Oakland's Tahaj The First is all about the music.

I always assume that everyone who has a serious project going on, would then be self promoting all the time. You got to right? How else will others know? I have a few bars in Oakland that I call home. I usually stop by for a round and leave. One and done. My days of hanging out at bars for hours are far behind me. When frequenting Room 389, there's a bartender who's always all business. We've exchanged a few words but not much. When scrolling through FB, I see the bartender pop up on my suggested friends list and he's all about music. Music production, emceeing, artist development...what doesn't he do? 

I reached out to him about doing an interview and he kindly agreed. Doing my usual research into an artist, what I found was nothing short of amazing. Starting with his beats. Textured, rich, and tasteful sounds were on tap. The orchestration of everything is top tier. Music not only reminds me of other music but of feelings certain songs evoke. For example, I vividly remember the first time I heard Black Star. The albums music production left a great impression on me. 90's west coast production is another prime example of memorable, soul hitting production. To me, this type of production features a story within the music a listener makes their own. Tahaj The First and his music production evoke those emotions. Just like a great chef puts their soul into their cooking, so does Tahaj The First. 

CCC - Tell us a little bit about where you grew up and the moment you knew making music was something you would pursue in your life forever. 

Tahaj - I am 47, and was born and raised in Santa Cruz, ca. I  lived there until my late teens, at which point I started to do some moving around...spent some time in LA, Baton Rouge, NJ/NYC, before settling in Oakland about 25 yrs ago. 
My first inkling that music was "my thing", came sort of unconventionally. I am nowadays more known for the production work I've done, but actually spent the first 15 yrs or so of my "career" as an Emcee strictly, and it was through my love of language, oration, poetry and the spoken word, that I was drawn to hip-hop and rapping as an art form. I had always (and still am), been impressed by accomplished orators, preachers, lecturers, etc...and even had a collection of speeches from MLK, Malcom x, diff presidents, etc, on cassettes, that I would listen to. So initially, is what was more the rapping, then the beats and music that attracted me. In addition, my mother had a fairly large record collection, much of which I would later discover was EXACTLY the type of stuff that was being sampled...R&B, Soul, Jazz Fusion, and psychedelic rock, so I grew up on the basic "sound" that hip-hop draws from, playing in my living room.
CCC -How does a song start out? Do you have a formula or is it sporadic? 
Tahaj - A song can start one of 3 ways basically....either
A) I hear a sample/loop that I really dig 
B) I find drum sounds, and create a "drum break" from scratch, that is super infectious, and inspires me 
C) I approach it as "work", and just deliberately, without any real inspiration, MAKE myself sit-down and produce something, usually starting with some simple chords from a synth or keyboard.  I have found that if one is waiting for the inspiration to get started, one can't legitimately control ones creative output, so, sometimes you gotta just "pump something out" in order to stay in practice, and to have things "in the can" waiting for potential use.
CCC - Who are the music producers you look up to? What is it about their sound that impacts you the most?

Tahaj - Producers that inspired me, in the sense of shaping the sound that I myself ended up creating...would probably be Peterock (for his use of very "lush", melodically driven, "pretty" samples), along with Diamond, and Large Professor, (for being the first dope "rapping producers" that I remember).....DJ Premier (for his economy, doing so much with so little, and his DRUMS)...and Maybe Madlib, (for his "use whatever is at hand" approach to the gear he uses, and his eclectic choice and use of samples)

CCC - You operate the Drum Dealership label, studio, development agency. Is there an artist that blew your mind as far as talent who walked through your doors?

Tahaj - As far as Artists that have "blown my mind"... honestly, most, if not all, of the members of the circle of friends and artists I have worked with, have "blown my mind" at least once. It would be difficult to pick someone out. I do recall once having all 5 original members of the Freestyle Fellowship, along with some other mutual friends, in my studio, all at once, one night after a show they did. They were a very "important" group to the culture, and I was a huge fan of them as a group in highschool,  a follower of their solo careers, and fairly close friends with one of them, so it was a kind of historic occasion for the fan boy in me, lol. We never got around to making any music that night though, so unfortunately, I have no record of it.

