Jason Griff: Midnight Express

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Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Curran

For fans of pro wrestling there are countless tag teams that are considered to be among the greatest. The Road Warriors, The Steiner Brothers, and the Dudley Boyz are near the top of that list. Every one of those teams would say that the Midnight Express belongs in the conversation alongside them. Consisting of Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey (later Eaton and Stan Lane) the team is known for their innovative double-team offense and their loud mouth manager, Jim Cornette. The Midnight Express epitomized excellence and team-work.

Producer Jason Griff and emcee JihaD Scorsese pay homage to the Midnight Express on their latest release appropriately titled, “Midnight Express.” The 8-track release is produced entirely by Jason Griff who plays the role of Cornette. The EP finds Scorsese choosing different tag team partners on each track which include Zilla Rocca, Curly Castro, Sleep Sinatra, Alex Ludovico, Aasir, Alaska Atoms, Flashius Clayton, and Eddie Kaine.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Jason Griff about his love of pro wrestling, his partnership with JihaD Scorsese, and their new EP, Midnight Express.

TRHH: How did your wrestling fandom begin?

Jason Griff: I guess like any other dude in America. As a little kid growing up. I don’t want to put an exact number on it, but I’m somewhere in my 30s. Growing up watching the golden era of wrestling as a kid then you kind of grow up and fall out of it a bit. I came back into it in the Attitude Era, the Monday Night Wars, in the mid-to-late 90s – N.W.O., Stone Cold Steve Austin, everything. Fell out of it again and then I had kids and they started getting into it. I’m like,” Alright, wrestling’s fuckin’ awesome!” I started getting back into then and it’s funny now that you’re older you start realizing that wrestling is just like music. There’s the mainstream, which is cool, but then there’s also a whole independent scene and an underground culture to it, just like music and a lot of other art forms. There’s this onion and all these other layers beneath it. You can get into some really cool shit outside of the mainstream – beyond WWE.

TRHH: Who are some of your favorite wrestlers?

Jason Griff: All-time? It’s weird, I really like Canadian wrestlers. Bret Hart, Chris Jericho, Christian, Sami Zayn. We were just talking about this the other day and I was naming some of my favorites and went, “Fuck, they’re all Canadian!” I’m not even Canadian, I don’t know why I have so many Canadian loyalties in wrestling [laughs]. I’ve never even been to Canada.

TRHH: Really? Canada is awesome, dude. I’ve been to Windsor, Toronto, and Kingston. It’s like a different world. You’re literally going over the border and it’s like walking into Oz. People are so nice. It’s just very different, man. It was the first time in my life where I wasn’t reminded that I was black. Every place has their thing, but it’s very different than here. The cops were nice to me there [laughs].

Jason Griff: Wow! Calling you “Sir” and everything.

TRHH: Yeah! The cops were cool, the people are so nice, Canada is awesome. I think with the wrestling thing guys like Jericho and Benoit can really work. Canada and Japan breed different types of workers.

Jason Griff: Right. Canadian wrestlers always had a reputation for being technically sound and really great in the ring, but Jericho was one of the first ones to really have that charisma on top of it. Bret Hart was the fucking best, but on the microphone, maybe not so much. Benoit was terrible on the microphone, but Jericho is a beast when you put the mic in his hand. I was at the Monday Night Raw where he made his WWE debut.

TRHH: Wow. ’99.

Jason Griff: Yeah, that was what? 21 years? Geez.

TRHH: Why did you choose the Midnight Express as the theme for this EP?

Jason Griff: The Midnight Express was an old tag team in the 70s and 80s in the era of territory wrestling. It was Jim Cornette and Stan Lane. Cornette was the manager and Stan Lane was the wrestler. They would travel around from territory to territory. They were tag team champs. Rather than bringing a partner to every territory they would go to a new territory and get a new partner each time to defend the tag team championship.

TRHH: Stan Lane joined in ’87. 87-to-90.

Jason Griff: ’87, okay. So, going off the concept of tag team partners, with each song we have a different tag team partner, i.e. a different guest appearance. So, there’s eight songs and seven of them have a different feature on them. Or in this case, a different tag team partner. All from different areas. We got people from Philly, L.A., wherever.

