Though many states and communities are reopening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still tough for musicians who made their livelihood playing music in a live setting. Because of as much, we’ve been checking in with various artists throughout the area to see how they’ve been coping.
This week, we caught up with local hip-hop artist J Berd. Along with owning and operating the Cape and Blade barbershop in downtown Hagerstown, J has been a mainstay in Frederick hip-hop for years, dating all the way back to his Last Saturday hip-hop nights around town. Among the things we discussed in our chat were all the artists he’s been listening to over the last five months, why a Nina Simone song is the best song for such a tumultuous time in history, and why the popular “VERZUS” became his favorite web series during the pandemic. To listen to some of J’s music, check out his Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/makeshift-deluxe-hiphop or visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jberdmakeshiftdeluxe.
1. What were you listening to while self-quarantining and what about it made you want to listen to it during a pandemic?
J Berd: I’ve been listening to all kinds of stuff. I really go all over the place because I try to make playlists for my barbershop that are dope but mostly clean so nobody gets put off. it’s everything from Anderson Paak, Westside Gunn, to Lee fields, Sean Price, Dojo Cuts, MKII, Freddie Gibbs, The Black Keys, Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse, Mac Miller, Baby Huey. I’m a record store in the flesh.
2. Have you come across any live-streams/Internet-based performances throughout the pandemic that have stuck out? If so, which ones and why?
J Berd: The best thing I’ve seen was the ‘VERZUS’ battle between DJ Premier and RZA. Two of my favorites and the battle was dope. It was cool to see two men that are masters of their craft show love and respect for each other while dropping classic records head to head. It created a new idea of what it could be. It worked and it was super close. You could argue a winner all day, but in my opinion, I gave it to RZA.
3. Not only are you a local artist, but you are also a local business owner, with your barbershop. How hard have you been hit, business-wise, when it comes to the pandemic? From an artist standpoint, has it also halted your desire to be creative or have you been working on new material throughout this time?
J Berd: This has [affected] everyone, but it has had an impact on every business for sure. It was stressful for sure because we had to close. The uncertainty was killer. I had just been open for a few months, but I have a loyal following that helped me through when we got back to it. I was appointment only before and this just pushed my business model forward. Musically, I couldn’t find it important at first — I was just thinking about survival. I thought about the fact that if I was going to say something or paint something, then it should mean something. Then I thought about skateboarding and I just started going back to that again. It doesn’t have a reason. It’s not really a sport; it’s like an art, but you don’t have to have purpose in doing it. So I had to go back to making raps about sneakers, weed and super heroes. I don’t do the serious stuff. I make you spit your drink out and rewind. These times suck for people right now and I had to stop feeling like I had to speak on anything. My conversations with individuals on the daily is how I effect change. I’m not responsible for anything musically because it’s whatever I want to do with it. I got a bunch of beats from logic Marsalis, Che Coffin, Jumbled, and Luis. So It was good, work wise.
4. What’s the most positive takeaway you’ve been able to experience from all the self-quarantining and the art world being on pause for the time being?
J Berd: It was a chance to think about a lot of things that seemed so big — they are unimportant. When you’re assuming the world is ending, you really only want to be around the people you love and all the other stuff don’t matter. I enjoyed who I was stuck with. Another positive was I eliminated a lot of people I thought were friends. I knew there were racists; I just didn’t know that I knew any of them. Racism is not political for me — it’s not acceptable. If it wasn’t for music and business, I think I would just commit cybercide and you’d only be able to hit my phone.
5. If there’s one song that you think could help everybody get through these uncertain times, what would it be and why?
J Berd: Man that question is heavy. I think people should listen to ‘I wish I knew’ by Nina Simone — even though I know I’ll think of ten other songs after I answer this question.