CCC -  There's several sides to your discography. I picked up on a street side and something I would describe as a  blend of adult contemporary hip hop / trip hop / world beats. Was this a natural/conscious transition or do you simply put, make both?

Tahaj - I think that the different "aspects" one gets from me musically, are probably just reflective of the different facets of my personality. I guess part of the point, however deliberately, is just to kinda do my part, to show that for most humans, myself included, we live in a world of dualities and nuances, that are way more authentic, interesting, and relatable, than the series of tropes, and one dimensional, stereotyped movie characters that we are often presented with as hip hop fans. "The Regulars" project, in particular, started as kind of a concept, more than a group, about "blue collar rap" or, "rappers with day jobs", and approaching the making of hip-hop like an NBA journeyman/role player, versus the playmaking starter. A "Regular rap for regular folks" kind of thing, less focused on bragging and materialism, and dancing, and more focused on discussion, reflecting on life, and pleasant soundscapes, that still BUMP, all without being pretentious, or overtly political.
CCC - What are your pet peeves when working with someone in the studio?
Tahaj - My main studio pet peeve, is being there for hours, for what ends up being no reason, and not getting anything done. Super annoying.

CCC - What advice would you give someone who wants to start making beats?

Tahaj - My best advice would be to first study the discography of people who do what you want to do, and try and find out more about how they went about making that music at that time, but also, how they do it now, and stay in contemporary.  Also..focus on the music...learn more about music itself, equipment, history, as much music theory as you can find the patience and comprehension for (which for me, isn't much, lol) and try not to focus on acceptance, "likes/follows/comments" and just do it, at first at least, for yourself, and your friends and peers. #makemusicnotcontent...lol

CCC - Animal Slavery is an album about how we abuse animals every day via our supply chain. That's a fearless record. How did the concept come up and was there any concern of how it would be received by listeners?
Tahaj - Animal slavery is really something my homie Z-man deserves at least 90% of the credit for, conceptually. Zee has been a vegan for over 30 yrs, at least, and At the time the project was initially thought of, I was also exploring my dietary options, and was living a vegetarian lifestyle, so when approached by him with the idea, it sounded interesting. We had just finished pushing our last album together "Flea Circus" (amazing album, if I dare say so myself) which was also highly conceptual, with more of a focus on ideas around race and pop culture, so we were kinda "in a groove". It was a subject (animal rights) very close to Z's heart , and knowing him as I do, I knew it would be phenomenal, and I had been setting aside and sending him beats for general use, for about a decade, so..he just picked out, and wrote to diff beats from various folders, until he has an album. Then I, and DJ Pause, along with zee, went through and added some things,... Intro, interludes, sound efx and skits, etc,...I had not a whole lot to do with the general direction, other than some beats, in my mind, that suggested certain themes to me, like the "whales and dolphins song" for instance, I believe was a suggestion of mine, cuz the vocal sample just reminded me of whale song. I never thought too much about how the album would be received. I assumed that there would be a small, predisposed vegan audience that would love it, if course, but I wasn't, and still am not, quite sure how it will be understood by the casual listener, but hopefully, it invokes thought, if nothing else.

CCC - What's next for Tahaj The First. 
Tahaj - Next up? Well,.. the animal slavery album is coming out on double, blood red vinyl, at some point this spring, which I'm excited about. I've been kinda laying low music wise ever since making this album, but am about to release some instrumental stuff, revamp my social media presence, and am currently working on stuff and sending it to the guys from the classic SF hip-hop group, Bored Stiff, in the beginnings of producing an album for them, which will be really, really cool to be a part of. I'm many ways, making music is just a cheat code for the fan in me to meet and be around artists I admire...lol 
Tahaj does a lot musically. I hope you peep out his work and get acquainted with an artist doing it for the love of music. His bandcamp page ( Music | Tahaj The First (bandcamp.com) ) is the best way to check out all thath he's created. If you see him at Room 389, make sure to say hello.

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