Inspiring People

J Praize

J Praize
From Supervisor at the Main Post Office in New York City's Manhattan, to successful rap music producer, J Praize has a story that is as charming as it is inspiring.

J Praize was born a twin and number fourteen in a family of fifteen children. After earning an Associates Degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, he served in the United States Air Force. As a result of an injury, he was honorably discharged. Then, while visiting some friends in Hampton Virginia, he "caught the producer bug" and began a journey that would result in his producing the first hit single for hip hop superstar, 50 Cent.

That song is the #1 hit, Wanksta.

J Praize is a success story in the making. He is a talent, no doubt, and someone to keep an eye on. But what I found most compelling about him was his genuine desire to help people in any way that he can. He is a gentleman in a world that doesn't always celebrate kindness and consideration. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him and I am happy to share our conversation with you.

DR: Tell me about your life, your work, your projects…

JP: O.K.

Well I was born and raised in Queens, New York, the seventh boy born to, actually, two Southerners - my mother, she is from North Carolina, my father's from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And actually, I was the fourteenth. There's fifteen of us. I was the fourteenth born, seventh son. I have eight sisters. I am a twin…I came from very, very humble beginnings. We were on welfare and growin' up you don't realize that you're poor until, I guess around the sixth grade. That's when I started to recognize -- O.K. Ya know what? We don't have a lot of money, but we had a lot of love in the house.

I grew up God fearing…the doctors told my mother that I was going to be retarded when I was a baby.

DR: Really?

JP: They told my mother that I was going to be mentally retarded; I would never go to school with "regular" kids. They told my mother to put me in Special Ed. But my mother refused. That is one thing that I give my mother credit for. She didn't have a formal education but she had enough knowledge to say "no".

Growing up, I used to play an instrument. I used to play a trumpet…I started playing a trumpet when I was seven years old, in P.S. 15. That was my elementary school.

And then from PS 15, I went to IS 59 High School, continued to play trumpet for about a year and then I stopped. I was more interested in the girls and fightin'. After that I had to go out to Jersey to calm down because I was getting a little rowdy so, my mother moved me to New Jersey with my second older sister…

Calmed down, moved back to New York. I started dabblin' in the music again with a partner of mine who had a little singin' group back in the day - my man Eric. They called me "Pop". That was my nickname - "Pop". That's my family nickname. I mean we used to go through the five boroughs singin' here and there and everywhere. We had a little local celebrity thing goin' on back in the day; in the high school days.

So then after I left that alone…I went to college… and I got my Associate Degree in criminal just ice and then I graduated from there with an Associates and went to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. I was going to school full time, I was working full time and then I just got bored, kind of. So I said, "Ya know what, let me go into the Air Force". So I went into the military; went to the Air Force. I was in there for 2 ½ years, got hurt, got a medal, got discharged…When I got out things weren't going too good. I was kinda strugglin'.

I bought a house at a young age…and then I met up with some guys in Hampton, Virginia. They had their own studio. So I used to go to their studio just to see what they did and I just caught the "producer bug"! I mean it was just like -- I just caught that bug! I mean, HARD! It was like --

"Wow! I wanna do this right here!"

So I kept comin' around to see what they did and…one of my partners, Chris was like "If you wanna produce, just go buy some equipment and produce." So that's what I did. I got the money, went to the equipment store, got the equipment and just started doin' it.

Maybe a year or so passed, and I really started gettin' my groove and I did the Wanksta track. And I remember the day that I did it - March 1st, 2001. I remember the day. I remember that day so vividly. It was like 12:30 in the morning. I had my earphones on - SONY earphones. I had my keyboard, my digital sampler and just an eight track digital recorder. That's all I had. And I was doin' the beat in my head, and actually that was the first official beat that I did.

See, in production, what it is, is you have a keyboard and then you have a drum machine or a digital sampler, rather. First I had the key board so I was doin' beats on the keyboard but actually the sounds on the keyboard are not what most producers use because they are like fake drum sounds, ya know what I mean? They're not the hard hitting drum. So, in order to get the hard hittin' drums you would have to get a digital sampler and actually sample sounds.

DR: O.K…

JP: When I got that digital sampler, Wanksta was the first beat that I made with that new piece of equipment that I just bought. After that, after I did that beat, I started circulating tracks locally…sent a few to a few record labels, gave some to a few people in New York…

One of my partners said, "Ya know what? Let me introduce you to somebody who might be interested in shoppin' some tracks for you." So I went to New York and my partner gave my CD to somebody, and the guy was like "I wanna buy some tracks". And then I said "O.K. When I come back from New York, we'll talk about it."

I let him hear some more stuff. He said "Ya know what? Forget this. I don't wanna buy nothin'. Ya know what? I know some people at Roc-A-Fella. Let me go and try to shop these to Jay-Z. I said "Cool."

So I put about fifteen or twenty tracks, I don't exactly remember the number, on a CD. I gave it to him and I said "When you come back, let me know what they said." He said "Cool". So he came back a week later and I said…"Yo, did you see Jay-Z? Did you give him the tracks? What did he say?" He was like "Naw, I didn't see nobody at Roc-A-Fella. I didn't see Jay-Z. I was like "O.K, well where's the CD?" He said:

"I gave it to 50 Cent."

