The super-producer sits down with Boardroom to talk about his new TV series and deep footing in the sneaker game.
Over the course of the last quarter century, Just Blaze has gone global thanks to his agile ability to make hits and carve classics. Behind the boards for the likes of Jay-Z, Eminem, Beyonce, T.I., Usher, and more, the platinum producer has helped superstars find their footing in new arenas.
In 2022, his next step is taking his talents to Uproxx for a new unscripted series, Fresh Pair — however, he’s not new to hosting.
“I deejayed my own first birthday party,” Just Blaze told Boardroom. “I was a one-year-old, running around the house playing records on the table for people.”
Taking the stage alongside Katty Customs, the beatsmith behind The Blueprint has seen it all where hip-hop is concerned and worn it all where kicks come in. Coming of age at Baseline Studio amidst streetwear’s explosion, Just lived through rap’s biggest records while rotating footwear’s most formidable collabs.
It’s with this unique resume in hand that he’s able to turn conversations with artists into one-of-one customs created by Katty.
Recently, Boardroom caught up with Just Blaze to discuss the origins of Fresh Pair, lessons learned from the late Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé, and how the original UNDFTD x Air Jordan 4 launch went down.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
IAN STONEBROOK: How did conversations with Uproxx and the concept for Fresh Pair first come about?
JUST BLAZE: The show is the brainchild of Steve Bramucci. He had a relationship with Katty and they’d talked about doing something together. I immediately loved the idea; they didn’t have to convince me.
My concern was how to make it valuable and entertaining without it being salacious. I’m very much an anti-clickbait kind of guy. It’s part of the reason I don’t do interviews much anymore.
IS: With Fresh Pair, how do you thread the needle of being entertaining without being indecent?
JB: For me, it had to be rooted in positivity. The minute you spill the tea is the 30-second clip they’re going to focus on and shape the narrative. We could see that happening at so many podcasts and I didn’t want to give people the ability to do any of that. It had to be either positive or real.
I’m not here for the drama because we have enough of that — with all due respect — and that’s just not what I want to do. The people with Uproxx were all about that. How do we give folks their flowers? It’s been a heck of a ride from conception to delivery.
IS: Prior to partnering with Uproxx, you were working in the hosting space on The Combat Jack Show. What lessons did you learn from Reggie Ossé, Premium Pete, and Dallas Penn that you’re taking to Fresh Pair?
JB: They set the blueprint. They set the template for what anybody does in this space. Were they the first ever to have a podcast? No. Were they the first ever to have one with the shape of something like Drink Champs or Million Dollaz Worth of Game? Yes.
To have somebody [in Reggie] who was not a journalist, but part of our culture that was articulate or entertaining? That was the whole blueprint for people from our culture to create this content this way. That’s Reggie.
Reggie traces it back to Howard Stern from the perspective of it’s me, the cast, and the crew. It’s The Combat Jack Show, but it’s not just Combat Jack — that’s the blueprint for all of us that are creating content now.
IS: How has hosting Fresh Pair allowed you to tell stories in a new space?
JB: A lot of the guests that we’ve had went on our journeys at the same time. T.I., Jim Jones, we all have a history together and have been part of our journeys. Redman was out 10 years before I even got into the game, but we’re both from the same home state and had always maintained a friendship.
For me, it was about sharing that camaraderie with the audience. It’s less about pulling a bunch out of them, it’s me sharing the things I know with the world. Me and El-P have been friends for so long and nobody knows it!
IS: Describe how the custom kicks tie in the talent on the host and guest side.
JB: It’s about the shoe. The shoe is the result of my experience with them and Katty’s experience of what I’m relaying to her. I start telling her stories and then the discussion is about how to represent that on the shoe.
IS: Diving into your footprints, you came up in a golden era where sneaker culture, collabs, and boutiques are concerned. What do you remember about watershed partnerships like the UNDFTD x Air Jordan 4?
JB: When you’re living in history, you don’t realize you’re making it or a part of it. That was UNDFTD’s first Jordan collab and the first-ever Jordan collab, period. I wasn’t thinking of it from that perspective, I just knew there were two pairs waiting for me.
To me, they were a dope release that I was happy to be one of the few to actually get them. UNDFTD called me and said, ‘Yo, we’ve got these.’ I had just happened to be landing in LA and my first stop from the airport was always to go see them. That was probably the first time that I witnessed hype in California.
Now, the word of a drop gets out in three seconds flat. But then, I don’t remember it being lines and lines of people around the corner because it wasn’t a shoe you could just buy, but I do remember walking out with them and people being like, ‘Woah!’
People looked at me like an alien when I wore them. A lot of people didn’t really know they existed and those that did were like, ‘Oh my God.’ I was wearing them! They weren’t beaters; I took care of them, but I was wearing them.
IS: Back in New York, what launches from the ’00s stand out as major moments?
JB: The ESPO x Nike Air Force 2. I remember there being damn near a riot. The whole mob culture became normalized with riots outside Supreme, but this was the first time I saw madness in the streets for a sneaker launch. For a lot of people, it was a turning point in hype culture.
Before that, you either had the connect or you didn’t. When they reissued the Air Jordan 5, I remember Foot Locker got a restock, but there was no internet like that so you either knew or you didn’t know.
I remember finding out from somebody at the studio saying, ‘Yo, I just walked by Foot Locker and they got three stacks of the Jordan 5s!’ I’d cop two for myself and then somebody else would hit me and I’d tell them, ‘Yo, go to Foot Locker they’ve got Jordan 5s.’ That’s how a lot of it was spread.
IS: Then it was the people dictating the story, not the brands. Speaking of shoes with a story, the “Fukijama” Air Force 1s — was that a shoe that Saigon seeded your way or a shoe you had to chase?
JB: That was all me. Sai should’ve been able to get me a pair, but I got those straight from UNDFTD. I think I have two pairs of those, I didn’t realize those are worth so much money.
IS: Does it trip you out seeing how much limited launches from the ’00s go for today? How has working on Fresh Pair shined a light on just how nuts the resale space has become?
JB: I know I have valuable shoes, but I’m not actively trying to sell any shoes and I don’t buy sneakers to resell them. One of the things about the show was thinking about references and grabbing shoes I had.
If I couldn’t grab it, I’d Google the shoe and a StockX or eBay link would come up. The “Paris” Dunks are like $100,000?!? And I have two pairs so I’m sitting there like, ‘What?!?’ The Eminem x Carhartt 4s are like $30,000 and I wore those on an episode of Fresh Pair. It’s wild out there.
IS: Closing out, much is made of the Roc-A-Fella-exclusive Nike Air Force 1s but less is said about Hov’s revolutionary Reebok deal. How did that partnership trickle down in regard to the other artists and producers making music with Jay at that time?
JB: The cool thing about it was we got a ton of free sneakers that never came out. The samples were sent over to Baseline and we would get boxes and boxes every day — and I don’t mean sneaker boxes, I mean freight boxes. Unlike most brands, they would send samples in varying sizes. Most samples are size 9, but Reebok would send over 10, 10.5, we had a few tall guys so they’d send 14s that were one-of-ones.
That was a cool time. Jay was the first rapper to have a collaborative line. Run-DMC had Shelltoes, but it wasn’t celebrated in the same way. This was its own silhouette and unique shoe. Those were good times.
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