Beat Merchant: Jake One Interview

Originally Published on URB

Kids with new MPCs and “Listen To Dilla” shirts only dream of the career Jake One’s having. Out of Seattle’s late ‘90s rap scene, he’s worked with all types and degrees of MCs—essentially, most anyone who’s caught wind of his beats. Big names, 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes; to indie cats, Casual, Gift of Gab, and Slug; to legends like De La and Dre.

“It’s weird because at a certain point you actually build relationships and become friends with these people,” he says, adding: “I’ve been making beats for complete superstars and complete non-superstars. I’m across the board as usual. ”

He just made tracks for Snoop, which he’s hoping will see the light of day, as is a cut on De La’s upcoming album. And DOOM is currently still “sitting on some beats”. Same with M.O.P., Bun B, Raekwon, the list is impressive as it is long. Meanwhile, he’s pushing his latest effort, another project on Rhymesayers.

Along with the clever packaging, The Stimulus Package, shows Jake piecing together soulful, versatile joints for another touted MC—Ex-Roc-A-Fella turned Cash Money signee, Freeway. Here, Jake explains the differences between working with indie artists and big names, and what’s next for someone who’s already worked with his heroes. Jake’s beats continue to attract MCs of all regions, genres and varying rap tangents, and the callbacks haven’t halted. With The Stimulus Package just out, here’s a very broad, 3 part look at Jake’s career, one that any beatmaker would kill for right now.


What was your first piece of equipment?
Well, my first sampler was some sort of Rolland. I was 16 working at Taco Time for a couple months and saved up for it. I looked in the ads and bought the only sampler I could afford. I didn’t know how to use it; I just wanted one so bad.

What about soul records struck you as such good sample fodder through the years?
I think it’s just being into hip-hop and just being used to those sounds. When I was younger, I actually depended on samples quite a bit because I wasn’t proficient in playing things like synths—so I had to go the sample route. Its one of these things where you go through phases. When I first started I was sampling Jazz almost exclusively and I’ve just transitioned to other things as I’ve aged and learned more.

You still have time to look for records?
Not as much as I used to. Recently I’ve been digging a lot because e we’ve been on the road but normally I don’t have as much time as I used to. You also get to a certain point where stuff you really want isn’t physically out there. These days, I’ll grab interesting stuff that I can use or listen to real quick, not necessarily something I’ll put on my wall or file.

What’s grabbed you recently?
As far as what I’ve been listening to lately is probably just mostly late ‘70s early ‘80s funk and boogie. It’s weird because stuff I sample and stuff I listen to are different.

How so? What are some of the differences?
When I’m making beats, I listen to records differently—I’m just going through them and trying to hear something that could be a beat. I’m gonna try to sample less soul because that’s what everyone does, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but these are things I think of when I’m just listening for samples. I listen to a lot of soul actually. But rock, I don’t think I have the patience for a lot of it. I can’t really get down with the drawn out, long development of some songs, but its great for making beats!

I know you used to DJ in Seattle but not as much these days. Why’s that?
Yeah, I actually started DJing. I was so much better at making beats so I ended up riding with that a lot harder. Plus, I don’t really wanna go into a situation where I have to play certain music that people will like, which made it hard being a DJ sometimes.

What do you remember about Seattle’s hip-hop scene in 10 years ago?
I came up in the early ‘90s and Seattle particularly is very different. I mean, we had a couple people who made it, but it’s not like SF or NY. We were listening to E40 but we also loved Gang Starr.

Who are your top 3 producers?
Definitely Premier for one. When I started, he was my favorite by far. I think I still carry his approach as far as how I like my drums to sound and how I chop ‘em. Jay Dee [Dilla] is definitely another one. I think what he did was that he used samples but also put musicality into it. But he still kept it very hip-hop too. So he definitely changed my own approach. Dre is the other big one because before I even knew how to make beats, he made me want to know what that was, and what a producer does.

Talk about producing the Eclipse records. What has changed since then in terms of your outlook or approach?
Back then I had a lot of rules and took things a lot more seriously. Now I don’t really care about what’s behind the music or how it got done or what was used how. I’m more into the final product and whether or not it moves me. Ethics and stuff like that was important then, especially when I was younger.

How did you link up with G-Unit? What was the recording process like?
The first track I did for them was in ‘03. This guy I knew gave them the beats and it’s crazy because I seriously didn’t know anything about it until I heard the song on the CD! No joke, man. I didn’t really know about 50 that much. I liked his first album and knew it was big, but I wasn’t gunning for it or anything. After that, I was picked up by a manger who had connections to G-Unit and just started doing a lot of stuff with them. I started giving them mad beats after that!

How did 50 Cent strike you? Did you ever even work with him directly?
I actually never even met him! It was a straight business relationship where I’d send them the beats. It was a blessing really. I ended up doing like 8 or 9 songs with him on official projects.

So why did you stop giving them beats?
I actually just wasn’t feeling the direction I was taking with my own sound which made me want to get my own album together and do things where I have more control of. It was a good run and it’s just of those things where I think I’ll work with them again because things ended smoothly.

So you linked up with Dr. Dre too? How was working with one of your idols?
I’ve been working with him and am part of his team and just contribute wherever he needs us to. It’s just cool to be apart of that team! I mean, Dre probably has the best ears in rap history. He definitely hears things that most people don’t catch. I’ve only been in the studio with him a couple times so I don’t really know him, but he’s such an inspiration for sure. Just the amount of work he puts into each nuance is something all producers could learn from.

How does your approach change when making beats for mainstream projects as opposed to, say, something on Rhymesayers?
You know, I honestly don’t do anything different. I think by virtue of different people rapping on it and the cleanliness of some of the sounds makes it seem different. But from my perspective, I just do the same thing in many ways. I mean, I’ve given a lot of the same dudes the same beats and it does come out differently.

