Contributed by Chris Richburg
Justin Long is someone who has no problem giving it to you straight. Maybe that’s why his rap alias, JustMe, fits so well. From his days as a member of SolSeekers and Scribbling Idiots to his current status as an established solo artists, JustMe is fearless when conveying his experiences in rhyme form. As a result, he has gained respect among rap peers who have seen firsthand what brought him to the table as well as fans who know what to expect when plugging into to the man who refers to himself and his friends as “Christians that don’t make “Christian Rap””.
JustMe recently took time out to chat with the Sphere via e-mail about his past work and latest album, Tragedy & Dope, the benefit to being honest with listeners, inserting strong language into his raps and why making a song with James Taylor would be his dream collaboration. So here he is. JustMe, straight no chaser…
Sphere of Hip-Hop: First off, how are you doing?
JustMe: I’m doing real well, thanks. I keep busy with family, work, music, etc.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: It’s been a minute since the release of your latest album, Tragedy & Dope. What has the reaction been among fans and listeners? Was there anything you felt you could’ve done differently with this album?
JustMe: I think the reaction was great! I’ve received some amazing e-mails from people saying that certain songs really move them. It was the people’s choice for Sphere album of the year too. That’s really an honor, and I appreciate everyone’s support. There’s some marketing things that we should have done different, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: You have a reputation as one of the most versatile MCs. You’ve touched on a lot of personal issues in your music, from being a parent to the love you have for your wife to your own struggles before and after accepting Christ in your life. How has relaying your experiences in your music affected your ability to reach the casual listener or longtime fan? Have there been times where you’ve questioned whether or not to expose so much of yourself in your lyrics?
JustMe: Honesty is the best policy. Every song I write is a snap-shot in time. That’s the way I was feeling at that moment. That feeling may change, and then again it may not. Either way, I have a feeling that others have felt the same way from time to time. I’m aware that when I meet someone who has heard my music, they are going to know me better than I know them, and I’m okay with that.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: There has always been constant mantra in rap of “keeping it real” or “100.” In your opinion, has hip-hop strayed from this or are rappers keeping it as 100 as they possibly can to sell as many records as they can or rather support themselves in a very competitive field?
JustMe: I think it’s the same as it always has been. People want to romanticize the past, and act like everyone was more honest, or more conscious, or whatever 15 to 20 years ago, but that’s just not true. Hip-hop has always been diverse, and to be honest, I think it’s become even more diverse. Likewise, the “wack emcee” has always been a part of the vernacular in hip-hop as well, so if there is more emceeing, there is also more wack emceeing.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: Reading up on you, I noticed you’ve worked with a variety of artists over the years. As a Tunnel Rats fan, I see you were affiliated with them for a time. So much so, they had a hand in creating your first rap moniker, Sage. For those that don’t know, can you break down the difference between Sage and JustMe and the reason behind the name change in 2002?
JustMe: Yeah, I think I decided on the name Sage after a discussion with Sojourn during lunch break at school or something. It stuck for awhile. After People Watching came out though, I would read reviews, and they’d be referring to me as Sage (not Francis). I didn’t want to have to see that all the time, so I decided to change it. I remember wanting to use my real name. I suggested J.Long at one point, and Ahred laughed. Now we have J.Cole. I was a big Freestyle Fellowship fan, and I like the names Aceyalone (an updated version of Ace-1), Self Jupiter, and Mikah 9 (short for Microphone Mike). I liked how their names were like a way of referring to themselves in the third-person. Thus Justin Long became JustMe.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: I read a review of Tragedy & Dope and the reviewer described it as “grown man hip-hop.” With that and the fact that rap listeners eventually get older, is there a place for “grown man hip-hop” in today’s rap world. Or have we become so numb that opinions will always cling to the notion that rhyme-saying is a young man’s game with no place for seasoned MCs to continue doing what they love while expressing a more mature evolution of their musical style?
JustMe: There’s definitely a place for grown up hip-hop. It’s a natural progression. The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, and Paul McCartney still perform. I think there will be hip-hop artists performing into their sixties and seventies too. There are several legendary artists in there forties that are still releasing new music so…
Sphere of Hip-Hop: You’ve been into hip-hop for a very long time with starting out as a break-dancer and later DJ’ing and graffiti, and ultimately rapping. Do you still break-dance or hit the 1’s and 2’s whenever you catch a minute?
