Jeff Chery Interview
|Label:||Team Rsinal Inc.|
|Next Project:||Going Against the Grain|
|Twitter:||Jeff Chery on Twitter|
|Website:||Jeff Chery 's Website|
Achieving success and longevity in the notoriously fickle music game is all about defying the norm and, as an artist who’s spent his life Going Against the Grain, Haitian-American emcee Jeff Chery has a considerable leg up on the competition. From his decision to leave a secure job in NYC and pursue his dreams in Atlanta, to his recent decision to drop former moniker “Pay$0z” in favor of his birth name, to the eclectic array of styles and sounds he incorporates into his musical output, the Haitian-American emcee has built his reputation on doing things his own way – and, as a result, he has listeners across the ‘net following his every move.
A regular fixture in the Booth since introducing himself with “Black Starz” in November ‘08, Chery has brought us old-school, lyrically-driven cuts, club-ready joints, and everything in between (including an exclusive freestyle!). Now, the emcee is finally getting ready to drop the DJBooth.net-sponsored “mix-album” album fans have been looking forward to for more than a year. Including “Zone Out,” “Milf” and the Booth-premiered “Fearless,” GAtG is scheduled to hit our front page March 23.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Jeff Chery steps into the Booth to discuss his reaction to the tragic events that devastated his birth country in January, how he judges his own growth as an artist, and who gives the best interviews in the game (hint: his name starts with “DJ” and ends with “Z”).
Listen to the Interview
Jeff Chery Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a homepage mainstay who first cracked our feature rotation back in November of 2008. Twenty features and one stage-name change later and he’s gearing up to release his brand new, Booth-sponsored project, Going Against the Grain. Please welcome a Freestyle Series alum, and the artist formerly known as Pay$0z, Jeff Chery – how you doin’?
Jeff Chery: [Howls] Awooo! Z, what’s going on, man?
DJ Booth: That was the excitement that I was hoping to hear from you – you didn’t let me down!
Jeff Chery: [laughs] I never wanna let you down, man. DJBooth is the place to be at, and you are the man, man!
DJ Booth: [laughs] All right, I’m blushing, stop it. Let’s backtrack for a second: you currently reside in Atlanta, but this is after you fled your birthplace of Haiti, and grew up, as a child in Brooklyn. So, describe the impact that all three of these places have had on the sound of your music, as it is today?
Jeff Chery: You know what, Z? That’s probably one of the best questions I’ve been asked!
DJ Booth: That’s because I don’t do it like anybody else.
Jeff Chery: [laughs] That’s great, man. But, to answer that question, to be honest, I’m thankful that I’ve been able to actually live in [those three places]. ‘Cause livin’ and growin’ up in Haiti is real difficult, because it’s a Third World country, so there’s not a lot of resources and things out there. But livin’ in Brooklyn, New York, especially where I’m from, the Flatbrush area. It’s the ‘hood. Everybody tells you it’s the ‘hood, so you get into your fights, you get into your bad crowds, and certain things will come up, certain things will happen. Growin’ up in that area, I used to do a lot of underground rappin’, and it made me real rugged – you know, I speak about my environment. Once I moved to Atlanta, it kinda opened up my mind a whole lot to these dance records, and basically stepping out of the box and bein’ free, so it helped me discover myself. So now, with these three elements implemented into my style, that’s why sometimes I speak how I speak, or I have certain slurs in my words, or different things you’ll hear and be like, “Damn, this kid doesn’t sound like he’s straight from Brooklyn, but he doesn’t sound like he’s from Atlanta, he just sounds like something totally different.” So I’m happy with the outcome of these three different places, man.
DJ Booth: As a Haitian-American, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the aftereffects of the Haiti earthquake. Jeff, describe your emotions immediately thereafter, when you found out what happened.
Jeff Chery: To be honest, when the earthquake happened, I kinda caught it on the news and I didn’t pay much attention to it. It was really when I went to sleep, and I got a phone call around five, four in the morning. My phone just kept going off, and I was like, “Who the hell is callin’ me?” And I look at the phone and it’s my sister, and she called me real hysterical and was tellin’ me that the earthquake was devastating, and what happened, and the magnitude of the whole event. So I sat there and I kinda just broke. It was a real emotional time for me, can’t even lie to you. At that point in time there was a lot of family out there that we could not get in contact with, of course. We didn’t know what happened or what state they were in. I came to find out, later that day, I did lose a grandfather out there. It was a real hard time for me, real hard time.
DJ Booth: I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your grandfather. Hopefully the rest of your family is all right. I’ve heard a lot of experts talk about – and this is after they surveyed all the devastation in Haiti – that they’re almost forecasting that, in a tragic, weird, roundabout way, the country will eventually be in a better place, economically and otherwise. What are your thoughts on an educated prediction like that?
