Ethx: I’m just gonna go ahead and jump right to the questions, you’re a busy man and all. First questions for you, how did you get involved in this Hip Hop game in the very beginning, what was your first introduction to Hip Hop?
Jake One: As far as just being a fan, the early Sugar Hill records was the first stuff I could remember, like Grandmaster Flash, stuff like that. It was just the first type of music I really heard that I even remember as a kid, so I just initially gravitated towards it. I was just a super head when I was a little kid, you know, Run-DMC, I was into breakdancing and that whole thing. So it’s just kind of natural that when I got older and figured out what was going on that I get involved with it somehow.
Ethx: I was about to ask if you started b-boying first or emceeing, but I guess you said you were breakdancing back in the day.
Jake One: Yah, you know, I was a lot skinnier back then. I could spin around on my head and all that stuff. Not what these kids are doing now, they’re on some other.
Ethx: I just interviewed Encore last week, who you’re all too familiar with (Jake: Yah, definitely.), and he said the same thing. He was like, “Kids these days got so much more energy and so many skills, I can’t even compare.” (laughs from both)
Jake One: Man, I see guys spin on their heads for like minutes consecutive and I can’t even relate. It’s really ill, it’s just crazy.
Ethx: We’ll switch to something that you are familiar with then. When and how did you first get your start in production? What drove you to say “I want to be a producer”, instead of DJ or MC?
Jake One: Um, I guess to me, DJ’ing and producers go hand-in-hand. So I guess maybe my freshmen year when I was going to Garfield (HS in Seattle), I actually saw…the first person I actually seen DJ’ing live was Vitamin (Vitamin D) at one of our class talent shows or something and he had done some stuff with this other dude. They were Ghetto Children back then. It was crazy to see someone just doing it that was my age, and it sounded just like things that were out, like Tribe or whatever. It was amazing. I just thought that would be dope, I had always wanted to DJ. Seeing that got me more into it. And my neighbor back then was Hussein from Sinsemilla, so he had met Vitamin and he got off into making beats, so we just kinda went at it, buying records and eventually I just bought my own equipment and started doing it, ya know.
Ethx: Speaking of your collection, how many deep do you figure you are at this point?
Jake One: I don’t even know, man, somewhere over five or six thousand. (Ethx: Ow. All over the house) Yah, and there’s probably been that many that I’ve gone through and gotten rid of over the years. (Ethx: Playing what’s hot and then getting rid of it…) Yah, it’s crazy.
Ethx: Speaking of what’s hot, what projects do you got coming out?
Jake One: As far as like major stuff, I don’t know how many songs, but I got like two or three songs on this new Kardinal Offishall record; he took some really good stuff, I like the stuff I did with him a lot. One of the songs has Pharoahe Monch on it, turned out really dope. Trying to get on this Busta record. Did a song for the Rah Digga record that looks like it’s gonna come out finally.
Ethx: Yah, you got that joint with Rah Digga that Lloyd Banks is on (“Party Over Here”), we’ll play that later. One thing that I was curious about…I went to buy the G-Unit album and I saw that track on there and I thought it was just gonna be you by yourself, but I saw that you were on there with DJ Fusion. How’d that end up coming about?
Jake One: Basically, Fusion kind of hooked it up. I pretty much had done the beat and then he was gonna add some stuff to it, but it didn’t work out. The credit thing became a fiasco, but he’s the one that kinda really made it happen. He was on the road with them, so…
Ethx: It also creates future connections for you either way.
Jake One: I don’t know, I’m just really happy to be on the record. It’s just crazy, it’s such a huge record right now. I got people calling me about it already. So…
Ethx: Speaking of that, working with G-Unit…do you prefer with working with the likes of Boom Bap Project and local folks, the lesser known but equally talented artists like Rakaa or Encore…do you prefer working with them or the likes of G-Unit or Rah Digga, both who have broken more into the mainstream at this point?
