Interview by Vinnie Baggadonuts

Vinnie Baggadonuts: I donít know if you know Jose Garibaldi--
Jel: Jose! Yeah, thatís my homie, man!
VB: He told me to tell you, "Whatís up?"
J: Great, man. Howís he doing?
VB: Pretty busy.
J: Are you in Chicago?
VB: Nah. Milwaukee. But he and I keep in touch because weíre both of the same weird blood, I think.
J: Iíve known Jose since... I think it was the first year of college that I met him.
VB: You met him in college?
J: Yeah, 'cause I was in a band called Stifle. It was a hardcore band.
VB: Oh, okay. Jose did an interview for us with Mr. Dibbs, and Dibbs talked about Stifle, I think.
J: Yeah? I met Jose through his roommate Charlie, who was in a band with my friend, who was the lead singer of Stifle.
VB: Cool! He also told me to ask you how Tray Sha Chess has been.
J: Oh. (laughs)
VB: I donít know what that means. (laughs)
J: Itís this pseudo-gangsta bitch character Iíve rapped on songs as. I changed my voice. I have this vocal effect thing that makes me sound like a woman. We did this project called "Blood & Guts". Well, Dose and Why? were living together in Cincinnati going to school. During Scribble Jam, weíd go down there and fuck around and make music. We did this pseudo-gangsta shit.
Both: (laugh)
J: She [Tray Sha Chess] is still getting fucked and makin' money. You can tell him that.
Both: (laugh)
VB: Alright. So, are you in Oakland? Because I was told that Dose is actually in Vancouver.
J: Yeah, he lives there. But heís actually here in Oakland now because weíre practicing for the Subtle One/13 & God stuff thatís coming up in the next month.
VB: So youíre doing a tour as 13 & God?
J: Yeah, weíre doing a European tour this summer, and I think in the fall weíre going to do a small West Coast tour, and hit some of the bigger cities maybe, like Chicago.
VB: You have to come to Chicago, man, because seriously, that 13 & God disc is one of the most beautiful records Iíve heard in a long time.
J: Thank you, man. Thatís great. Well, Chicago is where Iím from, and we get so much love there. Itís crazy.
VB: Well, okay. Iím going to be straight-up with you: Iím a real late bloomer as far as Anticon goes. Jose has basically spoon-fed me bits and pieces of the things you guys are doing. And when he gave me Themselves, I actually recognized Dose from Boom Bipís Seed To Sun. I had heard that before Iíd heard anything else.
J: Oh, wow!
VB: Yeah, so Iím slowly trying to catch up on everything.
J: Seed To Sun... that was after the Circle stuff, so you didnít even hear that, did you?
VB: No.
J: Are you familiar with it now?
VB: Yeah.
J: Okay, cool.
VB: Can you guys slow down so I can catch up?
J: (laughs) Thatís Dose, man. My beats usually stay steady. Youíre talking about the speed of the rapping, right?
VB: No! The speed of your output!
Both: (laugh)
VB: Man, itís breaking my bank trying to get everything.
J: I donít think thatís going to stop until we lose the fucking drive. Itís just too fun hooking up with people and making music.
VB: Well, when exactly did you start working together with everybody?
J: Well, Mr. Dibbs was pretty much the catalyst; him and this guy Kevin Beacham, who was kind of like my mentor, so to speak. He was managing this hip-hop group I was in in high school, and I became really good friends with him. In 1995 we took a trip to Atlanta for some shit that didnít pan out. We were trying to record some shit with this group. On the way back, he had the first Dibbs mixtape. We were listening to it and we liked it, so he was like, "We should stop in Cincinnati." So we drove in and got lost on the South Side by the river. We ended up passing this big flea market lot with these really high flood walls that had all this graffiti on them. There was a group of people there with turntables and cardboard, breakdancing, and we were like, "What the fuck?" So we pulled in, and it wound up being the very first Scribble Jam.
Both: (laugh)
J: We were looking for Dibbs' house, which was maybe an hour north, but we ended up bumping into him. After that, we went down a couple more times and worked with Dibbs and this other MC that was living there, and my friend Diallo. Thatís how I started hooking up with Dibbs. We started talking and became really good friends. We talked about doing an instrumental project together, and that turned into the Presage project. During the process of him working on music and me sending him music, he had gone to a show down in Cincy-- a Latyrx and DJ Shadow show. He met Dose backstage, because Dose was freestyling with Lyrics Born and Lateef.
VB: Oh, man!
