Creative energy hits different when you’ve found a kindred spirit in your artistic space. That’s what North Carolina-born producer L’Orange and Chicago-born rapper-producer Jeremiah Jae found in each other when they first started working together in 2013.
“I was talking with [Mello Music Group] about making a new album, and they asked me what artists I’d want to work with,” L’Orange begins. “I told them, ‘It’s not artists plural, there’s only one: Jeremiah Jae.’”
After speaking with the label, L’Orange sent Jae a beat that would eventually turn into the song “The Lineup” from their 2015 debut, The Night Took Us In Like Family. L’Orange was ecstatic to have found someone who helped him feel seen.
While the song turned out well, Jae had reservations about working on a full-length project with someone he’d never met in-person. L’Orange’s dedication to hip-hop, however, drew him in. “He felt like a true hip-hop student,” Jae says over the phone. “I appreciated that he even reached out to me in the first place.” From there, the pair forged a new creative partnership in the shadows.
The Night Took Us In Like Family displays how well Jae’s stoic poetry fits with L’Orange’s jazz-flecked boom bap and copious radio-play vocal samples. The energy is madcap and paranoid, yet muted. Four years later, the duo’s follow up, Complicate Your Life With Violence, ramps up the tension with a new World War II setting.
For Complicate, neither artist was interested in retracing their steps, but they both felt there was more to say—as a duo. In this vein, Violence explores the residual effects that all types of war can have on Black Americans (“Say It All”), children (“Summer Camp”), and on soldiers themselves (“Clay Pigeons”).
L’Orange and Jeremiah Jae are still proving why they’re one of the best tag-teams rap has to offer. Our conversations with both artists, edited for content and clarity, follow below.
DJBooth: As a duo, what’s your recording process like?
L’Orange: It was mostly an email-to-email situation, but I feel that process gets a bad rap. People like to refer to the “magic” of the studio and how that can’t be replaced. I don’t wanna make a beat in front of Jae, and I don’t think Jae wants to write his verse in front of me. Being in the studio would’ve been counterproductive for us. I want him to take the chances he needs to be alone to take. To be clear, I only feel this way about Jae.
What inspired you to come together again for Complicate Your Life With Violence?
Jae: I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do another one, at first. I felt rapped out. I wanted to direct my attention outside of hip-hop and go in a completely different direction. And then he hit me to make another album [laughs]. I think the reason L’Orange reached out to me is he knows how much I value concepts. I wanted to do it, but I insisted that we don’t ruminate on the old stuff. He sent me more beats, and from there, I felt like it was time to dive back in.
What inspired the war-torn story of this album?
Jae: I love to work on ideas that can be carried across an entire album. For Complicate Your Life With Violence, specifically, it was L’Orange’s idea. He approached me with the idea to do another project, and I just ran with the war story. I moved the timeline up to World War II and followed the same character from TNTUILF. I began doing all this research into World War II through books, archive.org, and documentaries. I was even working out, and I cut my hair short. Call it method [rapping]. Working with L’Orange is almost like working on a movie with a director.
L’Orange: Jae understands something a lot of artists don’t: To tell a story, you don’t have to actually tell a story. What you do is describe a story. When I work with artists, I’ll let them know I don’t wanna hear about how Bob went to the store; I wanna hear how cold it was when he put his hand out the window when he let the stale air out after a hard week. I want you to describe things in ways I can feel on my skin and in the pit of my chest. Jae does that extremely well.
When we were talking about this concept, neither of us wanted to make an album about the brutality of war. What I would want to do is examine the psychological aspect rather than try to glamorize war because it’s been done so many times.
Jae: It’s a record that holds multiple meanings, but it’s also about my struggles with depression, anxiety, and dealing with the music industry. My story is unique, and a lot of times, it felt like I was going through my own war zone. The Black experience and the anxieties that come with it are in there, for me, at least.
This album is paranoid and fast-paced, especially compared to TNTUILF. Was that development intentional?
L’Orange: Because of the theme of war, I think paranoid is a great word for it because that’s exactly how I wanted it to sound. I like to make certain spots arhythmic, dissonant, and uncomfortable because when that next part comes in, it’s all gonna pay off.
Jae: That’s a great observation. [The Night Took Us In Like Family] is a different war zone. My character was running from the police through the streets. This new album feels like the movie expansion of that: double the explosives and more action. I also wanted to make it about the mental change and trauma you go through when you experience something like war. You’re not able to process the trauma; you’re just going through it. I wanted to show those breaking points.
Depression and anxiety are topics you’ve both explored in past works. How have they affected your musical output?
L’Orange: Many people associate their depression with their value, especially artistically, and I wanna differentiate that from what I’m about to say. For me, and I’m not trying to glamorize this, suffering is an important component of good art. That doesn’t necessarily mean depression or self-harm. It means if I’m content with my work through the entire process, I feel I make mediocre things. To struggle and to self-critique in a way that’s more abstract and less neurotic feels healthy to me. As much as I love making records, there is an amount of challenge equal to that, that will release when I hear the finished product. My favorite part is when all those good chemicals start coming back into your brain.
Also, I’m in a different part of my life right now. I’m getting married next month, and I have a dog. My life is more stable, and I’m not only getting three hours of sleep at night and eating nothing for a couple of days. I'm not as self-destructive as I’ve been in the past. Those are all good things for my life, but they’re also things I’ve become accustomed to in terms of my artistic process. Now, I’m finding inspiration in new places while being able to look back on being in that dark place before.
Jae: I was going through similar breaking points as my character in real life, so a lot of that is mirrored on this album. I signed my first deal when I was 20; I’m 30 now. Life is a roller-coaster ride if you’re not eating right or you’re drinking too much. It’s easy to become surrounded by darkness. When you’re there, you have to go through it and reach for the heights. That’s one theme of this record: Whatever is going on, reach for the light. Just keep getting stronger.
I needed to do this album in this way, and the universe just brought it together. This was the most natural writing process I’ve ever undergone. It not only retaught me discipline, but it also helped get me through the cloud of depression.
Jae, as a Black man in America, how does violence complicate our lives in 2019?
Jae: Great question. It’s like navigating through a war zone, and you have to soldier up and survive. You can’t sugarcoat the Black experience and act like nothing’s going on. Violence has been complicating things; where is the root of all that? These were all questions I wanted to ask through this album. I didn’t want it to be a preachy thing. I just wanted people to look at this shit.