Producer's Corner: Jake One
Jake One is a rare case for contemporary Hip Hop. He works with nearly everybody, and still gets paid. The Emerald City beatmaker has been earning his keep as one of the undergrounds most consistent forces for years now, crafting bangers that always made you wonder who it was: De La Souls Rock Co.Kane Flow and Days Of Our Lives, Strange Fruit Projects Soul Clap, and MF DOOMs Hoe Cakes come to mind. Having paid his dues already, making highlights from Interscope Jacksons Curtis album, G-Units releases, Freeways latest, and even John Cena are welcome additions to his catalog.
These days, the self-proclaimed Perfect Beat Writer is prepping for the fall release of White Van Music, his Rhymesayers Entertainment debut [click to read] that features a star-studded line-up of Little Brother, Young Buck, MF DOOM, Freeway, M.O.P., Elzhi, Royce Da 59, and others. In an interview with HipHopDXs Producers Corner, Jake One talks about the wide spectrum of his clientele, living far away from established Hip Hop locales, and his upcoming project.
DX: Youre located in Seattle, so youre not too close to Hip Hop hot spots like New York, LA, the south, or even the Midwest. Whats the Hip Hop scene like out there?
Jake One: Its been a strong scene for a long time, its just very underground. Weve got a couple people to really break out. Sir Mix-A-Lot, a lot of people know about him, hes kind of the face of Seattle rap to most people. We had Ish (Ishmael Butler, a.k.a. Butterfly) from Digable Planet. And there are some people who made it here and there, but most of it has been a very local thing. It hasnt really caught on nationally, but hopefully thats going to change.
DX: How often does being there hinder your ability to work with other artists?
JO: Its definitely difficult, because its not like people come here like they go to L.A. or Miami to record. People will come through town, I might meet em. I know when I first started, the way a lot of people heard about me is they would come to Seattle, I would meet whoever it was thats down with them, I would give them my CDor I guess my tape back thenand then I would hear back from them, like, Oh man, youve got some dope stuff. And you just kind of build from there. Im not going to catch [50 Cent] in the studio down the street, that aint going to happen down here. I think for me, creatively, I like creating here because its really no pressures or all that. Im just working in my own world, and whatever I do, I can be comfortable with how I came up with it.
I know people who move to New York from here looking for their big break, and it doesnt necessarily work out there that way. Youve got to have the music first and foremost. You can have all the connections you want, but if you dont have that music to follow up, or you could have the music, but you dont have the melody skills, or the personal skills. Its so multifaceted how this thing works. But Ill definitely say thats a disadvantage of being here, youre not just going to fall into some shit.
DX: How did you link with G-Unit?
JO: I did a song on the first G-Unit album, Betta Ask Somebody. I did the beat, and another producer had shopped it to them, so I was kind of a third party at that point. Then, I would say about in 2005, the Anger Management Tour came in town, and Im pretty good friends with Denaun Porter, hes looked out for me. I gave him my CD in 2002-2003, and he liked what he heard, so we kept in touch. He came to town with that, and he brought me backstage and I ended up meeting Sha Money [click to read]. I didnt really know Sha Money knew who I was or anything, When I met him, he kind of did a double-take, like, Thats you, because I guess he had been checking for my beats for a while. I gave him some beats, he told me he wanted to manage me, and we went from there. At that point, I got a better lane to get my music to the people, and I think I was just making the right stuff they were looking for. So I ended up doing, I guess its like eight songs now that came out with them, and 10 more that havent come out that were working on, or stuff they didnt use. But for some reason, they hear my stuff and it seems to suit what theyre trying to do. And its funny, because Im not making beats (specifically) for them, Im not trying to craft a beat for G-Unit or for 50. Ill get in my mode where I start doing some stuff that sounds like that, but the stuff I do for them doesnt sound like the shit they get from everybody else. Mine is a little more Hip Hop, and its a little more, its not as commercial. So Ive just been filling that lane, doing the hard Hip Hop joints for them. So its been great for me.
DX: Yeah, that was my next question. Your clientele seems to be incredibly diverse, from 50 Cent and Freeway to One.Be.Lo and Evidence. You dont ever find yourself making beats for specific people?
JO: I dont really think about that stuff after I create something. The reason why I still do underground stuff to this day is because thats where I come from, and thats where my heart is at. Thats the shit I grew up listening to and loving. As long as I feel I can make something thatI let it land where it lands. Certain people will fuck with the beats I do for 50, but whats funny is that I give those same beats to other people. [laughs] I think people think Im giving them a certain CD or whatever, but it dont really work that way. I just seen Brother Ali, and I actually gave him the beat that was on 50s album, with Mary J. Blige. Hes like, I wrote something to it, and then I heard the 50 album. Im like, Oh shit. Sometimes it just works that way. I just think its natural. Im pretty much going to do anything I like. If Im feeling whatever the persons bringing to the table, I dont really care. Once I create the music, its sort of out of my handsits about what they bring to it next, because Im only doing half of the work. 50 will approach something different than a One.Be.Lo [click to read] will, or an Evidence will, or Young Buck will.
