Fresh off the back of the release of Jeremiah Jae & L’Orange’s universe-building, World War 2 motif, Complicate Your LIfe With Violence, Jeremiah took the time to speak with us.
The discussion began lighthearted, joking about Jeremiah’s Raw Money Raps LP making a surprise cameo in Eddie Murphy’s recent film Dolomite Is My Name, set in the 1970s. “Eddie Kendricks, some old soul records, then your album just randomly hanging there.” Jae explained “I thought I was tripping, I had to go back and look.” As we both laughed at the idea of this time-travelling LP, “I feel like Ras G done that for me…” he added.
During our conversation, Jeremiah discussed his recent detachment from music, the depression he was dealing with and the mentality he adopted in order to create another album. His latest album is a concoction of hazy delirium transporting the listener to the front lines of World War 2 detailing “…the experience of going through this drama, through the conflict and what do you have at the end of that? What was gained from it? What was lost from it?”
I started by discussing the various moves Jae has made from his native Chicago to LA and back again.
You’re originally from Chicago, have you made a full time move to Los Angeles now?
Yeah, well I’ve kind of been moving back and forth. I moved to LA, then back to Chicago, then back again, now I’m staying in San Francisco. I’m like a rolling stone. [laughs]
What was the reason you moved from Chicago in the first instance? Was this due to you signing with Warp Records back in 2010/ ’11?
It was actually Brainfeeder Records that I had initially linked up with then. They kind of convinced me to move out there. I’ve always had family out there and I always wanted to be out of the Chicago cold, it was all just a part of it, you know, plugging in to that community.
I know the entire beat scene out there suffered a huge loss recently with the passing of Ras G. Very talented and very influential to a lot of other artists. I just wanted to take a second to acknowledge him.
It’s tough man. I lived right next door to Ras G when I was last in LA. It was some of the best times, just to be that close with his music and who he was…
I first heard your music with Raw Money Raps back in 2012 and I was immediately drawn in by your production. It was very abrasive, very textured, not your stereotypical 4/4 hip-hop tempo. Is that break from the norm important to you creatively?
At that time it definitely was, it was something that I felt in my heart where I wanted to take the music, I just wanted to be myself but also approach hip-hop in a different way. I’ve always been into all genres of music so there was a lot of influences behind my earlier stuff beyond hip-hop. I wanted to come into the game in an experimental way, not be put in any kind of box because I do a lot of different things. I wanted to keep it about the art as much as everything nowadays you have to be this-or-that. It was me just combining all of these different influences.
“I was kind of in a difference space as to when we did the first one, with depression and mentally being in a dark space. The idea kind of came from that, wanting to just fight through it, at a time I didn’t want to rap anymore and I wasn’t motivated.”Jeremiah on the conception of Complicate Your Life with Violence.
Sticking with 2012 for the moment, one of the highlights for me that year was Flying Lotus’ Captain Murphy project Duality, I know you produced quite a few beats on there. What is it like working with a guy like Flying Lotus that just seems to have an endless supply of creative energy?
Yeah man, it was crazy for me. At that time, I was 20 or 21 and it was my first time meeting, well being in that scene in general. I didn’t know Flying Lotus for very long but when I first heard his music I was like, man… I felt inspired that somebody out there had a similar mindset and when working in the studio or just talking, it felt so easy to make music around him and it just came through. All those moments shaped who I am, added to what I do.
Your father is a very interesting and very impressive musician himself, particularly the work he has done with Miles Davis. You said you listen to a lot of genres, is jazz or your father’s work something that has rubbed off on you, especially regarding your delivery? Several times I’ve noticed your voice being used as an instrument the way Coltrane would speak through his saxophone for example.