Jeff Chery: I’m not even gonna lie to you, Z. To be honest with you, I think that’s really what will happen. ‘Cause, the state that Haiti was in – I had the opportunity to go out there, when I was around 13, 14, man, and the state that it was in was real bad, due to this tragic incident that occurred. With all the money, and all that’s happening, it will definitely be a better look for it. And it’ll be a place where, one day, you can probably visit with me. [laughs]
DJ Booth: Sounds good. What has it all taught you?
Jeff Chery: It’s taught me just not to take anything for granted. And the people you care about, it’s best actually to reach out to them whenever you can, ‘cause if you don’t, you really never know when somebody’s life may end. As far as my music goes, it just gave me this rush of energy and spirit. It just makes me want to be a better artist overall, and everything I touch, I want it to be magical, and everything I touch, I want everybody to feel it the way I do.
DJ Booth: Talking about wanting to be a better human being, and wanting to be a better person, it’s well-documented that, growing up, you got yourself into a fair amount of trouble. Was there any one point during your teenage years, when you kinda had that light bulb go off, and you realized, “This is not for me. I have more to offer this world.”?
Jeff Chery: Yes. Not to put all my business out there, but there was one point in my life, during my teenage years, actually after my father took me to Haiti – he took me to Haiti due to the fact that I was runnin’ around being a little juvenile delinquent. Once he took me to Haiti, it opened my eyes to a whole lot of different things, man. ‘Cause he said, “Once you keep going on this track, you’ll stay on it,” And I was like, “I can’t afford to do that, man!” ‘cause it was just real bad. Once I came back, I got into a situation, it was actually a gun charge. I was incarcerated for a little bit. I don’t want to sound like I’m some big criminal or anything – no, I was incarcerated for a short period of time, and we actually beat the case. But going through the case and the trial and everything, it was just like, “I have all this talent, and I’ve spent all this time working on myself and building myself and gaining a fanbase, and [so many] people believe in me, and I’m just gonna throw it all away.” And at that point in time, I made my final decision to never, ever be around certain things like that, man. Certain situations you can’t control, of course, but I vowed [not to] put myself in that predicament.
DJ Booth: The key obviously is realizing what’s going on, and not only making the change, but knowing that that is a change that you will stand by moving forward. It sounds like that’s the situation here, so I’m proud of you.
Jeff Chery: Appreciate it, Z.
DJ Booth: My pleasure. Your stage name change from Pay$0z to your birth name, Jeff Chery, has been well-documented in the Booth. Before we dissect what using your birth name as your new stage name will mean for you moving forward, I’m curious, what made you originally decide on Pay$0z?
Jeff Chery: When I was in New York, man, Brooklyn, everybody used to call me “the money kid.” “He’s all about his money.” ‘Cause that’s really what I was about: chasin’ the dollar. And it kinda just stuck with me. My name went from “Sniper,” which was really unmarketable and bad… [laughs]
DJ Booth: Yeah, good decision there,
Jeff Chery: [laughs] And one day me and my homeboys – there was a group I was in called GMM back in the day – my homeboy was like, “You need a new name, ‘cause ‘Sniper’s really not marketable.” I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right.” So we sat there and we just started thinkin’ of names, and I wanted to call myself “Money,” but I wanted to add a wittiness to it, and we were just playin’ records, and there was a record from Jay-Z where he says “J-Hov, ‘bout to change my name to Jay Pesos, and change the game.” And I’m like, “Pesos, money, that describes me perfect,” and we just ran with it. We played with the spelling of it a few times, and we just picked “Pay$0z.”
DJ Booth: So obviously “Jeff Chery” is the new stage name, which is your name. When you went about deciding what you wanted to do, was there any hesitation, did you think of something else before?
Jeff Chery: I had “J-Chery,” and I had just “J. Chery,” and I started asking a few people, “Hey, what do you think about me switching my name. And I got the, “No, don’t do it.” “That don’t sound too cool.” “Yes, do it.” I sat back and realized, hey, I’m slowly growin’, I have all these different types of records, and I’m not in one lane, so I don’t wanna be categorized as, “Hey, he’s in this lane.” And I think “Jeff Chery” is just not in a box. Once you hear that name, you might think R&B, you might think pop, you might think this, and it just fits so well, man.
DJ Booth: Well, I’ll tell you what: the music has to speak for itself, so, regardless of what your stage name is, as long as you make good music it’s not gonna matter at the end of the day. Plus, “Jeff Chery” is easier to Google.
Jeff Chery: [laughs] It is a whole lot easier to Google
DJ Booth: We have known one another for a relatively long time within the industry, and I’ve really seen your growth as an artist over the past two-plus years. Is growth something that you hear yourself, when your make new music, or is it something that really is only apparent when others around you remind you of it?
