I'm a production freak...
Don't get me wrong, I love me some rapitty-raps, but for me production is always the first thing my ears focus on. If the beat doesn't get me chances are I won't make it through the song. I can listen to the mindless droning of Rae Sremmurd on "This Could Be Us" because the beat bounces like a Trick Daddy check and "Devil In A New Dress" gives me the greatest orgasm every single time I listen. Even more than the beats themselves it's the process, the samples, the art form, that fascinates me. I don't have a shred of musical ability in me, but I still listen to beats to find what I would flip. I spend hours on whosampled and I get viscerally angry when I see how underappreciated producers are; the systematic dismissal of producers is one of hip-hop's biggest flaws. Don't even get me started on Michael McDonald.
I've dedicated my life to knowing all I can about each and every producer out there, and of all the beatmakers in the world right now, nobody commands more of my respect and admiration than Jake One. He's everything a producer should be and more; he's also criminally underrated. His beats are everything a hip-hop head dreams about. There is this dusty coating to all of his work that really set off the crisp drums and surgical flips. From his own albums (see White Van Music) to songs like "The Truth," "Back On The Map," and "Troublemakers," Jake has a resume that would blow the backpack off any rap nerd. Brother Ali? Skyzoo? Ghostface? Guilty Simpson? So he's a underground producer right? WRONG.
In addition to being a staple in the indie world, he is also behind "3 Kings" featuring Dre, Jay and Rozay and a whole mess of tracks for 50 Cent. Think you have his number now? Well... he's also behind Acid Rap (see below), Drake's "Furthest Thing" and "Alright" by Fun; yes the band Fun. Hear that? It's the sound of a thousand backpackers falling into an existential blackhole. Bottom line, you would be hard pressed to find a producer in any genre with a discography as unique and expansive as Jake One.
As you can tell I'm a fan. I thought I was well versed in what Jake One had to offer. Once you find out he produced a Fun song as well as my favorite Brother Ali tune, there's not much else you can do to blow my mind. Then I checked out Tuxedo, his pop venture with Mayer Hawthorne and my mind was blown again. All I could think about as I listened to the album, two-stepping around my kitchen whilst making chili, was that Jake One was behind the boards. He's made my head bob so many times, but I've never had the urge to dance. The reaction was different, but the source of the reaction was all to familiar. Jake was speaking a different language but I still understood him perfectly. He's swapped his Tims and fitted for a pair of boogie shoes and a sparkly fedora that would make 3 Stacks jealous. Instead of gritty, sample-driven numbers, he's crafting colorful, bouncing instrumentals that fit Hawthorne's powdery vocals perfectly.
We praise artists like Kanye and Kendrick for experimenting and coming up with a different sound despite finding success in a previous formula. Jake One deserves the same amount of praise. For a gritty, sample-heavy producer to create a pop-funk experience like Tuxedo is an incredible feat. I've never heard anything like this from Uno before and yet he sounds right at home. What stands out most to me is the simplicity. I'm hesitant to call this a pop album because, while it is most definitely pop, I don't want you to get the impression that it's some radio-ready, unoriginal crap churned out for mass appeal. Pop music has been watered down, but in it's purist form pop is an art form. It's not easy to create a simple beat that has so much force and influence. A truly great pop song makes you dance around your kitchen, tap your feet without you even realizing. The very instant a beat like "Tuxedo Groove" or "The Right Time" glides into your earholes your body processes it, sends it coursing through your bloodstream and infects you until you are left with no choice but to move your body.
So is Jake's production on Tuxedo simple? Yes, but in that simplicity is an immense power. Nothing moves me like a soul beat - a great flip resonates in the depths of my soul - but on Tuxedo Jake moves me in a different way, I feel the same power that made him one of my favorite hip-hop producers. Pop music is sugary, colorful and fluffy, but Tuxedo shows that you don't have to sacrifice artistry for a pillowy, intoxicating feel. It's very rare for a pop album to feel this good and yet still be so musical and it's Jake One's production that makes Tuxedo such a gem.
Mayer Hawthorne is hardly a weak link, his soulful crooning is just as important to the Tuxedo experience, but for me, a production obsessed rap nerd, the awesomeness of Tuxedo comes in the production. Jake One is one of the best producers in hip-hop. He's experienced success in all corners of the hip-hop market and yet he continues to push his boundaries as well as his listeners. He may not be making soul beats, but that experimental, challenging attitude is the essence of hip-hop.
Now shut up and dance.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]