Jake One’s name may ring a bell to the purists of Hip Hoppers, the most hardcore gangster rap aficionados, and everyone else in between. And if you don’t know his name, you most certainly know his music. During the past year alone, Jake One was prominently featured on underground classics by Evidence (The Weatherman LP), commercial bangers like Freeway’s “Its Over”, and the super gangster G-Unit mixtape. But the versatile Seattle based producer only see things getting bigger and better. 2007 witnessed Jake appear on 7 major projects, a new career high, and opened the door for White Van Music, his own forthcoming full length album.
Jake One talked to Ruby Hornet’s own Roosevelt Treasurechest, and gave RTC the lowdown on the new album, his approach to beat-making, and his take on those MySpace bulletins in which emcees sell their style one 16-bar verse at a time. Check it out!
RH: What’s going on with you? I know that you’re featured on a bunch of new releases that span from underground hip hop to a mainstream level.
Jake One: G-Unit just put out a new mixtape, I got a couple songs on there. One of the joints is the first song “Like a Dog”. The other one (laughs), I can’t remember what it’s called. It’s something like “She Wants It”. It’s like a 50 solo song, there’s a skit in front of it. They’re working on a new album, so I’ve been doing stuff for the new G-Unit record. I’ve been working with Young Buck on the new project he’s doing. I’ve been working with a lot of different folks, but mainly I’ve been mixing my own album. That’s what I’ve been focused on right now. It’s more of a producer album with me doing what I want to do on it and bringing in all the artists that I f**k with. I’ve been working on it for a while and I’ve been putting all my effort into that. It’s pretty much what I’ve been doing so you’ll have Young Buck on there, but then you’ll also have MF Doom on it, Brother Ali, and people like that. It’s really just a picture, a big advertisement for what I do. I’ve been trying to put everything I can into it and make it as dope as possible.
RH: You just touched on how we may have a Young Buck and an MF Doom, you’ve been around for a long time and I first heard of you with the West Coast Hip Hop and coming up with a lot of underground artists. You’re prominently on One Be Lo’s new album, which I’ve been listening to a lot. Is there a matter of changing of gears since one day you may be in the studio with One Be Lo, and the next day you’re doing the G-Unit mixtape?
Jake One: Honestly, when I create, most of the time I’m doing it by myself or with musicians or whoever I’m working with. When I create I’m not thinking, ‘oh man I gotta do something for 50.’ Sometimes I may get in a mode where I know they’re looking for that and I know what they want from me. I’ll try to keep banging that kind of stuff out. A lot of times when I do that it’s not what they end up wanting. I just make the music that I feel like making at the time, whatever moves me and it lands wherever it lands. I’ve been fortunate to cross over into different boundaries. Most people that do what I do in the underground don’t get the opportunity to do the records with a lot of other people. I’m genuinely into a lot of commercial music as well as underground stuff. I don’t just limit what I like to whether it’s successful or not. That really has no bearing on whether or not I like it. It’s crazy cause people will rap over the same beats. I had a track that I did on Gift of Gab’s album, I don’t even know how long ago that was, maybe three or four years ago, and the Game had recorded that for The Documentary album. He had a song for it. You can’t really think of two more different rappers, and they both had their own approach to it. I really just try to make something that universally is good. I don’t really follow the hot trends or what everyone is doing. I kind of feature what I came up on and throw different sprinkles on it. The stuff I do for 50 might sound like some of that old Queens s**t or whatever, but it’ll have something thatâ€™s a little different about it, maybe because I’m from Seattle. It’s a weird combination.
RH: You said a lot of producers that do what you do or start in the underground where you did don’t get the chance to cross over like that. Do you take that with you, and do you feel any responsibility to carry that flag for producers in the underground now, or stick to a certain style and no matter how big you get continue to work with a One Be Lo?
