Born and raised in West Virginia, one may mistakenly believe that recording artist Justin White would have no roots in hip hop; this assumption could not be further from the truth. A child of the 80s, White credits the late great Tupac Shakur, The Eagles, Prince, Willie Nelson, Rakim, and James Darren as his musical influences and sources of inspiration. A singer/songwriter and self-taught musician, White plays a multitude of live instruments in addition to demonstrating his uncanny penmanship.
In 2000, White moved to San Diego, California, and briefly signed a record deal with the now defunct Ironclad Records, associating with acts like Suga Free, 40 Glocc, and Tha LowLifes. In 2005, White lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a short period of time until Hurricanes Katrina and Rita decimated the area, forcing him to relocate back to his home state of West Virginia.
Since then, Justin White has worked with artists such as: KXNG Crooked (f/k/a Crooked I) of Shady Record’s Slaughterhouse, TQ, Slip Capone, Nutt-so (of 2pac’s Outlawz), Jonny Craig (lead singer of Slaves; formerly of Dance Gavin Dance and Emarosa), and Kola (formerly of Doggy’s Angels and Ladies of Beach City). White formed Pangaea Enterprises in 2016 to bring his music and photography to the public.
A genre-bending artist with neither fear nor filter, White’s debut Hip Hop album, “Impromptu,” (featuring appearances by KXNG Crooked of Shady Records’ Slaughterhouse and movie icon Tony Todd) is available to stream, purchase, or download on most digital media outlets on Friday, January 13th, 2017!
1. What’s good Justin, how’s things your way?
Things are going well. I appreciate you asking. I am just staying busy with life, work, and music. How are you?
2. Your style has that back pack/ battle rap feel from the 90’s. Is it safe to say that was your favorite era that inspired your style?
The 90s era of G-Funk definitely had an influence on my hip hop style. The first hip hop album I ever owned was Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” in cassette format in 1990. After that, I saw the video for “Dre Day,” and I was fascinated with Snoop, Dre, tha Dogg Pound, Lady of Rage, RBX, Warren G, and the whole Death Row roster. When I heard Tupac for the first time in 91-92 (“Trapped” & “Brenda’s Got a Baby”), I knew my life had changed; hip hop had its hooks in me permanently.
I would say the 90s is my favorite era of hip hop, but I acknowledge that without artists such as Eric B & Rakim, N.W.A., Sugarhill Gang, Kool Herc, Red Alert, Grandmaster Flash, and countless others who began in the 70s and 80s – hip hop may not have gotten such solid footing in music history. I wholeheartedly miss hip hop from the late-70s to the mid-90s.
3. You bring a lot of fire and intensity and word play to the mic when you record How would you say your style evolved from when you first picked up a mic?
Oh man *laughs*, the confidence in my delivery has definitely changed the most as the years have gone by. I started writing poetry and lyrics in the mid-90s, but I did not start recording music until 2000. I would be embarrassed to play some of my early stuff – my delivery was terrible! I started writing “socially conscious” lyrics back then, so that has only changed as much as my view of society has changed since 2000… As I’ve gotten older and wiser (I hope), though, writing intricate rhyme schemes and conveying an effective message have become much more important. I also care less about haphazardly offending people with metaphor choices as I’ve realized that you can neither please everyone nor control how people see you no matter how hard you may try.
I would also say the quality of my production has evolved astronomically. I started with old programs like Rebirth and Cool Edit Pro, which were great in the late-90s and early 2000s. Now I play a handful of live instruments and use programs like Logic Pro and Pro Tools. I also listen to all types of music, from The Eagles to the Beatles to Prince to Pac to Willie to Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus to Rat Pack material, so the variety has had a profound impact on how I hear and therefore compose music.
4. We checked out your video for “Real Talk”. The visual matched what we picture when we hear your grittiness in rhyme form. The song was dope too. True Underground flavor. What made you choose this record as the first single off your album, “Impromtu”?
Ironically, “Real Talk” was not originally on the album. I recorded it and “Fall on Your Sword” much later than the other five songs. After I recorded “Real Talk” in September, my friends and loved ones were going crazy over it and kept telling me that it was the track to push. “Destiny” was the other major contender as the first single, but I didn’t want the first track I pushed to be a collaboration. Plus, I have yet to find the opportunity to link up with Crook to film a video, so that was another deciding factor.
5. Speaking of that album, how would you describe the overall feel of the project and what else can the MTK listeners expect from it?
