J the S Jumps “In the Mix” [Exclusive Interview]
The trials that many of us undergo during our lifetime can either tear us down or make us stronger, but when these hardships inspire art, masterpieces may be the result. Massachusetts native J The S (shortened from Jake The Snake) certainly isn’t a stranger to the many pressures that life can bring, but he’s managed to take what he’s learned and transform it into inspiring music. While we wait for J to release his upcoming DJBooth.net-hosted mixtape Wish You Were Here, getting to know the man behind the music is imperative.
J The S discovered his talent for rhyming in his teenage years after having been exposed to a less-than-perfect atmosphere during his childhood. He used his skills of self-expression to propel his nascent rap career to a point where he had the privilege to open shows for hip-hop royalty like Talib Kweli, Fat Joe, and the Wu-Tang Clan among others. 2006 saw the release of J’s debut, internationally-released album Strategy of the Crown, which immediately put him on the map. Several other projects followed, and now J is preparing to drop his next LP, The Last Days, later this year. To give fans a taste of what’s to come, though, his Wish You Were Here mixtape will feature several cuts designed to further acquaint us with his impressive style.
In this exclusive, five-question interview, J The S discusses how he’s been shaped both as an emcee and person, and what we all can expect to hear on both of his upcoming projects.
The DJBooth.net co-sponsored Wish You Were Here was released this week. Is the title a direct message to a certain individual? Who is "You"?
The message is to anyone and everyone. It is YOU. It has a satirical significance behind it. My upcoming album, The Last Days, is a serious, themed project. I remember seeing postcards that had nice pictures of beaches, or sunsets, and people always sign them "Wish You Were Here." We're living in the Last Days, so its my way of saying "Hi, here's a musical postcard from The Last Days. I Wish You Were Here."
Your music has always been intensely personal. Is there anything you revealed on Wish You Were Here that was hard for you to verbalize musically?
On every project I always want my listeners to feel connected to me and my life, so I make a point to always talk bout personal things. Some may be topics you have heard me discuss before, but with each new song, or project, I want to reveal new things. On Wish You Were Here, some personal matters I had not previously touched on were the death of some family members and how that effected my family and I, and my parents' substance abuse issues, and if that led to my own [issues]. I also open up about taking college classes - and doing very well I might add - while at the same time pumping to make bread and trying to get this music thing poppin.
"Change" is a record that has you exploring themes of peace and progress. Would it be fair to say that in some ways you’re a hip-hop humanitarian?
[laughs] A Hip Hop Humanitarian? I don't know, that's a big title. I mean, I'm imperfect just like the rest of us. I have done plenty in my life that I ain't proud of, and probably going to do some more things I wont be [proud of]. But peace and progress are always themes in my music, and that is because they're themes in my life. Personally, that's what I'm searching for. I say, "don't let how you were made decide who you will be." It don't mater if I was movin weight with my dogs, runnin around involved in nefarious activities or whatever, it is still one aspect of my life. We can grow and change as individuals, and from there we can go onto change our family and friends for the better, our communities, or societies. It just gets bigger and bigger.
Your 2006 album Strategy of the Crown was favorably received. How have you grown musically over the last four years?
That album dropped before all the blogs popped up and the Internet was such a powerful platform. I had two #1 national college radio singles, I was on mixtapes, doing magazine press, etc. It was more "old fashioned" if you will. In fact, those singles were pressed up on VINYL, you know!? It was some real hip hop sh*t, but growth is important. Musically, I don't rap over that same production anymore, and I don't write songs like that no more. That's my foundation - don't get it twisted - and I ain't knockin' boom bap cause that's what raised me, but now I want to try things many [artists] aren't doing. What I'm speaking about [on Wish You Were Here] nobody is really doing. I'm incorporating rock n roll, reggae, electronic music, soul, and hip hop. My music now is for more than just hardcore hip hop fans. It is more worldly, which is who I am.
For most people, tattoos aren’t just a cool fad - they’re stories. Do you have any tattoos that require an intimate explanation?
I started gettin' tattoos when I was 17. My moms, who has a few herself, took me to get one because you have to be 18 (legally) in Massachusetts. I have more than I know now, at least over 20, and every single one has a special meaning and significance behind it. No silly barb wires or tribal joints. All stories! My first tat was a rattlesnake on my left shoulder; its from a Native American medicine book, which my moms has too. The rattlesnake represents my personality traits in regards to growth, learning form mistakes, and transcendence. I have another of Atlas holding the world on my right forearm, where the world is in flames and burning smoke into the sky. The "Atlas" is actually me with tattoos that resemble mine. On my left arm, I have a sun (man), moon (woman), and stars (children), which is the foundation of the universe. I could go on and on with a story for each one, but I'll leave some stories for later on.
Final Thoughts? Shout outs? Confessions? Admissions?
I hope that people receive Wish You Were Here in the manner in which I intended: feel inspired by it, soothed by it, connected to it, and just enjoy it. It will get you ready for The Last Days LP. Please check out www.jthes.com to get the haps on everything J The S related. Shouts to all my dogs behind the walls, Jonathan Master, the whole Same Plate fam, Greater Good, and love to IM KING, 2Dopeboyz, and of course DJBOOTH for all the support and love!