RapPages – Catchin' Up With the Jazzy Fatness of J Sw!ft
There's a lot to be said about our generation of musicians and producers. With all of the complaints regarding the lack of originality and diversity within Hip-Hop, I would say it's pretty extraordinary to find such a wide range of talent in an art form that's so highly scrutinized, criticized and analyzed by its own constituents.
While one of the main issues among Hip-Hop heads is artistic consistency, the question of talent and quality of is not -- there's plenty of slammin' music out there at the moment. One of the brothers that is banging out some of this dopeness is J Sw!ft, the man responsible for the Pharcyde's remarkable first album, as well as for the sounds of the Wascals and the Jazzy Fat Nastees, who are on his and partner Lamarr Algee's Fat House Wreckords through Tommy Boy.
J Sw!ft is a man who doesn't try to run the street to live off his success. He is in the crib keeping up his cops, working on beats. He puts in 13-hour workdays because he is all about his music.
J Sw!ft has been a musician since the age of six and started making beats when he was in high school. His musical sensibility and experience are apparent in his work and let the listener know he's years ahead of his contemporaries.
[RapPages:] Why did you take so much time to put out the Wascals?
[J SW!FT:] Well, we all used to live in the same apartment building and we all used to work on music together. So we've known each other for a while. Then the Pharcyde had gotten their deal, so I just concentrated on their album for the months that I was there. When I finished their project, I started on the Wascals. I tried to keep the same type of work style with the time spent. We tried to make every song as good as we can. We moved into a house and had a studio put in there and we just recorded. We had a little rent-a-car. We would leave, go to a club, vibe, come back and record. I still mixed in the big studio because you still need the big studio. Like the song "Dream and Imaginate," I really needed the big studio because there were too many tracks and effects that I couldn't do in my home.
[RP:] "Dream and Imaginate" is a song for the Wascals. Would you describe that song?
[J SW!FT:] We tried to do something different, we tried to get creative. It's a two-part song. On the first part we used samples, and on the second part I programmed the drums.
[RP:] You also have a group called the Jazzy Fat Nastees who are a four-member female vocal group. What is the difference between producing a group of singers and a group of rappers?
[J SW!FT:] It's totally different, especially with the type of music I want to create, because I want it to sound as real as their songs are. I have sampled things and used instruments, and they have to be in key with their voices so that it's pleasurable to the ear. It's different in rap because they can flow over something and it doesn't have to necessarily relate musically. With the Jazzys, their writing style enables me to put things on that are just different. Singers have a certain care for their voices that you don't see with rappers. There are certain days where they may not be able to record and you have to work around their schedule.
[RP:] What are some of the instruments that you use in your production?
[J SW!FT:] Well, I play piano and synthesizer. I got my brother to play drums and bass on some of the cuts on the album. I've been playing piano since I was about six years old. My dad used to play salsa music and taught me when I was young. He was a Black Cuban who played stand-up bass, guitar, flute and piano.
[RP:] Do you read music, and how does that help you with your production skills?
[J SW!FT:] It helps me with production, but it's like an involuntary thing. It's because I just know it. I think I want to make my stuff sound different. I like to use instruments, but only when it feels good -- just putting a horn on top of something because I have nothing to fill the track with. I try to make blends to where you can't even tell if it's live or a sample. I also play the drum trap set to sample beats sometimes.
[LAMARR:] He played the Rhodes on the Pharcyde album on that song "For Better or for Worst." I remember when Pete Rock asked Fat Lip what was that keyboard sound and he told him that was a Fender Rhodes -- then that sound popped out of nowhere on everybody's records.
[J SW!FT:] I don't off of that, because I've been inspired by a gang of producers myself. What I like to do is just leave things alone. After the Pharcyde album, I left the Rhodes alone.
[RP:] How would you describe the style of music that you are doing for the Jazzy Fat Nastees?
[J SW!FT:] What we manage to develop together -- myself along with L.A. Jay and the group -- is called "jazzy fat." Some of it's jazzy and some of it's fat, and it's up to the individual. I play their music to older people and they think that it is jazzy and they like it, and the young kids think that it's fat because of the beats or the way they may flex their different vocal styles.
[RP:] Last Summer when you had a hit record with "Passin' Me By" and everybody and their momma wanted you to do a remix, you opted to chill and develop your own projects. Why?
[J SW!FT:] I consider myself an artistic producer. I produce, but I'm also a pianist and I love music. I try to be artistic with what I make because it keeps it fun. I don't like to be mechanical. All the music that I did when I was a kid growing up, I had fun making it. When I'm having fun is when I bring the most energy and creativity to a project. I grew up with these people I'm working with; I never work with anyone outside of my circle. Another thing to note: I was in that whole selling tracks/remix game a long time ago, when I was like 15 and 16, to get money to buy equipment. Hey, I still may do a remix, but I have been working on these three albums and don't want to spread myself thin. It may take me three days to work on beats, or it may come together in 30 minutes. Either way, I won't rush it.
[RP:] What type of equipment do you like to work with?
[J SW!FT:] I use the MPC 60 because I'm just an Ikai kid, because I've been making beats since '86 and that's when New York rap music was just alive. That inspired me to make beats. There weren't samplers here back then, so I started making beats with little drum machines and stuff. When I was 16, I bought my first sampler. I went half with my brother. I also used a Roland 650 sampler and my Fender Rhodes.
[RP:] What type of boards do you like to cut and mix on?
[J SW!FT:] I like the Neve board because you can save everything. You can save the information on the floppy disk and you can just pop it in and you can bring back the mix exactly how it is, give or take some effects.
[RP:] Do you like to record and mix in digital or analog?
[J SW!FT:] I've recorded the Wascals with the ADAT -- that's in digital -- and dumping the information onto two-inch. Once you put it onto two-inch, it fattens things up. Then it goes from the digital process back to analog. That's the one thing about the analog, it's that it has that fatness. The ADATs tend to make things sound thin. Like the Pharcyde album was just a warmer sound, and the Wascals and the Jazzys are just a crisper sound.
[RP:] Who is the engineer that you use?
[J SW!FT:] For the Wascals project, I used Tim Nitz and he was very helpful. Especially for tracking "Dream and Imaginate," which was very complicated. He was really cool because he didn't try to force me to do anything. Engineers will do that. It's not their fault, because they were taught certain things and will try to do them at all cost. I remember when we were doing the Pharcyde album and we were recording "I'm That Type of Nigga" and we weren't feeling it. It wasn't like when we were at the house and we could run around with the mic. So I took the big mic off the stand and handed it to the group. The engineer was like, "Dude, you can't do that. The levels will be distorted." Then I told him that he could compress the levels so it wouldn't go out of boundaries. He was upset, but the show must go on. That's why the album sounds like it was recorded live. Fat Lip was running around the studio and we were running the tape. It was like a burst of energy was transmitted and caught on tape. That's what I try to do. I don't try to catch the illest flow. I try to catch the realest energy on tape.
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