I said "You gave it to 50 Cent!!? Well what did he say?"

He said "Well, he can't use it right now, but he'll see what he can do."

So I moved back to New York. I moved back to Queens….I call him every month, "Yo, you spoke to '50'?" He'd be like "Naw man. I can't get up with him." I call him in January. I call him in February, March...and March is the last time I talked to him…he said "I can't get with him" so I said "Whatever".

So I am a supervisor now at the Post Office, and it's May. It's the middle of May, and my partner that introduced me to the guy that gave my CD to 50 cent, my man Chris, calls me and he's like "Yo! 50 Cent is rappin' on your beat!" I'm like "What!?" Now I figure he's playin' cause we joke around a lot. I'm like "C'mon man stop playin'!" So he said "No I'm serious! Yo. Go get DJ Clue mix tape, Ima Show You How To Do This.

So I go to the Coliseum on Jamaica Avenue... track 13, and I hear... Snap! I can't believe this. This guy took my track, looped it, rapped on it, and now it's on a mix tape! Oh, man. So I called my lawyer and…"These guys are crazy. He took my track and just put it out there." He said "Look, one of two things is going to happen. Either they're going to want to use it and they are going to have to contact you or, they are not going to want to use it. Then you can just say I had a track on a DJ Clue mix tape. So I said "Yeah, O.K. That's true. So, basically it just wasn't on Clue's mix tape. It was on Funk Master Flex, and DJ so and so... I even got calls from people in Canada "Yo! Your track is in Canada!" And I'm like "Canada?!... O.K. O.K. This is getting' pretty serious right now.

Now at this point, I'm thinkin.'… "Maybe they'll put it on an album"…but no one that I know of had a song on a mix tape that went to an official album. But then it went crazy. It went to radio straight off a two track, and that doesn't happen, ya know. (laughs) Not mixed down or nothin'.

I told one of my other partners in Queens "Yo, 50 Cent is rappin' on my track". He was like "That's your track? I know his manager." They contacted me so we could go to the studio, so we could mix everything down. They said that actually Dre was askin' about the track because he needed it to be mixed down.

So we go to the studio, mix the track down and then we do the agreement…for the 8 Mile soundtrack. So they put it on the 8 Mile soundtrack, and that went on to sell 5 million. And then they put it on 50's debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin', which sold over 20 million worldwide.

So that is the history, my history of how the Wanksta thing came about. But now since then…but no, let me stop right there.

Do you have any other questions or can I just keep goin' on?

DR: No, this is good…I do but say whatever you want to say about…

JP: O.K. O.K. That was a blessing. It really was. "Cause at that time I was at a point in my life…I mean I was workin' at the Post Office and I was earning pretty good money, but it wasn't challenging….It really wasn't a challenge for me so…rather than do something that I don't have a passion for and get paid for it - why do that when I can go ahead and produce and get paid for something that I love doing.

I mean that's what I think life is about -- finding what you love doing and trying to work it where you get paid for it.

So I said "Ya know what? That's what I'm gonna do". And it was scary. I've worked all my life, ever since I was pre-teen. I've worked all my life and it was like O.K. well I'm about to venture out and do this thing on my own…I'm about to go the self employed path. It was kinda scary, but it was exciting because I love change. I love change. And actually when I did it, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and when I would walk the streets of Manhattan…I would look at people's faces and you've got all these people walkin' around -- they make a lot of money but their not happy.

Wow. I'm doin' what I love and I'm happy!

O.K., this is what life is. This is what life is about and I thank God for everything - for my challenges, for my triumphs for my obstacles - FOR EVERYTHING, because everything is a learning experience. Everything is a lesson. And I try to learn lessons from everything; from my hardships, from when they were about to take my house…I mean they took the car. They were about to take the house and everything.

DR: Really? Tell me about that hardship and how you overcame that.

JP: It was the middle of 2001 and when I got out of the Air force…it was getting progressively worse - the financial situation. And I would be late on one mortgage and then they call you, and then I would be late on my car payment then they call you and…Oh man…and I mean I struggled for like 2 years. And finally, I was like 2 months behind on my mortgage and they were like "We're going to foreclose." I was like "Oh snap!"

So what I had to do, I mean, I didn't want to tell my brothers…But … ya know what, listen, I can't lose this house…Let me just tell my brothers. I have pride to a certain extent…but this is going too far. I can't hold it down. So I called my brothers. "Yo! Why didn't you tell us earlier? This wouldn't have been a situation."

My oldest brother said "Don't worry about it. We got you." They went ahead and paid all of the back mortgage, brought me up to date on the house, paid my back car payments…and I just thank God for my brothers…My oldest brother has been like a father figure since I was knee high….

And I got back on my feet and I paid them back. But I let the car go. But I didn't want to let the house go. So I kept making my payments, doing what I had to do and then that's when the Wanksta situation happened.

So we are talking about maybe seven months when all this stuff is happening. I leave one job, go to the Post Office, my brother pays up the back mortgage and then Wanksta happens!

