Exclusive: Jeremiah Jae opens up about the misconceptions of Chicago, how the '70s sitcom "Good Times" influenced him.
Jeremiah Jae isn’t your stereotypical Chicago Rap artist. In fact, when most people think of Chicago artists today, many people think of gang violence, guns and other forms of deviance that represent the city’s “Chi-raq,” moniker. However, Jeremiah Jae details how he strives to promote positivity through his music to help prevent negative occurrences from continuing in his city, and how not enough entertainers from Chicago are discussing these issues.
In tribute to the popular ‘70s sitcom Good Times, Jeremiah Jae takes the theme of the show and relates it to his experiences growing up on the Southside of Chicago. He also talks about how he can understand why people of Chicago are aggressive and angry, and why he believes it’s important to promote positivity.
“People think they don’t want to hear the positive messages, but that’s what they need,” Jeremiah Jae said, during an exclusive conversation with HipHopDX. “And you can just see it with the murder rate out there and everything that’s going on in that city it’s like people really want to make it a positive place again, but people are fighting with the idea of, “How am I supposed to do that? I can’t be positive when there’s nothing here for me; there’s no opportunities...”
Here, Jeremiah Jae discusses the misconceptions about Chicago and his aspirations to get back to the good times in life.
How “Good Times” & Chicago Inspired Jeremiah Jae’s Latest Project
HipHopDX: You recently released your second mixtape with Warp Records, Good Times. What made you want to use this as a theme for your music?
Jeremiah Jae: Well I kind of grew up watching sitcoms…that show and all kind of black family shows—like Family Matters and all this other stuff. But that show in particular—the character J.J. was kind of what made pick that show to do a theme about. And also there were just a lot of relatable themes and scenarios I related to. With how I was brought up on the Southside, and just the different trials and tribulations I went through, and the jokes on the show are pretty funny, so I felt a connection.
DX: In the skit, “Bad Times,” Florida Evans complains about all the negative things going on in Chicago, and you talk about it in your music. You’ve called yourself a “Rap healer,” so would you say one of your main goals is to help cure the city?
Jeremiah Jae: Yeah, I don’t really like the word cure, but preventative is more my thing. I like to teach the kids coming up now you don’t have to follow all the role model drug dealers or gangsters as an example of how to be in life, how to make money or how to get respect. I was fortunate enough to grow up around the gangsters and drug dealers, but also a lot of respectable musicians, artists and just all kind of people that kind of opened me up early on. Although I’ve always had more friends that were close to the streets and doing crazy stuff out there, I was always able to just be more creative and express myself through that. And that’s something that I wanted to keep alive and not conform myself to sound hard and shit or be somebody I’m not. Again, I have grown up on the rough side of town. I still live in Chicago right now, and I don’t like to glorify violence or anything like that. But I can understand where that side is coming from too and why people are so angry and so aggressive. It’s really just showing a different side to people and kids especially.
DX: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the city?
Jeremiah Jae: That’s a good question. It’s pretty much still a segregated city; like Martin Luther King once said it was the most racist place he’s been. He got a brick thrown at him when he first went there, and it’s always been like…the Gangsters Disciples out there is one of the largest gangs in the world. So I think there’s this cloud over the city, like it’s just a gangster town and everybody’s out to kill you. But really, if you show respect, you know where to go, and you’re not trying to act hard or be disrespectful, you’re going to be okay [laughs].
It’s not the worst place to be, but people calling it “Chi-raq” and shit adds to that negative connotation and naming it off a war zone. It’s serious, and there’s stuff that really needs to be addressed, and people that need to step up and really speak about these things that aren’t. There are rappers and musicians that come from that city, blow up, and it’s almost like they just forget about it and they want to get away. I want to be able to still be there and still have some kind of effect in a positive way. I think there are a lot of people that feel like that too—like they want to do something positive for the city. And that’s the thing; people think there’s nobody positive there, but there is. Black Jungle Squad, my whole collective and me, we’re just all about showing that other side of it.
DX: Yeah, that’s interesting. In comparison, your songs “Good Times” and “Bad Times” have completely different vibes. Can you talk about the distinction you wanted to create between these two songs?
