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Jake One: Mmm...Mmm...Beats

By Chasen Paperfeatures
Jun 25, 2009 - 1:00 AM

In 2009, Jake One emerged as a Corinthian pillar of hip-hop from the Pacific Northwest, but his beginnings were humble. As a young kid, he was a maniac when it came to collecting baseball cards. After games he would wait by the players’ locker rooms and chase players exiting the field for an autograph to expand his ever growing card collection. He was damn good at it too, until one day when he was in the 8th grade, he had a light bulb moment while running to catch a signature. He thought to himself, "I'm way too old for this shit. What am I doing here?" At that moment, a lot of boys conform to the old adage, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things," and they moth ball their baseball cards, or their comics, and pick up more "grown" up hobbies. Not Jake One. Soon after this epiphany, he discovered that his favorite hip-hop records at the time derived their signature sounds from even older records, and the record digger in Jake One was born.

It's eight months after the release of Jake One's first official album, White Van Music, which received high critical praise and features some of hip-hop's loftiest and most talented emcees. And he is still humble. He's produced for hip-hop's heaviest hitters and most underrated emcees alike, and is currently a member of the good Dr.Dre's personal in-house beat production camp—a group that is reserved for only four other producers in all of hip-hop. Talk about keeping good company. As a judge in Red Bull's international Big Tune battle, he's heard the best and worst that hip-hop has to offer, and he comes back year after year with open ears and mind. To put it in layman's terms, the dudes got mad stripes, son. He's made his bones; he's a fucking hit man, which makes it obligatory for any person who appreciates hip-hop to listen when he speaks. Enjoy.

Listen to "The Truth'" ft. Freeway and Brother Ali

Download: Jake One - "The Truth ft. Freeway and Brother Ali

Chasen Paper: Jake One! How you'd end up with the "One" at the end of your name? Did you used to graf?

Jake One: You know, I used to write graf in the early 90's. I used to write Jay Dee like how Jay Dilla spells it because those were my initials, but there was too many of them. Then I put out a mixtape and I had to come up with a name and I thought, "There's a KRS-ONE. I'm going to just be Jake One." It just stuck since then. I couldn't really go back, even though I thought, "Damn, I shoulda came up with a better name."

What helped you most in getting your beats out there when you were coming up?

Well, I started making beats in '94-'95 and got serious in '98 when I was graduating college. During that time, Seattle didn't have much going on. I was lucky to be around some older dudes like Supereme. So we went to the Gavin Convention out in San Francisco. I went down there with 20 tapes and just passed that shit out to people that I know to this day ... like Hi-Tek. And I got a lot of calls, so that told me I was in the right place. I'd give tapes to people like Planet Asia and they'd play it for other people. There isn't one way to get your beats to people. It takes time and being consistent. It feels like back then there was a lot less competition. Now ... I just came back from Sha Money XL's music conference and there's 500 kids there who make beats. When I was doin' it in Seattle, there was maybe 10 people who made beats because of the equipment needs and stuff.

Speaking of connections, you have a deep connection to the Bay. Where did that come in?

Seattle has always kinda looked up to the Bay. So I grew up listening to a lot of Bay music: Short, early E-40, Mac Mall, 415. That's still some of my favorite music. In 2006 I finally quit my job and I wanted to move. So I moved down to Oakland. I probably created most of the beats for White Van Music when I was down there. Even before I moved down there I worked with E-40 and Turf Talk. I just looked at the Bay as the closest thing to what we do out here. The people are a lot more off the hook in the Bay though.

What's up though? What's the weirdest shit you ever did in a van?

You know what's funny, I never even had a van! (Laughs)

You've got a style that spans all styles of hip-hop. Do you consciously go in looking to create such diverse sounds?