Jake One: The thing is, with the big artists I don’t get a chance to do anything with them. I just send the beat on Pro Tools. I mean, I heard the G-Unit song when everybody else did, same with the Rah Digga thing. Like I get to talk to them on the phone or whatever, but it’s not like I get to be in the session. To me it’s just like…I don’t know, to me as far as like actually physically working (with someone), I have a better time working with people I can actually be in the studio with and say “yay” or “nay”. I don’t necessarily believe it has to be all about vibing or whatever in the studio, but it helps when you can at least bounce some ideas. I feel like a lot of stuff I do on the bigger labels, I don’t get to complete what I want to do, because I don’t really get to finish the track. I just kind of throw stuff out there, ya know.
Ethx: You have less artistic control…
Jake One: Definitely, definitely. There’s different things you need to think of as far as like…you can’t just throw a little record in there. You gotta pay for that. That sort of stuff definitely creeps in your mind when you start doing records like that because everything’s so big and the money factor’s so serious as far as samples and whatnot. With a lot of other stuff I just have complete reign to just do what I want.
Ethx: Do you usually start your projects, when you’re making beats, do you make it with a specific MC in mind and say, “I can mold this.” Or do you just make beats for yourself and say, “Oh this guy might like this,” and hand them a beat tape? Or…
Jake One: I don’t know. I’m into so much different stuff, and I just get into…I just try to do a different style for a while and then I’ll get tired of it and do something else and after I get done making all this stuff, I be like, “hmm…that’s sounds like something Gab would want.” And usually I just give people CDs and let them figure it out, because I honestly have no idea what people want to hear from me. Some of the stuff that ends up being the best songs are beats that I didn’t even like. What they did with the song just brought something out in the music that I didn’t hear. But like right now I’ve just being trying to make…seems like everyone just wants a prototypical hard sound from me. I’ve just been building that up. So it’s like, I’ll get into a phase doing that, and I haven’t really been doing much straightforward Hip Hop stuff because I’ve just done so much of it I’ve been getting tired of it. But I’m sure I’ll get tired of doing what I’m doing now and go right back to it.
Ethx: What equipment do you typically work on? And do you prefer the synthesized stuff, or do you…obviously you were a DJ first, so you dig a lot for your samples.
Jake One: Pretty much everything I do is based on records, even if I play something. Like the G-Unit record is a record I had, I just re-played it. Killed me on the publishing, but…that’s another story. But I use the ASR-10 mostly for everything as far as just…it’s my favorite machine. And I have a Triton and some other stuff I use just to throw some other little stuff in. I’m just not really fully a keyboard beatmaker yet. I mean, I’d like to Battlecat one day, but I don’t know…
Ethx: Are there any artists that you’d like to work with at this point that you haven’t had the chance to either get a beat tape into their hands or someone you’d like to actually sit down and work with…I guess the dream person and someone who is more attainable at this point?
Jake One: Most of the people I’ve gotten to work with…I’ve gotten to work with a lot of people that I thought was dope. I mean, a couple of people like Nas, Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, just people that I like to just genuinely listen to a lot. MOP, just people I’m a fan of. And it’s like, I haven’t necessarily had the chance to make that connection…I mean, I have a couple little links, but you just never know. There’s so much other stuff that goes on beyond just making a beat that somebody likes. Cuz everybody at every label has their own A&R and he’s got five producers. It’s a really competitive game at that level, so hopefully something will happen. I see it happen for friends of mine, so it’s not out of reach.
Ethx: Does being in Seattle make things difficult for you? Because a lot of people will come out of the mecca’s of Hip Hop, like LA or NYC or San Francisco…do you find it difficult getting beats to people being in Seattle?
