Local Music Issue 2019 | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Local Music Issue 2019 

Turn it up to 11, boys and girls. Our rockingest issue is here!

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MELVIN WAGSTAFF
  • Melvin Wagstaff

TIMELESS STYLE
Hip-hop producer Melvin Junko keeps it classic while formulating his own boom-bap sound.

By KEITH L. McDONALD

How would you describe the "normal" Utah father? Around 30 years old with a kid or two? Probably working a job with the state or in sales? Maybe driving a late-model sedan? On the surface, this vision hasn't changed much in the past decade or so. But a generation ago, most Beehive State dads wouldn't be caught dead wearing form-fitting jogging pants, waiting in line for exclusive sneakers and paying for designer water. My, how times have changed.

Today's fathers can bond with their children through things like Super Smash Bros., Marvel movies and Vans or Retro J's. Oh, and through music. Meet Melvin Junko, real name Melvin Wagstaff. He's a typical Utah dad with an atypical pastime—he makes beats for underground rappers. Junko started his musical career in 2005 as an MC, but according to him, his rhymes weren't very remarkable. "I stopped rapping [and] just got more into production," he says. "I found out I enjoyed that more—I was better at it. I wasn't the best MC."

That affinity for being behind the board and not the mic has to do with a clear-cut desire: to hear a finished product that matches his vision. "I'm in control of the whole song being finished," Junko says. "If you're rapping, you got other people making beats. I just like being in control of my output.

Junko's tools of choice are the SP 404 SX, an MP 2000 XL, an old Casio keyboard he got from a thrift store for $15, record samples and ProTools. Yet such equipment can pay big dividends. Producer albums are all the rage these days in the hip-hop world. The Alchemist, Apollo Brown, Marco Polo, 9th Wonder, DJ Muggs and Salaam Remi all joined forces with MCs to co-headline 2018 albums. And Melvin Junko is no different.

In 2017, he released 10,000 Hours, followed by a new project in 2018 with Tha Soloist and reMEmber (pronounced Remember Me). There's no end in sight, either, with fans seeming to enjoy the concept of a cohesive album made by a pair of similar musical minds (juxtaposed, for example, with star MCs releasing a 13-track album with 13 different producers).

Stylistically, Junko has stayed in the same lane on those past few albums, utilizing lo-fi beats, record samples and traditional hip-hop drum patterns to formulate tracks that have caught the ear of MCs all over the country. Although Junko doesn't stray from the tried-and-true boom bap formula, he continues to get props from his peers, both locally and nationally. Not only do his beats display an ear for sound and timing, they display the hard work that's required to survive in such a fiercely competitive industry.

With around 20 projects in his catalogue—some of which he doesn't even remember—Junko cites as favorites his work with Utah heavyweights D-Strong and EneeOne, who spit bars over Junko beats on a deep cut called "The Real." In addition, Junko has worked with Artifacts, Bronze Nazareth, Big Lo, Copywrite and Ruste Juxx—from New Jersey, Michigan, Florida, Ohio and New York, respectively. That speaks to his far-ranging appeal, as well as to his (and Utah hip-hop's) potential for the future.

"Junko is good people," EneeOne says. "He's very easy to work with and has a solid work ethic on the board and on the mic. He's versatile as a beatmaker and has a sharp ear for that classic boom bap."

Of course, Melvin Junko isn't Superman, and he readily admits to not being quite versatile enough to do anything. "I've tried to make trap beats, but I can't," he laughs. "If somebody asks me [for that], I tell them they should probably try somebody else."

The good thing about producing beats is that you can do it for a lifetime without worrying about declining stage presence or sagging sales. Hip-hop tastes and sensibilities might change, but classic songs and styles stand the test of time. And if you wait long enough, everything comes back in style eventually. "There's really no specific thing, like, 'This is my sound,'" Junko admits. "It's really just what I'm feeling at the time. If I do a batch of 30 beats of the same style, then I get bored with it and move on to a different variation. I might switch around my equipment, link up some different processes together ... But typically I am just on the boom bap."

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman

Bio:
An accomplished writer, blogger and reviewer, Zimmerman contributes to several local and national publications, including No Depression, Paste, Relix and Goldmine. The music obsessive says he owns too many albums to count and numerous instruments he’s yet to learn.

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