So a few quick updates; this summer I started freelancing for the Chicago Tribune; I've written a few pieces here and there, plus a big feature on the state of Chicago hip-hop.
This week, I also began blogging for The Fader; you can follow my posts here. I've got some cool stuff to throw up there soon, so check it out.
I'm still looking for freelance, part time and potentially full-time work on a pretty regular basis, so feel free to contact me with opportunities. I'll also be starting up some new stuff at the somanyshrimp site in the coming year, so check that out too.
I spoke over the phone briefly with Meshell Ndgeocello about the passing of Gil Scott-Heron recently, and here are some of the things we touched upon. On her immediate reaction to his passing:
Well, my immediate reaction to all death is I hope they had a good transition, and hopefully happened in a way that was good in their mind. That was my first reaction. But then I was quite saddened. I'd only gotten to meet him briefly, and not spend any time with him, so I wish I could have that. And then, after reading the New Yorker article, and the interview with him, that was really interesting, and conflicting.... I think he was an incredible man of contradiction, and it just makes me ask questions about political music in these times, and what happens to someone who's so-called “trying to uplift the people,” and yet within themselves they have an addiction, or an interesting mind, so.... All those things went through my mind, if that makes any sense.
On the first Gil Scott-Heron music she heard:
In D.C., and he also lived in D.C. at the time, I'd seen him play as a kid, about ten times. And plus, “What's the Word Johannesburg,” during all that period, was just something that I'd never heard before. And his poetics... It was just like, to me, one of the main reasons I kind of have the style I think I have, definitely from listening to him. The projection of his voice, the topics. I'm definitely, totally influenced by him. I mean, it was just amazing, I'd never heard anything like that. Bordering on R&B, but had improvisational elements, and you could dance to it, and still be informed. It was like a rare thing.
On the first live performances of his she saw:
I saw him when he was really at the height of his so-called, uh, I guess stamina and greatness. And also a couple shows where he had to just be helped off the stage, or he just seemed sort of out of it. But being one who performs myself, I have off-nights, good nights and nights where you're just in different headspaces, I would always forgive him, because there was always something that came through that was, either just an amazing story.... And also just being in his presence, watching flights of fancy and … you just knew that you were seeing something that, if you hadn't seen it, you probably never would. You were watching an individual, which is a rare thing.
On drawing inspiration from him early on:
If you listen to my first album and just the subject matter, speaking the words, you know. I just think his voice is super-enchanting, and I wanted to somehow recreate that. He wasn't trying to be like a doo-wop super-crooning singer, it was more soulful and earthy. I was definitely influenced by that.
On the inspiration to start performing his work again:
I heard the new recording, and I was just like, this is amazing! And his birthday is April 1st, and it's also my wedding anniversary. [laughs] There was just an uber-connection there. Honestly, people ask me why I don't do my old music. And I can't explain it to them. But it sparked the idea of saying, let me play all the music that inspires me. Inspired me as a youth, inspired my very first recording. So I did a tribute to him, and I just finished doing a tribute to Prince. And I'm gonna pick another artist that as a child was very influential. And that's my way of drawing from the past, and at the same time staying fresh and modern.
On the process of making his work her own:
I just try to take in music, and then I synthesize it, out of my hand and mind, and I can't explain how I do that, I think I'm just lucky [laughs] but I can't explain it. It's more like you're taking his spirit of information, of telling his story, having an assertive vibe, making music that crosses bridges between improv and ... it's soulful. Trying to be a creative-thinking person. He was also a novelist, he just had a great grasp of the human language and could speak his pain or your pain, and he was insightful, and I just try to humbly, respectfully, carry that on. Not to be too preachy, and just emit a vibe of change. If that makes any sense, haha.
On her recent live covers of Prince's work:
I deconstructed it, did all these covers of his songs. Songs that sort of inspired me, a lot of obscure ones, so I'm doing that in Paris. And then I'm gonna pick the next artist, but it might be something like a jazz artist. But yeah, just been doing Prince shows. Used to be very popular, got asked to do it a lot. But it's in a way that's completely different. I don't try to recreate or be a cover band, I try to pay a tribute to a living icon.
