-- MTV News staff report
If you're hunting for fresh hip-hop talent in New York, you might check out Lyricist Lounge, S.O.B.'s or the Nuyorican Café. Chances are Junior High School 296 in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn wouldn't be on your shortlist.
But that's exactly where J-Live could be found recently, reliving the days when he was more formally known as Mr. Cadet, an 8th grade language arts teacher.
"I didn't want them calling me J-Live in the classroom, so I pretty much kept that under wraps," the artist formerly known as Mr. Cadet said. "My graduating class at the end of the year, I would let them know. I would bring in the old Source magazines and the old Vibes to show them who their teacher was, but for the most part, when I was here, it was strictly business."
J-Live burst on to the scene in the mid-'90s when his first single, "Braggin' Rights," sold nearly 20,000 copies worldwide, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that the single was released on vinyl only. The feat looks even more impressive when you consider that J-Live was a college underclassman at the time.
"There was pretty much no question that I had to finish school; my mother would have killed me," the rapper recalled. "There were situations where I'd go off to Japan with textbooks and come back with a mid-term, and you go on tour over the summer and come back in September with a lot of stories."
With his books in one hand and a mic in the other, J-Live graduated and soon landed a deal with London Records. But as is often the case, a major-label deal hardly meant major success.
"The first album had a lot of problems, because the label split from the distributor," he said of why his album The Best Part never got a major-label release. "It was just really frustrating, because you have this body of work that a lot of people are waiting for. I mean, to have something like that that so many people put their time and effort into and to just get crapped on, it's frustrating."
Nevertheless, in true hip-hop fashion, the album didn't go entirely unheard. "There were at least six different bootlegs," J-Live said. "I kind of like the urban legend you know, some people think I bootlegged the record myself."
Undaunted, J-Live went on to create his own production company to further his music career. In the meantime, he needed to pay the bills. Fortunately, all he needed were his academic achievements to stay afloat.
"The whole purpose of the degree was to have something to fall back on," he explained. "I'm still consistent and committed to the idea that if things don't come together if I'm not busy during the weekdays I want to come back and teach. I want to get my masters and come back and teach here."
For now, J-Live is on an indefinite hiatus from teaching English as he promotes his new album, All of the Above. Regardless of whether he ever returns to the job or not, it may be his secret weapon on the mic.
"It expands your vocabulary so you're just not saying 'you know what I mean' all the time," he explained. "When you have that kind of background, you're not just studying the influences in hip-hop but the influences throughout world history. You're reading Robert Browning, you're reading Robert Burns, Robert Frost ... all of the different Roberts there might be. But I mean, point blank, the more you read, you have that much more of an arsenal to attack people with."
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