DX: How is the G-Unit production team formatted? I read this entire thing about how its all put together
JO: From what I can tell, there is no system. [Laughs] You send your music to whoever the A&R is, 50 gets the stuff, he doesnt know who does what, and he raps to whatever he feels. Thats why youll see people pop up that nobodys ever heard of, or might surprise you, because hes just going off of what he likes. Hes not just going off of just because Timbaland did it, or somebody else. Whereas a lot of people in the industry work that way, they only want to work with specific guys that have hits, and they follow the formula for that shit. That obviously makes sense, but I think hes doing something different by getting new people opportunity and just going off of the music, because at the end of the day, thats all that should really matter to you, what the sound is. But I dont even know what the G-Unit production team is, honestly. Sha is my manager, so obviously Im affiliated with it, but I dont have a deal with G-Unit. I can produce for whoever I want. I guess Im looked at as a G-Unit producer, but I dont get a paycheck from them every month.
DX: While researching your discography, I realized that Ive been bumping your shit for years, but had no idea of who you were. I had Encores album Layover, which you produced most of. Then on De La Souls The Grind Date, you did my two favorite joints, the Common joint and the MF DOOM joint. Now I see that you did Betta Ask Somebody, and thats crazy, because I think a lot of people are in that same situation of knowing a lot of your beats, but not knowing you did them. Are you comfortable being the cat in the background, or do you want more name brand recognition?
JO: The whole reason Im interested in having more name brand recognition at this point is because I have an album that Im getting ready to put out. So just for the purpose of trying to sell that, thats why Im doing this interview. Ive got to put myself out there more. My approach with all this shit has been, if you make the right music and you make dope shit, people are going to find out about it. I can tell people about stuff that Im working on or what I want to do, but in the end, people are going to go to my discography, and everythings going to speak for itself. I think its dope that people have no idea I did a lot of these songs. People have no idea I did the John Cena record, I dont necessarily publicize it. Sha didnt even know I did that, until about a year after he was managing me. I think some people like to talk about it, but I would rather let the music speak for itself. If youre consistent and you make hot shit, your name is going to keep popping up, and theyre going to have to respect that.
DX: Whats the word on the album?
JO: Im on my way to the studio to finish mixing it right now. Its looking to come out in the fall time, on Rhymesayers Entertainment. Its basically a collage of all the shit Ive been doing. I just get to make the decisions on what rolls and what doesnt, and thats been a lot of fun. Ive got everybody from DOOM, to Freeway, to M.O.P., Elzhi, Royce, pretty much everybody I wanted to get. Its some real super Hip Hop shit, I made it a point to do that. It came together pretty well, actually. Im happy with it, so hopefully, people are going to dig it. Everybody I worked with was somebody I knew personally, so I didnt have to go pay people a bunch of money or none of that shit. It just came together naturally, and thats what it is. Hopefully, people will hear that. Rhymesayers is doing it; I feel like theyre the premier indie label right now. Ive done a lot of business with them, I like the way they run their ship, so it seemed like a good fit for me.
DX: What would you say are your two or three favorite songs from it?
JO: The Little Brother record I like a lot. Theres a song called Home I did with a bunch of guys from Seattle that most people might not have heard of, that one I like a lot. And probably the Elzhi and Royce song, those guys really did their thing. Its funny, Ive been working on it for like a year and a half, or two years, and Im not thoroughly sick of any of it, so Im thinking Ill be all right. I dont hate it yet. Its not one of those records where Im trying to wild out on songs; its about a complete project, and me somehow making all of these people fit into my sound, that was the challenge of it.
DX: Whats the title?
JO: Its called White Van Music, thats one of the first songs I ever did for one of my friends in high school. I named my publishing company that, so I figured Id just ride with that. Theres no special meaning behind it. Maybe thatd be mysterious or some shit.
DX: Ive heard your record collection is crazy.
JO: [Pauses] Yeeeah, I take the record collecting thing pretty seriously. [Laughs] Im actually going to Amsterdam for a record fair on Wednesday, so Im getting ready for that. Im going out there with my peoples from Toronto, MoSS and Mr. Attic. So hopefully I get some shit I can make into a future hit or something. But yeah, thats a big part of why I do what I do and how I have a certain talent, all the records Ive got.
DX: How much of that is for your listening pleasure as a fan, and how much is for your work as a producer?
JO: As the years go on, the records dont even mean as much to me sampling-wise. Its not as much as, I can pretty much grab stuff and find sounds that I like. But definitely, as far as collecting, theres a lot of stuff I collect that Im not even thinking about sampling at all. And thats the stuff I havent been spending a lot of money, that I end up making beats out of [sic]. Itll be some random record thats rare that I won. I have access to the Stax library, so Ive been using a lot of that stuff, Ive got a bunch of multi-track sessions for that. In 2008, theres different ways to do shit.