J: He was like, "You gotta meet this kid, man. Heís on some illuminati shit, like Presage. We gotta get him on here!" So the next time I went down I met Adam [Dose], and that night he did the song thatís on the Presage album.
VB: Yeah.
J: We clicked, man. He told me he had some weird dťjŗ vu shit when I met him in his dorm room; like he knew everything that was gonna happen. It was like a premonition. He said he knew we were meant to work together and make music.
VB: So, when you guys started, were you working under the assumption of creating one thing, but then the actual act of collaborating resulted in something completely different?
J: Yeah. Dose and I were both in the same stage of our wanting to make hip-hop music, you know? Iíve been doing it a little longer than him, but I guess we were both pretty green at it. We wanted to do something a little different, and it did evolve into something different. Like, doing that Them album... Iíd have beats ready, so Iíd go down there and heíd have words. So we would sequence everything. But there were a lot of songs where Iíd construct the beat at his house, and weíd work on making the songs together. For me, it was the first actually enlightening experience working with an MC. Weíre on the same wavelength.
VB: I know thereís a really strange, catty debate as to whether what youíre doing is hip-hop or not. It seems to be a purist thing.
J: Yeah. Iíve been struggling with that. I mean, Iím the most content Iíve ever been right now, of course, because Iím older and we put out so much shit. But back then, it was such a struggle, like, "No, we are hip-hop, man. Fuck you." I grew up listening to all the same shit these kids who criticized us did, and loved it just as much, if not more. It really ate me up that people were saying that. And me, of all the people in Anticon, Iím the only one that gets the, "Naw, Jel is cool. Jel still makes hip-hop."
Both: (laugh)
J: It irked me because I knew everyone else Iím in this organization with are on the same level as me. I wouldnít be doing it if they werenít. A lot of it is just people being insecure with themselves and what theyíre doing, and needing a target to throw all that negative shit at.
VB: Did you ever think that you should just try and do some cut-and-dry hip-hop instead of doing what you were doing?
J: Yeah. Thatís pretty much what we were trying to do from the start. We thought it was cut-and-dry hip-hop with our own little twist, you know? But where do you draw the line? We didnít want to make a Gang Starr album, or make something that sounded exactly like someone else. We always wanted to make authentic hip-hop. And when that Latyrx album came out, that was a big influence on us all, because they were making straight-up hip-hop, but the content was deeper.
VB: Over the years, have you cared about that less and less? Because youíre making something that people like, and that you like--
J: Yeah. It was more out of the hip-hop realm that we got a lot of respect. We got a lot of love from people, and people wanting to work from us. The people that did shun us, it was more personal shit, territorial shit. But now, weíre like, "Fuck it. Who cares?" The only "thatís not hip-hop" we get anymore is on message boards. And Iím like, "You know what? These kids just sit in their room. They sit there and criticize everybody, and itís really irrelevant."
VB: Have you ever heard from the pop or jazz community regarding what youíre making?
J: Everybody that we hooked up with thatís pop-- like Subtle doing a remix for Beck that he put up on his website-- thatís as pop as weíve gotten. I donít really know anybody from the jazz scene, though.
VB: The only reason I ask is because of 13 & God. When I say "pop", I donít mean Britney Spears and that kind of music.
J: You mean like pop form?
VB: Like how The Beatles were making this kind of music that was extremely catchy, but kinda different.
J: Yeah.
VB: Thatís one of the things that stuck with me on 13 & God. I couldnít get the songs out of my head.
J: Thatís the pop of The Notwist. Those guys definitely went from punk band to pop band, but didnít go Britney Spears pop.
VB: Yeah!
J: I actually got informed on the European definition of "pop" in England last year from my friend Herve, whoís in this band called General Elektriks.
VB: Yeah.
J: He was explaining to me how he was heavily influenced by pop music. And I was like, "Oh, really? Thatís weird." But he said, "No, let me explain it to you." And he used The Beatles as a reference, also. Itís a form of music that is just a structure. You donít have to sellout to make pop music thatís catchy and has the right amount of hooks to it.
VB: I read the story about how you hooked up with The Notwist, but how did you decide to record?
J: Well, Dax, Adam, and I were practicing for the Themselves tour, and Dax had the [The Notwist's] Neon Golden album. We were like, "Oh my God! This is dope production, and great singing and everything." Dax was like, "You know, weíre playing in Munich. We might bump into them." When we got there, we stayed with this dude who plays in another band with Marcus [from The Notwist], and he was like, "Marcus loves Themselves. Youíre his favorite band." And we were like, "Shut the fuck up, man."
