"Wall Street lawyer turned rapper." Not exactly the typical career path for an aspiring MC, but judging by the numerous blogs that have profiled him recently, it seems to be working out quite well for Jay Eff Kay. Often described as a lyrical successor to the Eminem of Mosh, the former attorney's music mixes over-the-top lyrics with a very serious political message. It's inflammatory, it's offensive and it's rebellious. In short, it's the kind of hip hop that Middle America used to be afraid of. While I don't agree with everything that Jay Eff Kay says in his rhymes, I do have a lot of respect for the fact that he's speaking out against everything that's gone wrong with this country and with hip hop in general.
I had a chance to ask Jay a few questions, covering everything from his start as an MC to his thoughts on politics to his beef with Okayplayer. By the end of the interview, I came away with the impression of a very savvy man who has the potential to make some big moves in the hip hop game. Here's what he had to say (two tracks from his album are included at the end of the interview):
Let's start with how you got into hip hop in the first place. I don't imagine that there were a whole lot of ciphers breaking out in the offices of a law firm, so how did you develop and refine your skills as an MC?
I definitely had to teach myself how to rap; I did not grow up in neighborhoods where people were spitting on the street corner after school. Way way back, in college, when I decided I wanted to start rapping, I borrowed a friends 8-track and a Roland sampler -- I can't even remember the model -- and made some instrumental beats. Then I started rapping over them. I really got serious about things around the time I realized how awful having a day job would be. I didn't have anyone else to record me, so I built a studio in my bathroom and recorded my whole demo in there on my own. That's true. I had to put the PC monitor on top of the toilet. So, I had to either move it or piss in the shower every time I had to go. It was the stuff of legend.
Did you do it all on your own, or do you have a crew of MCs that you work with?
I co-produce almost all of my beats with a guy named Jay Deasel. He is like the Pharrell to my Clipse. Other than that, everything is me. I don't even like to have guest appearances. There's too much shit I want to say and I can't spare the airtime. I'm a megalomaniac.
Were there any specific MCs (or specific albums) you listened to that made you want to pick up a mic in the first place?
Ice Cube and Eminem. Ice Cube was the first rapper I ever got into; in terms of using music as a medium for social criticism, I'm not sure anyone's ever done a more potent job. But, Eminem was what really made me want to be a rapper. Just the perfection in how he uses the language. Never mind rappers, he can stand next to any writer of any genre. I started writing raps within weeks of hearing the Slim Shady EP, I'm sure of it.
In another interview [with Buzzgrinder] you said that, "Rock is way better than rap." Assuming that wasn't sarcastic, why are you performing hip hop instead of rock?
When you go to a rock concert, there is a certain type of kinetic energy achieved which you can almost never achieve with rap music. Once in a while you get a song that has that energy, like "Lose Yourself" or "Jesus Walks" and it blows your mind. That's why I said that. In another lifetime, I'd be Randy Blythe of Lamb of God. But for me right now rap is just a much more efficient way for me to express all my ideas. It's mostly just me and a notebook or laptop. It's pure expression. I'd try to bring rock type energy to it; I think rap needs that right now.
Your background - white lawyer, with an apparent affinity for rock music, turned rapper - is not something that the average hip hop head can relate to. Do you think that's something that will prevent you from being accepted by fans? What would your "sales pitch" be to someone who questions whether your music is relevant to them?
I disagree with the notion that the average hip hop head's life is much different than mine. Most hip hop heads are not face down in a mound of coke with a Mac-10 across their lap and a super model sucking their dick. They are working in some shitty cubicle, hating their job, praying for their fifteen minute break to roll around so they can creep into a bathroom stall and rub one out. They stalk chicks on the internet and watch Family Guy. Although I hate Kanye, I will say that one thing he demonstrates is that people are hungry for rappers who can cover day-to-day, down-to-earth topics in an interesting way. That's mostly what I do.
Looking at the type of hip hop that seems to be selling the most these days - "ringtone" rap and gangsta rap - do you think it's possible for a political rapper to have commercial success? Do you think mainstream audiences are willing to buy into rap with a political message?
Yes, though I don't think you will find proof of that in any recent rap album. Instead, I would say look to Green Day's last album. Audiences aren't dumb. They want to be challenged. They think and talk about politics amongst themselves and they want art that reflects that.
