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Justin Boland sweeps into the Make-Out Room with a dazed scowl tugging at the corners of his mouth. His expression, usually relaxed, even to the point of blankness, looks strained, and he walks stooped under the weight of his record bag. It's nearing midnight, and Boland -- or J. Boogie, as he's known onstage -- is tonight's guest DJ at Vanka van Ouytsel's recurring party, "Misturada"; he's almost late. J. Boogie's a familiar fixture in Bay Area clubs, widely known for his mild manners and sly sense of humor, his pencil-beard and pronounced b-boy style -- an appearance reminiscent of England's hip hop ironist, Ali G. Tonight, though, Boland looks frazzled, harried, hardly his usual chill self. What gives?
"I fell asleep on the couch at home," he says, laughing, rubbing sleep from red eyes, and scurrying toward the stage.
Don't call Boland lazy, though. Name a job in the music industry, and he's done it: record store clerk, radio DJ, club selector, party promoter, remixer, licenser, producer. He wears enough hats to open a hip hop haberdashery. Until recently, Boland had worked as the urban music programming director for Spinner.com, AOL's online radio unit. It was the layoff from that job, in fact, that freed him up to finish his long-delayed debut album, J. Boogie's Dubtronic Science, which finally introduces him as a producer worth reckoning with.
Though Boland's logged over a decade in the San Francisco beat community, most notably as one of the co-founders of KUSF's popular hip hop radio show Beatsauce, and he's released compilation tracks for Om, Ubiquity, and Portland dub label BSI, his first long-form musical statement has been a long time coming. "The cats at Om were like, 'I didn't think you were actually going to do it,'" he says. "Even though I'd signed the contract, they didn't think I'd ever really finish."
J. Boogie's Dubtronic Science is worth the wait. In music and mood alike, the album reads like a State of the Bay Area address. Drawing from hip hop, dub, Afrobeat, jazz, downtempo lounge music, and even house, it feeds off the sounds that have largely defined San Francisco club music over the past five years. And despite its extended lead time, the record fits the city's current predicament, wrapping listeners in layers of dub bubble-wrap to ward off economic stress and wartime shell-shock.
This cozy approach could also be its downfall: Sedatives are great for sleeping, but hardly fuel for reform, much less revolutions. Still, soul music has multiple agendas, and if Dubtronic Science fails to confront the war room or the boardroom, it succeeds in the bedroom. It's not hard to imagine the disc caked with candle wax and slotted next to hipster make-out favorites Kruder & Dorfmeister. After all, when you're out of work and you can't walk outside for fear of being hit by a rubber bullet, what's left to do but stay inside and hit the dimmer switch? "That's always been my production style," confirms Boland. "Just chilled-out bedroom vibes, chillin' with your girl -- that's the vibe I'm on in the studio."
Boland grew up in the small city of Vancouver, Wash., just across the river from Portland, Ore. He spent his time snowboarding and skateboarding, thrilling to the sounds of the Northwest's punk rock and chilling to the tiny amount of hip hop that trickled through. In 1991 he came to San Francisco to enroll at USF. The same year, he began collecting records and deepening his involvement with hip hop -- something that had been far more difficult in the comparatively segregated world of Portland.
Right away, Boland began putting in time at the KUSF studios, where he played hip hop and soul on late-night broadcasts, and finding his footing behind the decks at house parties, cafes, and small clubs -- "Just paying-your-dues stuff," recalls Boland. In 1993, he teamed up with DJs Raw B and Wisdom to launch Beatsauce, a weekly hip hop broadcast on KUSF-FM (90.3). In its 10-year run, the show has become perhaps the definitive underground rap showcase in the Bay Area, featuring guests like KRS-1, Gangstarr, J-Live, the Triple Threat crew, Mista Sinista, Rasco, and more. Tomas Palermo, editor of XLR8R magazine (and co-host of KUSF's Friday Night Session), rates the program as a Bay Area classic. "Beatsauce has always delivered a sharp snapshot of underground hip hop culture," says Palermo. "The program is a tutorial every week, an education in the true, American hip hop aesthetic. I still have dozens of cassettes of old shows that I bump now and then."
Given Beatsauce's stature, it would be understandable to place Boland squarely within the hip hop ranks. But as both a DJ and a producer, Boland stands out in the relatively segmented Bay Area dance music community for the way that he's managed to straddle genres. He's a skilled scratch DJ, but in other contexts, his sets dig deep into house lore, or dancehall bounce, or broken beat's fusiony freakouts.
"I've definitely expanded more over time," concedes Boland. "When I started I was really into funk, jazz, soul, hip hop, and that was it. Then I started getting more into reggae, dub, dancehall. Then I was really into funk, reggae, soul, jazz, hip hop, reggae, dub, dancehall, and that was it." His slippery slope into the depths of breakbeat history had him grabbing at drum 'n' bass, Latin house, Afrobeat, and the "future jazz" of the off-kilter dance music known as broken beat. "It all flowers from hip hop, you know?" he says.
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