J. LBS has music in his DNA. Weened onto piano and drums at an early age, the Los Angeles native’s father was a studio musician who played drums on Stevie Wonder’s iconic 1976 album Songs In the Key of Life—though it’s a fact he’s not quick to brag about. “It’s good to know that I got an early start in music,” he says over the phone. “But I gotta come up off of my own merit.”
After honing his own craft on the drum machine his father bought him in high school, J. LBS had the energy and enterprise to kickstart his career in music: giving away beats on social media, attending rap battles and producer showcases in LA, even landing a gig as a production assistant for Aplusfilmz’s Fredo Tovar with the hope of connecting with the rising artists he directed videos for.
In 2011, while working on the set for ScHoolboy Q’s “PHenomenon” video shoot, J. LBS met—and quickly won over—the then-burgeoning TDE crew. “It was Ali, Kendrick, Q, Punch, Jay Rock, all in the same room,” he remembers. “I played them about 20 beats, one of which ended up becoming ‘Boomerang’ for Jay Rock. Kendrick was vibing to some beats, too.”
Since then, J. LBS has remained a favorite of the TDE family, producing songs like Kendrick Lamar’s “Cartoon & Cereal” (with THC’s AxlFolie and Ricci Riera), Jay Rock’s “Gumbo,” Isaiah Rashad’s “Rope” and ScHoolboy Q’s “Kno Ya Wrong,” for which he earned his first GRAMMY nomination.
As impressive as his still-growing catalog is, however, J. LBS has his sights set on success both in and outside of hip-hop. “When it’s all said and done, I want to be known as being versatile,” he says. “In the coming year, you’ll see the different music that I’m involved with. In anything that I do, just know that the drums will hit and it’ll be melodically driven.”
Here are the stories behind five of J. LBS’s biggest songs.
Jhené Aiko — “Do Better Blues” ft. H.O.P.E. (2011)
“At that time, Jhené was working with a dude named H.O.P.E. We were working with H.O.P.E. first and she would come to the studio with him, to help him do shit. Funny enough, the song was for H.O.P.E at first, but how she came together on it, it was so killer. She put out her Sailing Souls tape about a month or two before him, so she kinda owned the song. People loved it.
“I chopped [the Harold Melvin sample] up so cold! I used to do this thing in Logic where I’d chop [samples] up along with what I played along with it. I’d play the chords and then try to make a new little sample out of it. I remember, with that song specifically, I made sure I made a new sample to chop up with the sparkles and shit like that.
“We did it in my little studio spot in Van Nuys. I remember I played it for my band and they were like, ‘Yeah, this shit is dope!’ And I was like, ‘Okay, it might be something.’ ’Cause sometimes you never know. There’s stuff I’ve made that I swear I think people will love but only I end up liking it [laughs]. And sometimes it’s like, ‘I don’t really know about this,’ and people just fall in love with it. That was a good one. Shout out Jhené, she’s killin.’
“That was the start. That was the first notable song that I had that people could associate me with. That was early 2011, around March or something like that. I was starting to see like, ‘Oh, this is what this is? Okay, bet.’ I didn’t know that these songs that these artists were putting out that year were going to do what they did. It was a big year for LA.”
Kendrick Lamar — “Cartoon & Cereal” ft. Gunplay (2012)
Co-produced by AxlFolie & Ricci Riera
“Shout out to Axl[Folie] and Ricci [Riera]. It was me and Axl at his spot in LA and we had a big folder of samples and shit that we could flip. I found some shit and was like, ‘Okay, this is pretty dope.’ But then I pitched it down and Axl was like, ‘Yo, yo, yo, how’d you pitch it down like that?!’ I pitched it down a whole octave.
“I started to create the drums around it and I did the synth line. Then Axl came in and started tweaking some shit and beefed up the drums. I didn’t think nothing of it at the time. I met Axl early through working with H.O.P.E. so we was cool, but I later found out that, ‘Yeah, he part of a duo now with Ricci.’ We’ve always been cooking so I was like, ‘For sure, this ain’t no different.’
“But the next time I came over there, [Axl] was like, ‘Kendrick said he wants that shit. He’s going to get on it.’ I was like, ‘Bet!’ I went to TDE one day—I didn’t think nothing of it—and [Kendrick] was in there with Anna Wise. He pulled up the shit and I was like, ‘Oh shit! Yeah, me and Axl was doing this the other day!’ And this shit is hard. They started going in on it and I’ll never forget, Anna Wise—she’s stupid talented—she started making some crazy sound effects with her voice, in her lips. It was almost like a baby doing raspberries, but it was melodic; in the track, you can hear it. Then [Kendrick] started off with the staggered flow. I’m like, ‘Yo, this is cold. He’s on some other shit!’