Jake One: It just depends. My manager is in L.A., so he can pretty much get anything to anybody on the west coast and a lot of the New York stuff. I think it definitely hurts in the fact that I can’t just go down to the studio and play somebody my beats, which it happens and it’s not like it’s a big thing. But the more records I’ve done and the more my name goes around, it’s a lot easier because people are actually wanting to hear something from me. When you get to that stage it’s a lot easier because they’re already open to what you’re doing. I don’t know, I’ve thought of moving to New York, I almost did it at one point. I’m just not that guy. I just don’t really like it out there like that. (Ethx: Too fast paced, you like it in Seattle.) Yah, I’ve lived my whole life in Seattle so I couldn’t really imagine doing anything else. Who knows though, I might end up moving one day. With the way people are…as long as you got people hustling for you in all these different areas, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t hurt though. If you grew up on the block with the A&R for so and so or some powerful somebody, it obviously helps you have your “in”.
Ethx: Back the collaboration idea for a second. Have you ever had any aspirations of doing a long-term collaboration, like Gang Starr or something of that nature, where you got one MC that you work with for a whole album or even multiple albums.
Jake One: It was gonna be Arcee, that’s fam. But he’s got things going on in his life. And I can’t wait around for anybody. I think that’s why Encore’s record and Gift of Gab’s record I really enjoyed doing. Even though I didn’t do all the beats, just the fact that me and Vitamin did everything. It allowed us to build a sound and make a full album that had that same sound. And I would guess that we’re going to continue to work with them on numerous projects. We’re already getting started on both of their next albums.
Ethx: You did what, seven beats on the Encore? And about half of the beats on the Gift of Gab?
Jake One: Yeah, I did 8 or 9 on Gift of Gab, but I don’t have the CD on me. It’s somewhere around there. Gift of Gab’s is all me and Vitamin. And ‘Core is all me and Vitamin except three songs. (Ethx: Architect on those.) And they both kind of have the same sound so I think people will get to hear something that doesn’t sound like Boom Bap or anything else I’ve done, probably. Which I’m proud of, because I’m not necessarily about just doing that kind of music all the time, I do everything. (Ethx: You got to show your versatility to folks.) Yah, I mean, I’m just genuinely into…I like a G-Unit just as much as a Dilated or whatever it is.
Ethx: Do you think you’ll end up doing one of those compilation albums where you’re the producer doing all sorts of different featured guests, I’m thinking a Mark Ronson, I don’t even know if he did any of the production, but you know what I mean. Do you see yourself doing one of those?
Jake One: That’s something I was supposed to have been doing forever, it just ends up coming out that all these people I work with, they end up getting all the good beats for their record. For me, I wouldn’t want to do it unless I felt that I had something really strong. I wouldn’t want to just put something out, because I have tons of extra songs…I mean, I’m going to be put a bunch of 12″s out. There’s like an E-40 record I did that they didn’t use for the last record that I think we’re going to put out. Lots of Planet Asia stuff. Gab has a bunch of songs that we didn’t use…Encore, all these guys that we didn’t use, there’s tons of songs. So that’s something that’s probably going to be on the horizon. More than likely, I’ll probably end up doing a record with Vitamin before I do that, because then I only have to do half the beats. So it’s less work and I have someone to carry me, haha. (Ethx: Would he do the vocals as well?) I don’t know, we’ve just been preliminarily thinking about it. We got all these other records done, so it’s like, “What’s next?” And he’s doing his album, too, and I did some stuff on there.
Ethx: If you guy did end up doing something together, who do you think you’d see yourself going with? Like he’s on Rhymesayers, for his 12″ at least. (Jake One: Yeah.) Would that be the road you’d go?
