Earlier this month, Bay Area heroes and icons DJ Fresh and J. Stalin linked up for another new collaborative studio album, Miracle & Nightmare On 10th Street Pt. 2. Made up of 20 new songs, Miracle & Nightmare On 10th Street Pt. 2 featured collaborations with Mitchy Slick, Shady Nate, Beeda Weeda, Joseph Kay and others, and was distributed via Livewire and EMPIRE. They promoted the effort with videos for project standouts like “Living Lavish,” and are further supporting the LP with another new visual in support of Miracle & Nightmare On 10th Street Pt. 2 record “Cops and Robbers.”
“Stalin is a staple. You can’t speak about Northern California rap without speaking about what he’s done and still continuing to do,” DJ Fresh tells us. “There’s a lot of people who were legends and fell off, but Stalin stays active.”
You can view DJ Fresh and J. Stalin’s new video for “Cops and Robbers” above, and check out their first interview as a duo below.
Could you explain how this latest project, Miracle & Nightmare On 10th Street Pt. 2 came to life?
J. Stalin: We’ve been talking about it for a long time, but Fresh and I had a lot of projects we were working on first. I did maybe three or four albums, and Fresh did about five or six projects with people, then once we got those out of the way, we hooked back up and got back in the studio to knock this one out. We both travel a lot, so we’re both in and out of state, and Fresh doesn’t really like to just “send beats,” so he was really there for those sessions. I have a studio in my house, so he’ll come to my house and we’ll record like that.
DJ Fresh: I’ll go to Stalin’s house and he’s always ready to go.
What made you guys want to do a double album?
J. Stalin: The last one was a double album, and we just wanted to give the fans what they were asking. Once you put that out, you got to keep putting double albums out.
DJ Fresh: I wanted to keep the same consistency and do the same thing as the first one — just give them a double album. The way Stalin and I work, it just flows out of us; we don’t try to have hella songs, we just have a high quantity and high quality and it just comes out like that. I was recording at his house one day and was doing the beats there, and I was just like, “we’re damn near done.” He didn’t even realize we had about 18 songs already done.
J. Stalin: The best thing about this album is I didn’t do any writing on this album; I did it all off the head. I wouldn’t call it freestyling, because I didn’t go in the booth and just say anything. I didn’t write any of these lyrics down. Fresh, he thought that I had already pre-written that shit. Fresh was like, “that’s written huh?” “Nah bro! Ain’t none of it written.” Fresh used to be like, “you’re better when you write.” Then, he would hear a song and be like, “I know you wrote that!” I’m telling you, I’m not better when I write. How I was rapping off “Living Lavish” and all of that, that was just straight off the dome. I made Fresh a believer.
Why do you think you’re better sort of freestyling than writing?
J. Stalin: When you write sometimes, you think about shit too long. You overthink the song, and the process is longer. It’s better to just get the idea out of your head and as soon as it comes to your head.
DJ Fresh: Some people can do it, some people can’t do it. Like anything else, if you’ve been doing something so long, you’re just going to have an ability for things to come to your head a little faster than somebody else. It just comes with being an artist. With Stalin, he’s been doing it for so long at such a high quantity and high quality, you just get better at this shit.
I made 80 beats in one month on tour, but I got 155 albums out. You just build yourself up to be able to put out a lot of work, and when you’re working all the time, it’s not going to be nothing to you. It just comes out more natural once you sharpen your God-given talent.
I just love music, so what better way to do it than create it yourself? I’m just inspired to make music, and I don’t even realize I’ll be doing all that. It’s just really in me. That’s why me and Stalin work so well: he’s one of the few artists who can keep up with me, and I can keep up with him. It’s rare.
J. Stalin: I record so fast; I can record a whole song — three verses, hook, all the shit — in 15 minutes. A lot of producers don’t have the beats like that — as fast as I’ll be done. But Fresh does. That’s why we’re able to do double albums and it’s not time-consuming. As soon as I’m done, he got the next beat going. Even if he’s making the beats right there, on sight, because he does that some times too. I’ll be in there mumbling a song and by the time I’m done recording and making my song, he’ll be done with his beat; then, we’ll just go to the next one.
Is it hard to find producers that you constantly want to work with?
J. Stalin: It’s hard now, it wasn’t hard a long time ago. It’s hard now because the music game is so saturated right now; everybody wants to be in it. With the money rappers made, it makes everyone want to be in the music business. People don’t know how to rap, don’t know how to do nothing, and they’re like, “I’m gonna learn to rap, so I can go get a check!” There’s so many people like that, without a real talent, that just want money out of it. It’s like that now, but it wasn’t like that back then. Streaming changed the game, so everyone’s making money. Back then, you had to actually sell records to make money. Nowadays, you don’t have to sell records to make money; people just have to listen to your shit. So, everybody’s making money and everybody wants in … there’s more people with less talent.
A person that’s never wrote a song, that’s not musically-inclined, that don’t even really love music like that, wants to be a rapper now, wants to be a producer now because they see Mozzy post a $150,000 check from streaming on Instagram. That’s just how the game is.
Do you think artists like yourselves, who really care about the actual craft and art of it, will have the long careers? Versus the guys who just want a check.
