Jake One, you’ve produced for some of the most underground artists like the Hiero as well as some of the most commercially-successfully artists like 50 Cent and G-Unit. Is it ever a challenge maintain that kind of balance?
Honestly, if my approach was to make music for G-Unit, then it might be difficult, but I make music that I like and it goes where it goes. I always wanted to make bigger stuff and work with bigger artists. I think anybody who makes beats or does whatever they do want to do it on a higher level. I still do underground stuff all of the time and that’s more of my ethic as far as how I live and what my day-to-day is. I’m not living the G-Unit lifestyle.
Do you still have your day job?
I had a day job but I haven’t been working the last two years. That’s probably why I’ve been doing a lot more and why you’ve seen my name in a lot more places in the last few years. I’ve done quite a few things while I was working. I was working at the courthouse as a file clerk. I was helping people get divorced and helping them with all their problems, whatever they were. It was pretty crazy. I think I had more fun doing it back then because I was more excited to do music. It was like a relief. Everything is kind of a different feeling now. There’s a little more pressure.
How did things change for you once you quit your day job?
It’s definitely a different feeling. The way I approached it, I made sure I wasn’t going to go back to work for a minute when I quit. I had been selling beats for awhile. I didn’t want to quit and come back for a year later. If I’m not going to work, it’s going to be for at least five years to 10 years. I try to stay on top of that stuff so there’s not instant pressure, but you’re always feeling that. You just don’t know when you sit down what is going to happen. That beat might be the one that gets you this record. It’s so unpredictable. That part of it can kind of be unsettling at times but I’m getting used to it.
How have things improved for you since linking up with Sha Money XL and his company Money Management?
I’ve been with Sha for about two years now. These last two years have been really good. It definitely picked up, more on the major side. I still do a lot of indie stuff, but I kind of deal with that on my own. This year I was on six albums that came out on major labels, which was a lot for me. It’s been cool. I have the placements. Now I want a hit song! (laughs) You’re never really satisfied. There are all these songs to shoot for. I’m never really satisfied. I never feel like my beats are good enough and I’m always trying to get better. That’s an integral part of how I do it. Sha’s been a good friend to me and a mentor. That’s what opened up a lot of doors. He’s really believed in me and shown that. I don’t know what I do differently than all these other producers out here, but I guess I’m doing something right. I try to have my own thing and I think that stands out.
Hi-Tek told me that he liked working with Sha Money because he’s about the music and gives constructive criticism on his beats. Do you have that same relationship with Sha?
With me, sometimes I’ll tell him that I go against the grain too much as far as what I do. When you’re trying to place records on a major label, there just aren’t that many people that are looking for the kind of music I do at this point. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Fuck it, let me go commercial and do what all these other guys are doing to sell a lot of beats.’ They’re either really good or they’re just copying who’s good. And I don’t do that at all. My stuff is based in ‘90s hip-hop still. I try to make it bang like it’s 2007, but those are my ethics. Sha tells me to just do what I do and that’s what makes me good. He always encouraged me to have my own sound and to stick with that.
How frustrating can it be when you hear fake Timberland and Neptunes beats on major albums?
I think I used to be more frustrated about that stuff, but at this point, it’s more accepted for what it is. For the most part, labels are trying to chase what’s working. When you’re the one with that hot record and they come after you, it’s great. But besides that, they’re really just looking for something that sounds like a Timberland because they can’t pay Timberland to do a whole album. Most artists can’t. So they do have to get artists that sound like him or that sound like other hot producers. That’s just what it is. It’s big business and that’s just how they play.
I get more frustrated when I hear a record that I think I fit into and I don’t make it on there. But there haven’t been that many that have come out that I wanted to be on that I didn’t have the opportunity to be on. That’s been changing and in the future, I hope I get those opportunities. At this point, I still don’t sell beats because of my name at all. I have to be better than the people with the names to get those placements.
When I first kind of looked at doing major label stuff, I looked at an Alchemist and I looked at a Nottz. They’re consistently dope and they have the banging song on the album and I think that’s kind of where I fit in. I don’t really make singles. Unless it’s just kind of a fluky thing that works, for the most part, they shouldn’t be trying to push my stuff as singles because I don’t just make music for kids or do pop music. But I think that’s good too. If the people want what I do, they have to come to me. They can’t just get it off a million other people.
