Interview With Big J
Big sound, Big funk
Big J. (aka Jarrod Richardson) along with Jaz comprise the San Diego hip hop duo, Unity Klan. Those in the know acknowledge the group as one of the several forces that God used to bring Tonéx to the national stage; they worked on featuring him on their first album, Eternal Funk, which introduced the group in 1996.
— interview by Stan North —
Their third release, As It Is Written (see review) is already burning up the MP3 charts (Christian and rap), with its hip hop jams laced with no-holds-barred expounding of God's Word. Big J took some time out to let us in on the goings on with the group.
GospelFlava.com: How did Unity Klan get started?
Well let's see, in 1995 my church had a summer outreach and I was asked if I could do some rap for the youth. I knew Jasmine (Jaz) from a previous church that I went to, and Danny had just gotten saved and wanted to put it down for the Lord. It turned out that Jasmine and Danny went to school together from before. So we hooked up and ministered at that park [at the outreach] and people were blessed. So we was like, 'cool, this could impact lives so let's keep ministering like this.'
I already had a contact with a studio, so we would do car washes to raise the money to [buy some studio time]. Well, while recording, Reuben [Torres] from Rescue Records happened to come in one day and the rest was history! At the same time, our manager Pastor Tony was doing a Bible study about unity. Well, when Danny brought the [study notes] home, his wife asked 'Is that the name of your group?' So he called us to tell us, and we said, 'That's phat!!' We couldn't get clearance for the name 'Unity', so we put 'Klan' on the end. We didn't use the 'C' because Wu Tang already had that, and everything else sounded corny to us.
So here we were [signed to Rescue Records] along with P.O.D., Dogwood, Fros'T, just trying to put it down for the Lord. As we were recording, my mom brought a CD by Ataq, a local group in San Diego. So I called and emailed the producer because there was this one singer on it that was blazin'. You know who that was Tonéx. So he came over and we asked him to sing on our stuff and you know it was blazin'. So I brought him into Rescue and [label exec.] Noah Bernardo thought it was hot, and now you had us, P.O.D and Tonéx [together on the label].
But always from the beginning we had accountability around us. So every time we would get off focus especially me my Pastor and my friends would always bring correction. So we realized quickly that our motivation was the souls and not the industry.
We did not try to seek a deal to get into this thing, God placed us here to worship, to lift His name up. Danny came from drugs and the jail, Jasmine came from doing drugs to being kicked out of school, I came from stealing, and a broken home. So we are just some ex-everything, grateful for salvation, trying to serve His Kingdom. After the big buzz on Tonéx and P.O.D., we felt like God wanted to do something BIG for us on the independent level, so Noah was blessed and hooked us up with Diamante [distribution]. So now we are in our second year in our own company, Eternal Funk Records, believing God and his promise for salvations through this ministry.
GospelFlava.com: Unity Klan has always been an interesting mix, with a combination of male and female mebers, Latino influences, etc. Now that Danny has
recently left the group, how does that impact on you?
Big J: He will be missed. We will still minister together sometimes, but Danny is a man of God, so he had to listen to the Lord [who told him to leave the group]. And God can only bless that. He will be coming out with another [solo] album hopefully later this year. We always said this is God's ministry, so Jaz and me are just going to keep on putting it down for the Lord.
GospelFlava.com: Can you describe the responsibilities that you and
Jaz each take in the group?
Big J: Now this is where it gets hard, because we do the phone calling, the emailing, the production, recording, graphics, press kits, radio servicing, etc. You name it, we do it, laboring for the Kingdom. It gets very hard, but anything worth having takes hard work. It costs too much for an independent label to try to hire everybody, because at the end of the day you're the one that ends up broke. We just had Creative Marketing Services bless us with her time. What we really want to do is just minister on the road, so once we can get the staff we need and the Eternal Funk record company up and rollin', then we can really be preaching more.
GospelFlava.com: With three Unity Klan albums now out since 1996, plus a solo album from each of you, you are obviously very prolific. How do you work that?
Big J: To be honest, I don't know. Its funny man, 'cause all we know is how to work hard and love Jesus, and everything else kinda just falls in place. In Hebrews 11:1 and Habakkuk 2:3, [there's word] about hard work, faith and vision. We're just trying to work on the good stewardship part (laughing).
GospelFlava.com: What are your musical influences? What are you
listening to beyond your own projects?
Big J: Fred Hammond, The Cross Movement, a lot of worship, Bishop Jakes of course. Stuff like that. But I grew up when music was music: Earth, Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, you know, those groups. So I love live instruments, and if we ever had the budget, watch out.
Because if you read the Bible, histories like Gideon and King David, they had some live instruments: horns, drums, harp, strings, they had everything. Those are our real influences. Live worship just takes you to the throne room. Thank you Jesus.
GospelFlava.com: With regards to the new album, As It Is Written, what's the musical concept behind it? Is there any underlying theme that you're aiming to bring across?
Big J: We tried to give something for everyone. It's the Lord that be putting it down, because I don't even know how to play the keys. But when I sit at that board, God just be kickin' down stuff. I learned a lot from Tonéx watching him, and my boy Reggie [aka The Alchemist who works some of the production for the group]. Also Micah [Whitley] got mad skills on the keys, he did the live stuff for us, while his brother Joel laced up the guitar and bass tracks. So we tried to hit it from all angles worship, ministry, music, praise, celebration, correction, encouragement, love, Holy Ghost, just as "It Is Written" in the Bible. We ran out of time so we didn't even give you all the stuff, but you will hear it soon enough.
GospelFlava.com: The project has a real nice blend of styles, partly because you bring in some great gifts from names that may not be famililar to everyone yet. Tell us about some of the other background players joining you this project, such as Damien Willis, 20/20 Twin,
Will and Maurice Green)
Big J: They all have been a blessing, coming down at the last minute. Don't forget Fetrice! A lot of them I met through Micah and Tonéx, because they sing with Tonéx. Twin, he [sang on] The Gospel Gangstaz track, "I Can See Clearly Now"; he came down and laced the track "Heat". Will is coming out under our label in October, and Maurice is coming out under Jah Word's label (Kingdom Music) last I heard. They all have been a blessing, mostly trying to network with each other. They each play an important part to the songs. They all are capable of coming out with their own albums; it's just a matter of time.
GospelFlava.com: You bring in Brent Jones from TP Mobb renown on the cut "Ain't No Rock". How did you hook up with Brent?
Big J: We met him and the TP Mobb at some concerts. They're ministry-minded and love Jesus. I asked him to throw down with us and he said 'name a time'. He's a big blessing, he's real busy, but he took some time out to come add some of that anointing. Those are people God can bless. He didn't ask for nothing, just a heart to minister. What up Mobb and Brian, much love!
GospelFlava.com: Describe the song "Far Away". It's really not what you first expect to hear coming from Wuv (who's with the alternative band, P.O.D.).
Big J: When we were with Rescue, Noah and his son Wuv from P.O.D. had Bible studies that we went to. Wuv wrote that song "Faraway", and it ministered to me every time I heard it. It made me feel like one day it's going to be all good. Them brothers [P.O.D.] have been through it all, they worked hard to get where they're at, and trust me they are a blessing and have a heart for souls.
GospelFlava.com: Anything else you'd like to drop on us?
Big J: Yeah, check out the new cuts on MP3, the video should drop in April, and everybody keep us in prayer.
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