Hi Tony, thanks for chatting with us! I would like to start with some basics for people who might not be aware of MUJ, can you tell us in your own words exactly when the label started and what your focus is?
Hey Tom, my pleasure man! MUJ was started back in May 2014. It was really created at the time as an outlet for a Beat tape that Nappa had made. He really wanted to do it on a tape cassette and had been considering it for a while. I had done a couple of tapes on MJazz in the past, such as Rawtrachs and Modernists 4 and was really into the idea as I still got a lot of love for the medium. Anyway time passed and I said to Nappa, right let me put the tape out, and he said ‘let’s do it’. So I ran 40 or 50, one by one, Metro designed and cut out the sleeves, we did some overspray on them and the labels for the tape bodies and Voila! MUJ was born. In these early stages our focus was very much the cassette and the beat tape format. The focus then also encompassed limited lathe cut LP’s of the tapes, then into full length instrumental and vocal LP’s as well as 7 inches. Its very much beats and instrumental hip hop orientated but not strictly exclusively.
Judging by the music you are pushing its obvious you are well educated in hip hop, as a genre can you tell us how you initially got into it and where your journey started with it?
Hip hop was and is my first love. It was my gateway as a 10 or 11 year old into music. I remember tapes going around and hearing a dub of Electro 4 coming out of a shitty little tape deck and thinking it was the most incredible thing ever. This as I say was the ‘Electro’ era and these albums did well to inform and influence many young minds of the time. I remember getting my first original Electro from Boots the chemist tape section, it was Crucial 2, and listening to it endlessly. This in turn led to hip hop and through the sampling, to many other artists and genres as we realized that the source material these guys where borrowing was a whole other world of discovery.
Let’s talk some of your favourite hip hop cuts… Give us a few examples of what you deem to be classic works!
Ah man such a question!! I mean I still listen on a regular basis to ‘Critical Beatdown’ by Ultramagnetics MC’s, ‘Who’s gonna take the weight’ by Gang Starr, I love Eric B Rakim, Big Daddy Kane ‘The Wrath of Kane’ or ‘Raw’, Stetsasonic , very much the ‘Golden Age’ stuff, Cybotron ‘Clear’, Sugar Bear, KC Flight the list is endless! We could do a whole other article!
You talked a lot about rappers there, how about hip hop producers?
Yes I did, didn’t I!! Producer wise I really love the work of Marley Marl who would have been involved in a lot of early Cold Chillin’ stuff, the 45 King, Prince Paul who amongst other things did the first De La Soul LP, DJ Premier, Dilla, Daddy-O and DBC from Stetsasonic. It’s funny and just thinking about the way I answered your initial question, the MC was always the focal point so I guess that’s why I gave you a list of rappers, the producer was not unknown, but in the back somewhat in comparison.
How about modern day? Do you still keep track of new hip hop?
I try to it where I can, I like a lot of instrumental stuff really and try to keep up on what’s going on in and around the scene. I do pick up bits, I copped the lastest Armed Dukes LP called ‘Calibre’ which is really good and I do pick up a lot of stuff on 45 both new and old. It’s hard because there is so much good stuff coming out, which seems to endemic across all the genres I follow or am involved with so it’s sometimes a case of getting a recommendation or stumbling across interesting new shit.
So to accompany this interview we have an awesome journey through the MUJ sound in the form of a label showcase mix, can you tell us how this thing came together and what equipment you used (i.e. Turntables, cdjs etc.)
Well the whole thing except one track is all from the records that we have put out via MUJ. When we spoke about this interview and mix I just sat down with all the bits we had done, obviously a lot of tape, but also a stack of lathe cuts and vinyl, so I just went through the records pulling out bits and excerpts from the release we have done. To be fair it was easy as the source material has been so good and it was great to take a look back, its not something you get to do much as you are always onto the next thing.
We can see from the bandcamp that you are heavily focused on pushing the physical side of music, whether it be vinyl or tapes. With digital music seeming to be the most convenient option with a lot of the industry nowadays, can you tell me why you’ve chosen not to pursue that route to push the label music?