Thank you for that. Yeah man, jazz has always been a part of my life. I grew up in church too with gospel music and outside of that I got in to rock music, that was the first thing I really discovered on my own whereas growing up, jazz was always something I heard. I didn’t necessarily understand it or immediately gravitate towards it. I just followed what my dad was doing and I wanted to make music. He definitely inspired that. I guess my family inspired that, to try make music and have fun with it. Jazz was something that took me until later in life to understand on my own and when I did, I really got into it, I appreciate it a lot more than I did when I was growing up
The track entitled ‘Nefertiti’ from your Daffi LP, I presume that’s named after the same Miles Davis piece? Is that your father [Robert Irving III] playing piano over the production?
Yeah, well that song, I sampled a record from my dad’s album which was titled New Momentum. That track on there is called ‘Nefertiti’ which I think was based on the Miles Davis track of the same name. My dad played with Miles Davis and he has so many stories of them working together and hanging out, crazy, crazy stuff, he’s actually working on a memoir right now.
Yeah, yeah. But I just decided to sample that record and my dad at the time, he’s busy working on stuff, I’ve always wanted to make music with him but when the time’s right that will happen. But that particular project I wanted to sample that, you know, add that in there.
That song in particular came across as very personal when I heard it. Is it reflective of your surroundings growing up, that could’ve potentially made a wrong decision growing up and end up on a different path?
That’s really what the whole album is about and even the character Daffi is kind of an alternate version of myself that derails, what could’ve happened if I stayed where I was and not evolve into the person I am as an artist. If I chose to just stay in the streets and hang out with the same people that are involved in all this shit. The whole album is very personal in that way. It touches on several parts of my upbringing, so those are like cautionary tales I wanted to pass on.
Aye, because I’ve heard you describe your writing style as almost ‘method rapping.’ You do put a lot of stock getting into the right head-space through research ensuring you maintain a certain level of cohesiveness. Why did you decide to focus on WW2 with L’Orange on Complicate Your Life with Violence? What did you do to prepare for the role?
When L’Orange asked me if I wanted to do another record, I was kind of in a difference space as to when we did the first one, [The Night Took Us in Like Family] with depression and mentally being in a dark space. The idea kind of came from that, wanting to just fight through it, at a time I didn’t want to rap anymore and I wasn’t motivated. At first I didn’t think I’d be able to do another album but that concept also came out of thinking about what we did with the first album and moving the story ahead in time a few years past the prohibition era in to World War 2, I just related to that topic at the time. If I’m going to rap again and do this shit then I wanted to do it in a way that it felt true to me, you know?
Personally, subjectively, when I listen to a lot of music, particularly hip-hop, I do like to have a linear thread that weaves its way through an album to make it one complete piece. How important is that to you?
Yeah. Going back to growing up and wanting to make music like my dad, seeing the work he put in, the ideas he put into it, that really helped with my artistry early wanting to try that for myself to see if I was any good at it. I wanted to do it and thought I’d be good at it so I just followed that vision. I just kind of learned how to build on that along the way.
Have you read the graphic novel The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks?
Nah, I haven’t.
When I listened to your latest album, it really put me in mind of that book. The similarities are very compelling. I’m sorry to digress… It’s based on the 369th regiment from Halrem that fought during World War 1 [& WW2] and it was an all-black infantry. They were the first allied infantry to cross over the banks of the Rhine. They were war heroes, awarded the highest honours by the French government but when they returned home they still faced the same systemic racism like they did previously. I felt your album touched on very similar issues.
Yeah, there was a lot of research but a lot of natural input, literally just make my own story and make the story based on how I was feeling and how I would feel in that position if I was a soldier. I think that I did come across some of that though, like a lot of black infantry units like the Tuskegee Airmen, you know? The film Dirty Dozen is really where I focused in at one point and started writing what I feel versus relying on research but they are both equal parts of it at the same time.
“Looking at a painting or an abstract piece of art is the same way I look at a lot of music I make. Sometimes I make surrealist paintings, sometimes they’re more expressionist, modernist whatever. It’s the landscape of human emotions, it’s something I want to convey…”Jae on his writing style.
Everything you’ve said, the place that you were in unfortunately with depression, when I was listening to your album, one of the main things I took from it was I felt you were wrestling with internal and external conflict. There was a lot of delusions and hostilities and you did touch on systemic racism, albeit through the eyes of a soldier during World War 2. As a black man in America, is this reflective of your view towards the lack of progress towards racism, mirroring World War 2 with the current contemporary landscape?