Jake One: I’m always going to work with the underground stuff. I think even after all this commercial s**t is over-and the way it looks, it’s going to be over- that stuff is always going to be there. And it’s all about doing what you feel. It may not be a big money thing, but I’ll do it cause I want to do it. I make so much music it makes no sense for me to sit around and wait for the big artist to choose stuff. I did seven records that came out on major labels last year, which is the most I’ve ever done. But I probably made 150 beats. I just put the stuff out there and we see what comes back. I think everybody that’s been in the underground or starts there, that’s not necessarily where they want to be or where they want to end up. If you look at it historically, all the best artists end up working on the highest level in some form or fashion in their career. You want your music to be heard by the most people, that doesnâ€™t necessarily mean you need to change what you’re doing and make music for that. But if they’re f**king with you and what you do, and you can get it there it’s rewarding. I just follow the role of like Alchemist. He’s a good dude and gave me some game. I watched how he has his career. Somebody like Nottz, and people like that I look to, where they are still making stuff that is very creative and dope but theyâ€™re not stuck on just making records for Fat Beats. They’re on every level you could possibly think of. That’s how I look at it.
RH: That’s interesting cause I thought of Alchemist as similar to you. I know you’re on Evidence’s new solo album.
Jake One: Yeaaahhh. I did some stuff for Prodigy and Alchemist is actually rapping on my album. [Evidence] is a guy that’s had some commercial success, but in the end me and him are kind of like-minded in that we come from the same era. And the same thing with Al. Al is on the same kind of music. I think when you get to a point where you start doing stuff cause you think you’e going to get paid is when you already lost. If it happens, it happens. It’s what is meant to be. I think the new guys coming up, they’re so focused on trying to make hits and trying to pop off that they’ve completely lost focus of making something that is rewarding personally. Did you really do something dope on that beat? Did you really challenge yourself? That’s where Hip Hopâ€™s kind of lost its way, everything is very generic.
RH: Another song that I know you did that has been in constant rotation for me is “Its Over” on Freeway’s album. How did you put that together? From the beginning the way it hits is just a really powerful beat and the mood captured is also powerful. Did you go in knowing that was going to be for Freeway, how did that song work?
Jake One: I had been working with the people at Concord, they own the Stax catalogue. They gave me some protools sessions of original songs. “Masquerade’s Over” is one of the hottest songs period, so I knew when I got the session that I got to do something with it. I felt like I really had to make something phenomenal to even sample that record. I rearranged the whole thing, and that’s what I came with. It’s funny because when I made it, I kind of wanted to make it like The Game record “Hate It or Love It”. I wanted something fast like that, but it was hard and could play in the club and people would f**k with it. That’s what I was trying to do, but it’s funny how I’ll think with a mind-state like that and the music will sound entirely different from that. But that was kind of my inspiration for it. I had the beat, I actually got a hold of Freeway’s manager cause I wanted him to do a song for my album. I sent him some tracks and they choose that one and a couple other ones. He did the record and it was dope. He sent it to me and I had Vitamin [D] put the scratches in there. I was really happy with it. And then he gave me a joint for my record too.
RH: Vitamin is another person you’ve been messing with for a long time. How important is it for you to maintain a team that grows with you? What do you see as the importance of people to maintain a strong base?
Jake One: I just think it’s crucial man! I started in part making music cause of seeing Vitamin first hand. What he was doing and how dope he was made me think I could do it. He’s always been like a mentor to me and helped me out a lot in a lot of technical stuff. It’s just good to have somebody dope around you that will push you. He’s definitely made me step my game up many times to get to where I am now, and I would say in the past 2-3 years I’ve finally gotten to a point where I can make him go back. It’s a great thing to have, and you see a lot of good music coming out of those situations. Just Blaze and Kanye of the early Rocafella, they were clearly hearing each other’s stuff and stepping the game up. It’s dope to have somebody for a long time that you’re good friends with and you genuinely respect their music. There’s people that you know that might be great people, but you might not have that respect for them on a musical level. D is somebody that I build with personally and on a creative aspect. We’re working on this album right now and he’s mixing it. He’s a big part of this album too.