“I was only there for the beginning of the recording of the song, but I got with Axl later and told him that [Kendrick] had started fucking with the shit. And then he told me he’s going to put Gunplay on it. I’m like, ‘Oh shit! This is going to be a song!’ I didn’t know what was going to happen after that. I just seen it drop. I was like, ‘Oh shit! It came out.’
“I was happy about it, but I was like, ‘Damn, I wanted it to go on the album!’ It was going to be on [good kid, m.A.A.d city] last minute, but they couldn’t clear the sample on it. They were trying to have it replayed at the end—I think it was the cartoon sample that was holding it back—but it was dope. I was blessed to be a part of that song. It went crazier than I could have anticipated.
“At the time, I fucked with Gunplay from Deeper Than Rap, when he was on the song ‘Gunplay.’ ‘I know Gunplay, you know Gunplay / Shootin’ for the win, but ready for the loss!’ I was like, ‘Oh, he’s hard!’ I always knew that he could do some shit, but I didn’t expect him to go in like that. It may have been the magnitude of what he heard, like, ‘If he’s doing this, I really gotta dig deep.’ I think any artist is capable of taking it further, they just got to be inspired. Shouts to Gunplay for that, he was beside himself.
“I find out everyday [the importance of ‘Cartoon & Cereal’], even me talking to you now. I see how much of an impact the song had and it’s just crazy to be a part of it. I remember one time, I was in a publishing meeting and the publisher, Sam Taylor, he told me, ‘You know Kendrick is closing the shows with that song?’ I was like, ‘Damn!’ Just to think how it started, this shit is crazy.
“It’s something that you wish for, the success that you kinda envision for yourself, but you can never anticipate it, you never know what something’s going to do. Every win, every success, every checkpoint or goal reached, it’s expected because you prepare for it, but it’s never not exciting. It’s never not crazy. When you’re always working, it’s just a blur, it’s like, ‘On to the next!’”
Jay Rock — “Gumbo” (2015)
Sample: Kool & The Gang "Summer Madness"
“During the making of the second album, [Jay Rock] was figuring a lot of shit out with the Strange Music situation and all that. So I took on the task myself like, ‘I’ma make this album a priority to make sure we got some shit.’ I was telling him, ‘Come through the house whenever, man. Let’s really lock in.’ We had a party in my living room for Thurz and we changed all the lights in the studio to red bulbs. They were left over, so when [Jay] turned the lights on it was like a red room! He liked the vibe.
“At the time, I was trying a lot of half time shit, trying to figure out where that would fit best. The BPM he would rock to is easily high 90s—like 96, 97, 101. That was the BPM of it. I was telling him like, ‘Bro, if we cut this in half, it’s half time!’ But realistically, nobody had to struggle to bop their head to it ’cause it’s still fast. And that’s how he starts off the verse [“Keep it one hundred, I’m one hundred and one”] from that conversation, ’cause of the tempo of the record [laughs].
“We did that here in my spot. How he was singing, he was saying some gumbo shit. He was like, ‘Gumbooo!’ Then we got a whole bunch of people to sing this one line so it’s going to sound like a cold, eerie, gospel type of thing. So I started having everybody stack the vocals. Anybody that came in to the house within a few days, or even that day specifically, stacked the vocals. There’s a bunch of people on there: Vic Smitty’s on there, SiR’s on there, I’m on there, Jay Rock’s on there, his cousin’s on there. It’s almost like a gumbo pot with a whole bunch of ingredients!
“That’s one of my favorites too, man. Anybody that talk about me and [Rock] always references that song. Man, listen, [when ‘Gumbo’ dropped as the first single], I was excited—more for him. I know he wanted to get that album out. The next one’s going to set it off, though. Had he not got in that motorcycle accident, it would have been a way different situation. He had to sit down for a little bit. But he’s good. That’s one of the strongest dudes that I know, how he was walking around afterward [laughs].
“It was another dope ass record [on 90059] with him and ScHoolboy that I did called ‘Gangsta Party,’ but it never came out. It was on there first and then we had to replace it with ‘The Ways.’ ‘The Ways’ came out crazy, though. There’s a crazy story behind that, too.
