[Interview] Jesper Jensen – The Man Behind Beat Diggin’
HHA: What first got you interested in documentary film-making?
Jesper Jensen: Probably watching classic documentaries like Style Wars and a lot of other interesting documentaries, and also watching Yo!MTV Raps and seeing my favorite rappers in their natural habitat.
HHA: Likewise, what first drew you to hip-hop?
JJ: The big breakdance wave across Europe in ’83-’84. It was something new and fresh: TV showed Style Wars, there were news reports about U.S. kids dancing in the street, and “break music” was being played on the radio and circulating on comps. Growing up in Denmark far from a big city it was a refreshing change from the boring dominant pop and rock. Of course a lot of it was a commercial fad, but I was drawn to the culture behind the music and started buying import records via mail order and following all the dope rap groups like Furious 5, Fat Boys, LL, Mantronix and Jungle Brothers.
HHA: How did you combine the two passions?
JJ: First I worked with local TV and made a few short documentaries. Then I started getting ideas for documentaries about Hiphop that I’d want to see myself. I got the idea for Beat Diggin’ because as a fan I knew that most rap records were in a sense made from other records, and I wanted to explore the craft behind that. Also, my brother Ras Beats worked in a record store in New York and told me about name producers like Havoc, Evil Dee, Premier and Godfather Don shopping there, so I started imagining capturing them in action and talking shop.
HHA: “Beat Diggin’” was filmed during an era where most of the acts covered were still atop their production game, was it easy linking up withall of those you covered, do do you have some interesting tales about the process?
JJ: It was pretty easy linking up. Some we contacted through the record store, others through their labels or managers. Most were really helpful and great interviews. It was very interesting meeting and interviewing legends like Showbiz, Diamond, Beatminerz and Godfather Don who are mostly known for “speaking with their hands”. I was lucky to capture them playing some dope beats that were never released on record, but now can be heard in the film.
HHA: For those younger fans who weren’t around at the time, what was the response to the film like when it initially was released?
JJ: It was the first diggin’ and beatmaking film that I know of and it seemed to reach a lot of rap fans and beat heads at the time. Most people I talked to were surprised that these big name producers had let me inside their workshops and shared their methods. Later I started getting requests for a DVD, some DJs and producers sampled dialogue bits for mixtapes and a rap album, and I was invited to show the film at festivals.
HHA: The DVD also includes two other documentaries: “Beats, Rhymes & Videotapes” and “Who’s Next?” What inspired you to make these films, which obviously took a different direction than the production end of hip-hop?
JJ: With Who’s Next? I wanted to make something really current and I was curious to know more about the artists behind some of my favorite records that were out, so I basically just looked up about 15 of my favorite current rappers and beatmakers, like Rise, Ge-Ology and J-Live. With Beats, Rhymes & Videotape I had some great footage from my local TV days of vets like Masta Ace, Edo G, Artifacts and more performing and dropping timeless knowledge that I thought deserved to be seen. I stitched it all together and tried to make it as cohesive as possibly.
HHA: The late-90′s and early-2000s was a magical era for underground hip-hop and lyricism, do you have any interesting stories that apply specifically to “Who’s next?”
JJ: Besides covering a bunch of current faves I also wanted to discover other new acts while I was making the film, and I ended up with footage of acts that I didn’t know before: A thought-provoking interview with Sub-Con, a dope freestyle by J-Biz and some other cool things.
HHA: On the most recently produced documentary, “Beats, Rhymes & Videotapes”, you cover the gamut of acts during the 90s and mid-2000s, were there any acts you were unable to link-up with that you are disappointed you were unable to?
JJ: As mentioned I wasn’t filming new footage, but rather putting existing footage together. You can always wish for more, but I already had lots of great stuff, like Masta Ace and Lord Digga freestyling at our press meeting, Artifacts’ release party, Stretch & Bobbito on the air and lots of other stuff.
HHA: You spoke with GangStarr, does anything specific standout about meeting Guru, R.I.P. standout to you?
JJ: It was exciting meeting one of the great MCs. Guru and Premo both showed incredible showmanship on stage and took the time to talk Gang Starr and Hiphop. At first Premo said he didn’t do interviews, but then he ended up having a spontaneous conversation/interview with their tour manager Mr. Dave while the camera rolled.
HHA: Did you ever view the documentary “Open Transport”? In many ways, it covers a lot of the underground acts that came right before those you covered in “Who’s Next?” If you did view it, what were your feelings about it?
JJ: I liked it. Before YouTube there weren’t too many films and videos around covering underground Hiphop, so it was pretty cool.
HHA: How did the DVD idea come about compiling the three films?
JJ: Over the years I had gotten a lot of requests for a Beat Diggin’ DVD, so I finally decided to do it. I linked up with Crate Escape, because I liked the limited Kurious and Soundsci records they had put out, and it seemed like a good match. We wanted to give people value for their money, so we put the Beat Diggin’ original cut, a longer cut I made later and the two other films on the disc.
HHA: Do you have any future plans for more film-making?
JJ: I’m planning a documentary about old school Hiphop. I’ve come across an untold story that I feels needs to be told. I plan to start filming this summer and present the finished film next year.