Feeding the Cerebral: An interview with Jeremiah Jae

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Jeremiah Jae

The stream of consciousness style Jeremiah Jae brings to his music can seem riddled with trapdoors, non-sequiturs, and arbitrary ear worms sent without consideration from the zoned out seclusion of a super high rapper. On “Making Shit”, off his recently released Good Times mixtape, bars like “no charts / I'm just dreaming, trying to live my life / on the device / scheming in the night” feel innocuous to a breaking point of pedestrian observation. Later in “Making Shit” he confesses he “could have been a dope boy with the talcum,” suggesting that the temptation of street life was just outside his window, and though it can feel like an idle possibility, Jeremiah Jae does hail from the same turf as Chief Keef and Young Chop.

Was there a chance Jeremiah Jae might have been a drill producer had he remained in the south side of Chicago? Highly doubtful. While he claims to have never liked school—preferring the path of self-education —Jeremiah Jae was on the path of discovering his cerebral rap ever since he entered The Chicago Academy for the Arts. Later, he moved to the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, staying with his aunt and uncle. It was an escape that came after the passing of his close friend and fellow Young Black Preachers member, Projeck (born Aaron Butler) in 2009 from a heart attack. Young Black Preachers was put on hold as Jae pursued a solo career in California under the tutelage of Flying Lotus on his Brainfeeder imprint. He released the Rappayamantantra EP in 2011, which was followed by the Raw Money Raps LP in 2012. By then, Jae's cerebral style over messy samples, set off kilter by a digger's ear for the dustiest of breaks, was reaching critical mass at a rapid pace.

In the past two years he's produced collaborative projects with his cousin Oliver the 2nd and Azizi Gibson's breakout mixtape, Ignorant Prayers. He introduced Black Jungle Squad, a nationwide collective of like-minded rappers and producers, with a weekly series last year that eventually became a full mixtape. Young Black Preachers reformed with surviving member Tre, releasing Gesus, and there are plans for a follow-up. This all came before he signed to Warp Records in 2013, and began releasing a slew of mixtapes and a 7″ vinyl series. Naturally, when I connected with Jae on Skype while he had a day off in Berlin on his European tour, the immediate question was: what is all this building towards?

Are these projects, the Good Times mixtape, the Dirty Collections series, and Bad Jokes all building towards a full length soon on Warp?

Jeremiah Jae:Yeah it is. I have a few more projects with Warp. One’s going to be an LP. One’s going to be an instrumental album. I’m building up to an LP. It’s been finished, but I’ve been going back into it.

I have a lot of side projects that will be coming out; new Young Black Preachers album, a Black Jungle Squad album.

What was it about Good Times the television show that inspired you to create a conceptual mixtape?

J: Really I kind of grew up watching re-runs of the show. I’ve always been into those kind of sitcoms—black families and stuff. But that show in particular, when I got the name Jeremiah Jae, I’ve always wanted to use that character on Good Times… it kind of led into me making a bunch of tracks with those samples and it led into a mixtape.

In being a fan initially, did you feel like you had more to offer, like a perspective that accompanies the TV show?

I can really relate, especially to that show. I grew up in Chicago on the south side. I’ve been through similar scenarios that mirror Good Times in a way. I felt close to the content of that show.

There’s no other show like Good Times that exists on modern television.

That’s why I still watch Good Times. I watch old stuff, listen to old music. There’s not a lot of new music that has the same feeling as old soul, or rock from the 60s and 70s. I feel really connected to that era, like an old soul. I miss those kind of shows, but I guess there doesn’t need to be that show again since it’s been done before. Sonically though, it’s an homage to that.

Have you ever felt as though you were born in the wrong era?

Yeah, definitely man. I think it has to do with the people I was brought up around. Most of my friends were older than me. My dad was a jazz musician, worked with Miles Davis back in the 80s. He told me a lot about that time, so I got this good knowledge and wisdom coming from him. I like new stuff, but it takes me a little longer to get into and feel it. The old stuff just speaks to me more, from what they were talking about and doing back in the day; there was less technology.

Is there any advice your father offered you that always resonates?

Yeah. Him being a musician and knowing a lot of the musicians he’s worked with, those classic dudes who are real respectable and disciplined. There’s a lot he’s told me that I can't think of off the top, but mostly it’s about being disciplined and taking what you do seriously, making it from the heart, and be natural with it.

