Häzel: Perfecting The Craft

Wearing nothing more elaborate than an oversized plain white t-shirt, baggy denim jeans, baseball cap and thick dark stubble, Häzel looks nothing like what you’d expect from an ‘industry figure.’ Despite the viral success of his mixtape The Lost Tapes and his production credits on records by the likes of Drake, Onra and Slakah the Beatchild, the quiet natured 27-year-old French producer is firmly dedicated to one thing only- perfecting the craft of “beat-making.”

Born in Brazil to a French mother and Brazilian father, Häzel has lived in France for over 10 years. Within that time he has built a name for himself on the both the Parisian and international Hip Hop scene, alongside his best friend and fellow beatsmith Onra.

It was whilst working in Canada with Slakah the Beatchild that his music first came to the attention of the-then up and coming Toronto MC, Drake. Although neither musician knew it at the time, their collaboration on 2007’s Comeback Season mixtape was to become a turning point in both of their careers.

Following their collaboration, the musicians’ lives could not have followed more separate paths. Whilst Drake exploded into mainstream consciousness in a journey that has been well documented by the blogosphere, Häzel resisted requests from music labels to take ownership of his career. He remained unsigned up until a few months ago, when he finally broke his unsigned run to team-up with his buddy Onra’s new imprint, Catblock Records.

Today, Häzel takes time out of his schedule to grant Soul Culture a rare interview. Relaxing into the lounge chair of a quiet Parisian diner, he seems grateful for, if not yet entirely comfortable with, the rush of attention that his music has brought. However he soon eases into conversation when he speaks of his love of music.

To chronicle the beginning of Häzel’s career, it seems a natural choice to start with Drake.

“Up until now I still get emails from people asking me for more tracks with Drake,” he says recalling the time he spent working with Drake and Slakah the Beatchild’s Soul Movement camp.

“Slakah was one of the first cats to come to me and say ‘Yo! Your shit is insane,’” he recalls fondly. “I’m as big a fan of his music as much as he is of mine. I shared some beats with him when he was working with Drake, who at the time was just starting to do his thing. Drake heard the beats and sent me an email like a day later.”

“I sent him like 10 beats, and we recorded four of them, keeping two. “Share” was everywhere, it was on Soul Movement, Comeback Season and others.” he says in his distinctive accent, which is tinged with French and American intonation.

However, he admits that he rarely listens to the current work of his friend, who is pursuing a route to glory much different to his own.

“In France, we call that the American way of being known; where people do music not necessarily because they like it, but because they want to be superstars. It’s like people will do anything to get to that level,” he says frankly.

“I don’t listen to what Drake’s doing right now because I don’t want to judge him, he’s still my friend. He’s a really cool dude and he’s doing things his own way and he’s happy with it so I’m happy for him.”

What’s more important than his recent collaborations is the influence of the man which he affectionately refers to as his ‘spiritual godfather’, the late great producer James ‘J-Dilla’ Yancey. It is no understatement to say that Häzel’s encounter with the works of the Slum Village pioneer has altered his creative path.

After catching an earful of The Pharcyde’s “Running” as a teenager in Portugal, where he spent some of his youth, Häzel came to realise that it was no coincidence that all of his favourite songs were produced by the same man.

“J-Dilla is the godfather,” he says with a glint in his dark eyes, “Anybody who wants to reach a mature point of progression in music making has to love Jay Dee.”

His passion for J-Dilla goes beyond the average fan. He and Onra, have collected Dilla records for years and have played an integral role in organising the annual Dilla tribute parties in Paris. He has also sported a “D” on his forearm since 2006, the same year Dilla lost his battle with Lupus, in a permanent homage to the man which he attributes his career to.

“If you were to climb a mountain of music, you’ll find Jay Dee on top.” he says.

His sound has not gone unnoticed by the soulful Hip Hop community, who have, in the past, felt unmoved by many post-Dilla works. Yet with the April release of his mixtape The Lost Tapes, he has gained an overwhelming amount of support from Dilla fans who have found comfort and familiarity in his soulful approach to beatmaking. One blogger enthused “OMG Jay Dee flows through the blood of Häzel.”

The 16 track mixtape, which features a selection of his work from over the past 6 years, received over 50,000 plays within a week of going viral.

“I didn’t make the beats on Lost Tapes with the intention of putting them out,” he says honestly.

Unlike many producers of his calibre, Häzel is very guarded with his music, preferring to let only a select few discover his work. Neither his family nor his work colleagues are really aware of the true extent of his musical exploits.

He still holds down a regular job as a head chef at a traditional French restaurant in Paris. It was only when his good friend, Canadian music artist Ebrahim decided to secretly compile Lost Tapes that he seriously considered releasing his songs into the public sphere.

“He emailed the stuff over and I didn’t even recognise that that shit was me, it was crazy,” he jokes adding that had he compiled it himself he would have spent months agonising over the tracklist. “I like when things are spontaneous like that.”

Last month Häzel released his latest EP, Playground, through Catblock Records. As the first artist to be signed to the new label, his effort will be a marker for what can be expected musically from the burgeoning imprint.

His new offering, which is inspired by sexual adventures and relationships, features sexually explicit vocals riding over his signature spacey, subdued beats.

Häzel – Playground EP Teaser:

“I want it to be sexy but also raw. I want men to recognise themselves in the song and for that I think you have to cuss sometimes.” he explains.

Despite the fact that Playground is the first project to showcase his skills as a producer, vocalist and songwriter he tells us that he was not apprehensive about its release especially since he has the support of his label boss Onra behind him.

“Onra was the first one who believed that my songs could be commercially marketable.” he says.

The pair, who have collaborated on Playground to create two bonus songs using the joint moniker Onrazle, have built up a strong friendship which goes beyond their mutual appreciation of music.

“Me and Onra have more than a musical connection. He’s my friend. I can rely and trust in him, he’s always been here for me for everything and I hope it’s the same for him.” he shares.

In addition to Onra, Playground also enlists the talents of renowned French artist Mikael Columbu, whose previous clients include the likes of Cee-Lo Green and Bilal, to design the artwork. “Mikaël Columbu is a genius, there are geniuses in every field, but he’s a genius of art.” he says.

With this project Häzel is hoping that listeners will be enthralled with his self-branded ‘Porno-Romantic’ genre, for this is only the beginning. “I’m trying to achieve a point of perfection with my music.” he says. “It depends on the individual but for me I haven’t achieved perfection yet. I always think I can do better and will do better next time. People will see the progression.”

Häzel online: hazeldizzy.com x @Hazeldizzy x Facebook x Bandcamp

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