RH: New York/East Coast has a certain sound or style that people expect when someone says they’re from there, and the same with Cali. Seattle is kind of known for free-range in a sense. How has Seattle influenced your sound, and how would you describe the Hip Hop scene there?
Jake One: We really only have Mix-A-Lot. Mix-A-Lot is the only guy from here to do anything on a worldwide standard, and when you go places people say Mix-A-Lot. Besides that, everybody’s been super influenced. When I first started making music, the big thing in Seattle was Bay area music and it still is. That’s the closest major area to us, and we always follow what they’re doing very closely. It still is to this day. Artists from the Bay get a lot of love up here. There’s that side, but there’s also been a side that’s super influenced by Gangstarr and East Coast Hip Hop. I kind of was straddling the fence on that. I loved the E-40 records, but I didn’t necessarily make music like that. It just wasn’t my lane. I liked a lot of the West Coast stuff when they were sampling more. That was the stuff I was more into. I think it’s kind of a unique melting pot. People like Premier and Pete Rock, those are my first influences. When I first started producing those were the guys I looked up to. I still have a lot of that in me just the way I think about it. When I sit down to make a beat I’m usually coming from that frame of mind. Also, that 40 and all that bass stuff is in there sometimes. I’ll play a bassline that may be in that manner, but it will be over some hard East Coast drums. It’s kind of put together in a different way, and maybe that’s why I have my own sound at this point., it’s a little different And the scene here, we’ve had a lot of dope artists for a long time. People just haven’t gotten a chance nationally for whatever reason. It’s starting to change. We got some local groups that are making some noise here. As far as the scene, it seems like there’s more support for the scene now than I can remember. People didn’t use to say they were from Seattle. Everyone was from Compton, Vallejo, or Queens. I remember in the Beat Street era everyone was from the Bronx. Now people are screaming 206, wearing t-shirts saying ‘northwest.’ They’re finally developing some pride, and that’s only going to help the scene grow. If you don’t have a good base at home, how is anybody else going to take you seriously?
RH: Talk a little bit about this album. How long has it been in the making? What are the concepts that you’re working with?
Jake One: I’ve been working on it for about a year and half. The concept is more or less getting back to basics. I’m doing a lot of intricate stuff, but it’s rooted in fundamental 90’s Hip Hop. I got a record with Evidence, Alchemist, and Prodigy rapping like an NWA record where it’s break beats, and the beat changes in the chorus. I got a couple records like that. The MF Doom record’s like that. I also have some stuff with live instruments in there. It’s kind of showing that you can do all that and still make it Hip Hop and still have that raw sound. Most of the album is pretty aggressive. I got maybe 3 or 4 joints that are more on some laid-back, chill type of record. The Little Brother record is like a dope riding kind of record. The record with Elzhi and Royce is kind of similar like that. I kind of tried to make it in fragments like ‘this is some super aggressive gangster s**t. This is going to be more chill music, then we get back into the hard s**t.’ Then I got some Seattle records I did with some people from here. I just tried to make it a summary of everything I like and what I’m about.
RH: I want to ask this from more of a fan’s perspective. I know that DJ’s and producers, first things first, are not just fans but almost have an obsession with the music.
Jake One: Yeah.
RH: From that perspective, do you go back and look at other albums made by producers? Sometimes they’re really great, and other times it seems like it’s just a lot of names. The back of the album cover and tracklisting-
Jake One: Is the best part of the music (laughs).
RH: Is that in your thinking when you go back and look at how other people are doing it?
