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El-P – His Entrepreneurial Spirit and Hip-Hop Vision

Every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind…
what we sow is what we reap. And when we choose actions that bring happiness and
success to others, the fruit of our karma is happiness and success
.” –Deepak Chopera

I guess it depends on your own definition of success and happiness, but if your idea of happiness is doing what you love for a living and success is “not going bankrupt,” then EL-P, aka Jaime Meline) is an infallible illustration of the above principal.

After pioneering a movement in New York’s underground, based on traditional Hip-Hop values, he reinterpreted the sound of east coast rap music in a way that some labeled avant garde and experimental. With a boom-bapish and grimy essence, EL-P learned about the perils of not reading the fine print the hard way, or even worse, reading it and still not having a fucking clue what it said.

After numerous examples if industry rule 4080 (“record company people are shady,” Q Tip), he took matters into his own hands and aggressively pursued an internship with a music and entertainment attorney, M. William Krasilovsky, so he himself could become versed in all the fine print and fundamentals of entertainment law. This “thinking outside the box” approach served not only EL-P, but the artists he would later house under his own “independent as fuck” label, Definitive Jux.

Providing a template for success for like minded artists, EL-P has positioned himself as not only a producer, an artist, or a businessman, but as a mentor and father figure to a slew of talented cats ranging from critically acclaimed Cannibal Ox to backpacker favorite Aesop Rock, from the ever politically conscious Mr. Lif to future soundtrack technician Rjd2.

EL-P makes a lot of other peoples dreams become reality, and in doing so, brings his own to fruition. In the midst of many projects, he somehow found the time this past Spring to release his own first solo full length, Fantastic Damage, an intensely personal organized balderdash of dissonance and rhythm, and not for the faint of heart. On top of being responsible for the maintenance of so many other chair throwing Jedi’s careers and training, its easy to see why EL-P would win the award for the Hip-Hop artist with the most vision and integrity, if an award of that level actually existed.

ArticleExit: Def Jux to a lot of people is the epitome of an independent, DIY kinda label. In the past two years you’ve released Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein, both Mr. Lif’s albums Emergency Rations and I Phantom, Aesop Rock’s Labor Days, RJD2’s Deadringer, two label samplers, your own album Fantastic Damage, while supposedly working on projects with Dan the Automator (the producer behind Deltron 3030, Dr. Octagon, and Handsome Boy Modeling School) and Zach De La Rocha (formerly of Rage Against the Machine)….Well the question I have is this – there is only 7 days in a week and only 24 hours in a day, so how the fuck do you pull that off?

EL-P: Well… I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I’m not sure if I’m successful at it. The project with Automator has been on hold for a couple of years because of the fact that we’ve both been so busy. Every time we think we have a moment to work on it, we end up getting involved in some other shit that we had a previous obligation to do.

You see, I’ve always wanted to be at point in my life, where I’d be working on what I love doing, and doing it professionally. I’ve been lucky enough to be there for a while. If you’ve got the opportunity to do something that you love on a daily basis, and you have the chance to do it successfully, then you gotta do whatever you have to do to be involved with it. It’s really just about loving music and not looking at the difficulties. I think that’s what fuels my attempts to overachieve, you know?

ArticleExit: Overachievement’s a good way to put that

EL-P: I guess it’s about achieving the objective. A lot of people go through their entire lives without doing something they really love for a living, and when you get that chance you really can’t let it slip. Not to mention the fact that for me, working is a really good way to not pay attention to not working, depression, and all the other idiosyncrasies of my personality. I’ve just always been that way.

ArticleExit: Yeah working itself is a good distraction. You get to the point were rapping is getting to be like a job. You’ve already done a grip of shows that week. You’ve been fighting with your girl. You cant stand the kicks you’ve got on….

EL-P: Oh, of course. Anything you do that’s attached to you making a living is essentially going to take on that feeling of “work.” But I just feel like a fool complaining about it.

You know there’s a misconception that professional musicians, or artists, or whatever, that they somehow have the plush rights and that they don’t work as hard as everyone else. Now in some ways that’s true. I wake up at one o’clock in the afternoon all hungover and start my day, cause I work for myself. But I’ve found myself, over the years, occasionally having job envy, [because] in the sense that we don’t leave our jobs. People go and they work 9-5 and detach themselves from that because it’s a mechanical process. Then they come home and all of a sudden they’re free and they don’t have to think about what their doing until the next day.

ArticleExit: As opposed to when you’re living your job, it is 24-7. Weather it’s a punchline that clicks in your head or you hear a sample you want to use…

EL-P: Exactly. That being said, I still can’t complain. I really have the stupidest job in the world. Its like, if you loved reading comic books and all of a sudden someone was like, “We need you to read 40 comic books a day and we’re gonna pay you to read them.”

ArticleExit: Its pretty big gift you’ve been given, or maybe I should say blessed yourself with. Have you ever had a 9-5?

EL-P: Definitely I’ve had a 9-5, but I haven’t worked since ’96.

ArticleExit: So right before Funcrusher Plus? (EL-P’s first full length recorded with Bigg Juss and Mr. Len).