Jeremiah Jae: Yeah, I think it just has something to do with the duality of where I came from and who I am. Who I am is like the “Good Times” side, and what I was surrounded by was kind of like the “Bad Times.” That’s why I’m like, “I’m trying to make it out of these bad times.” You know, I’m not trying to be here, but also, they can suck you in and kind of contradict everything that’s going on. That song is kind of about the contradiction and just me getting into the other perspective of the person that would listen to a song like “Good Times,” hate on it and be like, “Ah, this is too positive.” This is like, “Whoa…what is this?” So it’s kind of me playing the devil’s advocate almost.
And again, I’m just surrounded by that kind of vibe and that aggressive state of mind, but I want to promote the good times. It’s short for a reason too. All those things are intentional, ‘cause it’s like people just want to party, hear the bass and just wild out. But I feel like how people perceive the conscious music is almost how they perceive “Good Times.” It’s soulful, and it’s not so much about the party, it’s just about the message. But I wanted people to see both perspectives, ‘cause I do come from that side, and it’s also part of me. That street shit is also part of me. So yeah, it’s just like a devil’s advocate track.
Why Jeremiah Jae Says Chicagoans Struggle Finding Positivity
DX: Would you say it’s uplifting in its own sense?
Jeremiah Jae: Yeah, yeah, and again there’s a line where I’m like, “Just listen to what the song say / ‘Cause life is too short to be sitting stressed out, but that money ain’t there / And the shit ain’t fair, motherfuck what the song say.” It’s the same thing; people think they don’t want to hear the positive messages, but that’s what they need. It’s like you need that to see [light] at the end of the tunnel, ‘cause if it’s all just bad times then that’s all you’re going to get is just a continuous progression of bad times. You can see it with the murder rate out there and everything that’s going on in that city. People really want to make it a positive place again, but it’s just people fighting with the idea of, “How am I supposed to do that? I can’t be positive when there’s nothing here for me, and there’s like no opportunities. There’s nothing like that.” I would want to make people think about that, and also just as a rapper, I don’t see a lot of people stepping up and talking about what’s actually going on. It’s entertainment, and that may not be their job to do that, but I feel the need to do something like that and kind of express that.
DX: Going along with that, you produce as well, so could you talk about the production that was used to create the distinction between those two songs?
Jeremiah Jae: Yeah, with the show and going off of that theme, I kind of wanted to make something that felt like it was from that time period. Like if you were just to go back into that time and turn on the radio, you would hear all these soulful songs and different kind of tracks. It’s just really a whole homage to that show, that time and when it was all more about good times. Even on that show at that time, they were talking about some real stuff. But compared to what’s going on now, it was like that was nothing, and those are just corny kind of jokes, but they still have a lot of weight to them. I wanted to take sound bites that related to me the most, throw them in there and just be like, “Let’s not completely forget about Good Times. Let’s go back and try to listen to it with modern ears.”
DX: And so with that idea, do you think we have lost that concept of good times, not only in Chicago, but also in general?
Jeremiah Jae: I think there’s good stuff in the world right now, but there’s also—for me at least in Chicago—there’s a hierarchy between being poor and being middle class. With rich people, you always see them having great times. Even back in the day, I grew up with my mom, and she was always telling me how different it is. Back then she could go walk around after dark, and just go anywhere and not feel threatened. She didn’t feel like she was going to get mugged or shot, but now it’s just a totally different thing. I think people have gotten a little bit more distance from that idea, but it’s still there.
I think you just have to promote it and push it on the forefront. I think also media has a lot to do with that too. They are constantly promoting negative stuff on the news, and every time you turn around there’s something to get your riled up and upset. So now, people are constantly living in fear, and there wasn’t so much of that back in the Good Times days. It was, but still it wasn’t like what it is now…people just hating. Everybody has a negative comment to say, and everybody can comment on anything now ‘cause we have the Internet, so it’s just a lot more. But I still try to surround myself with good people. I think that’s what I’m really trying to push with the Black Jungle Squad. It’s like, “Get your crew together, surround yourself with positive energy and perpetuate that. You know you don’t have to act hard. That’s not going to get you anywhere really. Not to say that the positive shit will get you somewhere, but at least you won’t be in a constant cloud of negativity.”
