Twin Ports Hip-Hop: An Interview with Jaze

Paul Whyte

The hip-hop scene of the Twin Ports is often looked over, but there is indeed a growing element of it in the area. Much like the metal scene from 15 years ago, styles of music that were practically unheard of in the area are developing and finding their hold in our ever developing music community. We caught up with the local hip-hop artist and promotions person, Jesse “Jaze” Unger, who was born and raised in Duluth and asked him about his music and hip-hop in the Twin Ports area.         


Reader: So your two projects are Kritical Kontact and Jaze and Delgado? How long have you been doing hip-hop in the area?

Jaze: On October 16 it will be 10 years of live performances, I’ve been working on music for like 13 years.

Reader: Do you have any particular background musically or influences that you’d like to mention?

Jaze: Some of my influences growing up was West-coast Hip hop, Death Row, 2Pac and Eminem, but as of late, I have also been listening to a lot of international music such as Bliss N Eso from Australia, Classified from Canada, Loop Troop Rockers from Sweden, and a lot of my own stuff. Hearing the older stuff and far I’ve gone drives me to work harder at it. My second cousin is Venus De Mars as well, so I kind of grew up knowing he/she was pretty big in her community

Reader: What projects have you work with in the past?

Jaze: Well we have three Kritical Kontact CDs, I also have an EP and mix-tape free for download. The “Forever 27 EP,” which I wrote in 2009, and the mix-tape is different music from 2003-2010, it’s random songs. I’ve branched out for shows and tours, but nothing huge.

Reader: Tell me about your show coming up at Sir Ben’s on August 17.

Jaze: Well with Sir Ben’s, I’ve always wanted to play there. I know its not traditionally a hip-hop spot, but with my mellow style of hip-hop I felt it would be a nice place to have a show and invite some of my friends out to perform along side.

Reader: It looks like you’re hosting the upcoming show at Legacy Glass on August 30?

Jaze: Yes, I’m hosting the Legacy show. I perform roughly 10 shows a month out and about, so its nice to still be part of some important shows by hosting them, where I can kick freestyles and do songs, but not do a full set. I still stay in the scene but am not one of the acts.

Reader: I agree Sir Ben’s isn’t a typical hip-hop venue. Any local favorites?

Jaze: I like Strictly Hammers, Nonfiction, of course the guys from Kritical, Bliss & Sitter and Legitimit.

Reader: How is the hip-hop scene up here?         

Jaze: The scene up here is growing. Back when we started with Kritical in 2002, there were three other groups that I knew of: Powerhouse, Life4life and Crew Jones. It’s grown to over two dozen groups and being around for so long helping and seeing the talent, I’m trying to make Duluth a staple for Minnesota hip-hop. I have a lot of Minneapolis friends who have been part of the pioneer age of underground hip-hop in the area. Some of the Minneapolis friends i have who I like to get up is Rek The Heavyweight (aka formerly Spawn of Atmosphere), Carnage & Desdamona and Kanser.   I’ve been bridging the gap with Duluth and other cities for awhile and just grinding and doing shows to help other people outside of Duluth know this is a good town for hip-hop.

Reader: Anything you’d like say on Kristoff Krane and Bobby Phisher who will be performing a the Legacy show?

Jaze: Kristoff is one of the most modest artists I’ve ever met. I met him through Eyedea back in 2006. He’s probably one of the hardest emcee’s I’ve met, he’s played a lot of instruments, and freestyles like no other and is just a plain nice dude. Bobby Phisher I met when he went to UMD. I hooked him up with a couple shows, he reminds me of a product of Eyedea’s music; very lyrical and good stage presence.

Reader: Networking and collaboration seems to be pretty important in hip-hop music. Well, all music, but specifically rap and hip-hop.

Jaze: I do get asked a lot by some of the younger artists to get them on shows or tips on music. No matter what though, I try to stay humble and help out as many as I can, hip-hop is known to have a lot of ego, I try not to let that get in the way of progress.

Reader: I’ve met a few of the people you’ve mentioned. I seldom get the feeling of ego from the groups up here.

Jaze:Yeah we are under estimated up here, we’ve got the Northern Minnesota niceness.

Reader: What do you usually have backing you up on the stage? As in beats and samples?

Jaze: Just the beat and DJ Delgado scratching in the back. I do all my vocals raw, I don’t use any backtracks or back up vocals. I see some who do their shows with backtracks and it really ruins the authenticity of the performance.

Reader: Who does DJ and back sounds for Kritical?

Jaze: Right now Kritical is on hiatus so to speak, we really don’t have a DJ at the moment. I’m more focused on my solo projects and a side project EP Im working with Nonfiction. I hit the studio on Sunday, I’m hoping to get that out on 9/11 for free digital download until i can get some pressed up.

Reader: Cool. Tell me about Blaze it Records.

Jaze: Blaze It Records has nothing to do with “blazing weed” *laughs*. It originates from “BL” from Bliss, “AZE” from Jaze and “IT: from Legitimit, but since we started our friends said our music was hot so it kinda fit.

Reader: Are there any other acts under it, or are you just using it for your group?

Jaze: The acts on it are Kritical Kontact, Jaze & Delgado, Strictly Hammers, and working on getting a few more artists such as my homie from Redlake, MN Emcee Edge & Devilz Speceiz from Toronto. We are focused on becoming the mainstay for Duluth hip-hop, we’re always trying to put something together at least once a week in this city. But like I said, Kritical is in hiatus for all of us to work on our solo/side projects and when we feel like doing music together Kritical will be back. So it’s fair to say, Kritical Kontact is not dead. *laughs*

Reader: So what’s coming up with you and your music?

Jaze: I have my debut full length album coming out in December with a few guest features. I’m also working on setting up MC Battles this school year, something Duluth has been missing, in October at Beaner’s.

Reader: All ages events are important, it seems like it’s getting harder for kids to go to a decent show

Jaze: That’s why I’m trying to utilize all ages venues, and they’re not enough of them in Duluth, especially since Luce’ stopped.

Reader: Anything else you’d like to add about the Duluth scene?

Jaze: The Twin Ports has a lot of strong hip hop artists, we just need to build together and make this scene even bigger than it is.
As long as there are people like Jaze working in the area to help facilitate and further the music in this area, it seems like the well of talent and variety of acts will continue to grow. Keep an eye out of upcoming shows in the area and help support these artists.
Free Downloads from Jaze can be found on both http://www.soundcloud.com/jazehiphop and http://jazehiphop.bandcamp.com/