EL-P: Yea, right as Funcrusher the EP dropped, I got fired from the job I was working then…no wait. That’s not true. I worked for a while after Funcrusher dropped ’cause me and Juss (Bigg Juss) were working at Tower Records mail order, which is basically how we got the record out to everybody…all the radio DJs and magazines. We were straight up scamming, sending shit out on Sunday night overnight delivery. I got fired not long afterwards. I haven’t gone back since.

I really believe in my heart that if you are motivated, you can put the same amount of time (9-5) in a day into something you love, make money, and have it be much more rewarding…even if it’s less consistent. You CAN work a 9-5 for somebody else. It’s giving you job security, but it’s kinda like a Chinese finger trap…

ArticleExit: Damn, you’ve been eating off this shit for like, 8 years.

EL-P: 10 years if you take into consideration that we put out the first Company Flow album (Funcrusher EP) in ’93. But yea, I don’t really consider my career starting until 96 so maybe 7 years.

ArticleExit: You worked for a music lawyer for a while didn’t you?

EL-P: When I was around 18 I put out a 12 inch. I didn’t really know anything about the business. I’ve always been on a head-trip to learn everything I could. At 16, I had been kicked out of high school, and was already going into musical engineering school so I could set up a studio, learn how to be a producer, and learn my way around the knobs and buttons.

When I did this deal with these guys for the 12 inches, they had this indentured servant contract. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, and [that] became really clear when the relationships with me and those cats went bad, ’cause they were like, “We got the contract on ya and you ain’t going anywhere.” For a 17 year-old kid, that was very scary, ya know?

I was fucked. All I wanted to do was put the music out, and now I have these people using terms I didn’t understand. So I sought out this lawyer, William Krasilovsky, who wrote the big industry standard book called the “Business of Music.” He was Chuck Berry’s lawyer and he represented a lot of other well-known artists. I sought him out and I told him, “Take me in. Teach me. I will do anything. I will shine your fucking shoes, get you your coffee, anything. I’ll work for free, just let me be a fly on the wall.”

ArticleExit: Would you says that’s one of the reasons why Def Jux has such a commercial stronghold? Forgive my use of the word, but you guys do participate in a lot of commerce, you guys move units…as opposed to some of the other labels out there that have been around for almost as long, and don’t seem to share as big of a piece of the pie. Would you attribute that to your knowledge of music law?

EL-P: Since ’94 I had the idea and philosophy to do an independent label. It wasn’t until 99-2000 that I’ve had the experience to do it right. First of all, I attribute it to the artists. I think that they’re amazing, and I think they’re coming with something people want to hear. I also attribute it to the fact that I got a lot of good people around me that work hard and bust their ass. Beyond that, I attribute it to the fact that I’ve really studied what it takes to be a part of this industry. I think we are an independent label who has successfully grafted together some of the classic industry templates of what a record label should be, with some of the hardcore independent ideals of what it means to be self sufficient. What it’s about is, being able to understand what’s at your finger tips, thinking, “How many people are in the world that could possibly buy my record, and how am I going to get that record to them, with this little amount of money that I have?”

ArticleExit: I can relate to that. Within the last year Idiolectic has released a couple of projects. The first one we sent it off, got it back, bar code shrink wrap and all that. But when we need more CDs made and we only got $100, we go the Office Depot/Kinko’s route and just try to flip it.

EL-P: That’s how we started too. We were selling Funcrusher out of our bags. Those are the building blocks of starting to understand how to make things happen. The thing that a lot of labels don’t have is something that appeals to the public beyond something that’s just a record. I think we’ve been lucky to establish ourselves as something like a spirit.

ArticleExit: There really is a philosophical loyalty (displayed by Def Jux fans).

EL-P: I think [there’s] something that, at the very least, people can identify with…in terms of the way we think about music and the way we think about our relationship with our fans. Beyond that, I’ve really been studying the nature of my relationship with Rawkus, my various relationships over the years with distributors, and being in a group myself. I kinda had my own idea, my own optimism, about what music can do on our level. All I’m trying to do is collect that fan base and collect the people out there who are interested in music like this…and pull at their GUTS….

Ya know what I mean?

Yes EL-P we do…now can you please put my guts down? I might need those latter.

Witness the epitome of postmodern pre-apocalyptic Hip-Hop when EL-P and his fellow Def Jukies RJD2 and Mr. Lif perform Thursday, January 30 at the Boulder Theater.

This show, embracing the true meaning of what it is to be avant garde, will be a rare blessing to all that choose to be present. EL-P will be promoting his latest release, Fantastic Damage, along with RJD2’s Deadringer, a soundtrack that blends the rhythm consciousness of DJ Shadow with the cinematic characteristics of Moby. You’ll also get a chance to hear tracks from Mr. Lif’s I Phantom, which portrays an audio version of William Cooper’s Behold The Pale Horse, with a little more objectivity and common sense.

This show represents the current coming of age, when Colorado will be heralded as somewhat of an epicenter for the culture of Hip-Hop, joining other cities such as Seattle and Minneapolis, on the map. Be there and support not only your local scene, but Hip-Hop abroad, or sit at home listening to the Living Legends and continue to bitch about how Colorado sucks.


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