Jeff Chery: Z, to answer that question, sometimes I get lost in my music, and people have to remind me sometimes, “Hey, look, you’ve grown tremendously.” But there are some days and some records that I make, and I can tell, I just gradually grew a whole lot, man. And it’s not like it’s taken fifty-some years to grow. ‘Cause some artists actually get worse with time. So, some get better, and some, when the money comes along they change a whole lot, and not for the better. Me, I know for a fact I’m growin’ as an artist ‘cause I spend a lot of time on my music, I ask a lot of people what they think, and I take constructive criticism very well, so absorbing everything like a sponge and testing it out and listening back to it, I can listen to my old stuff and be like, “Wow, this amazes me how much I’ve grown.”
DJ Booth: Do you listen to your old stuff and think, “I would never do that now.”?
Jeff Chery: No, I actually don’t. Some of my old stuff, I’m like, “Hey, I really wish I was doin’ that now! It sounds real hot!” [laughs]
DJ Booth: [laughs] Your most recent DJBooth.net feature is the Harlems Cash collabo “Fearless,” which has received great feedback from all of our readers. Full disclosure: my fears include, and are not limited to drowning in a frozen-over lake, being trapped in a small, confined or narrow space, and that my Chicago Bears won’t win another Super Bowl during my lifetime. So, those are three of my fears. Jeff, do you fear anything and, if so, what do you fear?
Jeff Chery: I fear God. I know they heard it on that record, but that’s the honest truth: I fear God. Some of my phobias/fears I guess would be, [being] trapped in a small confined area, with no way of breathing or getting out of that areas.
DJ Booth: That’s some scary sh*t; I’m glad someone else feels that way!
Jeff Chery: It is, man. I’m actually going bungee jumping for my birthday, in September.
DJ Booth: Good luck, I’m glad we did this interview now.
Jeff Chery: [laughs] Thank you for the support, Z.
DJ Booth: I’m totally kidding – it’s just not something I would do.
Jeff Chery: I understand.
DJ Booth: Speaking of fears, I’ve talked to artists in the past who said, when they first started off in their career, there was a legitimate fear of failure, of not being a success, or, at least, as successful as they knew they could be. Has that thought or fear ever crossed your mind?
Jeff Chery: That was one fear I would have mentioned, but it’s actually not a fear anymore. At the end of the day, I think that’s really on you, man – the decisions you make, the type of artist you are. If you work hard enough, and you have enough faith and hope, and you’re puttin’ out the right things, and you’re actually making the right decisions, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t reach a plateau or place that you feel you’re comfortable at.
DJ Booth: I agree. The title of your new, DJBooth-hosted project, as I mentioned in the open, is Going Against the Grain. In the 22 years that you have spent on this Earth, what do you believe to be the single greatest moment, that both captures and encompasses the concept of doing as the title suggests, and going against the proverbial grain?
Jeff Chery: Z, I swear you have the best questions! [laughs]
DJ Booth: Thank you.
Jeff Chery: I’ve gotta give it up for you. That would’ve been my move to Atlanta. I was working for Verizon Wireless, I was actually a tech manager. I was a tech manager makin’ real good money, I was actually drivin’ a Lexus, brand new, and I was livin’. I could have continued to do what I was doing: do music on the side, but continue working and getting this money, and having fun and partying. At [that point] in my life I just said, “Hey, I’m movin’ to Atlanta,” and just moved out there with nothing much, and now I’m doin’ pretty OK.
DJ Booth: I was just gonna say: three years later, it proves that going against the grain definitely worked in your favor.
Jeff Chery: Exactly.
DJ Booth: Well, from a slightly serious topic to a somewhat fun topic, one of the songs that will be found on the upcoming project is the previously-featured “MILF.” So, Jeff, two-part question: one, have you ever been with a MILF and, two, do you have any criteria or standards when it comes to pursuing a mother of this kind?
Jeff Chery: [laugh] Had to laugh at that… I’ve actually dealt with a MILF before. I do not have any standards, except for the usual, expected for every male. She just has to look good.
DJ Booth: What number of kids would you classify as too many kids?
Jeff Chery: Three would do it for me, man. Once I hit three or four, I’m actually runnin’ away.
DJ Booth: There we go – we have actually just turned this interview into the DJBooth.net Dating Service. Killed two birds with one stone: did the interview for promotional purposes and, who knows, we might get you some action next weekend.
Jeff Chery: [laughs] Who knows, man? I’ll be in the Chi soon enough.
DJ Booth: Absolutely. Well, Going Against the Grain [will be released] later this month. Give them some information about all your social networks, website, MySpace, Twitter…
Jeff Chery: Yes sir. jeffchery.com/blogs, or just jeffchery.com – that’s my formal, official site. You can follow me on Twitter, twitter.com/jeffchery. And, like Z said, the name is very easy to Google.
DJ Booth: Absolutely. Well, as always, my friend, I thank you for takin’ the time to join me inside the DJ Booth for the interview, nothing but the best of luck, and I don’t have to say something like “next time I talk to you,” ‘cause we talk every week.
Jeff Chery: Correct. [laughs] All right, Z, appreciate it, man. DJBooth.net – the place to be at. Jeff Chery, ow! Z, the best interview I’ve had so far, man.