Justice Martins who we all know as J. Martins didn’t just arrive on the scene when most of us got to know him (the release of his hit single Good or Bad and album Get Serious, a couple of years block).
He has been there quite a long time ago, but behind the scenes as a producer. He has produced songs for virtually all the major eastern gospel musicians before coming to Lagos and getting on the hip-hop wagon.
A native of Ohafia in Abia State, he first studied Mass Communication at the Institute of Management Technology (IMT) before getting a degree in Business Administration of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT). Musical commitments have so far made it impossible for him to proceed for NYSC. But as the 27 disclosed to Notes and Tones, that among other things are goals he has set out to achieve within the next few years…
Prior to the release of your first album Get Serious last year, what were your musical pre-occupations?
I was fully into beat production and that was what people knew me for. I have been producing for more than ten years now. I started way back in school and I used to produce songs for most of the gospel artistes in the east. I produced for gospel artistes like Luke Ezeji, Agape Love Band, Gozie Okeke (Akanchawa), Patty Obasi, Luke Ezeji and so many more.
From that point till now, how in your estimation has beat production evolved till date?
It has virtually been the same with the same level of sophistication and computerization. The only major difference is the fact that everything used to be analog but sometimes even live, while now the digital age is fully with us. We used to have producers very competent with musical instruments, personally I play six musical instruments – drums, keyboard, bass, acoustic guitar, rhythm guitar and the flute. But these days everything has been narrowed down to the computer.
How did you get into music and beat production?
Music has always been in the family. My mother was a choir mistress and as a kid I used to play twant in order to go to the music studio considering my age then, they never used to allow me in but I usually bribed my way in. once I settled them, they would allow me in and I would just sit on the floor to watch. I used to visit Tabansi Studios and Rogers Allstars in Onitsha. That was the beginning and then I was very good with musical instruments. In 1994, Minaj gave me an award as the best bass guitarist in the east.
Which producers influenced your musical development at that time?
I have always loved Quincy Jones, Dr. Dre and Timberland. Growing up in the church also contributed a lot to my development. Presently on the Nigerian music scene, I have a lot of respect for the present crop of producers. I can’t mention all their names but there is Cobhams Asuquo, Don Jazzy, ID Cabasa, Eldee, Dan Jiggy, Dr. Frabz, TY Mix. In short all of them. I can’t mention all.
What does it take to become a producer?
When we say a good artiste should be able to play at least one musical instrument, a producer should play a minimum of four. As a producer, you won’t be able to mix guitar beats, or any other beat for that matter when you cannot play that instrument. You need to be able to express the feelings of an instrument before you can make beats with it. This is one of the very many things involved in music production.
In the process of making music, which comes first: the beats or the lyrics?
It depends. It goes either way. You may write the song before the beats or the beats before the lyrics. You might have an idea of what kind of beat you want to make while writing the song. Most artistes even have an idea of the kind of beat they want for their songs and it then lies with a good producer to look at what the artiste has and blend it with whatever beat he is going to he would make for the song to get the best. Whatever the artistes brings to the producer is a raw material. He should take it and improve on it without overpowering the artistes. The producer should not take away the lay down which the artiste has brought to bring out the best for the song.
Bearing in mind that not every artiste can work with every producer, how do you identify an artiste you can work with?
By their works now. If not their works, from whatever they have done before, their vocal samples and their strength.
Producers are usually specialized in particular beats. Which would you say is your own specialty?
I don’t like blowing my own trumpets. I let the public judge from my works. People know me as a producer and some others know me as a producer of hip-life beats. People will get to know me more by the time the project I am working on now finishes. I am releasing some singles this year and next year, you will have the full album.
Which artistes are you working with at the moment?
I always tell everybody, the number one is P-Square but I am also working with 2face, Banky W, KC Presh, Weird MC, Obiwon, Bracket and so many others. I can work with anybody at anytime.
Are you in anyway related to P-Square?
We are not cousins, we are brothers. I am not related to them by blood, but we are much closer than most brothers could ever be. We live together and we can disagree or agree at anytime. We complement each other. People have tried to come between us before, but we have been able to surmount all obstacles to be where we are today. My relationship with P-Square is one of the best things that has ever happened to me and I can virtually give anything for it.
How did you guys met?
It was during my days in Enugu that they came to meet me. They were in Lagos then.
What’s your personal evaluation of the current Nigerian music industry?
The music industry is doing well. We are discovering new people everyday but there is a snag somewhere. I recently read an interview that most artistes on the scene are just ‘one track’ artistes. They just produce one hit and promote it but when you buy the full album, you will find nothing else. This is a very serious issue and we really need to address it. The industry is growing but we just need to make a few corrections.
What about the issue of miming on stage?
That’s another issue because a lot of people also complain about it. We use stage performances to judge real artistes and when most people can’t represent on stage, it is a problem. I don’t support it on the whole, but in the absence of nothing, use make do with what we have. Most people or organizations find it hard to pay an artiste very well for stage performance.
What would it take for an artiste to perform live on stage?
I know that artistes like D’Banj, P-Square and 2Face are very good on stage but can you find organizations who are willing to pay them N10 million to perform to a live band on stage? They all have their own instrumentalists who have to be paid. That’s just an instance, what I am saying in essence is that if we cannot maintain a band with what we are paid, then we make do with what we have.
Why do most Nigerian artistes, yourself included, have to go to South Africa to shoot their videos?
I have only shot one video in South Africa and that was Cool Temper and that was because it was an outdoor shoot. You can’t really do that kind of outdoor shoots in Nigeria, if you do that Alayes would either break your camera, extort money from you or cause all kinds of problems for you. Going on South Africa is all about being careful. It also have to do with locations, an artiste could shoot a video anywhere in the world as long as the location fits into what he wants.
Prior to Get Serious you were a full time producer and you were really doing well. What then necessitated your getting into singing?
I did not just wake up one morning and decide to start singing. I have been dropping singles before then. The only thing is that Good or Bad brought me a lot of attention but my singing career has been progressional. I started from the choir like most people.
How have you been able to avoid scandals in your career?
The thing is that you keep things that happen at home private. That one doesn’t have scandals does not mean that he is a saint, the only thing is that I am careful in all. I do and ask God to guide me in all I do. The bottom line is that I am always open to corrections when I make mistakes and I try not to join issues with anybody. I don’t know long things will be that way, but I pray to God that it remains that way.
What challenges did you face while coming up?
One was that my parents never wanted me to do music. I got disowned by my dad. He shot at me on no less than three occasions. He is an ex-Biafran service man and fought in the civil war.
I left my parents when I was eight years old when I got to Lagos to stay with a friend of mine and the only he did was to help me to finish all the money I came with and then pushed me out telling me that his brother does not want a third party in the house. There was a time I even slept under the bridge. There was a time I served in a restaurant but I thank God for where I am today.
This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, June 11, 2013