TRHH: Jim Cornette has made it known that he hates Hip-Hop; did you have any second thoughts about paying homage to him?

Jason Griff: Nah, it’s a big middle finger to him. Fuck that guy [laughs].

TRHH: [Laughs] Really? Why fuck Jim Cornette?

Jason Griff: I mean, he doesn’t like Hip-Hop. He’s extremely problematic on numerous levels, but, fuck it.

TRHH: I listen to his podcasts and I find that for the most part I agree with him on wrestling stuff – maybe 70% of what he says I agree with. Some on politics as well, but like you said he’s problematic. He’s said some crazy shit in the past.

Jason Griff: He’s got a lot of good points on a lot of things, but it’s just those handful of things where you’re like, “Wait, what dude?” In this day and age, it only takes that one thing for everyone to hate you.

TRHH: And a lot of people hate him [laughs].

Jason Griff: Ask Joey Janela.

TRHH: I’m not a fan of Joey Janela.

Jason Griff: Why not? I mean, I don’t feel too strongly about him one way or the other, I’m just curious to know why.

TRHH: I just don’t think he’s good. You’ve seen a wrestler before and thought, “This guy is shitty.” He’s just not good.

Jason Griff: Right. He leans a little too heavily on the hardcore aspect of things.

TRHH: I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do hardcore. The only thing I’ve seen him do is his AEW stuff.

Jason Griff: Okay, yeah. I think that’s where the whole beef with him and Cornette started. Prior to AEW he was doing a lot of the extreme hardcore matches. That’s why Cornette is always calling him out like, “Just because you include barbed wire and bats doesn’t make it a good match.”

TRHH: I thought he wrestled the invisible man? Like, he wrestled himself one time. That’s what pissed Cornette off.

Jason Griff: Oh yeah, somebody else did that too one time. Was it Kenny Omega? I was watching a clip of someone else wrestling the invisible man.

TRHH: It might have been him too. I know he wrestled a little girl.

Jason Griff: Oh god!

TRHH: That kind of shit I agree with Cornette on. We all know it’s fake, but come on, man. Try to fool me. Make me believe this is real. Please try! I don’t want to see dudes wrestling invisible people. For a guy like Cornette, he’s old school. They would beat the shit out of you if you did something like that in the 70s and 80s. They would blackball you. Now we all know it’s fake. Kenny Omega had a competitive match with a 9-year old girl. So, we’re supposed to believe you’re a tough guy? I get Cornette’s dislike of Omega and the Young Bucks, but there are certain things I don’t agree with him on. He’s very anti-women’s wrestling.

Jason Griff: Absolutely. He said that shit about Becky Lynch when she got pregnant. Just dumb shit. Comments that aren’t even necessary.

TRHH: But it’s consistent with who he is. That’s him. That’s just who he is.

Jason Griff: Yeah.

TRHH: The first single “Detlef” features Eddie Kaine and those guys are going back and forth like Run and D on that song. How did that song come together?

Jason Griff: The full history is we were originally going to do an album where it was produced entirely by myself and Scorsese and Alex Ludovico were going to do it. Those are the two emcees affiliated with our label Insubordinate Records. That’s what I made the beat for and Alex had some stuff going on. He wasn’t in the mind state to do the album, so we ended up beginning the process of Midnight Express. Scorsese was going with the theme of the different tag team partners from different territories. He was adamant and was like, “I need somebody from Brooklyn on this.” So, we were spit balling some names and he was like, “Yo, Eddie Kaine” and I was like, “Yes!” We also have a remix of that, that’s going to be on the vinyl release and the CD as a bonus track with Flashius Clayton, I believe he’s from Indianapolis. He actually recorded on there first. We were waiting to hear from Eddie Kaine and we didn’t think it was going to happen, but then he came through so we had to flip it up and rearrange it. So, the original version that’s streaming will be Eddie Kaine and we have a remix with Flashius Clayton on it.

TRHH: How did you get into production?