Both: (laugh)
J: So they came to the show, and we just clicked. We were like, "Dude, weíve been listening to your album nonstop!" And he was like, "Iíve been listening to your album nonstop!" We started talking about maybe down the line doing some shows together. And the next time we were in Germany we decided to do a collaborative album. So we went home and started working on songs, and they started working on songs, and after a while we decided we were going to go to Germany and record it together. We added on to each others' songs, mashed 'em all together, and formed the album in three weeks.
VB: Was the curiosity and sense of discovery of playing with people you admired a big factor in the process?
J: Yeah, it was. What they do is so clean compared to what we do. When I heard Neon Golden, it gave me a kind of feeling that I wanted to get. Everything sounded so thought-out and perfect. So we were all very interested in seeing how we would work out together. It all ended up clicking so perfectly.
VB: Do you have a favorite track from the album?
J: Itís probably "Tin Strong", 'cause I did that beat in high school. I was just looking through beats to find demos for the project. I played that one for Adam, and he was like, "Yeah, letís use that!" We laid it down like it was, and everybody played over top of it. It was sentimental for me, because that was something I did when I was 17!
VB: Have things gotten easier for Anticon as a whole, as far as putting music out and getting on other peopleís albums?
J: Oh, yeah. Especially in the last two years, since we brought Bailey Parker onto the team as manager when Sole stepped down to focus on being just an artist. He took over so we all could focus on our music more. We never really knew what it took to put a record out the right way, to get enough exposure and deal with publicists. But shitís coming from every angle now. I mean, Alias just did a Pontiac commercial! Or the fact that we hooked up with Beck that easily. Itís either mutual when we meet these people, or it just comes out of the woodwork, like, "Holy shit! They know about us?"
VB: Like who?
J: Mike Patton. He got ahold of me to do some beat production for him on a project called Peeping Tom. Itís going to be out this fall, I think. When I met him he was cool as hell! He was like, "Weíre the same, man! The way you guys approach your music is the way I approach my music! I want to work with you!" And I brought Nosdam in on it because Mike wanted to know if heíd work on it, too. So Nosdam and I were pretty much the team. We did six or seven songs on the album.
VB: Do you think youíll do another 13 & God album?
J: I think so.
VB: How did you come up with the name for that, anyway?
J: You should definitely ask Adam about that. Heíll give you the better definition about it. To me, it just sounded good.
Both: (laugh)
J: I just always credited it to KRS-One's "13 and Good", but I donít know.
Both: (laugh)
VB: Well, other than getting that from Adam, all I gotta ask is whatís coming out for people to look for?
J: Uh, from him and I? Well, Adam just put out another solo album, goddamnit!
Both: (laugh)
J: Itís called Ha, and itís all his production and words. Itís like Slow Death, but that was 1996, so his production has gotten much better. Thatís a self-release, so youíll have to get it at shows or from an online distributor. My solo album is coming out in October; itís called Soft Money. I got Wise Intelligent from Poor Righteous Teachers on it, and Nosdam and almost all of the Anticon guys. Alias and I are going to be touring in the fall for my album and the album he put out with his brother. And then, in the next two years, weíll be working on the next Themselves album. The Notwist are going to be starting on a new album, too. Dax just did some music for an independent movie before he got in the album.
VB: Yeah, I wanted to get some contact info from you where people can send donations for Dax. [Dax was paralyzed in a car accident while touring in March.]
J: Amoeba Music is the big store out here that he worked with-- a big indie record store. They probably donated close to $30,000 now from selling t-shirts and other stuff. Hopefully, soon enough, weíll have a PayPal option on the Anticon site or his site. The only thing is to just keep looking at the Anticon site and his site, because shit keeps happening. The Rhymesayers guys have collected something like $15,000 in the last month just from benefit shows and collecting money on the road. Aesop Rock is on the road with a bucket collecting money.
VB: Itís good to see everyone working together for this.
J: Yeah, it blew us all away to a point. Everyone was so bitter over the shit everyone had to deal with due to the Sole/El-P beef, which stemmed from everything else and people hating us and shit. It definitely calmed down over the last year, and every time I see El-P I talk to him. Thereís no beef between us at all. Everybody just still hates Tim for obvious reasons. Slugís always been a good friend, too. But it blew us away that all these people were so down from the minute they heard. Everyone extended their arm out to us and wanted to help.
J: Hey, Iím on a three-minute deadline here, so Iím going to switch you over to Adam real quick. It was good talking to you, man.
VB: Yeah, thanks!
