Big Jess of Unknown Prophets on his Honorable Mention compilation project

Categories: Rap/Hip Hop
While he's been recognized here before as one of Gimme Noise's top 20 local rappers, Big Jess is also a talented producer, and has recently reminded us with a string of releases featuring a number of different rappers over his beats. The Honorable Mention series is already massive in scope, with three full length volumes already available for free via DJBooth and an extended fourth volume dropping this Friday.

To celebrate the final release of the series, Big Jess put together a unique showcase at the Nomad for a free Friday show which will feature no less than 30 rappers performing their contributions to the series. Gimme Noise sat with Jess at his home studio, where the bulk of the vocalists swung by to record, to talk about the undertaking.

Gimme Noise: What prompted you to want to do a project like Honorable Mention?

Big Jess: It wasn't meant to be that massive at first. I had a bunch of beats that never found homes that were maybe six, seven years old. It was about a year after Mike and I released the new Unknown Prophets album. It doesn't seem like we're going to release anything soon, or maybe ever. I've just kind of grown musically in different ways. I was at the point where I'm like, what am I going to do with all this stuff? Because I would hold on to stuff that me and him would use, which is usually the best stuff, because that's what producers do. Maybe I'll just reach out to a few people and send some beats out and just make like a ten-song compilation thing. So I started sending out e-mails and writing down names, and my list just kept growing and growing. I'm like, I can't forget that dude; I've never worked with Toki or Carnage or Desdamona, like, that's kinda dumb. I always wanted to and it should've happened by now, so it's like, let's make this happen. My list got up to 70 songs. Everybody was super receptive. 

That seems like a lot of work to pull together.

I feel like it was a challenge. Can I bring the heat for 70 songs? Can I make it not sound redundant after the second volume? I wanted everybody to feel happy with the product they put out with me. It's a representation of my beats, my producing, my mixing, my mastering, and I don't want to go half-ass on that. I wanted to showcase my production as a package of what I can do, but I also wanted to build relationships. I have. Felix [of Heiruspecs] was [someone I reached out to for the first time], he was always doing band stuff. 

Did that lead to working on his upcoming solo record?

I'm really excited about that. He was over here quite a bit this summer. It's super good stuff, and I'm excited for people to hear it. His Slow Cold EP, he did the beats himself on that. That goes to show you his work ethic is bananas. It's all quality. It's insane. I was real impressed with that. [The full-length] was gonna be [produced in full by me] -- it's probably a good nine or ten songs. He's always getting beats from people, and I don't think he can say no. He just loves to write. He's a maniac. He writes songs and he wants to record them the next day. I admire him for that, and I kind of hate him for it. He'd come over here with songs, like, "I wrote this this morning!" I haven't written a song in months!  When it comes to MCs in Minnesota, he's definitely up there. No doubt about it. 

The variety in the beats is impressive, especially given the time frame.

That's what I was hoping. I didn't want it to be just 70 beats of Big Jess classical stuff. I was real fortunate too: When I first had the idea, DJ Last Word came over with some VST plug-ins. I have a midi keyboard that I've had since like '94. When I busted that out I was in a whole new place with these sounds. I didn't even touch my sampler for three months. I was just doing stuff off that, and I'm so glad I got that, because otherwise the sound would have got kind of repetitive. It just feels cool to be able to say "I can do other things besides just sampling."

I don't know what I'm doing; I don't know chords or anything like that, I just play by ear, so it takes me twice as long to figure something out. But it's like I'm breaking a code or something.  I'm figuring it out and its working when it gets done. I had Twinkie Jiggles over here once, and he was playing some basslines on some Traditional Methods songs we were working on. He's just extremely gifted in music theory. I don't think I know a better bass player that does what he does around. He's like, "It's weird that you would go here with that chord progression!" Like I say, I play it by ear and you just kind of go where you think it sounds right, and he's like, "It's cool though, it works." It's cool to get a nod of approval from someone like him who knows what he's talking about.

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