I know that you're primarily interested at this point in just getting your music out there and having people listen to it, but how much are you concerned with the financial aspect of your music right now? My question here stems from the fact that the major labels seem to have little interest in taking risks with the artists they invest in - a rapper speaking out against the government would certainly fall under the "risk" category for them. So to put this question another way, would you be willing to tone down your lyrics if that's what was required to get a record deal?
I make no secret of the fact that I am aiming for a major label deal. I do not want to have to work in an office ever again, and I certainly don't have anyone else paying my bills right now. I don't think an artist who speaks out against the government or "system" is a risk business-wise. In fact it's good business. Corporations know this. They have made billions of dollars selling kids rebellion. Che Guevara shirts come to mind. With each new disgusting, volatile lyric, I become a safer investment. Welcome to America.
One of the underlying themes of your album seems to be that the American public is being deceived by the government. But is it enough to just make people aware of what's going on in politics these days? Given a platform to speak to the American public, what would you suggest they do to fix the current situation?
In terms of activism, you can do three things. The most important thing is your consumption. Try not to buy the system's shit. That's how you fuel it, by handing your money over to it. Second, try to put yourself in a position where you can quit your job and compete with these people. Start your own business. Third, vote for people who aren't evil devils.
On the track Den Of Rats you raise the issue that there's not much difference between a Republican and a Democrat, that they're essentially in collusion with each other. Can you expand on that idea a bit? Given the two party system, do you see any benefit to going out and voting?
Here's where that song comes from. I was working on a case where I had to write some bios of members of the boards of various corporations. And some of these people are on the boards of say five or ten major corporations, some of whom seem like they should be competitors. And you realize that there's a small handful of people who are basically running this country -- and they all know each other and help each other out. No matter who is in office, no matter who we are at war with, no matter who is selling the most hamburgers -- they always benefit. In the political aspect of this, the Republicans and Democrats -- they play this good cop bad cop game depending on who is control of Congress, but they never seem to get anything substantial done. It just really seems sometimes like they are working in conjunction with one another and with big business to accomplish jack shit -- to keep the status quo, to keep the power structure in place. I think there should definitely be more than two parties. Almost every other country has more than two parties. More choices and more competition will definitely enhance democracy. I always vote, and I almost always vote Libertarian. Not just because my own political beliefs are most in line with that party, but also to register my protest against the two party system.
There seems to have been a little bit of drama over at The Eminem Blog recently. Is Jay Eff Kay vs. Edga Da Messiah the 2007 version of Eminem vs. Cage? [The Eminem Blog gave an unfavorable review of Jay's album, which has since been removed, leading to a war of words in the comment section of the site. Here's where it started. And for the record, I love my okayplayer peoples.]
Edga Da Messiah blows shemales. That French whore who runs that site called his album more creative than mine. And trust me his music is unlistenable. You can tell this guy was eating her pussy or some shit -- she was totally biased. I can stand a bad review -- I try to learn from them. But when someone is obviously not listening to your shit or being even-handed, they deserve to be ripped a new asshole. Like this dickless faggot Andrew Martin at Okayplayer [who wrote a review of the album]. Obviously this site is just a circle jerk of backpack rapper dickriders and I never should have sent my CD to them. But this guy clearly didn't even give it a listen. Probably, he is intimidated and disoriented encountering a white man who isn't as much of a vagina as he is and that was his response. When you get 30 reviews and 25 of them are really positive, 4 are indifferent and 1 bashes you, you can pretty much assume that last guy wasn't being objective. He's too much of a statistical outlier. If you see Andrew Martin on the streets of San Francisco or wherever Okayplayer is based, please punch him in his pussy for me.
Do you have any projects that you're currently working on? Do you have any upcoming shows/club appearances that people can see you at?
I'm just working on the next album. I think I'm in a place where I can put out an album a year. I don't do shows at this point. I love the live set, but I am viewing shows more as a reward for when I can get my buzz to the level it needs to be at.
You can read a couple of reviews of American Suicide Notes Vo. 1 over at SpliffHuxtable and Rock the Dub. (My quick review: a few of the tracks need a little more polish, but it's hard to deny that Jay shows a ton of potential).