Interview conducted Sunday, June 19th by telephone. Minimally edited for clarity and relevance.
Thanx to Noz for catching this. At first i was like, "too soon," and then I realized that the original came out over a decade ago. Man, I'm old. "Human Nature" was newer when Large Professor flipped it for "It Ain't Hard to Tell."
Now that Jacka and Cho$en's Jeffro-produced track "We" has leaked, I thought this would be a good excuse to post an email exchange I had with Jeffro a few months back. He's produced some of Jacka's biggest and best tracks, as well as beats for J Stalin and the NhT Boyz. He also produced by 2nd favorite rap song of 2010.
This interview was conducted by email over the course of a couple months, beginning in December 2010. It has been slightly edited to keep particular topics in cogent order and for proofreading purposes, but there were no substantive changes to the text.
I've been listening to a lot of your production lately, and I really enjoy how open and expensive it sounds. Can you tell me about your musical inspirations? I recall seeing a tweet that you did that talked about listening to some club music on the radio & how you were feeling it. I was wondering what kind of older music inspired you in your area?
A lot of my musical inspirations come from all over the place. I was into film music before I got into rap. The Mortal Kombat soundtrack was the first album I owned. Bay Area artists are what got me into rap. The first rap song I liked was "Crack Raider Razor" by Andre Nickatina, after that Bay rap became my thing. I'm pretty much amused by all genres of music, though. R&B, rap, film, video game music. I just recently got into dance & house music. Always liked DnB though.
Are there any particular artists or DJs as far as dance or house that you've gotten into lately? What were some of your favorite DnB records?
DJ Chuckie, Swedish House Mafia, Miike Snow. I don't have any particular favorite DnB records. I was just into the fast paced drum patterns.
Where were you born & raised? Can you tell me a little bit about what your life was like, musically, when you were coming up? Your sound is very musical -- did you learn any instruments early on? Do you still play them? Do you play any other forms of music (jazz, studio session stuff, whatever?)
I was born and Raised in San Francisco, California, Also raised in Hayward. Growing up my brothers were hella into smacking objects and beatboxing. But I was really fascinated by it. I was the retarded kid in class making hella noises. I didn't know anything about instruments, though. I was more of a beat guy. I'm actually ADD when it comes to listening to lyrics so when people ask me if their track is dope, I'm referring to the beat. Lol. That's something I should work on. I just recently picked up guitar & I'm mediocre as a keyboard player. I just happen to know how to connect everything the right way.
It's really interesting to me to find out that you don't have that much training, because you seem to have a really musical ear. Can you explain a little bit what you mean about how to connect things the right way? Do you start working on beats in a specific way every time, or does it vary from time to time?
There's a formula I go by. There's a certain way I program my drum patterns in order to make it sound like it's "breathing". The percussion has to compliment the drums and what not. It goes back to basic music theory with tension and release. So bass elements are the tension, and higher frequency percussion sounds are the release. It gives you this alternating feeling of going up and down. It's kind of difficult to explain.
When did you first realize you wanted to do music? What were names of some of the people that inspired you? Did you work with any older producers that helped teach you the ropes, or were you pretty self-taught?
I've just always had an itch to make a beat. I'd bang on the piano and play one key at the same time. But I really wanted to broaden my limits and do more than just that. So I was 12 at the time I started making beats. I didn't know anybody else that was into what I was doing so it really took me a minute to figure out what to use. I pretty much taught everything myself. Some of the people that inspired me are E-40, Tupac, Bone Thugs, The Jacka & The Mobfigaz, RBL Posse, Andre Nickatina, Mac Dre, San Quinn, and Messy Marv.
What producers from the past ten years have you really been inspired by? What about older than that? Anyone outside of hip-hop in particular?
My inspirations are Timbaland and Nobuo Uematsu (The composer/producer for Final Fantasy videogame series). They are the greatest musicians of our time, in my opinion. Rob Lo, Mike Mosely, Sam Bostic, and Mannie Fresh are some more producers to mention. Can't forget Hans Zimmer.
That's really interesting to me. What's your favorite Zimmer soundtrack? anything in particular you like about his style?
Nothing in particular. I just like how epic his music sounds.