It truly just stems from genuinely being into all the different styles of hip-hop. I just kinda like to put things that I like in my music. When I hear something I like, I incorporate it into my style. For instance, these past six months I've been really blessed to work with Dr.Dre and I find myself thinking, "Man I'm really trying to be Dr.Dre here," but it never comes out that way. And he doesn't want that. He wants me to do what I do.


Yeah, I've definitely been working on that as an in-house. It's just been an honor to work with him, an idol of mine.

So who's signed with Dre as an in-house producer right now?

It's me, Mr.Porter, Hi-Tek, Focus and Khalil. The things they're doing are just so next level; hopefully people get to hear it.

What's your advice for producers coming up that think that every hot beat they make is for Jay-Z or Lil Wayne and want to charge hella much?

(Laughs) I just think if you're not hot in your neighborhood or your city, you're probably not going to be hot to them. If you can't dominate on that level, you're not ready to give beats to them. I had to get to the point where I was one of the best guys is Seattle before I could think I was good enough to work with Fif (50 Cent). It seems in terms of a lot of new producers, they don't want to do the foundation stuff. They'll chase what they think is hot and it doesn't really work. It hasn't proven to work. You're not seeing any young new producer taking things over because they don't have that foundation.

I know. I'm sure you get so many beat submissions. You should do a little YouTube clip show where you play a super wack joint and a super hot joint and...

That's crazy! And explain why.

Exactly! And the hot one can have the Jake One stamp of approval.

Oh man..it's just incredible some of the stuff I hear. Some I can't believe people would get on a stage and play it. I feel embarrassed for them. But then there are others that are equally amazing. It just takes time. The guys that are icons, their ear is just formed to the point that they have it like that. You're not going to have that as a kid. There are really dope kids but they're still on their way to being way better. You don't hit your prime till you've been doing it for a while, especially something like producing. You'll finally have your approach and then it's about adding the intricacies to it.

"Trap Door"--we saw the Rik Cordero trailer. What's up with the video?

Oh man, the "Trap Door" video. Rik Cordero did it, and it just didn't quite come together the way I wanted it to. So we wanted to go back and re-edit it. To me a video can either make or break a song. You want it to bring something more to the table for the song. But we might just throw it out there so people can see it.

If MF Doom said you could just rock the mask and do the video all yourself would you do it?

You know I just met Doom at Sound Set, which is this festival in Minnesota, he probably would not have a problem with that. That was actually one of the ideas (for the video) where we have people put on the mask and roll around, from the person at McDonald's to the postman.

I know you're just chilling on the street giving this interview so I've only got one more question. You've got a ridiculous record collection, did that collecting bug stem from collecting bugs as a kid?

Aww definitely. I used to collect baseball cards and get autographs. I think it was in the 8th grade when I went out ... I think it was to a Texas Rangers (game) and I was chasing down Juan Gonzales or some shit and I thought. "I'm way too old for this shit. What am I doing here?" And really around that time was when I discovered that a lot of these records I like in hip-hop came from older records. So I pretty much made the full on transition from baseball cards to records. It's really not that much different because with records sometimes I just buy stuff to say, "I have this." And it's not even something I've listened to. It's just something I've wanted because of the cover or the significance of the record. Mostly kids nowadays don't even buy records, they just download them. Which is cool for them because they don't have to go chasing these (records) down. But I also feel like they're not discovering new sounds all the time because they're going with the same stuff everyone else has got out there. Every record isn't going to be ripped and downloaded. It's not going to be that way. I can't even knock 'em because that's just how they do it. But I come from a different era where we thought re-issues were weak. If you had a re-issue you weren't getting the respect back in the day. It's not so strenuous with that now. At this point it's hard enough to make something good, I can't even criticize how you do it. It all goes back to your approach. But I go by the Pete Rock school you know? The DJ Premiere school rules.

***Catch Jake One live with Diz Gibran and Keelay & Zaire tonight in SF at Sutra Lounge for The BlaSst. View the flyer here.***

Chasen Paper is a 24karat Milkcrate.

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