Jake One: I think the difficulty with putting this record together and making it somehow come together is in the fact that I have so many different types of artists. That’s definitely the challenge. I think musically at this point, I can make a sound. I think for the most part this album has a particular sound and the artists that I got to appear on it, they all adapted to that sound. I did a record with Young Buck and it’s what he does, but it’s still my sound and he adapted to that. Somebody like MF Doom, I went and made something that fits him, but it’s not the typical thing that he raps on. It’s definitely challenging and I try not to do things by name. I had a couple records with people with big names that didn’t measure up and I’m not using. I have some younger guys from Seattle. I got this song with three of the young guys coming up over here, guys named Pender, GMK, and a guy named Spaceman. I just dug the record. I liked the way it came together, the vibe of it, and it fit in with what I was doing. So, it’s kind of interesting cause I didn’t make this album thinking about what the single is or any of that kind of stuff. I’ve literally just been trying to make something that’s a dope project.
RH: Who is putting the album out, and budget wise did somebody supply that? Not a lot of people know what goes into putting together an album like this, and getting the songs made, and getting artists on the tracks. How did that go?
Jake One: Well, Rhymesayers is the one who will be putting the project out. I got a budget for that, but most of the record was done from personal relationships I have with people. Most of the people on this album I’ve worked with at least once. I would say 70% of them I have a personal relationship with and say ‘I need this done.’ Some people didn’t respond, a lot of them did. I got till the end of this month, I’m trying to squeeze stuff out at the last minute. A lot of people I did trades with, and it works out better that way. I got good performances by doing that. They needed something from me. I’ve seen situations where people will pay for verses, and I have friends that are artists that do that, that just sell verses all day. A lot of times they aren’t even going to give it their “A” game. They’ll just throw whatever to somebody.
RH: On MySpace you’ll see a bulletin “Verses for $500! Get’em while they’re hot!”
Jake One: The way things are going that’s kind of going to be the future because that’s eliminating the middleman and all that s**t. I sell beats to people all the time like that. If people want to reach me and do some music like that I’m fine with it. It’s all good to me. But I think it’s different with a producer. We make what we make before we give it to somebody. I think with a rapper, them being inspired is such a crucial part of them coming up with something dope. Some people can give you their half-ass and it’s still good though. It just depends on the caliber of artist I guess.
RH: Does the album have a title at this time?
Jake One: It’ called White Van Music, which is the name of my publishing company. And I named my publishing company that because it was the first song I ever did with some guys from high school. I just rolled with it cause I didn’t want to come up with anything clever. Ten years later I’m putting an album out with that name. There’s really no super meaning behind it.
RH: Is there any tentative release?
Jake One: It’s looking like summertime. It’s pretty much done, I got to go in and mix 2-3 more songs. The last week I’ve been in the studio with Vitamin till 5 or 6 in the morning, so we’ve been going hard on it.
RH: When this is done is it going to be ‘right back to the drawing board’ for you? Some producers or emcees will just make music all day, that’s just what they do. Do you need time to maybe step back and refresh and just listen to music for a little bit? Do you have those periods?
Jake One: I think I listen to music a lot more than I make it. I probably, I don’t make a beat a day, I make it just when I feel it. I may make 3 beats a week, and it’s just the right 3 beats and I’m happy. So, I don’t know, this is the first time I’ve had to be listening to music and mixing for so long. I’m kind of burnt out right now (laughs). I’m probably just going to go play some basketball and chill for a minute. I definitely got to get back to creating cause there’s a lot of projects I want to be a part of that I need to make music for. I don’t over do it. You’l never see me doing 50 beats in a month or nothing. I try to keep them all keepers at this point. That’s my philosophy.
RH: What do you see as your signature sound? Do you feel you have a ‘Jake One Stamp’?
Jake One: I just want to be known for making quality stuff and just being consistent. I think there’s not many people that have been doing it as long as I have and have been as consistent. I haven’t been a part of all high profile things, but if I did it, there’s going to some kind of quality there. In the future I’m just going to be trying to build my brand, and this album is all about trying to build my personal brand and bring more people through it, do more full albums. It’s been fun controlling this full record, I’ve actually really enjoyed it. I want to do more of it, and it’s something. I’m looking forward to doing with a couple emcees later this year. I think I’m definitely going to move more towards that.