Most musicians like to think that their music is more than just a collection of notes arranged in an aurally pleasing pattern, and many musicians will say that, though it's not always easy to identify, there is a purpose to their music. For Cincinnati producer, DJ, rapper and member of the Five Deez crew, Fat Jon the Ample Soul Physician, that purpose is simple.
"I'm just trying to keep hip-hop alive man, like some of that classic vibe that I was feelin' back in the late 80's and early 90's-they call that 'the golden era of hip-hop,' when the music had feeling, and wasn't just some little keyboard sounds with some 808 bass over it," says Jon from his lab at home in Cincinnati. That was the age of hip-hop in which Jon developed his taste and style, as well as his love for the genre, though his initial purpose in music wasn't as altruistic as keeping the so-called golden era alive.
"I got started because I rap too, and in Cincinnati when I was young, there was no one making beats, so if you wanted to rap, you would have to go to a studio and try to tell the engineer what you wanted to hear, and that got old really quick," he remembers with a laugh. "So I was like, fuck that. I would go and go and watch what they did, and eventually I asked them real politely if they could just let me do it, and they said it was cool. I just started learning how to use stuff in the studio and started making music for my group."
Since that time, Jon has developed quite a skill - not to mention a solid reputation - at making beats, and has done work with rappers like Rakim, Talib Kweli and Black Starr, Hieroglyphics and J-Live. His latest full-length solo release, Wave Motion (on Mush Records), is perhaps the most exemplary of his works to date: a deep and involved instrumental album full of minimalist and ethereal jazz and soul music that is tied together with a dynamic bag of tricks, including a spectrum of stylized beats and gentle analog-sounding wash that smoothes out the rough edges with a hazy conformability. And while Jon's skills have grown immensely as his body of work has increased, his gear - the hardware through which he expresses himself - is still akin to the kind of older gear that he first learned to create with.
"I still have, for the most part, an analog setup," says Jon about his lab equipment. "I haven't moved to the computer yet, but I plan to because, when it comes down to mixing and editing and stuff like that, it makes it a lot easier...but I'm not in a hurry."
And why should he be? Wave Motion is an amazing album, one that transcends the label "hip-hop" and sets a bar for that type of music, despite the fact that it was created on analog gear rather than on some fancy digital set up. In fact, it could be argued that the music's sublime low-fi ascetic is a benefit of its analog origins.
"The digital realm is just kind of too perfect, and there's no room for error, really," explains Jon. "With analog boards and things like that, there's just a lot of energy going through it, and things can happen that aren't supposed to...and that's what makes analog good."
Jon was bitten by the hip-hop bug at an early age, and lives the musical culture to it's fullest. Not only a producer, Jon is a rapper and a DJ, a member of the Cincinnati's Five Deez (Jon, Jericho, and Pase La Rock), one of the Mid-West's premier crews. Though Jon wears many musical hats, he is happiest sitting in front of his soundboard, sampler and beat machines - creating music.
"First of all, I'm a fan of hip-hop, but I really like making beats, man," he readily confesses. "There's just something about making beats that you can write songs or rap to - there's just something about producing. I couldn't imagine just rappin'. But I like DJing too because it helps to make beats, because if you can mix records well while you're making a beat, you can find different sounds from just mixing - instead of going from record to record looking for particular sounds. You can kind of mix to what you're making at the same time, and find new things that way."
That philosophy is very much at play in Jon's work, as evidenced on Wave Motion.
I'm kinda experimenting with a couple of different styles right now and I'm waiting to see where they're gonna go. It looks like they might lead to a project that sounds a certain way, but I don't know what I'm gonna do with them yet," says Jon. As an artist who says he's still very much in the process of growth, he's beginning to look for themes and patterns in the music he's making now, an aspect of the creative process that he hasn't really explored before. "I'm starting to think about that stuff a lot more now because I've never had many solo albums before, and Wave Motion is something I can look at career-wise, and say, 'Do I want to make an album that sounds like that, or do I want to keep moving forward?' So I've decided to kind of move on..."
"Well, actually dude, it sounds the same, but it's different, you know?" says Jon after pausing for just a second and rethinking his statement. "I have a style that I like to do, but the new stuff is different, broader. You might hear more live shit, like more instruments in it. So it's like the same thing, but with more of a live feel."
In the end, for Fat Jon the Ample Soul Physician, it all comes down to the most basic element of the art: enjoyment. Whether he's making beats, rapping or DJing, Jon's interested in enjoying what he does.
"I love hip-hop, man, and I don't take this shit too seriously like a lot of people," he states. "I'm out here to have fun and I want people in the crowd to look at me on stage and think, 'Man, this cat is goofy and he's havin' a ball and he loves it!' You gotta move, you gotta dance... I like to see people dance, man."