“SiR is my bro. He was one of the first to ever sing anything on one of my songs—him and his brother Davion. I was working on ‘The Ways’ and Dave Free comes in like, ‘Yo! You know SiR?!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I know SiR! That’s the home Darryl.’ He’s like, ‘What?! I’m about to sign him, bro! He’s on his way here right now. Why didn’t you tell me? He’s on like five songs on here.’ This shit’s funny: they were trying to figure out the hook for ‘The Ways’ and I told [Dave], ‘Guaranteed when he comes, he’ll finish the song.’ Sure enough, he finished the song.
“[Jay Rock’s new album] is coming! It’s crazy! He’s in his bag — a Gucci bag! [Laughs] And we got some things on there.”
Isaiah Rashad — “Rope” ft. SiR (2016)
“That was around the time we were working on 90059. My boy Quan Quizzle on the bass—the best bass player in the game to me—I hit him up when he was in town. I was like, ‘You got perfect pocket, we need to peel off a whole bunch of ideas.’ That one, in particular, I had the little vocal chant that I did myself and then I put a little bass on there, but it was just a reference for Quan. But he put the bassline on there and had that shit moving. I was like, ‘Wooh!’ The drums, I like how they were a little unorthodox with the rhythm, but the rhythm is still there.
“I sent it to [Isaiah] and then he sent me a little video back, he was like, ‘This?!’ I was like, ‘Oh for sure, he’s gon’ fuck with that.’ Shouts to Zay, we got some new shit. He’s cooking too. He put SiR on the song after, I didn’t know how he was going to do it. He did that song away from me. When he sent me the version with SiR on it, I was like, ‘Oh shit, this is going to be something!’
“When he was working on the album, he would come by my house and play the whole thing and, you know, see if I had input on anything. That’s how I ended up on ‘Find a Topic.’ He didn’t have any bass on there and I was like, ‘This is a cold one, but it need that bass.’ Quan came over and played bass, I added some extra keys on there, and it was that. Shouts to Free P, he killed it, we just added a little balance to it. As a producer, it’s not just about what I’ma do; I want you to put out the best that you can. So if you invite me in, I’m here for you. We all got a creative responsibility to make the best shit we possibly can.
“When I heard [the finished version], I was like, ‘Oh, he got vulnerable on this. This shit going to touch people.’ I was happy that he was in a space to do it and I’m glad I could help provide the canvas. As a producer, I want to help you open up, to get to the meat and potatoes of what you want to say. [Dr.] Dre said this to me one time: after you talk about bitches and partying and money, that’s when you find out who a real artist is.
ScHoolboy Q — “Kno Ya Wrong” ft. Lance Skiiiwalker (2016)
“Shout out to Q. Ugly QWop [laughs]. I was working with Lance Skiiiwalker a lot and at the time, I was making beats thinking hopefully Black Hippy will make the album, man. I sent [Lance] a batch of beats and he did a hook to it, and then sent it to Q. Q wanted it immediately. It was maybe like a span of three hours: I sent these beats, he went in and tried something, and then Q asked for the files back. I was like, ‘I didn’t imagine him taking that beat.' But I was like, 'Hell yeah!’ It’s funny the shit people choose from me.
“When he did it, I hadn’t heard the record, but Tae Beast told me about it. We were at the in-store signing for Jay Rock’s 90059 and Tae told me, ‘You better go by the studio and hear that shit Q did! It’s crazy, it’s different.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ So then I see Q at Jay’s house and he was like, ‘Ahhh, you maaade the aaalbum!’ He was wilding. He told me to come to the studio and I heard it. I was like, ‘Oh shit!’
“At the time, I didn’t know it was a half song. He paired it with the Alchemist joint—shouts to The Alchemist, the legend. He’s got some of my favorite shit; ‘Keep It Thoro’ is probably my favorite beat of his. Sometimes I don’t even realize what it is, like the magnitude of everything. But I was like, ‘This is some shit!’
“When I heard the album I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ It ended up getting nominated for a GRAMMY. I was like, ‘Oh shit!’ I’m just happy to be a part of it. There’s a certain level of divine intervention that goes on. God got to be involved. When things like that happen, all I can do is say thank you. Q’s working now, he’s got some shit.
“It’s incredible to see [TDE] grow, to see their vision come to fruition. You work at it daily in small increments and you reach goals, and then you turn around one day and you look at all the progress you made and you’re like, ‘Damn, it’s this now?’ It’s still crazy ’cause I didn’t know I’d be a part of this situation, let alone know that they would become who they are. And we’re still all growing.”