But White Van Music definitely sounds different.
I think for that album, which was my own album; I took things slightly differently because I could do some more bizarre stuff. I wouldn’t have given beats like that to 50 because I know that’s not what they’re looking for—usually they just want cool grooves to rap over. Where as this was whatever I wanted because it was my album. But normally, the approach doesn’t change much.

How did you link up with Rhymesayers to begin with?
There’s a dude on Rhymesayers named I-Self who had told us about Rhymesayers and Slug because he was doing things with them. He brought us out to Minnesota and met with Ali and Musab and ever since then, we’ve just been in touch through the years. Now, they’ll just get at me when they have some stuff they’d like me to get on.

But what made you choose them to put your album out on?
When I decided to do an album, there were some people I wanted to work with but after checking my options, I realized that they were the perfect place to do it with. No one else is really doing it like they are on the same scale they are. They are indie-hip-hop! I also think I bring something different to the table too, so it’s a good fit all the way around.


Let’s talk about some of the MCs you’ve worked with and how they’ve struck you.

DOOM, how’d that happen? Do you give him the beat first or does he come up with the concepts? What do you think of him? That came out from Rhymesayers actually. I originally got him on board for my album because he had such a hard time getting licensing for his own work, mainly because they were so sample heavy. So I came in because I had already made a ton of beats that were sample-free that I thought were on his vibe. So I sent him like 6 or 7 beats and “Trap Door”, which I think is the dopest one, was the first to come out of that. I think he ended up using some of my beats on his album too!

He’s a character right?
Dealing with DOOM is so bizarre! The guy is such an individual. He’ll send back songs from beats I sent him and it would be so off the wall! I mean, most people would just send me a pro-tools session, but he’d send weird stereo tracks where the left side was vocals and the right side were beats…for no reason! Dude’s so funny, is one of my favorites, and is just a unique person in general.

How was hearing MOP on your beats?
They’re one of my favorite groups period. I had done a couple joints with them through G Unit and that’s how that happened. I love what we’ve done together. I especially love listening to their adlibs as acapellas! They’re so funny!

You’ve worked with De La too. Talk about their music and if it’s affected you.
That was really a trip because they’re one of my favorite group’s of all time. When I gave them beats, I never thought anything would really come out of it. What they do is Pos grabs a bunch of stuff he thinks is dope and Dave listens and has to agree on it so they make sure they’re on the same wavelength—and they’re not always on the same wavelength! So that’s an interesting process to see.

I know that “Rock Co. Kane Flow” wasn’t the initial one they chose but that ended up being our first thing together. I remember being at my day job and De La was on the phone wanting to talk to me, I still remember that like it was yesterday! I knew that beat was special because I remember being in NY and playing it for people and everyone I showed it to just flipped out. I was in the studio with Redman one night, and I’m not bragging or nothing, but he played it in the studio on repeat for like an hour straight. I was like damn! They actually did the “Rock Co. Kane Flow” before any of the licensing went through because they dug it so much.

So what are your thoughts on Prince Paul?
Well, I was more of a Premier head when I was young because I wanted to hear beats that would blow me away. But as I’ve gotten older and listen to how Paul puts albums together, he’s one of the best to ever do it. What he does and how he lays everything out is missing in music these days. He’s just so clever. Back then I liked their albums, but when I got older, I continued to hear things I missed because I was so young initially. The way he used certain samples, his approach, everything.

What’s the main difference regarding the process itself when working with say, like Brother Ali as opposed to 50 Cent?
It’s really night and day. When I work with bigger artists, I actually almost never deal with them directly and if I do, it’s brief. I’ll talk through a rep who kinda tells me what they need. Its really more business and I just give them beats to choose from.

With someone like Ali, you damn near have to have a complete conversation with him before showing him a beat! You feel like you’re part of the it more because you’re part of the process. That’s the main difference.

You think it affects the final product?
It’s debatable, but I don’t think it makes the music better necessarily. Some artists are just so good they need no direction and can just make everything work so you don’t even have to be there. With others, it’s just so fun to have a session and work face-to-face. Neither is better I would say.

Who haven’t you worked with that you’d like to work with?
Jay-Z, I think that’d be dope! I don’t know. That makes me feel lucky because there isn’t really anyone I really need to chase down. I’ve worked with so many cats. I’d actually love to hear Q-Tip’s voice over one of my beats too.


So touch on Freeway and how everything went down for The Stimulus Package.
It went both ways with this one. He did some tracks on his own and would go back and ask me about what he’d like to see changed.

How was Freeway as a collaborative partner?
I think my favorite songs on this were actually done when we were in the same room, but that’s because my experience seeing him make stuff up on the spot or just actually working together. He doesn’t write anything either and just goes in there and does it.

He’s also another cat who works across the map. What do you think it is about him?
I think he’s one of the last original artists in rap who has his own style. I can’t really pinpoint him as being derivative of anyone else really.

So what’s your favorite track on the album?“Never Gonna Change”. I had the most fun doing. “One Thing” really grew on me; I didn’t like it at first but love it now.

What should heads listen for when they play this?
I’m glad you asked that. It’s literally all one sound. It doesn’t lose momentum at any place and its cohesive, I personally believe. I’m really proud of it.

I know a ton of stuff hasn’t been released yet. But what’s next for you right now?
I’ve been making beats for complete superstars and complete non-superstars. I’m across the board as usual. Hopefully I’ll land on something big!


3 thoughts on “Beat Merchant: Jake One Interview

  1. Hey Sam,Love the new song. My girlfriend Katie loves Getcapewearcapefly, so plesae plesae plesae come to Oxford so I can take her to see you. The last couple of gigs you did here were quality.Look forward to the new album.Andy


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