I like the tangible product thing, something you can hold, touch, put on/in the deck. I ilke the whole art form of it, I am a collector to so I know other collectors buy the releases and that they want something limited to collect. You are right to say its inconvenient! Cutting out j cards, hand printing and sticking on stickers are very time consuming, but it’s a labour of love. The record was and always has been the pinnacle of releasing and I guess that’s still very true. The tape was a big part of my childhood and I still feel a lot of affection for them. They are a really easier and quick to do, so you can get a release out relatively quickly also which is another great aspect of tape. The label was always set up to sell physical product and has just continued to do so, I would say that that was its default setting.
The subject of cassette tapes is an interesting one, in recent years it has made a resurgence within the physical product industry, can you explain personally what’s the pros of selling cassette tapes over other formats.
The cassette tape is probably the most DIY out of all the formats which is its appeal. It means that you can get a release done and dusted and out in a really quick time frame. It’s really portable and the sound quality and bass on a tape is amazing. I think with a tape you can fill it with whatever you want and is a much more flexible medium in that respect.
With such a vast and “bespoke” selection of music, breaks and especially with how unique they are, can you tell us where you source them and exactly how you structure your releases?
The primary source would be from records, the majority of the artists who have released on MUJ are serious crate diggers and cats like Nappa, Mr Galactus and the HBSMA shed guys have DEEP and big collections. Sourcing material or projects is quite organic, I always like this approach and with the tapes it is easy to chop and change releases as per whoever has a beat tape or LP ready to go. MUJ was formed round a group of producers and this has contimuned and allowed others to dip in and out. This was the case with the Armed Dukes and Heavy Links who had followed MUJ and dug what the imprint was doing and asked if I would be interested in putting out their respective albums. There is never really a release schedule as such, it just allows things to come out as and when they are completed, which I think works much better all round as it allows and immediacy for an artists work to come out relatively quickly after completion.
It must be quite nice to know that with a trusted following you have the ability to release material without having to worry about people copping the releases as they seem to trust in your quality judging by the fact your releases generally sell out quick! How did you go about building this following since you started the label?
Again I think when things grow naturally and organically this is the most healthy way to progress. We got off to a good start really because the Nappa ‘Late Night Beat Tape’ set us up pretty well in terms of it was A) Nappa and B) a tape which a lot of people simply weren’t doing at that time. The Nappa connection generated interest and opened doors a bit quicker and bought interst to MUJ. A lot of people really picked up on the first few tapes and have supported ever since. Instagram also was a big help and helped spread the MUJ word through people posting up the bits they had copped as well as being to able to reach people in a direct manner. Bandcamp and selling direct to the fans has helped enormously too. I think because of the bespoke way we have put things out has created a demand and a core group who want to try and grab everything that we put out. It helps that the music is always good and that the collaborators and artist have often a good following or platform. The HBSMA are a great case in point, they have a YouTube channel that they do every week around digging and fresh releases and they have supported since day one which then lead to their tape and lathe cut LP releases.
I’m interested with the bespoke part and with it being very much unique and “niche” like we discussed previously , how do you find the music initially before you release it ?
The niche bespoke part is the bit that interest me also. I really like the liberating nature of having a set amount of a release and not feeling the pressure of having to ‘sell’ it and just knowing that it will sell itself. We have built up a good solid following and the majority cop on sight. A lot of them I have come to know quite well and artist relationships have formed through this also. The Armed Dukes again is a case in point, Kev who is half of the Dukes used to buy the tapes, liked what we were doing so offered me the Armed Dukes LP which was our first full length LP and to be fair one of the labels finest moments. Nappa is a fellow Lutonian, and legend in the game, so that was always going to be a no brainer after the initial tape that kicked it all off. Galactus also I met, he copped the first Nappa tape that we did a lathe cut of, he is up Milton Keynes way so I dropped it off to him, we chatted, I was aware he was doing some stupid mixes on Mixcloud as Lester Corncrake so he was keen to do something and again has done some real popular and prominent releases. The HBSMA shed guys do a YouTube show weekly based around digging which was initially from Chris’s shed. I had been on with them and obviously they are BIG BIG diggers so again an easy connection to make, if you talk to and get on with cats it just seems sensible to do something. I would say this is the majority of the ways the music finds its way to me and has worked really well for MUJ.
