three more singles from the album with a video to accompany each of them. Maybe more depending how much fun I have with the visual aspects of the tracks. The 2nd single off the album hasn’t been chosen 100%, but it will be a collaboration and that’s all I can really tell you.

As a recording artist, where you do see yourself in the next 10 years?

J-Reno: I don’t have an answer for you for this because I truly live in the moment when it comes to this. I can’t tell you I’ll be alive in 10 years let alone releasing music. I hope 10 years from now I can be more behind the scenes and helping other artists develop and come up in this music game, but who knows. All I know is as long as the fire is burning I will continue to make music and go where it takes me, no more or no less than that.

Top 5 most influential Canadian Hip-Hop albums

J-Reno: This is the toughest question of the interview because truth be told I grew up on American radio, and American artists. I can’t honestly list you 5 influential albums from Canadian Hip Hop artists because all the albums that influenced me are all American. When I first got to check out Much Music I remember seeing Maestro Fresh Wes and guys like Choclair, Kardinal, The Rascals and Swollen Members all doing their thing, but I was more drawn to the American stuff because it was a lot more grimy and had a lot more edge to it. I can tell you right now my favorite hip hop album to come out of Canada is probably Merk’s album “Scars”. I respect all the guys who laid the groundwork for Canadian Hip Hop but I can’t sit here and lie to you like I was a huge fan of all of their work or that their work personally influenced me because it didn’t. I always felt that at that time Canadian Hip Hop was a lot softer and just didn’t have that rough edge I was looking for as a kid in the 90’s.

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