JustMe: Not really. Maybe messing around at show, or a friends wedding or something. As far as DJ’ing goes, I was never any good at blending or scratching.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: Life as an entertainer comes with its fair share of temptation. How do you deal with this sort of thing? Do you feel gospel MCs have it harder than secular MCs in staying on the right road and avoiding the pitfalls associated with yielding to something that you could obtain easily?
JustMe: No. I don’t see those lines anymore. A “gospel MC” is just an artist with a different audience. Performing at different venues. I don’t think I qualify as a “gospel MC” anyway. My friends and I are Christians that don’t make “Christian Rap”. We face all the same temptations. Good and evil exist within and without the church.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: You have some strong lyrics in your music. Correct me if I’m wrong, but one of the things I thought I heard is curse words in your music. What do you say to people who may find fault with you as a Christian MC for inserting questionable words in your songs? Is there a place for this, in your opinion? Some could argue that if you’re supposedly saved and rapping for Christ, then there’s no reason to resort to this language to spread the message.
JustMe: I do use strong language unashamedly. I’m a poet. I use the words that best convey the point I’m trying to get across. The writers of scripture did the same. Even Jesus did the same. Look it up! I could give examples and make this whole interview about that, but let’s just say that I find nothing wrong with using “those words”. Be not offended! I’ll tell you what does bother me though, is when people throw the word “holy” around as if it means nothing. That’s wack!
Sphere of Hip-Hop: If you could make a reality show based on what you’ve experienced in life and your career as a rapper, what would you call it and why?
JustMe: Man, that’s an interesting question. Holy S^!t! LOL! Just kidding! I think I would call it Dreams For Sale. Boy loves hip-hop. Boy wants to be like LL Cool J and Ice Cube. Boy starts rapping. Boy becomes a Christian, but still wants to be LL. Boy becomes a man, gets to rap all over the world, sells very few records, makes no money. Man keeps rapping anyway. The End.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: In the song “A Willing Vessel” [from 2009’s Before the Twilight] you say ‘No worry, no hurries, no runnin’ from the sun and the rain. It still flurries. No top, no bottom, no shoes, no shirt, no problem.’ In light of how things are nowadays – the current state of jobs and the economy, natural disasters popping up and well-known people being caught up in one scandal or another — do you think it has become hard for people to be that willing vessel you rap about when there’s so much going on in addition to temporary fixes to deal with drama?
JustMe: Absolutely not. Because God can use anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: You worked with Commissioner Gordon on the Before the Twilight album. The former comic book collector in me has to ask: With a producer by that name, did you consider yourself Batman to his commish when you were doing the album?
JustMe: LOL! I feel more like CommGo was Lucius Fox. He was giving me all the best tools, and I got to go out and play with them.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: One thing I’ve noticed listening to you is that you include your son in a few of your songs or reference him every so often. How much of an influence is he in what you do? What does he think of his rapping father?
JustMe: That’s my son. Every decision I make will influence him, so he is always on my mind. He listens to my music. He tells me which songs he likes best. Sometimes we talk about the lyrics. It’s really cool.
Sphere of Hip-Hop: Like I’ve noted earlier, you’ve collaborated with many MCs (Tunnel Rats, Deepspace 5, Pigeon John, Masta Ace, LMNO, 4th Disciple of Wu-Tang, Future Shock). Is there someone you haven’t worked with that you would love to get in the studio with? What would be your dream collaboration?
JustMe: There are tons of people I’d like to work with! Mostly I think about producers I’d like to work with: Premo, Dre, etc. My dream collab would be to make a song with James Taylor. Dude has the smoothest voice, and he’s an amazing lyricist.
Sphere of Hip Hop: When can fans expect a follow up to Tragedy & Dope?
JustMe: Well, Jaq and I started working on another record around the same time Deacon and I started on T&D. We are putting the final touches on it. It’s called Full Disclosure, and it should be out in early 2012.
Shop for music releases from JustMe and Scribbling Idiots at SphereofhiphopStore.com.