You said you don’t think you have a name yet, but you produced two solid tracks on 50 Cent’s Curtis as well as a host of other G-Unit projects.
I mean, I’m developing. But I don’t really look back on that stuff like people should rate me like that. I look at what I’m doing right now and I’m trying to make the next move. It’s been great. I’ve done seven songs for G-Unit and not that many people have done that much stuff with them. But I’ve also done a whole ‘nother wealth of stuff that wasn’t G-Unit related and I thought it was great.
I worked with Freeway and he’s one of my favorite rappers. On an artistic level, that’s on par with the 50 Cent records. If you read an interview from 2003 and they asked me who I wanted to work with, I said Freeway. I think the people who pay attention definitely know who I am, but I’m definitely not a household name on any level.
Do you get more love producing for Evidence and the Lifesavas as opposed to a 50 Cent or Young Buck?
I think the underground fans support me more and show me more love. Underground fans take it more personal like it’s their music. They have a more personal attachment to it. People who are fans of 50 see him as a big thing. There are people who have serious love for him, but they don’t care besides that. I don’t know who’s really blown up from producing for 50. People know, but it’s not like anyone’s become a phenomenon off it.
And the funny thing about 50 to me is that he makes more hip-hop records than these underground guys. The stuff I do for him, he picks the most grimy beats. They’re super-underground, but because he’s on it, it’s somehow commercial. So there are people in the underground who hate 50 because he’s popular and they’re probably missing out on stuff they’ll like because it’s right down their alley.
It must be tough as a producer when fans look at you like you’re “going commercial” when you’re doing what you’ve always done but on a bigger level.
Yeah. It’s funny. The beats for Curtis were made the same time I made “Down in New York City” (for Evidence). It was the same timeframe. It’s not like I really changed my approach. I mean, there are times when I say, “All right, G-Unit’s working.” I pretty much know what they like and I know the vibe they’re going for. I really try to keep it in my own sound.
Do you record with G-Unit or do they usually record over your beats on their own?
They all pretty much like to get beats and record them. I have a good relationship with Buck and if he’s recording, I’ll make sure I go down there with him and give him my input. He’s got a new project he’s doing with the Outlawz and C-Bo and Cashville Records. I did a bunch of stuff on there. I just think me and him have a good chemistry musically. He’s just a good dude. He’s a fun guy to be around and he’s real genuine. Pretty much what you see is what you get. I have a lot of love for him and he shows me love every time I see him.
I’ve never actually met 50 personally, which is funny. I’ve done 4-5 songs with him and I’ve never met him. I’m out in Seattle and I don’t really spend a lot of time in New York. It’s not really that important to me. If I met him, I would probably just thank him for the opportunity. It’s been great.
Do you ever hear tracks artists do when they don’t record it with you and wish you could change things about it?
I wish there were certain things that were done differently on all types of songs. But then people do things that I never would have thought of that I actually like a lot. I’m sure most producers will tell you that the beats some artists pick aren’t what they think will be the best ones for the artists. I would have never thought those beats of mine would have been on that record. When I made them, they were like an exercise. I pull out records I’ve already used and try to do something totally different. That’s how those came about.
You’ve also made music with Bay artists like Keak da Sneak and Turf Talk. Is there any style of hip-hop that you can’t do?
I never really made any South music. If I make some South stuff, it’s more in the vein of an 8Ball and MJG or a UGK. I would do something that has music in it and it’s not just 808’s and plucks and shit. You know what’s funny? The funny thing about it is that I work with somebody like Turf Talk and he’s one of my favorite rappers. I think on the last album, that was just something crazy. He wanted me to remake “Fresh is the Word” and I just did it. It was good. I actually lived in the Bay in 2006. Me and Keak da Sneak did a ton of songs and they were not hyphy songs at all. I think it was an interesting combination.
One of the songs we did is on the album I did that’s coming on Rhymesayers in May.
What more can you tell us about your album?
My album should be coming out in May. I’m two songs away from finishing it. I should be done this month. It’s basically a combination as far as all the stuff I’ve been talking about. I got some people that I never got a chance to work with. I did a really dope record with M.O.P. Young Buck’s on there. Freeway’s on there. De La’s on there. We got back and I did a joint with De La. It’s really dope. MF Doom’s on there. Little Brother’s on there. I did a joint with Alchemist and Evidence that Prodigy’s on. It’s just running the gamut of all the stuff I do. I’m making decisions about what comes out on it instead of me sending out beats and them telling me what the hot one is. It’s been really fun so far. It’s very dirty, underground sounding, but I have some commercial artists on there, but I have them adapting to my element more.