The album is definitely an emotional roller coaster ride – that’s a staple for all my projects. As we all know, life is filled with ups and downs and fits no script…so “Impromptu” comes from the perspective of an individual who is frustrated with the state of society and the direction of hip hop, and who feels he is under appreciated in most aspects of life, regardless of how much effort and emotion he puts into it. I feel as though many artists and listeners can relate to that feeling of under appreciation and frustration in today’s world; however, amidst all the anger, I feel hope still exists.
Like Don Quixote or Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels’ character on the HBO show, The Newsroom) – I find myself on a mission to civilize, to raise the listener’s awareness to frauds and their oppressive ways, and to instigate a return to truth and decency. I understand how arrogant and/or pretentious that sounds, but that’s just how I feel.
People blindly support their oppressors with a cheer and a smile, then they wonder why things only get worse as far as their financial situations and social freedoms. We need more awareness and tenacious fortitude in our society, and the creative arts are supposed to be a vehicle for that purpose. I guess that makes me a designated driver for hip hop.
6. So, you are from the West Virginia. No emcee has officially put that state on the map yet. For starts what’s life like out there and how would you describe the HipHop scene and sound in your region?
Life in West Virginia is a lot like other places – people are inadequately educated by the school systems and misinformed by the news media; that “Trump mentality” is very apparent amongst a majority of the inhabitants. On the other hand, a lot of good, decent people live here…lots of people who would do anything for their neighbor or even for a passerby.
The WV hip hop scene is not overly prominent; country and bluegrass are the popular musical genres in this area. Hell, I even own a banjo, so I am certainly not passing judgment. Our most commercially recognizable musicians are Bill Withers and Brad Paisley, so I would be honored to be used in the same sentence as those men, but I doubt I’d be worthy.
7. After listening to the tracks on your album, you hold no punches when it comes to getting on the current state of HipHop. What do you think about artists like Lil Yachty, Chief Keef and Designer and the long term effect they will have on the genre ?
As far as artists in the vein of a Chief Keef, Lil Yachty, or Desiigner are concerned – I do not feel I am qualified to speak on their music or their contributions to hip hop as I have never listened to any of their music. I could not name one song by any of those artists other than Desiigner’s ”Panda” because my nephews were listening to it one day when I visited them. It is no disrespect to the men: I respect anyone who is making a living doing something he or she loves. Besides, I fault the music industry and the listener more than the artists for the pollution of hip hop.
Unfortunately, the average listener is prodded into listening to whatever is being marketed, and big companies have endless funding to market “artists” that fit their agendas. The numerous underlying corporate agendas rarely benefit American society, hip hop, or the creative arts…quite the opposite seems to ring true. Countless dope artists are out there with real talent and sincere messages, but that is counter to the typical corporate agenda, so the average listener will never stumble upon these artists unless they make a conscious effort to do so. When djs, radio stations, and websites promote “artists” for money or a kickback, then how can indie artists such as myself ever expect to get his or her message to the people unless we have deep pockets?
I will say this: I’ve seen videos of Desiigner on news outlets and what not, and that young man exudes excitement – he is visibly happy to be in the hip hop conversation. He isn’t claiming to be the greatest emcee to touch the mic. He is not disrespecting hip hop legends like Tupac and Biggie. I respect that.
8. Your song with Crooked I is dope! How did that collabo come about and do you plan on working with any other members of Slaughterhouse?
Thank you for the compliment. I’ve been listening to Crooked I since Big C Style’s 19th Street Compilation dropped in 1998. Either that or when the Caught Up soundtrack came out. I was instantly addicted to his flow and blatant intelligence. I first spoke to him of a collaboration back in 2006 over the internet, but I ended up going to law school and music took a backseat.
I wound up meeting Crook in September of 2015 after a Slaughterhouse show in Maryland. We ended up talking about music. Dude was as real in person as in his rhymes. He gave me his number, and I texted him a couple weeks later. I sent him a few instrumentals, the first being “Destiny.” He quickly picked that one, which was fine by me as I’d already written a long verse to it. He sent me his verse, and – though it goes without saying – it was fire. His verse hit the theme perfectly, so I added a line or two and replaced some others to the verse I had already written and laid it down. I tweaked the beat and the mix for quite awhile, but eventually dropped it last January.
Working with KXNG Crooked / Crooked I is the current high point in my career as far as tracks I’ve produced up to this point. When I listen to it, it’s like I can see Batman and Superman, or Luke Cage and Iron Fist, cleaning up hip hop from a lot of this garbage that’s plaguing it.
As far as working with other members of Slaughterhouse? I’d love to if the opportunity arises. Hell, I’d love just to hear any of those legends spitting on one of my beats. Or just to hear another Slaughterhouse album, period.
9. Your song “Contemplative Conversation” was crazy dope! How did that track come about and how many different topics were going through your head that you decided to pen them in that record?
