Interviews / Musicians

Balancing the Grind With J57, Rapper-Producer & Record Label Owner

James Heinz (J57) is a Brooklyn-based rapper, songwriter, record producer and owner of record label FiveSe7en Collective. With over 15 years in the music business, J57 has worked with a range of notable and legendary names in the hip hop culture.

Balance the Grind spoke to James about his music career, what being a full-time musician entails on a day to day basis, balancing his craft with fatherhood, meditating to clear his mind, writing gratitude lists and more.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?

Thanks for having me, Hao! I’m J57, I’m an emcee-producer, born and raised in NY.

This November will mark 20 years of rhyming – I’ve been making beats for 16 years. I came up working at Fat Beats records in NYC and formed a group called Brown Bag AllStars (Audible Doctor, DJ E-Holla, DeeJay Element, J57 and Soul Khan), which is absolutely where I got my start.

I’m currently still in Brown Bag AllStars and semi-recently I started a new group called Jamo Gang with El Gant and Ras Kass. My solo work is very eclectic but the Brown Bag and Jamo stuff is straight up, incredible boom bap hip-hop.

I’ve worked with DJ Premier, Method Man, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Westside Gunn, Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, Homeboy Sandman, Rich the Kid and a ton more.

I have a lot of music out on all streaming platforms and I have a ton of music coming out – forever.

2) What does being a musician involve on a day to day basis?

My current role is to be a limitless, creative musician and I’m a (step)dad to two amazing kids that both are into making music (sometimes with me).

My day to day is pretty much all over the place; some days I’m locked in the studio for 8 hours straight while the kids are at school, then I’m making them dinner and doing home work with them and then I’m rocking a show at night when they’re sleeping.

Some other days, I’m just in full out Dad-mode. I love it all equally. My life is drastically different when traveling though.

3) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

The kids just finished school for the year but while they were in school a typical day consists of:

  • Wifey, Aerika, getting the kids up for school, then they’re out of the house by 8am.
  • I write my gratitude lists, then I’m in the lab from 8am to 3pm with my cell turned off so that I can focus
  • Then the kids come home and I hear about their day(s). I’m helping with homework (even though they’re both probably smarter than me)
  • Then I’m making dinner (which is bizarre because I never knew how to do anything like that until sort of recently
  • After that I’m either on phone calls regarding my record label FiveSe7en Collective (what up Ric and Von!) relaxing and studying something about quantum mechanics or music, or I’m in the studio with someone, or I’m rocking a show.

Oh, and we have three dogs and two extremely needy cats, so yeah, I don’t have time for stuff.

That’s why I have an incredible assistant named Von Aizen. Sprinkle a solid 1 to 2 hours at the gym ever day in there for two years straight until recently, about to go back to that now though.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you prioritise your workload?

Absolutely! Meditation is key – I do that like 2 to 4 times a day in little 5 to 10 minute intervals.

It really helps when I feel like I haven’t had enough sleep or it just helps clear my head so I can really attack in the studio.

One life hack is definitely to live on my Google Calendar.

I have freakishly good long term memory but horrible short term memory, so I immediately write any idea or ‘to do’ down in my Google Calendar (or note pad) so that I never forget anything or drop the ball on someone that’s counting on me for something.

At night, I prioritize my next day’s to do list so that it’s not daunting and so that I get stuff done.

5) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?

I plan ahead. I’m not into ‘free styling’ my day or life – I’ve noticed that the people that do that almost never get half of the stuff done that they need to and they’re usually burnt out or exhausted.

Tomorrow will mark 6 months of me being a vegetarian; that has helped with energy and mental clarity, tremendously.

6) What are some of the things you do to take time out and recharge?

Meditation and binge watching TV (Netflix, etc) or podcasts on YouTube, all while I lay in bed, so that my body is still for short (but solid) intervals of time.

That way I get my energy up and clear my head. Usually any problem I have (whether it be life OR with a song) works itself out in my subconscious while I’m watching TV or YouTube.

Also, I’ve been really into reprogramming my subconscious while I sleep for the past month – the results are absolutely insane/life changing. Working out really helps my mind, soul and body a lot, too.

7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

  • Having discipline
  • Meditating to have a clear mind and not be reactionary
  • Learning patience
  • Learning to deflate my ego
  • Learning to have a willingness to learn (whether it be by studying something or someone, or just learning from a peer)
  • Not texting and not being glued to my cellphone on social media
  • And Aerika; she helped me get my life and career’s game plan together.

8) Are there any books you’ve read that have helped you with work-life balance?

Yes! One of my best friends (and biz partners) Kyle Watkins got me Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers for my birthday a few years back. That changed the game for me!

9) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

My gratitude lists in the morning; I list the things I’m grateful for and I write down three things I’d like to happen that day.

Also, using the Google Calendar and having a to do list.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.