Jason Griff: I’ve been into music my whole life. When I was in high school I played guitar and bass. I was in a couple of punk rock bands, but I was never any good at guitar or bass. I was alright, but not great. I felt like I had a great mind for it like, “This song would sound awesome if this,” or “These elements would sound great together.” I would listen to music and say, “That’s a cool loop,” but I didn’t know anything about it. When I graduated high school, I moved to Chicago and my roommate at the time had a bunch of equipment, so I just started fucking around with all of that. It just kind of progressed from there, just learning the art of it. I always joke that all of my musical talent stops at my shoulders. It doesn’t go below my shoulders, but it’s all in my head but I could never express it via instruments. Getting into production and doing things digitally I was able to compose the songs that were in my head, but without having to deal with my uncoordinated fuckin’ hands. What’s funny now is I’m significantly better at playing instruments. I can play drums now. It’s great.

TRHH: What changed?

Jason Griff: I don’t even know. Growing into my awkward ass body maybe [laughs]? That and just growing up – patience. I was such a hyperactive young kid and I grew into a mellow and patient man. I played golf as a kid and I used to flip the fuck out and get so frustrated. You ever golf?

TRHH: Never.

Jason Griff: It’s mentally so fucking frustrating. You think you’re doing everything okay and you shank the shit out of the ball all the way to the right. I think if I were to play golf now I’m mentally much better prepared for that now. I’ve got four kids, I can’t afford to golf anymore [laughs]. It’s a rich man’s sport.

TRHH: What does your workstation consist of?

Jason Griff: Not much, actually. It’s extremely simple. I have a laptop, a MIDI keyboard, some studio monitors and that’s it.

TRHH: What software do you use?

Jason Griff: Oh, I use Reason and Pro Tools. I’ve got a guitar, I’ve got a bass, and I chop samples.

TRHH: How did you and Scorsese initially hook up and form your working relationship?

Jason Griff: We met through Zilla Rocca from Philadelphia. I’ve known Zilla for years. Zilla and I actually met on Myspace when I first started making beats. I was making beats but I didn’t know anybody who rapped really. Somebody was like, “You should get on Myspace,” and I was like, “What the fuck is Myspace?” and that’s how I met Zilla. Sometime between when my second kid was born I took a pretty lengthy hiatus from making music. I used to catalog all my beats on iTunes by year and I would have 2007 – 800 beats, 2008 – 900 beats, 2009 – 600 beats, and the number just kept going down. 2012 and 2013 there were like 10 beats. I just wasn’t really in a place for it.

About 2017 I started picking it back up again. I wasn’t really working with anybody and randomly in 2018 Zilla mentioned to me that he knew a guy that did an album and was doing a remix version of the album. He said, “You want me to give you his info so you can do a remix?” Scorsese hit me up, I did a remix for his “A World Only God Knows” project and from there I sent him some beats. He had this concept for a mixtape that he was going to do for Stokely Hathaway who was an indie pro wrestler and manager. He’s in NXT now under the name “Malcolm Bivens.” We started building that and it eventually grew into an album and that was our first release together, Dream Team: A Stokely Hathaway Joint. It came out in September of 2019.

TRHH: Do you know if Malcolm Bivens ever heard A Stokely Hathaway Joint?

Jason Griff: As far as I know he did. He was super-excited about it and then he signed with NXT and wasn’t able to do anything with it. He couldn’t promote it or anything because he had contractual obligations to NXT and he didn’t want to do any low key promotion because he’s a manager in WWE and he’s one of what, 3 managers that they still employ. So, he kind of felt like he was on thin ice. He didn’t want to do anything to mess up his opportunity.

TRHH: But Malcolm Bivens heard it?

Jason Griff: Yeah. We never had a connection between him and I. The only connection was between him and Scorsese and as far as I know he heard it and loved it.

TRHH: Who is the Midnight Express EP made for?

Jason Griff: Hip-Hop heads, wrestling heads, parents, for when their kids aren’t in the car. Or if their kids are in the car, depending on where your standards are. I let some profanity fly with the kids in the car – it happens. Man, how is that the toughest question ever [laughs]? It’s short. It’s impossible to keep up with music these days. It’s 22 minutes. We’re not taking up anybody’s whole day. It gets deep, but it’s not like listening to an Aesop Rock album where you have to listen to it 30 times to catch every reference. It’s also not totally superficial. It’s a quick easy listen and you can listen to it again and again.

Purchase: Griff/Scorsese – Midnight Express

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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