I’m glad you liked “Contemplative Conversation” – that means a lot to me. It goes without saying that it is the most personal song on the album. I am scatterbrained yet a multitasker. I am a musician and emcee, but I’m also an attorney. Finally, I am also recently engaged. I have wanted to do a “day in the mind of Justin White” song for quite some time, but the time or the beat was never right . . . until now.
I play most of the guitar and bass on the album, but this one is all my childhood friend, Clint Anderson. Anyways, we record tons of random music when we get together, and around Thanksgiving he laid down a bunch of smooth guitar riffs that I eventually made into “Contemplative Conversation.” I wrote the lyrics in the same barn used for the “Real Talk” video. I will admit, I did not write this in one sitting.
I met Tony Todd in Pittsburgh sometime in the past year or so, and he was cooler than one could imagine. I got him to call my voicemail and leave a message, and he told me to use it any way I liked. When I finally heard the message, it was such a blessing because it fit perfectly to my idea for “Contemplative Conversation,” so thank you to the Horror God, Tony Todd!
As far as the number of topics, the song speaks for itself. I will say this: as a defense attorney (who used to be a public defender who put in serious overtime), you see a lot of disturbing things in the course of practice. You truly see the worst of what’s going on in your area. And, if you are appointed as someone’s counsel, you have a duty to ensure that your client’s rights are observed and protected, regardless of your feelings towards the immorality of the person’s alleged actions. If you don’t represent the client properly, you are facing possible suspension of your license, and then you won’t be able to pay the outrageous student loan bills.
On the flip side, I am the luckiest man alive to have the fiancee that I have, and she keeps me grounded . . . when she can!
10. What’s next for you in 2017?
Next in 2017 – more videos from “Impromptu,” including visuals for “Insanity,” “I’m Home,” and “Fall on Your Sword.” I will most likely make videos for all the songs and cut them into a short film. Additionally, I have a few possible collaborations in the works, but I won’t jinx myself. You can expect at least two more of my projects to drop this year – an album called “In the Shadows” and another called “Dinosaur Lunchmeat.”
11. What’s the 5 year plan for Justin White?
I am currently working on three albums and four EPs. I play (or attempt to play) a lot of instruments and produce music from all different genres, so some of the material I have planned for release in the coming years will be nothing like “Impromptu.” With that said, I do have more no-nonsense hip hop projects planned, one being a collaborative album called, “West Coast to West Virginia.” I am not certain I can get all the features I want in this year, but it’s coming by 2018 for sure.
As I referenced earlier, I also have a multi genre soundtrack to unhealthy romantic entanglements, entitled “In the Shadows,” coming out this year for sure. It is very different from “Impromptu” as only one or two of the songs could be classified as hip hop. I produced that album with Clint Anderson, and my cousin Matt Rawson did incredible cover artwork. The album features appearances from TQ, Jonny Craig (of SLAVES, formerly of Dance Gavin Dance and Emarosa), and my friends, John Pena and Cam Wilson.
I also have two blues / R&B projects that I hope to have out this year, but by 2018 at the latest. The only other project I will reference by name is “Dinosaur Lunchmeat.” This album has been planned for years, but I’ve constantly updated the tracklist. This will be the follow up to “Impromptu,” but on a much grander scale as far as depth, production, etc. Definitely be on the lookout for that in December 2017.
12. It was good chopping it up with you homie and we look forward to hearing more. You got a classic style and we love the bars. A lot of artists are missing that nowadays. With that said, the floor is yours, give any shout outs, any plugs…..
I appreciate your compliments and you all taking the time to talk to me. I want to shout out my fiancee and inspiration, Leslie; my parents (all three sets of them: Titus family, White family, and the Pena family); John, Kristin, Tyson, Noah, Taven, and Keon Pena; Marshall, Kristi, Gage, Jada (my #1 fan), and Cori Woods; Jamie Rolfes, Lane Ashley, and Jeremy Milam; Clint, Aneta, and Sophie Anderson; Andrew Miller & Shania Lloyd; my grandma, Ermal; my brothers Matt and Adam and sisters Emily and Molly for listening; Caine (associated with Bone Thugs N Harmony); Tha Advocate for hooking up this interview; you all at MixtapeKings for showing some interest; Bigg A from Dogg Pound Ent. for being real with his “distant cousin” from WV; KXNG Crooked / Crooked I and Tony Todd for working with me; and anyone listening to the music or reading this interview. Much love and thanks to you all. Never give up hope.
Find more information on Justin White and Pangaea Enterprises at the following locations:
Purchase/Stream on iTunes/Apple Music:
Impromptu by Justin White