Netflix has added to and propagated this increasing trend of watching artists at work. Last year, they introduced their series Abstract which followed a sneaker designer, illustrator, architect, and others in their process of creation. This year, the streaming service has added to their archive the hip-hop docuseries Rapture. Each installment focuses on one to two hip-hop artists as they articulate their rise to fame and the methods they employ to continuously push their craft forward. Sort of like Abstract, no two segments of the installment appear to be structurally the same. Instead, the creators of the docuseries allow the content and the energy influence and dictate the format.
While I have had the opportunity to watch two of the series eight, one-hour segments, this review focuses on the seventh installment, “Just Blaze: It’s Lit!” about the legendary producer who helped cultivate the sounds of monumental rappers like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and DMX. Through a mix of interviews, conversations between colleagues, and audiovisual discography, audiences soon learn that it is the love of the craft combined with the spirit of collaboration that has fueled and sustained the ingenious career of the New Jersey native.
One of the most notable moments comes when Just’s mother is asked to explain to the camera what her son does for a living. Beaming with pride, she sits on the couch in the living room of the icons childhood home and explains, “He will spend a lot of time, listening to a lot of music, he will sit at the computer and/or keyboard until he gets to something musically, he’ll dissect it again, and he’ll put it back together until he goes ‘aha,’ this is it.” She then lists off some of his greatest hits as examples as the it. Through her understanding and admiration of her son’s talent, we only begin the fathom the extent of his gift, his work ethic, his passion. The scene with his mother comes near the beginning of the episode and it sets the tone for us to remain in awe and appreciation of his skill and motivation. We smile in remembrance of the music as like he mentions later on, he has “create[d] moments in people’s lives without even realizing it.”
In addition to being sonically brillant, Just Blaze’s, intentionality in connecting with other producers, both “old” school and new school, marks him as incredibly humble and above all committed to the craft. We follow him as he travels to studios and converses with old friends like Mobb Deep’s Havoc and Swizz Beatz, as well as new-comers like DJ Mustard. He listens as they recount and somewhat recreate the processes by which they birthed some of music’s hottest, most memorable beats. It is refreshing to witness such a lauded producer get gassed and sing praises over someone else’s creation. In fact, in another part of the short film Just’s mother expresses how hard her son works and that he could benefit physically, emotionally, and creatively from a break where he can refuel and become inspired. This appears to be one of the reasons for his visits to old and new friends who seem to help reignite his somewhat flickering flame. The fact that we transition between these various formats – e.g. interviews, conversations, etc. – with songs produced by the man of the hour only reminds us of how we first encountered and ultimately came to love.
His music introduced us to the artist. This docuseries introduces us to the man. Just Blaze is autodidactic and curious; as a kid he would often tinker with his father’s computer programming equipment and organ, creating both code and cords. Just Blaze is a humble. He willingly shares that he has not seen a day go by where he has not learned something, musically. Just Blaze is committed; even in his downtime he is shown gathering inspiration in the record shop. He is a comrade; instead of bashing the new generations of music artists, he encourages and supports them all the while, trying to figure out ‘how to remain true to myself and also keep in touch with what’s happening. Just Blaze is a forward thinker; positing that, “the key to longevity is to take risk.” From where I am listening, this resounds true.