Yeah, I mean personally, I feel all of that… I’m sensitive but also interested in knowing history, knowing my own history, knowing world history and you see it repeat itself a lot. There’s not a lot of music or art where it’s more of a mirror as opposed to just being entertaining. And going in to the record in the mindset of wanting to be more political, have something with purpose behind it, like what we were talking about and why we were using this concept. I was trying to analyse history and look at it and think about where we are going. There are a lot of levels to it but at the same time I didn’t want to overbear it.
I agree with that. The likes of ‘My Everything is Bulletproof’, you draw similarities to being a solider and street life and a song such as ‘Say It All’, you talk about “the centuries of misery…” with racism and slavery, ‘The Light’, one of the last songs on the album, it almost felt like Catch 22 by Joseph Heller were you are saying you “would rather be in padded cell than a living hell…” There was a great use of this nuance on the album.
Yeah, there’s songs that work as the dirtier side of the coin. Not just being so black and white where he is a soldier, he’s in war, he’s victorious. It’s more about the experience of going through this drama, through the conflict, and what do you have at the end of that? What was gained from it? What was lost from it? And that’s all mental and external.
But I haven’t experienced anything like that myself, but in entertainment it kind of takes you to that place were you just think about “damn.. What if I was there? What could I be doing in the world right now to make sure I’m not there or this doesn’t happen?”
Aye, it’s trying to put yourself in a position that’s almost unimaginable.
I noticed on Complicate Your Life with Violence you made a conscious effort not to curse?
Yeah, I did. I wasn’t really reacting at the time, I just kind of took a break from my last album Daffi. Going through a lot of shit, that still hurts now, but outside of that I wanted to clean up. I felt I had enough of that through my catalogue and I wanted to make stuff everybody could listen to without the whole censorship worry. And that doesn’t mean I can’t express myself the way I want.
Aye, of course. I mean did you find it a slight deterrent or barrier with not having the use of certain words?
But surely putting those self imposed constraints on yourself would force yourself to become more creative?
Yeah, it definitely freed it up. I feel this writing was the fastest I’d wrote. The last record took me a few months, to write certain tracks took weeks, but this one I just went through it, words just spewed out of me. During the process I said it’s like I’m remembering things I wrote from my past life, that was some weird shit that I had [laughs].
Throughout this album, and throughout your extended discography, you have a very strong sense of visualisation when rhyming that I feel lends itself incredibly well to concepts whether it be WW2 or westerns on your Rawhyde project. It’s not your stereotypical storytelling though like a Slick Rick who would explain things using minute details, you have more of a cerebral input, nightmarish visuals, David Lynch-esque. What is the reason that you take this approach?
I think I’ve always liked concepts and going back to my dad, he worked with concepts, like basing something off of something whether it’s off a book or anything like that. It’s a way that I can make it come across like a painting, it’s a way to make it something different, it gives it a new face, it gives it a new way of thought. That’s why I’m really interested in taking that approach. I could tell stories about myself all day but I could also do the other stuff and take you to that space, the best of peril [laughs].
I went to art school, I learned a lot of things from art school that I apply to my music. Looking at a painting or abstract piece of art is the same way I look at a lot of music I make. Sometimes I make surrealist paintings, sometimes they’re more expressionist, modernist whatever. It’s the landscape of human emotions, it’s something I want to convey, that it can be interpreted how you want.
We like to end our interviews on a recurring note here at SOUTHSIDERS. Like many hip-hop heads, we like to argue over music. We are currently torn between OutKast’s ATLiens and Aquemini. If you had to choose your favourite album from those two, what would it be and why?
Ah man… I’ve always liked Aquemini but… Nah, yeah, I think Aquemini because I’m a Gemini too.
Is that your reasoning because your share a star sign..?
[laughs] It’s just nostalgia man, it takes me back. I still listen to all of the music I did when I was growing up.