J. Stalin: Exactly.
DJ Fresh: Anybody can get into it like Stalin said, but to really have the longevity in it and make a career and feed your family and kids? That’s another thing. Realistically, I’ve seen people come and go in this business — that fast money will be an illusion a lot of times. With me and Stalin, we’ve been in this for a long time and our stocks are still going up. I just got a FaceTime call from Wiz Khalifa last night, talking about, “Fresh, I need you to send me some beats.” I don’t know how he got my line, I didn’t even ask. That just comes from being in your own zone and steady pushing; we took the stairs, not the elevator or escalator. When you take that route, you’re going to stay in it as long as we’re staying in it.
J. Stalin: With our generation and who we came up with. The only people still actually really making music and relevant right now, are me, Mistah Fab and Philthy Rich. Out of all the people we came up with, the Bay Area artists, who is really still active?
I’ve been in love with music all my life. I remember when I was in the seventh grade, and we went on a field trip, and you know how they let everyone bring their Walkmen and all that shit on a field trip? I was listening “Lady In My Life,” Michael Jackson, in my Walkman at 12. All my friends were listening to Too Short, E-40, Tupac and all of that. That’s how musically-inclined I am. At 12, I was listening to Michael Jackson on my own. My favorite artists of all time are Prince and Michael Jackson. If I could do my dream song, it would be me, Tupac, DMX and Prince on the hook, produced by DJ Fresh and The Mekanix together.
I cried when Prince died … that was a bad day.
DJ Fresh: Yeah, that was bad. Everybody cried. For real.
I think with artists like that, it’s bigger than music. It just becomes a worldwide cultural force.
DJ Fresh: Prince, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder is the last legend we got. He’s the last one.
J. Stalin: Ray Charles died; Prince; Whitney; Michael.
All of us probably have a strong memory with those artists growing up. You can’t put a price on that.
DJ Fresh: Hell no.
J. Stalin: My mom used to play Whitney Houston every morning — Whitney Houston; Culture Club; Wham!.
I love music more than I love sex. If I had to pick between not listening to music or not having sex for the rest of my life, I would take music over sex, and I love having sex [laughs].
DJ Fresh: For real [laughs].
With music, do you think it’s just something you were born to do?
J. Stalin: I think so. My love for music was always stronger than my artistry. I barely listen to rap; I’ve been listening to Foreigner and Christopher Cross. I’ve been listening to shit like that for the last few days. It changes all the time, but what rapper coming up right now, will tell you he’s listening to Foreigner or Christopher Cross? They don’t know even know who the f*ck those people are.
With Prince, he had his band, but he composed all of his stuff and he just had them play what he made. He wrote and composed all of those songs, he just needed a band because he couldn’t play every instrument when it was time to perform. I loved the way Prince writes music … you got to know your music history.
Who’s another great writer? Jermaine Dupri is like one of the best writers ever; Mary J. Blige, she wrote a lot of songs. That’s what I love about the industry: all the stuff that happens behind the scenes that the consumers don’t know about it. I love that type of stuff.
I always think it’s dope that you have songwriters who don’t appear to be the type of person to write a certain record, but internally they’re just geniuses and they just know how to write great songs.
J. Stalin: Travis Scott wrote and produced “Bitch Better Have My Money” for Rihanna. I remember when he first came out, I’m like, ‘this n*gga sound like Kanye West.” That was because he was writing shit for Kanye, so Kanye was rapping in his style. So, when he came out, motherf*ckers thought he was trying to copy Kanye until they found that out. No, he ain’t copying Kanye, this the n*gga that writes Kanye’s songs. He’s great, I like him more as a producer and a writer than an artist. He did a lot of dope shit. I liked his new album … it just seems like he’s on a new type of music and it’s dope to me.
Do you think more rappers should try and become actual songwriters and really compose actual albums? As opposed to just writing a few verses and being done.
J. Stalin: Yes I do. You can tell the type of rappers who sit in the studio and actually work on a song, and then the rappers who just go in there and rap. Even if it’s a hit. No shade to nobody, but it just doesn’t seem like Lil Yachty’s songs are that thought out. They can be platinum hits or whatever, but I doubt he worked on one song for more than a month, or a week or two weeks or something like that. I’ve literally worked on one song two weeks, just critiquing the song and changing lyrics — going back and rapping different. It’s other people who work on a song for months!
I think if you’re an artist, you should have a very great knowledge of music and you also should write. Rappers should write their own music, because you’re telling your story, and if you’re not writing your music, then you’re just telling someone else’s story, you’re rapping somebody else’s story. Hip-hop is all about your story; hip-hop comes from poverty; hip-hop is about telling your story; hip-hop is a rags-to-riches story, and every rapper has one. That’s how it should be: you should be telling your story, from rags to riches. If you’re not writing for yourself, you’re just telling the story of whoever is writing for you.
One thing I noticed about Bay Area rappers is that you guys actually seem to write actual albums. I was listening to Mozzy’s 1 Up Top Ahk, and if you listen to it from front to back, it plays like a real album. Listening from front to back, it’s just one crazy story.
J. Stalin: I think Mozzy is one of the dopest rappers to ever come out. He really sounds believable; he don’t sound like he’s rapping, he sounds like he’s sitting down and just telling you a story about his life. He don’t sound like he’s trying to do a song, it just sounds like he’s telling you what happened on a Monday, but it’s rhyming. That’s the dope authenticity that I respect about hip-hop.