While Just Blaze is now one of Hip Hop’s most recognizable producers, responsible for some of the more memorable songs from Jay Z’s 2001 album The Blueprint, in a recent interview with technology magazine Wired, he divulged a lifelong passion for technology. “I was very much a tinkerer as a kid,” he said. “I was doing things like hacking or splicing extra battery packs into my mother’s cordless phone to try to get the battery to last longer.”
For Just Blaze, whose given name is Justin Smith, a general technological savvy was also responsible for his first industry break in music. Prior to their ubiquity in Hip Hop and outside of it, ringtones were often sparse and generic. The release of the now famous Motorola P900 two-way pager brought with it an early application that gave users the ability to create their own ringtones.
“I got my first bit of industry-wide notoriety programming ringtones for those things,” Just Blaze said. “Back then, there wasn’t such a thing as ringtones for your phone, at all. But Motorola included an app that allowed you to make customizable tones. The way you had to enter the music into the pager wasn’t really a musical approach. It was more a mathematical thing. It was all numbers, letters, and punctuation. Kind of like a language of its own…It was funny, people I had never met would hear my name and go, ‘Dude, I have all your ringtones on my phone…There was a rumor floating around that I learned to make music by using the two-way, which was insane.”
While the Motorola P900 became incredibly popular within Hip Hop, pagers obviously made notable appearances years prior as well. In 1991 A Tribe Called Quest’s second album featured a direct nod to the early technology with their track “Skypager.” A decade later, Fabolous’ single “Young’n (Holla Back)” continued the pager’s relevance with an updated two-way technology.
In the Wired interview, Just Blaze also speaks on his opportunity to intern at the famed Cutting Room studio in New York City when he was a junior at Rutgers University. Shortly after that experience, a vacant position in the studio led to Blaze’s leaving school to pursue music full-time. “I had to tell my mother, who was a high school principal, that I wanted to take time off from school to pursue a career in music,” he said. “She was actually very cool about it and I went for it. Getting that shot at the internship and being in a professional recording environment was really the next step in laying the foundation for everything that ended up happening.”