What is your mindstate like as far as making beats -- do you feel like you're competing with other bay area producers, with other producers nationally? Or do you not pay much attention to contemporary stuff?
I feel like that mindstate of having to compete with other producers is a downfall for people. Producers should really take the time out to focus on themselves and developing their own sound as opposed to improving the sound of others. So I would say I compete with my old self and try to keep it relevant with our time. As far as making beats, I usually think of a scene, a landscape, a color, or anything visual, and make a beat based on that. For example, the song I produced for The Jacka, Aspen, the image of snow was the basis for the beat.
Yeah that's definitely something that translates. "Don't Be Scared" was one of my favorite songs this year -- I thought the video did a great job of capturing the vibe you created with the production. Can you tell me a little about making that beat, both in terms of how you went about it, as well as what conceptually you were going for?
Thank you man I appreciate it. Well originally I made it to be an R&B beat. I was just beginning to learn how to play guitar so I was playing through different chords and these just stuck out so I laid it down instantly and just built around that. I wanted it to mainly focus on guitar chords so that's how it went down.
I know everybody wants to be a national superproducer, but it seems like right now that's a hard thing to do. Production prices have to be going down, right? Because so many people can make a beat, it seems like its gotta be hard to distinguish yourself. Do you feel like its still a big struggle to maintain economically? Do you see a way to make it work for producers in the future? Maybe tying yourself to a particular rapper?
Yeah that's right. Anybody can make a beat, but not everybody can create their own sound. It's easy for someone to imitate their favorite producers, but the real challenge is having them imitate you, and your sound. It will be difficult for a producer to live off of music, especially in the bay area, where the budget of a major lable is not present. But it will definitely be worth it in the long run.
A lot of producers seem to think its important to come up with a trademark 'sound' -- think how the neptunes would always have that chicken-scratch guitar sound, or Premier beats always sound like Premier beats. You seem to have a pretty diverse range of tricks. Do you think that frees you up to take more work, or do you imagine trying to create a 'typical jeffro beat' sound in the future?
I feel I do have a sound. I put a link up on twitter to a mixtape and told everyone that I have a new track on it but I didn't tell them which one it was. Every single person guessed which beat It was that I made. People out there are already familiar with my sound without me having to tag my name in the beginning of the track. There's a similarity in every beat. But I didn't do it the easy way, meaning using the same washed up drum sounds and same patterns. So it's not as obvious as a Bangladesh beat. People get tired of that quick.
Yeah I can feel you on that actually -- there's a melodic sensibility that you have that stands out to me, but that's kind of abstract. Because otherwise it's pretty diverse -- "Aspen" is pretty lush, "Try Again Tomorrow" has this widescreen pop sound, while the NhT Boyz cut is sparse and relies on that big melodic hook. How would you describe your sound, as a concrete thing?
Yeah I mean I'm not going to make my beats all have the same feel to it. They're going to give off a different feeling and emotion for each beat. But as far as the way I design and arrange these beats, they all have something in common. For example, the bassline, they're all the same bassline if you listen closely. Same with "All Over Me." You wouldn't know that though because I'm not trying to cheat my audience by making the same beat with few difference you feel me? I try to make them sound different.
I think your stuff is a great complement to Jacka's rap style. Do you guys have more tracks in the pipeline?
Yes we just released a new track off the Jacka & Freeway album. (Listen to it here). I did a whole 8 tracks on that album and it will be our biggest project yet so look out for that in the future. Also have a collabo with Jack & Paul Wall and a couple others for the Visionary Quest mixtape. I'm producing another album with The Jacka which will be his next release before The Jacka & Freeway. I have about 12 tracks on it, as welll as the next single.
I'm also producing Netta Brielle's next single. And I'm doing a little experimentation into the electronic realm with Stunnaman of The Pack. It's going to be a dope mixture of something that I picked up from my visit to Mars.
The NHT Boyz record was one of my favorites this year. Are you doing more work with them in the future?
Right on bro appreciate that. That was one of my all time favorite beats right there. I'll be working with them on their next mixtape so be on the look out for that.
What do you think really differentiates your sound from other producers?
When I make a beat, I craft it in a way that will make people listen to it forever.