Producer’s Corner: Jake One (HipHopDX 5/9/2008)

by WILLIAM E. KETCHUM III

Jake One may make beats for Hip Hop’s number one bad guy in 50 Cent, but hateration attempts should be drowned out by stabs at his MPC. The Emerald City beatmaker has been earning his keep as one of the underground’s most consistent forces for years now, crafting bangers that always made you wonder who it was: De La Soul’s “Rock Co.Kane Flow” and “Days Of Our Lives,” Strange Fruit Project’s “Soul Clap,” and MF DOOM’s “Hoe Cakes” come to mind. Having paid his dues already, making highlights from Interscope Jackson’s Curtis album, G-Unit’s releases, Freeway’s 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 that features a star-studded line-up of Little Brother, MF DOOM, Freeway, M.O.P., Elzhi, Royce Da 5’9”, and others. In an interview with HipHopDX’s Producer’s Corner, Jake One talks about the wide spectrum of his clientele, living far away from established Hip Hop locales, and his upcoming project.

HipHopDX: You’re located in Seattle, so you’re not too close to Hip Hop hot spots like New York, LA, the south, or even the Midwest. What’s the Hip Hop scene like out there?

Jake One: It’s been a strong scene for a long time, it’s just very underground. We’ve got a couple people to really break out. Mix-A-Lot, a lot of people know about him, he’s 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 hasn’t really caught on nationally, but hopefully that’s going to change.

DX: How often does being there hinder your ability to work with other artists?

JO: It’s definitely difficult, because it’s not like people come here like they go to LA 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 that’s down with them, I would give them my CD—or I guess my tape back then—and then I would hear back from them, like, “Oh man, you’ve got some dope stuff.” And you just kind of build from there. … I’m not going to catch 50 in the studio down the street, that ain’t going to happen down here. I think for me, creatively, I like creating here because it’s really no pressures or all that. I’m 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 doesn’t necessarily work out there that way. You’ve got to have the music first and foremost. You can have all the connections you want, but if you don’t have that music to follow up, or you could have the music, but you don’t have the melody skills, or the personal skills. It’s so multifaceted how this thing works. But I’ll definitely say that’s a disadvantage of being here, you’re 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 I’m pretty good friends with Denaun Porter, he’s 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. I didn’t really know Sha Money knew who I was or anything, When I met him, he kind of did a double-take, like, “That’s 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 it’s like eight songs now that came out with them, and ten more that haven’t come out that we’re working on, or stuff they didn’t use. But for some reason, they hear my stuff and it seems to suit what they’re trying to do. And it’s funny, because I’m not making beats (specifically) for them, I’m not trying to craft a beat for G-Unit or for 50. I’ll get in my mode where I start doing some stuff that sounds like that, but the stuff I do for them doesn’t sound like the shit they get from everybody else. Mine is a little more Hip Hop, and it’s a little more, it’s not as commercial. So I’ve just been filling that lane, doing the hard Hip Hop joints for them. So it’s been great for me.

DX: Yeah, that was my next question. Your clientele seems to be incredibly diverse, from 50 Cent and G-Unit to One Be Lo and Evidence. You don’t ever find yourself making beats for specific people?

JO: I don’t really think about that stuff after I create something. The reason why I still do underground stuff to this day is because that’s where I come from, and that’s where my heart is at. That’s the shit I grew up listening to and loving. As long as I feel I can make something that…I let it land where it lands. Certain people will fuck with the beats I do for 50, but what’s funny is that I give those same beats to other people. [laughs] I think people think I’m giving them a certain CD or whatever, but it don’t really work that way. I just seen Brother Ali, and I actually gave him the beat that was on 50’s album, with Mary J. Blige. He’s like, “I wrote something to it, and then I heard the 50 album.” I’m like, “Oh shit.” Sometimes it just works that way. I just think it’s natural. I’m pretty much going to do anything I like. If I’m feeling whatever the person’s bringing to the table, I don’t really care. Once I create the music, it’s sort of out of my hands—it’s about what they bring to it next, because I’m only doing half of the work. 50 will approach something different than a One Be Lo will, or an Evidence will, or Young Buck will.