So someone you’ve referenced a few times, additionally was your first release and has also featured many times since for MUJ is Nappa. Can you give me some background on how this connection came about initially and how you’ve come to work together etc. ?
Nappa and I are fellow Lutonians, and Luton is quite a small town in many ways so in one way or another I had always been aware of Craig. We are both similar ages and knew a lot of the same groups growing up, he was in High Town, I was in Bury Park which are quite close in proximity. We were all into hip hop so I had clocked him a few times around town and seen him one time, he was wearing a fresh pair of Nike Escape. This would been in our teens, school days, and as we grew and developed and honed our talents I would often bump into him in a local Oxfam where we would be digging for beats, him for hip hop, me for dnb, but we were all there for beats. He would often say “Ah there’s nothing there” and I would think is he just trying to put me off finding something. But to be fair, if he said there wasn’t, then there wasn’t! Anyway Phi Life Cypher blew up on the hip hop scene and cemented Nappa as a bona fide UK legend, although he would never say that about him self. We reconnected through our pal Andy’s record shop in town, where we bumped into each other again rifling through stacks of records looking for samples. We chatted music, the 80’s, BMX’s and the like and talked about doing ‘something’ which was the first tape. I have been lucky enough to work with him on the ‘Late Night Beats Tape 2’ , ‘Co-op Beat Tape’, ‘Tape Kings’ projects as well as writing some other beats and putting out ‘Rebel Beats’. The man is a genius and his knowledge of records is something else, he is also very generous with his knowledge as whenever we are digging he will always say ‘you got/heard this’ or ‘this has got such a break on it’.
Let’s have a chat about “Heavy Links”. Love their vibe, production and the bars, definitely my vibe. “Blue Thunder” in the showcase mix was one of many tunes that caught my ear 🙂 Can you tell us how the connection with them came about?
I guess we were about 20 releases in and had a bit of a reputation for releasing good beats and the label had some love. Myself and Ben Habitat from the group had chatted over social media and he hit me up to say that they really liked what we had done putting out ‘Quadrant’ by Armed Dukes, 100 limited vinyl, limited cassette run etc. and would I like to hear what they were doing in regards of their LP. He sent it over, I had a listen, really liked it, great vibe tight production, nice repping of there region so we put it out. They do a great live performance too and we had a bit of a launch party when they did Holdin’ Court in Dalston, which was a blast.
So what now moving forward with the label, what have you lot got in store?
MUJ has been quiet this year we have only put out two release, one was a lathe cut 7 inch and tape of ‘Lost Beats’ by myself which was the result of a lot of hard disk problems and just recovering a lot of stuff and getting them out was a job in itself! And the other was ‘Computer Rock’ by Irn Bru Beats which was formed out of and based around music from computer games. MUJ has been non-stop for the past 4 years and a hiatus was always on the cards, especially as Mjazz has had a lot going on too. Coming up there is a new Metro beat tape that is ready, a new one from Mr Galactus and a few edit lathe cut 45’s in the pipeline, but again anything could come along and grab my imagination.
If you could of released any hip hop album in history on your label, which one would you pick?
I would have to say it would either be DJ Shadow’s ‘Entroducing’ as it was a pivotal LP at a pivotal time, it was an instrumental hip hop game changer and I think it would sit easily alongside the other releases on MUJ. Or what has got to be my fave LP of all time which is the Ultramagnetic MC’s with their non-conformists rap style, scientific rhymes and huge production by the legendary producer Paul C. Either of these two would be dope as neither were or are regarded as run of the mill and that’s what I like to bring to the label.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us Tony and the mix is BADBOY! Nice work!