TenDJiz is a Russian-born producer and engineer in Miami on an Extraordinary Ability in the Arts visa.
He owns a studio on Miami Beach, and he's the mastermind behind an awesome mixtape series that mashes Soviet jazz instrumentals with American hip-hop.
The first two releases were De La Soulviet, and Q-Tipokratyia. Today, he releases CommoNasm.
Here's what he has to say about discovering hip-hop behind the iron curtain, X-ray jazz, and Miami bass.
Crossfade: Where does the name TenDJiz come from and how do you pronounce it?
TenDJiz: Tengiz is a South Russian equivalent to my government name Denis. It pronounces as ten geez. I've changed the spelling to TenDJiz because it's google friendly.
Where are you from in Russia?
I'm from Saint-Petersburg. It's a former capital with population of 5 million people.
Do you remember communism?
One of my most vivid memories is my grandfather, who used to turn on his shortwave radio and said to me with a sly wink: "Let's listen to the Enemy's voice." Then he tuned into the Voice of America or Radio Liberty and got the news that couldn't be heard from the government TV and radio. Later I discovered the "Rock Posev" ("Rock crops") program on the BBC Russian Service. Those jammed shows were like a gap in the Iron Curtain for many Soviet people.
Where did you hear your first hip hop song, what was your first physical rap album?
I think it was "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash. It's funny that I saw the music video in the Soviet TV's propaganda program "International Panorama". It was a story about the hard knock life in NY. There were some protest and mass demonstration footages, along with "The Message" video. I was like, damn! what is this? I was so amazed so I started to search that type of music. There was a small illegal market close to a railroad station in my neighbourhood. It was called "Tolpa" ("The crowd"). Every sunday people traded vinyl, magazines, cigarettes, jeans and other stuff. It was a dangerous place because of police raids. Couple of times we had to hide in the nearest forest because we were scared to death to be caught and punished in school. At that market I dug out compilations with Beastie Boys and Kurtis Blow, and later De La Soul "3 Feet High and Rising" LP.
What eras of soviet jazz do you draw from? is it underground stuff or party approved?
1970-1985. All music in the USSR had to be approved by the "Hudsovets" ("Art Councils"). Musicians were attached to the government "phillarmonias" and theaters and worked for a flat salary. They had to show all their new music to the "Hudsovet" before releasing or performing. Sometimes they were required to change lyrics or music or even clothing style.
Soviet-era pirate recordings on X-Ray acetates known as "Jazz On Bones"
What is the history behind some of the artists you sample....were they able to express themselves freely, or was the jazz they produced like state sanctioned ear friendly non-threatening style?
There was a few jazz-rock operas with avant-garde sound but generally musicians were forced to play light mainstream compositions.
I know that some people were arrested for making bootleg musical recordings. This was a black market method of distributing music that was banned from broadcasting in the USSR. Actual medical X-Rays, purchased from hospitals, were used for the technology. Those recordings were called "Jazz on bones" or "Ribbs". People who were found guilty of manufacturing and distributing such recordings received up to a 5-year sentence for profiteering.
Is there any statement behind your creatively/individualistically manipulating communist music, or do you purely likely the sound of it?
Nah, I have no statement. I just love to create projects with original, unique concepts. I try to think out of the box. It's cool when people says "Whaaat? Soviet jazz and Hip-Hop? It's impossible... but it works!"
Why Common and Nas? Who's next?
The first two albums off my Soulviet trilogy were De la Soulviet and Q-Tipokratiya. I thought who would be next. I'm a big fan of Common and Nas. One day I was listening to Common's song "Communism", and the idea to create the CommoNasm project just popped up in my head.
Now I'm beginning to work on a concept album inspired by USSR sci-fi movies. It will be something like the Deltron 3030 project. I won't use any acapellas. I plan to recruit MCs who will create outer space/futuristic lyrics. I want to make audiovisual live performances with the project.
Would you do a Miami Bass Soulviet Megamix?
Haha, it's a cool idea. I have some 120-130 bpm samples. It'd be fun to chop them up and make a tribute to the Miami Bass classics.
Who's your favorite producer?
Dâm-Funk. Because he makes something different, cultivates his own brand of new music by elevating the vintage synth style to another level.
Who are some local artists you're working in your studio with now?
2 days ago I had a recording session with Skam2. He is a rapper and a comic book artist who created the artwork for A Tribe Called Quest's "Beats, Rhymes and Life", and Eminem's "The Slim Shady LP" booklet. Also I've been working with Dynas. I mixed his upcoming album "The Planet" and some other stuff for him. And I've worked with J.Nics, Phresh James, Vurn, Quest and more.
Have you tried to show any of your Soulviet stuff to any of the artists you sample?
I will if I find contacts. Those records were made around 40 years ago. It's not so easy to find the information where those artists are now. I know some of them emigrated but they got no websites or facebook and twitter accounts.
What is the copyright status of your source material, since it was communist music did that make it public domain, or does anybody retain ownership? Could you strip the acapellas and sell them as your own beats?
The only record label in the USSR was the stated-owned company Melodiya. In fact, it was a pirate organization that released popular foreign music (for instance, The Beatles) without permission and royalties. Soviet musicians worked without standard royalties contracts. All intellectual properties were owned by the Government. Nowadays the new owners of Melodiya re-release soviet music on CDs, including stuff from the former soviet republics, that became independent countries, such as Estonia, Moldova, etc. I don't think the new Melodiya has all the rights to do this. I know many musicians are mad at soviet Melodiya because they got no money from the record sells, and I doubt those artists signed contracts with the label after the USSR collapsed. So I just don't know who I'm supposed to contact with if I want to sell the CommoNasm instrumentals.
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What would Fidel Castro think?
I'm not a communist, I'm a CommoNast!
Any shout outs or anything else you wanna say?
Huge shout out to Miami New Times and all open minded people who got no cliche and support music like this!