It’s funny how they take stuff that I don’t think is the greatest beat I did, and make something special with what they do. But I pride myself on being versatile. I wouldn’t say I’m versatile in the kinds of beats I make, I just think the sound I have can work for a lot of different things. It has a little hint of other things. I’m definitely rooted in that 90s style, but sonically, it’s going to sound a little better than them. Lots of technological advances and shit, you should have a better sound in 2008 than you did in ’94. It feels good, I meet guys from that era who tell me they really like my shit, because I’m keeping that style alive.

DX: How is the G-Unit production team formatted? I read this entire thing about how it’s 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 doesn’t know who does what, and he raps to whatever he feels. That’s why you’ll see people pop up that nobody’s ever heard of, or might surprise you, because he’s just going off of what he likes. He’s 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 he’s doing something different by getting new people opportunity and just going off of the music, because at the end of the day, that’s all that should really matter to you, what the sound is. But I don’t even know what the “G-Unit production team” is, honestly. Sha is my manager, so obviously I’m affiliated with it, but I don’t have a deal with G-Unit. I can produce for whoever I want. I guess I’m looked at as a G-Unit producer, but I don’t get a paycheck from them every month.

DX: While researching your discography, I realized that I’ve been bumping your shit for years, but had no idea of who you were. I had Encore’s album Layover, which you produced most of. Then on De La Soul’s 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 that’s 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 I’m interested in having more name brand recognition at this point is because I have an album that I’m getting ready to put out. So just for the purpose of trying to sell that, that’s why I’m doing this interview. I’ve 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 I’m working on or what I want to do, but in the end, people are going to go to my discography, and everything’s going to speak for itself. I think it’s dope that people have no idea I did a lot of these songs. People have no idea I did the John Cena record, I don’t necessarily publicize it. Sha didn’t 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 you’re consistent and you make hot shit, your name is going to keep popping up, and they’re going to have to respect that.

DX: What’s the word on the album?

JO: I’m on my way to the studio to finish mixing it right now. It’s looking to come out in the fall time, on Rhymesayers Entertainment. It’s basically a collage of all the shit I’ve been doing. I just get to make the decisions on what rolls and what doesn’t, and that’s been a lot of fun. I’ve got everybody from DOOM, to Freeway, to M.O.P., Elzhi, Royce, pretty much everybody I wanted to get. It’s some real super Hip Hop shit, I made it a point to do that. … It came together pretty well, actually. I’m happy with it, so hopefully, people are going to dig it. … Everybody I worked with was somebody I knew personally, so I didn’t have to go pay people a bunch of money or none of that shit. It just came together naturally, and that’s what it is. Hopefully, people will hear that. Rhymesayers is doing it; I feel like they’re the premier indie label right now. I’ve 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 three favorite songs from it?

JO: The Little Brother record I like a lot. There’s 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. It’s funny, I’ve been working on it for like a year and a half, or two years, and I’m not thoroughly sick of any of it, so I’m thinking I’ll be all right. I don’t hate it yet. It’s not one of those records where I’m trying to wild out on songs; it’s about a complete project, and me somehow making all of these people fit into my sound, that was the challenge of it. And I think I pretty much did that. So yeah, coming around fall time it’s looking like, wrapping it up.

DX: What’s the title?

JO: It’s called White Van Music, that’s 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 I’d just ride with that. There’s no special meaning behind it. Maybe that’d be mysterious or some shit.

DX: I’ve heard your record collection is crazy.

JO: [pauses] Yeeeah, I take the record collecting thing pretty seriously. [laughs] I’m actually going to Amsterdam for a record fair on Wednesday, so I’m getting ready for that. I’m 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, that’s a big part of why I do what I do and how I have a certain talent, all the records I’ve 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 don’t even mean as much to me sampling-wise. It’s not as much as, I can pretty much grab stuff and find sounds that I like. But definitely, as far as collecting, there’s a lot of stuff I collect that I’m not even thinking about sampling at all. And that’s the stuff I haven’t been spending a lot of money, that I end up making beats out of [sic]. It’ll be some random record that’s rare that I won. I have access to the Stax library, so I’ve been using a lot of that stuff, I’ve got a bunch of multi-track sessions for that. In 2008, there’s different ways to do shit.

[via HipHopDX]