Jake One: Yeah, it’s definitely an option. Right now I think it’s cool because we can pretty much work with who we want to work with on an indie level, it’s all there. People are willing to do stuff. I don’t know…I think we’d have to get the record done first and just look and see where we’re going to go with it. But I think if we do end up doing this, all the beats together, it’s going to be a collaborative effort, we might even involve other people from around town on this project. (Ethx: Keep it local?) Yeah, definitely. I don’t think people really realize a lot of the stuff that goes on, or they don’t get to hear it. I think, personally, the best local stuff I ever heard never comes out. (Ethx: Any examples?) All the stuff Vitamin was even doing maybe 2 or 3 years ago or 5 years ago. Some classic stuff, it’s just never going to see the light of day for whatever reason. There’s definitely a lot of Ghetto Children that nobody got to hear. I think that stuff is really top flight and people need to hear it. I know it’ll come to light at some point. I know he’s working on a mixtape right now, kinda lost Pharmacy (Vitamin D’s studio) classics and stuff. When that drops I think people will really bug out off that. (Ethx: Realize what they missed.) Unfortunately it wasn’t really there to miss. We didn’t really have our business right early on. All the stuff is kind of coming together now. Just getting older and seeing more things happen. We were younger back then and didn’t really know what we were doing. We just did music. (Ethx: You just did it for love and now you have the opportunity to present it to folks.) Yeah, and that’s always a good thing. To me the most exciting thing about the G-Unit record is that 2 million people are going to hear something that I did. It’s crazy.
Ethx: Another type of compilation album that I was thinking of was…do you ever see yourself doing a concept album a la’ Sharpshooters or DJ Shadow or RJD2? Just like a lot of instrumental tracks and some featuring MCs or anything along those lines. Or do you even like that type of music?
Jake One: I don’t know. That stuff…I just prefer listening to rappers, but that’s just me. I think DJ Shadow and RJD2 and them are good at what they do, but I’m just more into hearing…I just want to hear rap for the most part. I listen to old records when I want to hear instrumental stuff for the most part. And that stuff is just a lot of work. I’m lazy. There’s only so much beats I can do. If I did something like that, it would take me a long time to get it right. I don’t have the passion for it, but I’ve tried to do instrumental stuff in the past, it just feels like something’s missing even if I have 30 records involved in one track. It gets boring to me after a while.
Ethx: Do you think Gift of Gab will be debuting any of your tracks at Brainstorm (MC Battle) when he comes through? (Note: He actually cancelled due to medical emergency.)
Jake One: Yah, definitely. I think he’s already trying to perform stuff at the Blackalicious shows. I don’t know if he even knows what he’s gonna do at your show. I imagine he’s gotta do some of the new cuts. I think Vitamin’s going to DJ for him, but not sure about that. It’s going to be interesting, it’s a different sound for him and it’s a different sound for us. Just the way he has the ability to write songs, I think it was real cool seeing how he worked, how he put stuff together. (Ethx: He’s a prolific artist.) No he’s definitely prolific. I mean, we’d come out and he’d have three songs ready. He’d do those and be like, “ehhh…” I remember one night I gave him a CD and he ended up writing three songs that night and they ended up being three of the better songs that we did. He’s just very focused. He’s REALLY focused. He didn’t do anything but rap. We didn’t see him anywhere. He was in the studio; that’s what he did. It was real cool being around somebody that just worked like that.
(rest of the convo was just us bullshittin’ about NBA and NCAA football, til…)
Ethx: I forgot, I had one more question for you. Why the name White Van Music when you do your production?
Jake One: That was just something that when I first started doing beats, a friend in high school had a dirty white van and it looked like one of those kidnapper vans. We used to play my beat tapes in there a long time ago. He did a song called “The White Van”. This is a LONG time ago. I just did it to show those guys, my friends from high school…just to let them know it’s still alive. My friend called me after looking at the G-Unit album and he was like, “You’re putting that stuff on recod, dude? Are you crazy?!” He just couldn’t believe that’s what it said on the record. So it’s nothing deep or symbolic.
Ethx: Just a connection to the past. Do you have any shout outs?
Jake One: Just go buy the Encore album when it comes out because he needs the support and Gift of Gab does, too. Thanks for supporting what I’m doing and regardless of who I work with, I’m still Seattle. And that’s going to further us, just period. When me and Vitamin do something nationally, people are going to know about Seattle now. Something that needs to happen, that hasn’t happened.
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