Chance The Rapper's "Juke Jam" & the Heartbreak of Leasing Beats

Multiple artists pressed play on Chance's 'Coloring Book' and heard beats they had been recording to for months. How did it happen?
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During my 1 Listen album review of Chance’s Coloring Book, I couldn’t shake a strange feeling of familiarity with “Juke Jam.” The heavy but gentle chords that play at the beginning—I knew them, but couldn’t put my finger on where from. It was like seeing an old friend in a new setting. There’s an unreachable itch that irritates the soul when you hear something and can’t recall where you heard it before; a musical puzzle only missing a single piece to complete the picture.

I asked Lucas, the connoisseur of all things samples, about the beat and he sent me Mount Kimbie’s "Adriatic," the song that “Juke Jam” samples. Interesting, but not what I was looking for. And then it clicked. The answer wouldn’t be known by Lucas or anyone at DJBooth for that matter. It was a song that wasn’t released yet, by an artist that's completely unknown compared to Chance. I heard it seven months ago, while in the studio with an artist from Atlanta name Phay. Not only does it have the same sample as “Juke Jam” but it’s the exact same beat, both produced by Rascal. Phay’s version is called “Lawd Please.”

Phay and I go back. Back when I had my old blog, back when he used to go by Pharoh. He took a little time off from rapping but when he got back into building a body of work, he invited me to hear the album that had been in the works for months. I remember the studio session—he played me every song, one by one explaining the concepts and how each fits into the overall theme. I won’t give it away but the narration and execution was impressive, the album serves as an ode to his mother. The cover is like the heart shape tattoos that appear on the arms of the tough cartoon characters or sailors, no matter how big and mammoth of a man you might be, most have a soft spot for their mothers. You can feel that soft spot in the music.

There’s a record that immediately stood out, he was singing and the soulfulness of his voice caught my ear from the very beginning. It poured out of him like the words were coming from a depth that even an X-ray couldn’t find. Heartfelt and sincere, I had a feeling it would be a big one that his listeners would gravitate toward. Sometimes you can just tell.

When it was brought to my attention that the two songs were cut from the same family tree I was surprised. Especially when you consider how Chance and Phay are on two opposites ends of the spectrum. This wasn’t Bas and Mick Jenkins, two artists on a similar plateau, big enough where one would be accused of stealing from the other. After Chance, it would be “Juke Jam” and all the freestyles and remixes to come after.

Phay caught wind that Chance had a version of the song during the Atlanta stop of the Family Matters tour: “I went home after Chance’s performance. It was incredible. One of the best live shows best I’ve ever seen. My bro Kelechi hangs around afterward with the guys from Social Experiment. At 4 AM he calls me talking about, 'Bruh! Chance rapping on Lawd Please.' I’m freaking the fuck out at this point. I'm thinking Chance is about to rap on my record. It's 4 AM. I gotta be dreaming. What Kelechi meant was Chance made a song to a beat I already had.” At the time both records weren’t out yet, Towkio was the only feature, it was just a strange coincidence and Chance's version wasn't wasn’t yet guaranteed to be placed on the album.

Unlike Mick and Bas, this wasn’t a case of a beat heard on SoundCloud being passed around like Bow Wow’s resume. Phay didn’t have exclusive rights, he had only leased the beat from Rascal with the understanding Rascal could also give it to others. From my understanding, out of the thousands of beats Chance played during the making of Coloring Book, he stumbled across “Juke Jam” in a folder full of various instrumentals. The same thing that caught Phay's ear caught his. He decided to make a fun record, something for the summer, a vibe reminiscent of those teenage days at the roller rink. The Justin Bieber feature almost guarantees that it will be a huge smash. I find it fascinating how two artists can hear the same beat and make two records that are the polar opposite.

“Lawd Please is a very important record to me.  I remember what state of mind I was in when I wrote it. I was in the midst of uhhh…… depression. I feel hesitant admitting that I was depressed. I come from a foreign background. Mental health and illness tends to be ignored in minority communities. I wasn’t happy. 9-5 life got the best of me, and I was trying my best to cope. I wasn’t doing music. I wasn’t doing the things that brought joy and purpose to my life.  So in the midst of depression, I wrote this song. It was a letter to the big man upstairs, the Lord himself, to help my family through this time of despair and darkness. There is a famous Arabic proverb that translates to "pray to God and tie your camel." Basically, pray for what you want, then proactively seek what you just prayed for. Lawd Please is that proverb personified. I played it for my mom one random day, and she broke down into a sea of tears. I'll never forget that moment. She wasn't just listening to the record, she felt it. It spoke to her.”

Phay wasn’t the only artist to have a beat from their album placed on Coloring Book. Masego, another rising musician, took to Twitter the day Chance’s album dropped, heartbroken after hearing a beat he wrote to on the album. He said he felt like the song shaped his forthcoming album and now it felt dead. It’s possible that he fell victim to the same situation—songs being passed around in giant folders that could end up in anyone’s hands. It’s weird how the industry works. Security and ownership have to be guaranteed even when you’re at the bottom of the totem pole.

Phay has a great relationship with Pat and has met Chance on occasion, he sings nothing but praise about them both and about the record. When I asked how the situation has changed his business mind he replied, “The 'Juke Jam' situation reshaped the whole way I perceive the business side of music. If I can give any advice, I would advise artists to buy their beats if they have the capital. If you truly believe in your product, buy it. Leasing is just another name for borrowing. It's like renting an apartment or house. It's not yours. There's no equity. There's no long-term investment. Buying your beats puts you in a landlord position. The only person I can blame in this situation is me. I had the capital to purchase the exclusive rights to the instrumental, but I didn't. I leased it. Like an idiot. Own your shit. Own your masters. Own yourself.”

A very important lesson for all artists pursuing a career in the industry. Phay’s Mama will be released sometime in the fall. “Lawd Please” and the few songs on his SoundCloud released during the Phay Friday series, are just the beginning for him.

By Yoh, aka Anderson .Paak Voice, aka @Yoh31.

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