Doseone: Hellooo!
VB: Hey!
D: So, youíre from Who Stole My Last Piece Of Chicken?
Both: (laugh)
D: I love that record [Organized Konfusion's self-titled album from 1991], dude. Are you one of the executive producers?
VB: No, no.
D: Oh.
VB: So, howís your cat?
D: My cat is good. Sheís puking. My girlfriend is cleaning it up, like the wonderful woman that she is. My cat, her neuroses are in direct proportion with mine, so when Iím doing good, she's doing good.
VB: I have one huge question for you.
D: Go for it. Shoot me.
VB: The title: 13 & God. Howíd you come up with that?
D: Okay. So, you know, Jeff [Jel] is my dearest friend in the world. Nothing is closer to me than Jesus, or Jeff. Half of everything I do in life is to make Jeff laugh. So, I was working on "Low Heaven", which is the first song on 13 & Gangster--
Both: (laugh)
D: --and I was like, "What the fuck am I going to call this, man?" The poem itself, "13 & God", was the working title before it became "Low Heaven". "13 & God" itself means what the poem means. I was sitting there and I knew that, but somehow I wanted to make Jeff laugh. So I played him this horrible Boogie Down Productions song from the Nineties called "13 and Good", which I never liked. I barely like most of the KRS-One stuff. I loved a lot of the forerunners in rap, but I never really had a taste for him. I hated when heíd break into all that ragamuffin shit.
VB: Right.
D: So I played on that and gave it to Jeff. The poem itself is about when I was actually younger than 13, and puberty was starting to take its toll on my body and give me gravity. I was starting to figure things out for myself. My mother, who was raising me alone, had a very horrible boyfriend in the house, and he made my life very hard. So, I was sitting in my room in New Jersey looking out the window one night and I see a shooting star. I saw it and thought, "Iím gonna do it. Iím gonna put all my chips on the table." So I said, "Okay, God. You clean all this mess up by morning and I will believe in you, undyingly, for the rest of my life." I sat there and prayed out loud, in my head, quiet, shooting star on my side. And the next morning, I woke up and things were still stuck the same. It was a defining moment for me. Thatís what that poemís about. Itís a universal thing, for all people, how they go through this moment of being a person who believes, but where belief will take you doesnít fit everyone in this day and age. So, in all my divorced baby-ness and adult-child body, that was it in figuring it out for me. So we were sitting there in Germany trying other things, but everyone kept voting on 13 & God as the title. It sounded a bit too heavy metal in the beginning, but since we are the latest innovation in the legacy of [soundtrack] Judgment Night-esque music-making, it wound up being rather appropriate.
Both: (laugh)
D: Rap and metal, together at last. All the writing on that record is about being so detached from this world, and being so attached to being emotional, and the pit it puts you in, living all these experiences, whether youíre making music or working at Sam Goody. Itís very much the same decision that you have to make or not make every day: how you take control of your life, and how you canít ever possibly do that in the greater scheme of things. I agree, when youíre picking a name it has to sound good and look good on a t-shirt. But you have to stand behind it. It was going to be Shadows in the Night at one point--
VB: Which is a very heavy metal name.
D: Oh, man. And Tear in the Rain was another one.
VB: That reminds me of Nelson.
D: Oh, man! I did an interview in London and this guy was totally not listening to me for a second, and Iím watching him not pay attention to me, so I was like, "You know when I said, 'Shadows in the Night' on the record?" And he was like, "Oh, yeah." And Marcus was there with me, and he leaned in and goes, (in German accent) "And you know when he says 'Tear in the Rain'?" And the reporter goes, "Youíre taking the piss out of me!"
Both: (laugh)
D: Sure are, man! So thatís the legacy of 13 & God and the name-finding. Thanks for taking the time to talk to DJ Jel.
VB: (laughs) Sorry, man. I got so caught up in talking to him that I never got around to you until the end.
D: No, thatís okay. Iím sure he did it justice, man. You know, Anticon is a movement. It may be incredibly personal, and only for the 13 people involved and our 2,900 die-hard fans.
Both: (laugh)
D: I write very heavily, like this is my Sixties, whether it is or not. I always wonder what would be so meaningful to me, and itís the way life goes. Itís whatís happened to Dax and to all of us. Instead of following a career path we follow people and music. What is behind Anticon-- hermetic young adults falling in love with one anotherís music and giving it all up and going to California and being together-- is exactly the same connection and trust that was naturally there between The Notwist and Themselves. They are the Anticon of Germany.
Both: (laugh)