The Subjxct 5 Interview

In lieu of this week's Rap-Up, Harley Geffner delivers an interview with Subjxct 5, the producer behind 2oo4/AF1, about feeling overshadowed by the sounds of NY while growing up in New Jersey, the...
By    October 22, 2023

Image via Harley Geffner

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Subjxct 5 walks into Hollywood’s Amoeba Records about 20 minutes before closing time and remarks how easy to navigate the public transit system is in LA. This is something that he has in common with only one person, the creator of the transit system. Subjxct’s been taking buses and trains his whole life he says, so 50 minutes on the red line with a walk on either side works just fine for him. It’s a hot day at the end of June 2021 and the producer mastermind behind the 2oo4/AF1 crew out of Elizabeth, New Jersey is in LA for a show he hosted the night before in a grimy DIY second-floor venue. It was alongside 2oo4 crew members Pap0 and Big Ouee as well as their frequent collaborator out of Massachusetts, DJ Lucas, and underground king Marcy Mane.

The 2oo4 crew used to host shows out of one member named Macho Quality’s streetwear shop in Newark, New Jersey circa 2015, with the earliest iterations of rappers who would go on to become superstars like Playboi Carti and Tay-K. “That Tay-K show was so rare bruh, like in New Jersey with it for real. Tay was like 16 at the time.” Pap0 and the rest of the 2oo4 crew being responsible for setting up shows like this provided Subjxct with the opportunity to support and experience it all first-hand. There’s real rap history here, and Subjxct continues to school me on everything Jersey, before we get into the records.

“It’s crazy because Jersey is right next to New York, so in history, we was always swept under the rug, in the shadows of the city. Jersey to me, especially what we’re doing right now, we believe in tradition a lot. Even if it’s fashion with air forces and fitteds, people look at us weird sometimes. But that’s really the shit that we were on in terms of the fashion and the music. Like Pap0 is super lyrical. We’re still holding on to the tradition of the real MC, like that’s what Jersey has a lot of, people that really know how to rap. So we try to stick to tradition with most of the shit we do, and put the shit we grew up on into the music sonically. We also grew up on video games, wrestling, hoops and shit, so all of that is in our music and what we do too… [Elizabeth] specifically, [where I grew up] is a melting pot – Colombians, Haitians, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans. Not just races either, it’s just mad different types of people in general, like we got the hood but then in the hood you’ll have motherf*ckers who skate, do music, art, play sports, all different types of shit.”

You can see the influence just in scrolling through their SoundCloud pages and peeping the cover arts and album titles. There are multiple albums that look straight up like the cover arts from those early 2000’s NBA Live games, there’s racing video game style covers, wrestling, Mets iconography and more, all designed with an extra splash of swagger.

On stage the night before we met in Hollywood, Subjxct, Papo, Ouee, and Lucas tore the building down with an onslaught of witty, vicious, and funny bars over nostalgia-laced production with hints of ambient trance, dance music, and lush boom bap from Subjxct. He was an incredible host for the night, amping up the crowd of maybe 50 with a mix of modern Detroit rap like Los and Nutty, with Chief Keef deep cuts, Jay-Z, and pulsating electronic vibes. Pap0 was in a City Edition R.J Barrett jersey rapping into the mic like it was a prized possession, Modelos are two for $5 by the back, soda bottles full of Lean are being sold from stage, and the now-canceled All Gas No Brakes guy is at the front sweating his ass off in a white collared shirt and tie rapping every word. It’s hot, smoke fills the room, and the guys who leave the stage are hanging in the crowd like everyone else.

Video via Subjxct 5/Instagram

That night, Subjxct was in his zone – he was mixing the perfect ingredients as a host and producer – clinically locked in to every snare clap, drop, or drone in the music and every bit of motion on and off the stage. But now, he’s taking me into that zone with him in the famous Hollywood record shop.

My interview with Subjxct ends up fairly disjointed. It’s partially me holding up my phone to record him talking about punk vinyls he’s flipping through, partially conducted while he’s playing unreleased tracks as I’m driving him back to his friend’s spot, and partially in my parked car when I get the chance to turn my phone recorder back on. We touch on the Jason Kidd Nets era and his love for the 2008 Celtics between the snippets of conversation about music. He’s wearing a black polo tee and a signature red brim cap that appears in most of his pictures.

