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J-Swift was born Juan Manuel Martinez in 1971 in Madrid, Spain. His Afro-Cuban father was a salsa bandleader and multi-instrumentalist. In 1974 the family headed to Los Angeles, California, settling in Inglewood. At age six, J-Swift enrolled in a piano conservatory, quickly proving to be a prodigy. The all-rap radio station KDAY introduced him to hip-hop in the early ‘80s, and the first record he ever got was by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Around 1988 J-Swift met R&B musician Reggie Andrews, producer of Dazz Band’s 1982 funk hit “Let It Whip.” After J-Swift composed three New Jack Swing-style songs to get his attention, Andrews suggested that he concentrate on writing and producing, and set him up with a recording studio (complete with a then-state-of-the-art Akai MPC60) at South Central Unit (SCU), an after-school program for disadvantaged young talent. This gave J the opportunity to submit songs to A&M Record’s Rondor Music publishing, while additional work came via BMI’s Cheryl Dickerson. Though much of this early music went unreleased (like an album by Bell Biv DeVoe spin-off STR8-Ahead), J-Swift’s official songwriting/producing debut came in 1991 with Keisha Jackson’s “Feel You Out.”
Around this time J-Swift began making music with a crew of dancers-turned-rappers. With Reggie Andrews’ record collection at their disposal, J-Swift and The Pharcyde crafted a three-song demo in ’91 and subsequently a hip-hop classic, 1992’s Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. Featuring the hit single Passin' Me By, Pharcyde’s debut went certified Gold. Disputes over production and credits caused a rift between J and the group (although they would later reunite on The Pharcyde’s “Trust” remix in 2000, not to mention several J-Swift-produced tracks on Fatlip’s 2005 solo debut The Loneliest Punk, and Fatlip and Tre Hardson’s 2007 holiday song “All I Want for Xmas”).
With his own “Fat House Productions” acts Jazzyfatnastees and Quinton, J-Swift signed an ill-fated million dollar deal with Tommy Boy Records in 1993. Another of his groups, The Wascals, dropped several singles including “Class Clown” and “The Dips” in ’94, but broke up before releasing their debut. (Wascals’ Greatest Hits, completely produced by J-Swift, was finally released by Delicious Vinyl in 2007.) In the mid-‘90s, J-Swift lent his signature style to a string of remixes, including Prince’s “Letitgo (Sherm Stick Edit),” Massive Attack’s “Protection,” and Urban Thermo Dynamics’ “Manifest Destiny” (featuring a young Mos Def).
J-Swift recorded new tracks from 2005 through 2010, providing not only the beats but also the rhymes. Featuring soul-baring rap confessionals (“Off My Chest”) and tales of perseverance through struggles (“Born To Win Despite Myself”) — while still celebrating recreational drug use (“I’ll Do Mine”) — J-Swift’s new project began with an alter ego Negro Kanevil.
- 1992 The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
- 1993 The Wascals - Greatest Hits
- 1994 Quinton - Quinton's Here – Tommy Boy Records
- 1) "Quinton's on the Way (A Jazzy Skit)" (production)
- 2) "Still Fiendin'" (production)
- 3) "Quinton's Here" (production)
- 4) "I'm Not an MC" (production)
- 5) "Quinton's Here" [instrumental] (production)
- 6) "Ill Friend" (production)
- 6) Letitgo (Sherm Stick Edit) (production)
- 3) "Manifest Destiny (J-Swift Edit)" (production)
- 4) "Protection (J Swift Mix)" (production)
- 1) "Trust (Remix)" (production)
- 2000 Buc Fifty - Bad Man – Battle Axe Records
- 2004 Buc Fifty - Serve The Devil, Praise The Lord - Battle Axe Records
- 4) "Gangster (Murderville)" (production)
- 7) "Manifest Destiny" (production)
- 2) "The Black Pack - Used To Be My Lover" (production)
- Weiss, Jeff (11 January 2012). "J-Swift Made Big Hits With the Pharcyde Before Tragedy and Drugs Nearly Took Him Down". LA Weekly. Beth Sestanovich. Retrieved 12 August 2014.