The crazy thing is that you’re making all of these moves from Seattle. Are fans in Seattle surprised at the level of success you’ve been able to have without really leaving the city?
Yeah. I think it surprises a lot of people. I think a lot of people don’t know. I think a lot of people I deal with, industry-wise, don’t really know too much about it. Everybody at home shows me love and they kind of look at it like I’m just kind of putting their city out there more. Our city is growing with the rap thing and there are some groups that are really doing their thing. It looks like there’s going to be a movement here and that it’s spreading. I just look at it like I’m carrying the torch for other guys who came out and never really had their chance. And I’m trying to take the people that are talented with me if I can. I do try to give opportunities to some of my guys that I’ve been with the whole time, producer-wise.
How tight of a network do you maintain with other Seattle producers like Vitamin D and Bean One?
Vitamin is definitely one of my best friends. I’ve known him for over 10 years. He really got me believing that I could make beats. When I heard his music, it really blew me away that somebody from here was making that. I didn’t really know about all of that. He definitely showed me a lot and gave me a lot of tips.
Me and Bean are the same age. I hang out with him a lot too. It’s a real community here as far as all that. Everybody’s really pulling for each other. There’s hate, as there is anywhere, but the thing I kind of stress to people is that there is no reason for anybody to hate on anything because it’s not like anybody is really capitalizing off anything and we’re not at the point where it really means anything. It’s definitely cool being from a place that’s unrecognized.
You also have Butterfly from Digable Planets out here. To me, he’s really one of those dudes from Seattle. A lot of people might not know that, but they put together classic records. I think being from here too, because we don’t have that dominant influence like a Detroit has a Jay Dee and New York has all their people. Out here, there’s no one sound. I really grew up on West Coast music as well as East Coast music and I think my music is a little different because of that.
It took awhile for you to start getting placements from the time you started. Was it ever difficult staying focused and staying hungry as you developed your talent?
The funny thing is that I don’t know if I ever submitted my music in the late ‘90s. The era now is so much more accessible. If you weren’t in New York or L.A. back then, it just wasn’t going to happen. I just wasn’t really that focused on it back then. I would have loved to have done a beat for Biggie, but I was still growing into my style and I might not have been ready for that anyway. I think it kind of happened how it was supposed to happen. The whole concept of paying dues is so foreign to the new guys. They want their first beat to be 50’s single and it just doesn’t work that way. It takes time. It takes time to get good at it, first of all, and it takes time to develop a sound.
I never really thought about that before, but I got a manager around 2001-2002 and that’s when I first started selling beats. It took me to go out and meet people. I went to a Gavin convention and gave my tape to a bunch of people and the people called me back and it kind of just went from there. I wish I still had those tapes. I think I had some good music, but it was definitely more underground. I don’t think I would have been able to make commercial success back then.
How have your production techniques changed over the years?
It’s funny. I went through a bunch of my old tapes and I’m listening to my old beats and it’s just funny listening to what was hot when I was first making beats. I think everything went up 1,000 notches. I think what some people are missing are the ethics we had in the ‘90s with being original. I mean, there were a lot of fake Pete Rock’s and DJ Premier’s in the ‘90s. Now you’ll see guys who are a fake Scott Storch and they’ll end up eclipsing Scott Storch. I don’t think you would have seen that in the ‘90s. And because of the computer wave, it’s opened up the door for a lot of kids to make music. A lot of them are dope but a lot of them are wack. It was harder to get in the game back then because you had to have money. Now if you have $99, you can download a program and get into the game.
What equipment are you using today?
I’m still using the ASR 10. I started on a machine called the E-Mac. I went and got the EPS, which is like a weaker version of the ASR 10. I’ve been using that since ’97. I’ve been at it for 10 years on the same machine.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Really, right now, it’s just about my album. I hope everybody likes the stuff I do for whoever it is and that they give my album a chance. I have something really unique and different to offer right now, something that’s not generic. Everything is the same right now and I definitely put together something that wasn’t that. When my album drops, check that out. Download it or whatever the thing is. If you like it, buy it. And also, there’s going to be a lot more records coming with your favorite artists in 2008 as well. Definitely be on the lookout for all of that.