The words “cerebral” and “meditative” are often used to describe your music. Do you feel they are appropriately applied?

Those are two things I’m really all about: meditating and centering yourself. Knowing yourself and getting deeper than the surface and material shit, but also relating to that material world and the new stuff that’s out here. I think it’s a mix of both. Not all my music is cerebral and meditative, but you know… people hear a few tracks and are like ‘yeah, he’s a conscious rapper’. I don’t see myself as a conscious rapper or any kind of rapper. I see myself as an artist. I keep trying new things, but keep it in this umbrella of my own universe. I could be doing some gangster shit one day and more uplifting stuff another. It’s really how I communicate. I don’t like to talk to people that much. I kind of talk through my music.

Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?

My grandfather was a preacher. He passed in ‘93, but I kind of grew up in the church. Then at some point I started learning about other religions and spiritual practices. It opened my eyes to what spirituality was. Even though I was brought up Christian, I wouldn’t call myself a religious person. I’m just open to everything. I have a spiritual foundation and a lot of people in the squad do too. We relate and connect on that spiritual foundation.

I’m always trying to grow spiritually as well as creatively. It’s important to maintain it.

What’s something recently that’s had an impact on you?

Me and Tre from YBP… I should note this. We used to be called Young Black Preachers, but now we’re called Young Black Priests.

Why the change to Priests?

Well, we kind of felt like we graduated from being preachers. Also we just don’t like… preachers are kind of like hustlers and pimps and shit. They got all the money and stuff like that. It was a commentary on that. Priests are more what we’re on now. It’s the same vibe though, but next level.

We’ve been working on this album called High Priests. In that we’ve been studying a bunch of stuff, having sessions where we just watch lectures. Tre, I call him the rap scholar because he’s always bringing new books or information to me. I never liked school, but I still love knowledge enough to read up on ancient cultures and religions, kind of the same way Wu-Tang [Clan] uses the kung fu movies as the foundation, we use the different religions and shamanism. We like to sneak it into the music here and there and play with those themes.

I’m reading a Yoruba religion book right now. It’s some African religion shit that’s pretty deep.

Anything translated into your music yet?

Again, it’s about dropping little seeds in the music. If people listen to YBP, the last shit we put out, the Gesus project… or anything, listen to RawHyde. We relate it to the streets, but there’s little sprinkles in all my stuff. But it’s not like we’re trying to tell you the truth or what’s right or wrong. We’re just sharing insight because it inspired us. Hopefully one day people can put the puzzle together themselves and find their spiritual path.

I consider what I do a spiritual thing. I’m making a new mythology for this generation to use. These kids are not going to listen to a three hour lecture. We make it so that it’s relatable and not so heavy. It’s not really that heavy. It’s just principles for a way to be happy.

Do psychedelics ever factor into your process?

They have before, but not so much in the past few years. To each his own kind of thing. Some people take psychedelics and it opens their mind. Some people will read a book and it opens their mind the same way, or do yoga, or have some crazy dreams and get in touch with that. It all kind of links into the same realm for me.

If you want to feel tripped out there’s a lot of ways to get there. That’s why I like to make music. It can be trance inducing, can be deep for you, or it can just be some shit you put on and work out to—whatever. I never really relied on them like that, but yeah… they’re cool. I’m pro psychedelics.

You started gaining notoriety with your <a href=”http://www.brainfeedersite.com/2012/08/06/jeremiah-jae-lunch-box/”>Lunch Special series. What’s the perfect lunch for you?

I really like oysters. [Laughs] I also like raw food and vegan food, just natural food. It’d probably be a combination of oysters and some raw food.

From eating oysters do you have a favorite in the styles?

I haven’t tried that many. It’s become a new thing for me in recent months, so it’s just on the front of my head. I’m hooked on the aphrodisiacs and the zinc. They’re high in zinc.

I’ve been vegan for awhile, actually I’m not anymore. I don’t like the titles. There’s a lot of shit that comes with that. I still practice those things and I like to eat healthy.

That whole lunch special series was inspired by there being nothing healthy to eat on the south side.

Jeremiah Jae's Good Times mixtape is out now on Warp. Download it here.