Oh, I’m all to the good, man. It’s sunny out here in California.
Your new album, Digital Smoke with Kurupt, is about to drop. Are you happy with how the album came out?
Yeah. It’s a classic. It really came together. It’s the best music that me and Kurupt made together. We’ve made a lot of music together and we really just narrowed it down form 100 songs to the best 16 that we had. I think that’s the formula for a classic.
How did you come up with the concept for Digital Smoke?
I came to Kurupt with the idea. We already had a bunch of songs together and we didn’t know what we were going to use them for. We always had a good chemistry in the studio with making records. I said, “Let’s put this album together” and he was with it 100%. I would come to him with a tracklisting and he’d want to take one off and add one on. We were constantly going back and forth. He told me to do a solo record so I did one. We shot ideas off each other and boom, that’s how it happened.
What does the title Digital Smoke mean to you?
See, I’m the digital master on the producer end. I’m the king of the digital shit, the new wave of producers. This whole digital era and all that…Quik gave me that name when he heard The Wolfpack mixtape. He said I mastered the digital game. Then I put out the album The Digital Master and Kurupt is the king of the smoke being an original Chronic member. So we made that Digital Smoke!
How long did it take you guys to finish Digital Smoke?
We were working on Digital Smoke for a couple of years.
Was it hard recording for Digital Smoke when you both have busy schedules?
We always work together. It’s kind of a natural progression. We always spend time in the studio. I have a house out in Atlanta and Kurupt goes out there a lot. Daz is out there and Kurupt will spend time with me and Daz. Kurupt is like a big brother to me. We always work on music. It’s natural. It’s getting kind of hectic now because he’s shooting a lot of movies, but we’ve been working. We have a gang of songs in the vault still.
“All We Smoke” is a personal song where you’re letting everyone who may not know about you that you have history in the game. How important is that song to you?
I’m like an extension to the West Coast movement. I was put in the game from J-Ro from Tha Alkaholiks early on. J-Ro was like a mentor to me early on. He taught me a lot about hip-hop and more or less gave me an opportunity to get into the game. I went on tour with them and Snoop on the Puff Puff Pass tour in 2001. Being around them and Kurupt and being in the studio, I made a lot of friends like Battlekat and DJ Quik. Those people were like mentors to me too. When I went on tour with Tha Liks, I met Kurupt and Daz. They were on tour with us.
When we came off tour, me and Kurupt started working together. We did something for The Wolfpack mixtape. Then I worked with Planet Asia and the Goodie Mob. I just did something for Keyshia Cole. I’ve been rapping more now. The producer thing has taken a hold of me though. I’ve been stamped by a lot of the OGs in the game like Snoop, W.C. and J-Ro. I definitely think you should listen to somebody who’s been noticed by the legends.
This is the first time you’ve put together an entire album with another artist. Was it a challenge for you making Digital Smoke with a cohesive sound?
That was natural, man. Kurupt challenged me because he wanted it to be the best album. He said if we’re going to do this, let’s make it the best. That challenged me to go back in the studio. I did “Los Angeles” with my homeboy Shawty, who’s coming up in the game. It just came together. It really made me stick out as an artist. Kurupt always encouraged me to jump on the mic. He knew I rapped and he was always telling me I needed to rap.
As far as the chemistry coming together, the chemistry is there, man. We bounce off of each other very naturally. As far as making the record, it’s a natural experience. I think that it’s a good album because there was a lot of quality control. The album had a lot of quality control where we really narrowed it down to the best records. You’ll see.
What did you learn through the process of putting a whole album together?
I just learned that it’s not about giving people an album just to give it to them. You want people to hear the album and be like, ‘This shit is tight from beginning to end!’ It’s about making classics and that’s what people are getting away from. They’re just putting a couple good songs on an album. People will hear how many great songs we put on this album and that it’s a classic. I think I learned that. Don’t just make albums to make them. Make sure everything is where it should be from the mixing to the song structure. If it’s not right, go back in the studio and make it right.
Are you going be focusing more on rapping in the future?
Yeah. I’m doing The Inebriated LP. That’s my solo album. That’s going to just be me rhyming. I’m going to have a lot of features on there. Of course I have to let my homies shine. When I say ‘features,’ I also mean producers like Battlekat. That’s going to be the solo album. This is the introduction to that. As far as producing and rapping, it’s just full-fledged now. I have to let both of them shine because it’s in me.
Can you take us through the making of a J.Wells beat?
I always like to start with an idea. To me, beatmaking is about thought process. It’s about thinking. I’ll always have an idea. It might be a record that I’m listening to that I really like. I might not necessarily sample it, but I might see that chord structure or that bassline and go from there. The drums come in first. I get the drums sounding real good with that first melody. I might have a bassline and then add the drums.
For instance, on the song with Kokane, I had the drums and the bass. I’m the type of person that loves to collaborate. I have a lot of features on the album. On the song with Kokane, “I Came In The Door,” Quik literally came in the door! (laughs) We were doing the drums and the bass and he said, “Let me put something over that,” so he played the keys and the chords on that. It’s like a fellowship. I believe in musicianship and a song should have different elements on it. I might have a guitar player come in or a live percussionist, but it always starts with an idea, a concept, a thought. I’m more of a songmaker than a beatmaker. I’m more of a producer. I like to produce and make the song come to life.