DR: Couldn't have been better timing?

JP: Aw, the timing? It couldn't have been better. It was one blessing after another. It was like boom, boOM, BOOM! The only thing that I regret, well not regret because everything happens for a reason...The only thing that I kinda look back and say "I wonder what would have happened if", is if I knew back then, about the music game, what I know now, because I didn't know anything. You have to really understand -

You are in your bedroom, O.K, a 10 x 14 bedroom…headphones, a keyboard, a digital sampler, speakers and an amplifier, and that's all you have. And this is your hobby. You are doing this for fun and then somebody takes that track uses it and it goes multi-platinum. I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready.

DR: When you say you weren't ready, do you mean you weren't ready in a good way?

JP: I wasn't ready in a good way, exactly….They should call it "business music" instead of "music business"…It's a business….I didn't know about PR and marketing. I didn't even think about a manager, publishing deals or anything. I learned that later on. It was a learning experience; definitely some growing pains.

Since then I have been getting better at what I do…building this label, Tha Cross Entertainment…. I have real estate and real estate ventures in different areas of the country. I have been positioning myself so that when I got that second chance, I can take full advantage of it.

So, that's what I have been doing since.

DR: One of the reasons that I am so quiet J, is that you are answering a lot of the questions that I wanted to ask you and you are very interesting to listen to…

What do you think the thing is that you are most contributing to the world right now?

JP: Right now? I grew up Baptist…I don't believe in any one sect or religion. I believe in Spirituality… A lot of people say you pay your tithes, your offerings and that is how you serve God…I believe that whenever you help a person you are serving God. I was always taught to be your own person and as long as you treat others with respect, the way that you want to be treated…The Golden Rule -- that is how I was raised….

My contribution is just to help people. Whether it be through music or if I have a house that I rent out…there are a lot of people…who need housing…let me just put these houses aside…let me help somebody. Maybe they can't pay what someone else would pay for it, but still, O.K., everyone needs some place to stay.

So my contribution is just being a human being; just helping someone whenever I can. Whether it's someone who needs a little direction or constructive criticism on their music -- I always try to find the time to help somebody. And if something is not right with the material, I don't shoot anybody down. You can't because you never know what those words are going to do to that person's confidence.

I try to encourage people to "keep doin' it. Just keep doin' it". Because that's what was told to me and I know my stuff sounded like trash (laughs) when I first started. I know it did! But that's what was told to me "keep doin' it!"

DR: Who's hero are you?

JP: Who's hero? I would say my nieces and nephews.

DR: You are their hero?

JP: Yes. I would say so.

DR: Why is that?

JP: I have like 50 nieces and nephews, I mean…I try to be that uncle, that brother…I got married last year…that husband, that father, I have twins

DR: A boy and a girl…

JP: Two girls, identical, nineteen months. So, I try to be everything that I can be. I know I'm not perfect. No one is. I can't walk on water. I have tried. It doesn't work. Right now I am just strengthening my spirit as well as my physical and my mind, to try and walk and be that man that I know I'm supposed to be; that I was put here to be.

DR: Is that why you think your nieces and nephews look up to you?

JP: I think so. Because I tell them about my story and why it is that I work so hard to do what I do.

DR: And why is that? Why is it that you work so hard to do what you do?

JP: Because I remember going to the store. My mother would tell me "Pop, go to the store and get me two dollars worth of sliced ham and a dollars worth of sliced cheese" and giving me food stamps. I remember those days and being ashamed. I'm ten and eleven years old going to the store, being ashamed of giving the food stamps to the clerk behind the counter, waiting 'til everyone left the store to pay for the cold cuts. I remember those days. I remember waking up and going into the kitchen and flippin' on the lights and -- roaches every where. I remember mice just runnin' out of the flour bags…I remember these things and that's why I tell them "Listen, just because you are poor financially doesn't mean you are any less of a person. Let your poverty be your motivation…We are greater than we even think; than we even know! Get out of your comfort zone! Do something that will take you to the next level!

DR: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one new ability, what would that be?

JP: I would say the ability to really read people's hearts and try to find like their passions and help them elevate to that level where "You know what I can earn a living through my passion." Everyone has a talent! Like you. You have a talent. You're a writer. I am sure you enjoy it.

DR: Yep!

What would having that ability to read people's heart - what would that provide for you?

JP: Just the satisfaction that I helped someone. That's it. Just the satisfaction.

DR: A hundred years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?

JP: A hundred years from now…I want to be remembered for trying to help God's people, which is everybody. I want to be remembered for trying to help people…who might not have that confidence, but all they need is that little spark.

DR: And it's the thing, J -- it's the thing that so many people don't have…

JP: Right.

DR: …the thing that they don't get.

JP: I see people right now that are so talented. Dana listen! Talented grown folks! If {they}would just take your time and do XYZ!...They don't see their talent like you see their talent…Get out of your comfort zone and take a risk sometimes!

DR: So what do you want to be remembered for?

JP: Alright. Let me tighten up my answer. (laughs). I want to be remembered for -

helping people bring their dreams to reality.

Thanks J Praize!

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