The Other Side of Drill: Jeremiah Jae on Good Times and Positive Energy
The Chicago native shares the story behind his evolution as an artist and the inspiration for his new mixtape.
Photos by Durty Harry
Jeremiah Jae sounds tired, but in all fairness he has every right to be. To say that the Chicago native has been busy would be an understatement. It seems like every time we blink he’s dropping another mixtape, producing an album for someone, or headed out on tour. In the past six months alone he’s dropped four EPs, a beat tape, opened for Madlib, and is on the verge of 10 country tour through Europe. Like we said, he’s been busy.
However, if you get the chance to meet Jae in person, you’ll realize that his calm, occasionally monotone voice isn’t due to a lack of sleep, but rather the fact that he’s extremely grounded— observing, absorbing, and adapting to the energy from everything and everyone around him, like a chameleon. It explains why he’s able to blend in with the beats he rhymes over, which are often comprised of a myriad of distorted sound bites and warped samples. If Jeremiah Jae had been a pimp in the ‘70s, we’d probably address him as the Chi-Town Chameleon. But this is 2014, and the only thing stuck in the ’70s are the samples Jeremiah Jae utilizes on his new mixtape, Good Times. Needless to say, JJ’s new project is—DY-NO-MITE!
We sat down with Jae just ahead of the Good Times release to discuss his new project, how he’s developed as an artist since moving to Los Angeles, what he’s learned working with fellow producer/emcees like Jonwayne and Flying Lotus, and much more.
MA: Your new project is called Good Times, what inspired the title?
JJ: Well, you know the show Good Times is based in Chicago and one of the characters on the show is J.J. I was just thinking about that one day. I’ve been wanting to do that, but you know there’s other J.J.s out there like Jneiro Jarel. I just felt like it was the right time to try that concept out. It’s loosely based on the show but more so about my life, the good times and the bad times, with this kind of soulful backdrop.
MA: What’s been your approach with the artwork? The singles have this very vintage, ’70s blacksploitation look. What’s the yellow graphic off to the side?
JJ: It’s a collage that I started a while ago, and I just kinda came back to it. I just liked the blacksploitations vibe, the black pin up models from the ’70s. That’s just kind of the scene I was trying to set. You know, you could just listen to it with a bunch of black chicks around in lingerie with old school afros and shit. I didn’t grow up with ladies in underwear and shit [Laughs] but I just grew up in that vibe. My mom’s real old school. I just know a lot of old school people, it’s just like a homage to that whole time.
MA: Did you sample a lot of old school records for this project?
JJ: Yes. It’s mostly sample based. But it’s just like art, capturing a time piece and putting modern vocals over it and modern themes … just trying to relate to the past and present.
MA: Who are your favorite artists to sample? Who gives you that consistent sound you want?
JJ: That’s a good question. I do a lot of digging for all kinds of samples and I like to turn things and make them sound different. I don’t really go to one artist or group, but I love psychedelic rock and soul … really obscure, weird, and soulful. Japanese horror films have a lot of dope shit to sample … weird sounds, library records. So I’m always digging trying to find loops.
MA: What’s the randomest place you’ve found a sample recently?
JJ: Actually, my friend Paul gave me this blank tape cassette and it had dreams on it. It’s this whole narration of this dude who’s named Paul. On the recording he’s just talking about dreams and fulfilling your dreams. I’ve sampled that a lot.
MA: You come from a production background. When you’re working with other artists, like Jonwayne or Flying Lotus who have that production background but also rap, how do you approach a track? Does it change how you approach it at all?
JJ: I try to approach everything different, off top. Everybody has a different style. Jon … I’ve learned a lot working with him.
MA: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from him?
JJ: He’s really a technical kind of dude. He’s really into getting all the equipment and having all the limiters, all the compressors, and different analog equipment … so just watching his process. He gets pretty deep on the technical side of it. Where Steve [Flying Lotus] is just more into the feeling and trying to get the vibe in the bass, or the beats to knock.
MA: Do you feel like your sound has changed as a producer since you’ve moved out to L.A.?
JJ: Yeah, I think it’s expanded … well it’s changed and expanded, but I want it to keep changing. I go to a different place and I soak up the energy, or I go to a different place in my head. Being out there … it’s just a place to embrace change and new processes.
MA: You came up in Chi-Town, it seems like there are a lot of collectives there, like SAVEMONEY, but then you look at Los Angeles, which is a meeting place for all these different creatives and different sounds, like Low End Theory. How would you describe the Chicago scene compared to the L.A. scene?
JJ: Chicago has its Low End Theory kind of spots…
MA: What are some of those spots?
JJ: Push Beats does weeklys. There’s different places in Wicker Park that do different local artists and stuff like that, but there’s just less of it. In Los Angeles, it’s just a lot going on there all the time. I don’t really go out that much to clubs or parties, but the community vibe in Cali is a lot more thick, because there’s so many artists out there. You don’t even have to go to the shows, you can just go to different peoples’ house, walk around and feel that community vibe a little bit more than Chicago, I’d say. There’s still spots like that on the come up in Chicago. There’s a lot of potential for that kind of stuff.
MA: Where are a couple of places in Chicago that you see being able to have that same impact as Low End Theory.
JJ: Push Beats, I’m really familiar with those cats. They keep that bridge from L.A. … they work with a lot of Low End Theory people, like my homie Radius, he frequently goes out there. There are places that are trying to keep that electronic, hip hop, experimental hip hop thing alive a little bit more than the drill scene out there, which is pretty big.
MA: How has it been seeing the drill scene come up? Is it casting a shadow over what else is out there? Do you think it impacts the way people perceive Chicago’s music?
JJ: It could, definitely. Everybody has a different perspective on it. Unlike the more drill, street, gangsta scene out there, there’s a little bit more open-minded shit that’s happening, but its still a big mix of both. I think you need the more aggressive shit and also the more creative side— Chicago’s like that. It’s the perfect blend of both. It’s kind of segregated too; in certain parts both energies kind of combine. I feel comfortable being the kind of artist I am out there, even though I’m from the South Side and a lot of people in my area make other kinds of music, you can get embraced out there for being really creative and really different.
Listen and download Jeremiah Jae’s new mixtape Good Times below.