We have limited time when we arrive at the iconic record shop, so we start in the rock section (where Subjxct immediately gravitates to), chatting about 2021 punk’s resurgence in rap. But he’s more focused on the hardcore stuff, and gives me some quick history on New York hardcore bands in the 80s and 90s. He’s a big fan of the band Madball and mentions that the lead singer’s brother is a guitarist in one of the OG New York Hardcore bands called Agnostic Front from the mid-80’s. When I ask about his favorite modern hardcore bands, he mentions the label Triple D.

“They have this one band from upstate that is so cool, such a trip, the lead singer is some old dude who f*cks with hip hop and wears mad Polo. I thought that shit was so fly bruh.”

Walking over to the rap CD section, Subjxct mentions how hot Miki Howard is when we pass a vinyl. He hums a few notes from “Come Share My Love” and says that this same vinyl caught his and Pap0’s eye when they were previously in this record shop last time in LA. I had just missed out on interviewing Pap0 too, since he flew back home a little earlier than Subjxct.

In the rap CD section, he picks out a few favorites – DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, Mablib and Quasimodo’s The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, and of course, The Life and Times of S. Carter Vol. 3. This was very recently after DMX had passed away, and Subjxct tells me how the original vinyl pressing of It’s Dark and Hell is Hot was going for $700. The chat then turns to how people are taking advantage of the vinyl craze, and the value of physical media.

“We’re really tryna f*ck with physical media right now man, because the game is crazy. It’s not even just music at this point, it’s like you can look at it like equity. I would understand getting old vinyl records, but new artists are dropping vinyls for $100 and if the artwork is cool enough and the shit is rare, it can resell for 3 or 4 hundred off the bat. Copping it is betting on people, thinking like ‘oh this is going to be classic one day.’ It’s also about the cover art man, I’ve seen a new wave of people copping vinyls just for fly cover art. Which is still kind of cool because it’s all art at the end of the day, so you really can’t be mad. It’s part of the music.”

When we hit the Hov section, Subjxct almost sounds relieved. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, wow, I got this one, damn, yes, yes,” he mumbles while flipping through the CDs. It looks like he’s having a spiritual moment reliving all the Jay-Z albums in his head, and mentions how much inspiration he and the 2oo4 guys take from early Jay-Z beats. In another interview with POW alum Alphonse Pierre, he cited the “Jigga My N****” beat by Swizz as one of the beats that most inspires his style. You can hear it in basically everything he does.

He spots a DJ Drama tape. DJ-hosted tapes are the talk of the town in June 2021, since Tyler had just released his latest, a Drama-hosted barrage of mixtape era beats. To Subjxct, DJ hosted tapes never went anywhere though. He and DJ Phatt, who is a close acquaintance and someone who helped put Subjxct on, have been dropping DJ hosted tapes for almost the past decade, but people weren’t paying attention. “I guess it’s making a comeback in popular culture, but it’s always been here … everything comes full circle, so now everybody is gonna try to get their DJ hosted shit. Which is dope because the formats for these shits are fire,” Subjxct explains.

I snag a Chief Keef Sorry 4 The Weight CD for my car, which Subjxct agrees is up there with some of his best music. “I tie Keef in with the internet so much, I wouldn’t even want to get a CD, but this one of his hardest tapes for sure.” Experimental, wavy, and ceremonial-sounding – with the GGP producers leaning further and further into their lean-fueled vision of a trippy jungle world with bongos and synthesizers. The way those in-house Glo Gang producers channeled a trance sound into rap beats is reminiscent of how Subjxct makes his beats, but his are generally less frenetic, opting for a cooler tone.

As he gets into my car to drive him back to his friend’s spot, he asks me to pull forward so he can get in, because as he puts it, “I am a giant. Shoutout to all the big people in the world. Please leave that in the interview.”

In the car, we start talking about trance music, and how that was basically all he was making for a good period. Most of his earliest beat tapes were what he calls “futuristic trance, you could even kind of say house or whatever.” He explains that he didn’t really have a musical education in trance, and he developed the style just f*cking around in the Nexus program on his Windows desktop. He tells me, “I was coming across mad crazy arp synths, shit that sounded like Tiesto, Benny Benassi and all that shit. It just sounded cool, especially how I did it with the drum pattern and everything. I was thinking like damn nobody be tapping in with these types of sounds for rap. I love that trance, techno, house sound. Europe is really the mecca for that though for real. Doing my research back then, I really saw that. They really worship that trance shit. I wanna do a show out there, and just do a trance-only set.” This would prove to be prescient.