What equipment do you use?
If I told you, I’d have to kill you! (laughs) I love the MPC 3000. I’m a drum machine guy. I love drum machines. That’s what I love. I’m still old school in that aspect. I know how to use computer programs like Reason and some of the new software programs and I think they’re cool, but I love the MPC 3000 and the analog synths. I love the stuff that makes the room rock. I love the true analog keyboards where you have to twist the knobs on them. I’m a real technical guy, man.
You’re also the CEO of Bonzi Records. What are your plans for the label?
Right now we’re putting out a series of records that I think people will want to hear. Then we’re going to get into some new artists. Right now I’m working with Ray Murray from Organized Noize. We’re doing a few things with stic.man from dead prez. I have a new artist from Compton named Kimmy. I’m looking to put that album out soon. And of course I have my album, The Inebriated LP. We’re also doing Bizarre from D12’s Who Wanna Battle? DVD.
We just want to put out quality stuff that people want to hear that you might not be able to get on other labels. People want to hear the quality stuff.
Where would you be today without J-Ro’s help?
Without J-Ro, there would be no J.Wells. J-Ro is the guy who helped me when I didn’t know anything about the game. He gave me an opportunity to be around the greats and when I say ‘the greats,’ I mean the DJ Quiks, the Battlekats and the Snoops…basically the whole West Coast. When I met J-Ro, I was about 16 or 17 years-old. I had started making beats at 15 years-old, so I already had a beat CD.
I met him through a friend of mine, Stylistic Jones. I always appreciated his music and eventually J-Ro started calling me to the studio and we started working on beats together because J-Ro is a producer too. He makes beats too. He taught me a lot about breakbeats and sampling and a lot of things that I didn’t know. He was like a hip-hop historian. I’m a young cat, part of this new generation and J-Ro has been around when hip-hop was just coming on the scene. I think it’s important for the youth to have history. He gave me the knowledge to know what hip-hop is so I could move forward. We’ve spent hours in the studio just going through drum samples. J-Ro really put me in a position to shine. And I’m the type of person where if you give me 2 cents, I’m going to turn it into $2. J-Ro has been very essential and that’s why it’s always Likwit.
What does The Wolfpack mixtape you did with J-Ro mean to you today?
It represents the start of something. At the time that came out, there were a lot of things going on with Tha Dogg Pound and all that. Now that everything is cool and back together, I think it’s essential for the people to hear the history. The Wolfpack mixtape is a part of history. J-Ro’s diss to Xzibit is on there and now Tha Dogg Pound is all together. It’s all good. When Snoop said, “Cali is active,” it ended a lot of bullshit and today it’s a new time. The Wolfpack mixtape represents a different time period. I think it’s essential that everybody has that one in their collection.
Will you do another mixtape with J-Ro?
Actually I have tracks on his album that’s coming out overseas in Europe on the label Juju. The album is called Red Earth B-Boy Funk. I have some songs on that. He’s going to be heavily involved with The Inebriated LP. And as far as mixtapes, I think we’re going to get more into making these albums that are classics. We’re going to let the DJs do the mixtapes and we’re going to do the albums.
From your work with Kurupt to J-Ro to the Goodie Mob, what work are you most proud of today?
I would have to say Digital Smoke. The whole album is really party music. To me, it defines what an album should be. If you can produce your own whole album, that’s big. A lot of cats can just sell a beat here and there, but it takes someone else to produce a whole album like DJ Premier did back in the days. Producers have to get to making whole albums and that’s what I love about Digital Smoke. It’s banging from beginning to end and it’s a classic.
What are your goals for Digital Smoke?
We’re putting together the Digital Smoke DVD, which includes some behind the scenes footage with me and Kurupt making the album and some of the photoshoots that we did and a lot of the stuff that we did over the time. We’re putting the footage together and putting the whole thing together. I just want to make a brand out of it. I want to make Digital Smoke a brand because we’re working on Digital Smoke 2. Digital Smoke is the Likwit cat with Tha Dogg Pound. I’m an extension of both. We’re going to make Digital Smoke a brand to where people really recognize it. We’re going to continue to do this.
What’s next for you?
Just producing different records for these guys. I have a record coming out on Keyshia Cole’s next album. I’ll also be working on The Inebriated LP. I’m producing these records and getting into making the DVDs and getting into the film side of things. That’s the whole key to the game. We have to just keep this whole West Coast movement moving. We’re out here. We have generations and generations. It’s in my heart to keep it standing.
And look for The Inebriated LP to drop sometime around February of next year.
What do you want to say to everybody?
I have to send a big shout out to my whole Latin community for supporting. I used to sell my CDs out the trunk. I sold The Digital Master and The Wolfpack out the trunk and the Latinos supported me to the fullest. I have to stress how important that is and I want to thank them for supporting. Digital Smoke is out June 5. You can pick it up online or in the stores. You can also pick up The Digital Master online. We just have to all stick together and make these classics on the West Coast.