Gotta Pre-Roll Before You Smoke Out

Driven MC J Soulja wants to give Austin hip-hop artists a space to tap in

J Soulja (Photo by Jason Castro)

J Soulja takes on a multitude of roles within Austin’s hip-hop scene. The MC’s latest: hosting an open mic event for artists to hone their craft within a welcoming space.

The Pre-Roll runs at Flamingo Cantina every first and third Tuesday of the month. Soulja spoke at length with the Chronicle last week to discuss his new event, which acts as a subsidiary of sorts under his well-known quarterly Smoke Out concert series, and what he hopes to achieve with this open mic showcase.

Austin Chronicle: Can you explain what The Pre-Roll open mic showcase is and what someone can expect when they go to there?

J Soulja: The Pre-Roll is an open mic and networking showcase mixer. It’s a diverse twist on a traditional open mic show. The goal is to bring creatives into a space where they can meet people who can facilitate their careers to different avenues. We have pioneers who judge these artists when they come onstage. When I say “judge,” [I mean] they give their input on how these artists can take a good performance to a great performance. The overall goal with the show is to take these artists from The Pre-Roll stage and graduate them into premier stages like our Smoke Out show, which is an official SXSW event and something that has kind of created my claim to fame as far as a promoter goes here in Austin. We bring the creatives in and we want them to network. It’s all about really generating a community base for Austin to allow the community to have a say so on who they feel like they’d want to prosper into other avenues in their career.

AC: You’re essentially cultivating a base at the grassroots level.

JS: Absolutely. It’s all about just bringing creatives into a central area, having them meet the people who pioneered the city, having them meet the people who press the buttons – whether it’s engineers, media, all of that – all in one place. They have an area where they can grow and, if you look at in more simplistic terms, this is artist development at mass scale. We’re bringing 23 to 25 creatives on stage [per event], we’re showing them how to perform, we’re getting them interviews, we’re getting them introduced into very entry-level aspects of the game. That way, when they get to the [higher levels] of their careers, they’ll be familiar with it by understanding it on the ground level.

AC: You mentioned there being 23-25 creatives at each event, so I’m wondering how does the show actually flow?

JS: Each artist gets one opportunity to perform a song. After an artist performs a song, we go to our panel of judges. Our panel for this recent month was The Teeta, Moe Jane, and Steelo Foreign. If the judges fuck with you, you’ll go to the next phase of the show, which is our media press. You’ll meet with an official media representative of The Smoke Out – she goes by Jay Hope – or if you’re super dope, you’ll get to go to our green room interview powered by the IDK Network. In the middle of the show, we do a 20-minute intermission to break the ice with everybody in the room. We want this to be a nontraditional showcase, not [one] where everybody comes in, thinks you can hold the wall up, and you don’t really know how to circuit the room. Me as a host, my goal is to get you to understand every avenue of the facility when you walk in.

AC: How does an artist sign up to perform at the event?

JS: The signup process starts at 7:30pm, so what’s fly is you don’t know who is going to perform. It might be the dopest n***a and [he might] be performing last because he didn’t make it in time for the signup. Artists have to be there at 7:30pm sharp. We’ve been closing 25 acts after 7:30 in a matter of minutes. Literally five-to-ten minutes and signups are done. At 8:30pm we do a freestyle cypher powered by local producers only.

AC: How can producers send their beats in?

JS: Come pull up to The Pre-Roll or submit your beats to our email, which is [email protected]. What they’ll do is they’ll send in a beat pack and include their production name and their Instagram. Me and my DJ, DJ Napalm, will just go through and pick what’s dope.

AC: According to you, some artists from the first show came back for the second show. Do you think having artists return more than once will limit the opportunities available for others?

JS: I don’t think that’ll be an issue at all. If you keep coming at 7:30pm sharp for the signup, I’m going to make it free and universal for everybody. I want everybody to get an opportunity, but at the same time, I understand the want to grow. [If you’re] somebody who wants to grow and you want to really learn how to utilize this stage as a mechanism to enhance your skill, then this is where you want to be at. I encourage artists to keep pulling up. [If you don’t get to perform], the minimum you’ll get to do is tap in and meet [people].

AC: You can argue that if you want it bad enough and you show up to every event, you deserve it because you’re putting in the work and showcasing the desire to grow.

JS: Right. And if anything, that’ll show the [people] who are in control of this shit, like me, to bring you in for another opportunity. Like “Aye bro, you done killed this shit enough and it sounds like you’ve been getting better, let me bless your game,” because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

A performance at a Pre-Roll showcase in July at Flamingo Cantina. (Photo by Donald Wayne Lee III)

AC: Can anyone attend and come watch the show?

JS: It’s $10 to get in. I’d say from the first show to [the second] show, we’ve probably grown about two-to-five percent, but it’s growing. The goal is to be packing this [place] out with 200 to 300 people a show. At Scratchouse we were bringing 250 to 300 people out on a fucking Tuesday night, so trying to regenerate that allure with an open mic has been a learning process.

AC: Why help your peers so unselfishly?

JS: The lack of pioneers and leadership in this space for hip-hop. For hip-hop, there is no [leadership]. Sometimes you have to make a sacrifice. Sometimes you have to do shit that’s bigger than yourself. [How] hard it was for me to make an impact in Austin came from the n***as who were in control of the shit out here being real egotistical. Paying to get on shows and, when I pay, you don’t put me on the show wherever I paid to get on there. You wait until the club gets crowded and put yourself on. I’ll never perform again on The Smoke Out. I’ve only performed on The Smoke Out stage once. I host every one of them.

I’ve been blessed as a legitimate creative to have those incentives a rock & roll or a country artist has. These artists on the come up have never had [that] opportunity and only deal with these wannabe promoters who don’t really know how to court artists with the proper [etiquette] to show that they’re valuable. If you want to sell out a show, why the fuck would you not give them the tangibles that they need to be able to be successful? That’s the type of shit that we would do with The Smoke Out.

I love rap music. I’m an artist. I want to pop as a hip-hop artist for [sure], but I think [what] I would love, even more, is being able to walk in my home of Austin, Texas... and it’s love because of the fact we’ve given to the community as creatives.

It’s just the rapport with the streets, it’s the rapport with the people because our mantra as a business is that the middle to the top is accounted for. They already have resources to help you. By the time you get to the middle, you don’t really need anything, but the motherfuckers are going to want to start giving you resources when you don’t need them. What’s the point in that? What about the people from the bottom to the middle? We want to be the voice from the bottom to the middle, we want to bring artists to the middle stage that way they know what to do when they get to that middle point and they can use our opportunities and our services as a trampoline to spring them to wherever the fuck they want to go to.

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J Soulja, The Pre-Roll, The Smoke Out, Flamingo Cantina, Scratch House

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