Jeremiah Jae Explains His Visual Art Background
DX: Kind of switching subjects, in one of your most recent visuals, “Money,” which is directed by Flying Lotus, the video is very simple as it focuses on a close up of you rhyming. You’re also a visual artist, so can you talk about the creative process behind your music videos?
Jeremiah Jae: Yeah, I’ve always wanted to direct my videos and do more film work. I’ve done more visual work and more collage and 2-D than I have with film, so I’ve always just kind of let somebody else handle the video work. For that, Flying Lotus had an idea, and I kind of just went with it. I didn’t know what he was going to do with it, ‘cause we shot it on a green screen, and I had an idea of what I wanted it to be like. I wanted it to be minimal like that, but I didn’t know it would be that minimal. I was into it still, ‘cause a lot of my videos are just real and about capturing real life…same thing with “Seasons.” That was just one shot of me, and nothing else; it’s just real, minimal stuff, and it’s also just letting the music kind of fill your imagination and take you to a different place.
DX: Also, in regards to visual art, you’ve also been working on an art book with your original work that is anticipated to come out this year. How has that been going?
Jeremiah Jae: Yeah, I’ve been working on that. That’s kind of like an album in itself, ‘cause you know how people say their first album takes their whole life to do. It’s a compilation of sketches, notes, little doodles and more refined, complete works. I’m still kind of working on it all the time; whenever I doodle something, I’m like, “Yeah, this will go on it.” So hopefully it will be out this year, and it will also be released with the LP that I’m planning on dropping for Warp. It’s just artwork. I went to art school, I’ve studied a lot of artists and art history, and I’ve always been into books that have the whole retrospective on an artist. I feel like an artist outside of being a rapper/producer. I feel like more of an artist as a title and being able to take from any medium and kind of make something, so it’s really just about that. It’s about the ideas in my head and the works that I’ve been doing since I was like a little kid to now, just so people can see more of where I’m coming from.
DX: How would you say that your creative process between music and visual art differ or relate?
Jeremiah Jae: They’re similar in that with art, it’s like sometimes I need a reference point. Say collage for instance, I like to collage a lot, and it’s the same with me sampling music. I like to sample and make something completely different out of a sample or just loop a sample, and it’s the same with a collage. Sometimes I like to take an image and just use that and make it something different. And it’s just all kind of how I communicate better really. I communicate better through music and art in my opinion; I’m not as social as other people. I don’t really like to talk to people that much. I’m kind of more introverted, but how I do talk and how I prefer to talk is through the music. So yeah, they definitely both relate.
Jeremiah Jae Calls Sampling A Form Of Communication
DX: That kind of leads into on of my final questions. In your interview with ResidentAdvisor.net, you described sampling as a way to communicate. Can you break that down a bit more?
Jeremiah Jae: Well I think it’s important to note I was inspired by groups like Wu-Tang really early on. Before I was listening to any other Hip Hop, it was like Wu-Tang, Beastie Boys and a whole bunch of other stuff like listening to the radio play P. Diddy and Biggie, and that was before I was really into Hip Hop. I didn’t know what it was, and I was just trying to figure out how to sample that stuff—especially Wu-Tang. I’m still in love with Wu-Tang...how they flipped kung fu movies, that whole philosophy behind it and how they related it to themselves. I thought that shit was amazing to me growing up. And it’s the same kind of thing with Good Times or any kind of conceptual thing I’ve put together like RawHyde or anything like that.
I just want to relay the past to the future into the present and take something that you may have heard a bunch of times and flip it in a completely new way. I think it can communicate something completely different. So yeah, like I said Wu-Tang and Dilla just helped me kind of figure out how I could communicate and speak to people. I also play instruments. I have a lot stuff I’m going to put out in the future with no samples, but I feel like I’ve been called more to sampling just to do that. To flip stuff and relate it to the modern day that we live in is like a conversation, but it’s really however you want to take it and interpret it. It’s up to the listener.
Jeremiah Jae’s latest mixtape, “Good Times,” is available as a free download via DatPiff.com.