Subjxct asks if he can play me some of his unreleased stuff with DJ Lucas and Pap0, and of course, I oblige. He plays me some cuts off what would later release as their 2022 tape, Continuous Improvement, and a still yet-to-be-released Dirty Designer Volume 2. He calls the DD2 tape a “rare Pokemon card.” As the bass thumps, Subjxct explains to me how they originally linked with DJ Lucas.

“I used to know Lucas’s brother like years back, he used to cop beats from me, but I didn’t know that was Lucas’s brother until years later. That’s Weird Dane, he lives in China now and makes weird shit with his girlfriend that’s barely rap but it’s insane for real. They’re a musical ass family. Lucas at one point hit me up and was like telling me I f*ck with y’all, my brother used to cop beats a while back, and I was like ‘damn what the f*ck, that’s crazy.’ So we checked his shit out, and it was going so wild, like for real who is this white n**** from Mass going apeshit bruh. So we just connected man, and with Pap0, it’s just the duo I never thought I’d want, but it makes so much sense when you hear it. The two styles clash against each other like Lucas is animated and shit but he can really spit though. He’s got a squeaky voice and Papo is dark as hell, but both can really spit.”

Since I linked with Subjxct 5, he’s been on a crazy run. He made a great tape with NYC weird ball Wiki, and their styles worked in lockstep with each other, as Wiki twisted his nasally, cig burned voice in irregular coils around the sonic vortexes Subjxct was creating. He actually did end up doing that Euro-tour that he manifested during our chat, playing electronic music in the mecca with Wiki. He formed a band where he played bass guitar and he dropped a tape with Pap0 called PAP on P.E.D’s with an overly brolic illustration of Pap0 in a baseball jersey throwing syringes. Most recently, he released an experimental beat tape, AM/PM.

AM/PM sees Subjxct back in his trance/dance bag. It has shades of that hardcore punk he was so in love with, jersey club, dancehall, old school Swizz Beatz stuff, jungle, drum n bass, and it sounds wholly original. Something only Subjxct could make.

As we wind down our chat, we get deep into the nostalgia aspect of their music. Subjxct and the crew were mostly born in the 90’s but they really grew up on early 2000’s culture. He mentions his and the team’s obsession with Jay-Z actually formed as they grew into adulthood, and began to research their rap history.

“I’ll be damned if I told you I remember when Biggie died, or when Hov came out. I really grew up on G-Unit, Kanye West, Ludacris, the later Bad Boy years, the later Rockafella years with Dipset and shit. A lot of that shit is still in Jersey though. Like people are really still rocking the throwback jerseys from that era, so this is all that blend of us really sticking to tradition, the Jersey way.”

The new wave of nostalgia-bait doesn’t fully sit right with Subjxct. Nostalgia shouldn’t necessarily be commercialized in the way it has, he riffs, but it needs to be treated with care. You can tell who heard their mom play something once and who really wore those CDs out.

“A lot of motherf*ckers are watering shit down. Just because you can flip some shit from back then and add modern drums on it don’t mean it’s going to be a hit every single time. There’s a right way to do this shit. I have a love/hate situation with the nostalgia shit. For me, if it’s done the right way though, I’m a fan of it. Instead of just sampling 2000s shit, we try to make it how they made it, the same type of drums, you feel me? The same type of groove and even programs, just to try to switch it up and make it more interesting. It’s got to be authentic.”

One thing seems crystal clear from talking to Subjxct: He’s got a deep appreciation and curiosity about music and culture. He loves reminiscing on big zeitgeist moments, he deeply researches older music, and he has a desire to learn. He talked to me about wanting to go to clubs in K-Town to get f*cked up and groove to K-Pop, just for a new experience. He sees the cultural moment he grew up in as a rare artifact, worthy of preservation and replication. He just wants to spread the gospel, and continue to create lasting relics of both the digital and physical worlds he’s lived through.

“I just want to leave art behind man. It goes back to the physical shit I’m producing. I’m going to have music that’s going to live forever. It’s crazy that somebody in Australia or some shit can have a cassette with your music on it, and who knows what’s going to happen with that cassette? It could end up in a thrift store somewhere and somebody else ends up buying it and it’s a crazy cycle. That’s kind of like being immortal if you think about it.”

You can catch Subjxct 5 on his cross-country fall tour with DJ Lucas and Pap0. They just kicked off the first dates last week.

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