“Aren’t You Bored?” Rapper J-Fever on Redefining his Craft

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6:30 PM HKT, Fri March 16, 2018 6 mins read

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Chinese on Wooozy.cn, a blog dedicated to chronicling the history and lifestyle of new music from across China. It has been translated and re-posted here with permission, and edited for brevity and clarity.

On February 10, Chengdu-based producer Eddie Beatz (aka “Master Ye” in Chinese) and rapper J-Fever (aka “Little Tiger” in Chinese) jointly released a new album, Tiger Under the Leaf (“There Is A Tiger In the Music Kingdom” in Chinese). The serial number of the album starts from “2”, signifying that “there is no Number 1 in the music kingdom.”

J-Fever recently sat down with Wooozy in a noodle shop to talk about the album. When asked about the background story and motivation to create the album, he says that he ”just shared some honest thoughts and some memories.”

For a person like J-Fever, who is good at talking, it’d be meaningless to add anything to this. His image is already made vivid through his words. So this isn’t a music review, but a magnifying glass to amplify some clues in the gaps between the tiger’s teeth.

Eddie Beatz and J-Fever met at the Music House in Chengdu. Seven or eight years ago, J-Fever went to a performance there and met Eddie through rapper Kafe.Hu after the show, but they didn’t talk much. When they met again at a rooftop garden called Yard Bar, where hippies and artists gathered, Eddie played his beats. Back then, MCs would fight over good beats since they were rare. Though they were passionate about the beats, whether they would eventually turn into complete works was another question. J-Fever said to Eddie, “I don’t want many, but just two.” This early connection actually led to three tracks: “Ping Pong (乒乓),” “Sir Please Buckle Up (先生,请系上安全带),” and “Is He Skipping Stones (他在打水漂吗)” on J-Fever’s album Free Man (逍遥客).

Eddie is usually restrained and introverted, but talkative when you’re familiar with him, which is cute. The way he thinks is pretty similar to how I did a couple of years ago. How does he judge a person? It depends on if he is creative in his whole life. — J-Fever

J-Fever had a lot to tell Wooozy about the process of collaborating with Eddie Beatz on this album; here are a few highlights:

Your two favorite songs on Tiger Under the Leaf are “Everybody Stranger” and “Push the Button.” Why?

J-Fever: “Even in a few evenings, it feels like everybody is a stranger.” The monologue from “Everybody Stranger” was picked from a work of Japanese fiction called Hibana, which is about Japanese Manzai. This is an essential part, but actually there is a turning point afterwards. The turning point is that only this type of people will dedicate everything and be seen as fools, but they are still pursuing without a sense of boundaries, even beyond some common taboos.

I think Manzai is similar to standup comedy in the US. In my opinion they are both more interesting than hip-hop. It is alive, which might have something to do with journalism and censorship. But I really think they are genius. The way they keep up with the time is not like [famous Chinese comedian] Feng Gong, who just picks up some memes from the internet — they really live in it. It is so free. The reason why I say it has more freedom than rap is because although it is narrated with words, it also has a rhythmic cadence and strong sense of drama, including how and when to deliver a punchline. It actually is more precise and cruel than to master the rhythm of hip-hop. Imagine if you’re rapping on stage, and the audience jumps with your music — the worst situation would be that some people walk away, chat with others, or go get drinks. But if you’re doing standup comedy and are booed by the audience, it’s a lot of pressure.

In “Push the Button”, Eddie sampled “Nuclear War” by Sun Ra. I laughed immediately when I heard it. Why? I lived in Chengdu for nearly a year in 2013, and we often went to the mountains together. One night, a big group of us went to Mount Emei. It was a really dark night, and all we could see was ice and white snow at the foot of the mountain, like an ice kingdom, which amazed us. We walked to the cable car terminal as it was snowing, and as the cable car went through a thick cloud, we saw green trees and the shining sun in a spot of the sky with no clouds at all.

The clouds were all below us, and it felt like we were in an incredibly high place. In that moment, we saw a golden statue of the sitting Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, which has four faces, against the backdrop of the blue sky. I felt then that it’s cloudy, cold and dark in the world where humans live, but when you reach a certain height or realm, either being an eminent monk or even God or the Buddha, you can find Spring.

We left between 4 and 5 in the afternoon, before sunset, and rented a car to head back to Chengdu. I hooked up a Bluetooth speaker and played Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War,” which I loved so much. The song was catchy, so we sang along all the way back. When I heard the sample, it reminded me of that time. Eddie said that trip was his first time listening to the song.

From what I feel, this album is super chill, but not suitable for live performance. Do you agree?

Exactly. I don’t think there’s much relation between the music you record and the live performance. An album is formed after it has been completed. But the live show gives the album a second life, in which the album is just a small clue, and offers the logic of a song and the general idea. When it comes to a live show, from the instruments, to the length, to the method of performance, they all help the song to survive in a new way. For example, this song is just about one minute or so, but it might become six minutes at a live show with a couple of changes in the middle. The lyrics can be improvised as well. If Eddie and I really do a live show, we would change all of these elements from what they are now.

Why are you so obsessed with never repeating yourself?

It began with comic books. The amount of comic books I’ve read are not less than the amount music I’ve listened to. I’ve read a lot of unusual, cult Japanese comic books covering all ages and professions. They’re awesome ,but it became difficult for me to be stimulated as I read more and more. I became a person who gets bored easily. Eventually, only comics that are extremely deep and weird could attract me to read on, otherwise I would see where the story is going before I read it. There was even a period when I lost all interest in life. I tried to force a change, because the ultimate truth that you find is probably the same as what comics told you a long time ago, but that’s a truth that must be found by your own experience.

It seems that I didn’t answer your question, so my answer is that I get bored easily. In addition, from the perspective of a music fan or someone who likes this kind of thing, I hope I would like to listen to what I make. Plus, I am self-aware. I just want to ask: Don’t you think what you’re doing is exactly same as what you did last year, or even three years ago? The lyrics, thought process, timbre, structure, even the topics that you’re discussing, nothing has changed. Why are they still like this? Why don’t you want to talk about something else? I won’t say that I’m a creative person, because I don’t think I am. Either way I just want to ask others: Aren’t you bored?

You still define yourself as a “creator,” is that right?

Yes, and the friends around you will inspire you — like Soulspeak, who is back in LA. On one hand, he considered the fact that his kid needs to go to school, and the air is better; on the other hand, he was just tired of all these things in China. Although we’ve developed as an industry, there is still not much in China that’s exciting for him, either in arts or in science. Soulspeak went back because he was going to study programming at CalArts. He didn’t know much about it, but he still wants to learn something, no matter how hard it is.

He asked me to make something new with him, and I responded immediately, “Yes, but we cannot make things like before, like you give me beats, I write some lyrics, and the song is done.” He agreed. It felt that he was extremely bored and sick of it. I said, “Although we agree on this, I don’t think I’m capable of catching up with you. I really want to do it, but I’m aware of myself, and it stops my thought of doing things for our friendship. I’m sure that you don’t want to repeat anything at all. We can do something new and start a conversation over again with a certain meaning. But now you’ve already moved forward for a while, yet I haven’t found my new direction.”

I think the shows like what I did last year must stop this year. If I can’t accomplish this, then Eddie and I will just concentrate and rehearse something fun. For anything further, I have to spend a bit more time thinking about it. Tiger Under The Leaf, in a sense, is really a relief for me.

Yin (, “music”) is a weekly Radii feature that looks at Chinese songs spanning classical to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion.

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