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Editor's note: This is an expanded version of the Q&A that appeared in print.
Desperate times call for productive men: NYC-born rapper Bigg Jus was a ward of the state who helped make Company Flow one of the definitive independent hip-hop groups of the back end of the 20th century, and from there, he never took a rest. Now—older, wiser, featured on NPR—he's still the kind of guy just who works a little more when he needs a break from all his work. Currently: working on a collaboration with Shape Shifter Existereo, working on a new solo record to follow-up his airtight Poor People's Day, working on shooting videos for the new De La Soul and (listed last just to tease the fans) working on material for the first new Company Flow record since 1997. Plus there's the coming war to end all wars, the sadly endless source for much of Jus' inspiration—lyrics about "a killing machine so perfect at first they couldn't intellectualize it/and they were afraid to ask too many questions" make him a rapper a lot closer to Alex Jones than Mike Jones. California might be a long way from the Tribeca record company he lost on Sept. 11, but the songs remain the same: "It's not like I'm gonna run off and start partying," he says. "There's way too much on my mind."
OC Weekly: Were you ever a lazy guy?
Bigg Jus: I'm the quintessential New Yorker—I kind of had a hand in everything from the get out. That's the hustle mentality. I pretty much had a rough childhood and I had to get down. That's how Company Flow and the independent thing started—us saying, 'Fuck it, we don't need any labels. We can just do it ourselves.'
How much time do you think big labels as we know them have left?
How many are even left? Like three? All they did was absorb people's catalogs, and now they're not even people—they're just on a ledger sheet somewhere. The whole thing will disintegrate. The only real growth is in digital sales, and as we move toward that, the game will turn to people putting out digital singles first. It's a beautiful thing—you check your online sales and find out where the most people buy your stuff. "I'm hot in Sri Lanka? Let me get on the phone to the poppin'-est promoter in Sri Lanka!" It couldn't be better for artists.
Did your NPR profile get you in good with the commuter-progressive crowd?
It got me into a couple of things—I hooked up with a guy who was doing an economics documentary with Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, and they had a little segment at the end where the filmmaker just talked to me, and I ended up being the whole end of the movie. Probably the highlight of my year last year! And I worked with some guys who created this kind of robotic platform with a gyroscoping camera—one was a guy who developed the lunar rover for NASA's Apollo program. And I shot the Rock the Bells concert with that.
You filmed Rock the Bells with a lunar robot camera?
Exactly. The one guy was like an 80-year-old former NASA engineer. I run with real quirky diverse people. But I like it.
Is there anyone out there that you use as a sort of blueprint for your own life?
It's weird but I kind of don't follow anybody—that all stems from hip-hop, and me being a graffiti writer. I was a writer before anything else, and writers don't bite nobody's shit! I have so many things I like that I don't have time to admire anyone. Thomas Dolby, when digital first started—he was an early pioneer but he branched off into electronic music, too. I admire people who stuck with it—who are there year after year.
Exactly! Definitely count him.
How are you going to follow up Poor People's Day?
It's a pretty hard one to follow up, to tell you the truth! The next record I'm working on with a guy named Kingston so it will have a totally different sound, and I'm going more multimedia. But I can't help but still be conscious and cover what's important to cover, especially because they're literally trying to get in Iran. That's too heavy to think about being selfish with the music I make. Things are very life and death now in terms of informing the people—damn, people are sleeping right now! I think they're so beaten over the head, but the propaganda machine hasn't slowed down in the least bit. People can't keep up. But it's totally not the time to zone out right now. We're on the brink of heading toward world war, which is what this administration wants.
I didn't expect that the government would ever be this media savvy—it seemed like that was supposed to be a weapon for the artists.
It should be and it is! But it's hard to compete with somebody with that cash flow. They're basically robbing people and raping their resources, and it doesn't help that the networks are owned by defense contractors. They team up with the other globalists and how can you compete with that? They swoop up all the media channels and you're left with . . . shit. Hot steaming poo. But at some point in time, we have to take it back. I know that's why I try and do what I do. It's more important to me than personal musical aspirations,