July 17th, 2012 | Interviews

theo jemison

Rapper and producer Jeremiah Jae used to live in Chicago but Brainfeeder got him to relocate to L.A., where he eats healthy food and makes healthy music and works hard to resist the temptations of late-nite taco runs. After finishing his fascinating and idiosyncratic DXNCE EP—as well as his own take on Donuts, Eating Donuts And Other Refined Foods, a mixtape that mixed his own productions with beats by Dilla and Madlib—Jae is about to release his Brainfeeder debut, Raw Money Raps. The R. Stevie Moore sample didn’t make it to the final version, but Raw Money Raps is a deep and esoteric and intensely detailed album floating—according to Jae, and to any conscientious listen—in the space between dreams and waking life. Jae speaks now before going to let the cat out. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

What’s the bond between you and Chicago’s most indestructible rapper, Sharkula?
I fucking love Sharkula. He’s my homie. In Chicago, everybody’s seen him. I met him just riding the train, and I started hearing his music and watching documentaries and films on him. This guy made a documentary on him—this guy Josh Conro—called Diarrhea of a Madman, and somehow I did the music for it. ‘Yeah, I got music—I can do that shit.’ I really wanted to work with him cuz aesthetically that’s who I wanna be—like, ‘Fuck MySpace, fuck having an email.’ ‘What? There’s an artist like that now? I need to do that.’ So I lined up a bunch of a beats and we did ten tracks and we were just vibing. He’s super-good people and we understood each other and connected through the music first, and the relationship built more and more. He’ll take all the struggles with that too and not even complain. He knows his music isn’t gonna take him off into the sunset. But just the act—to see that is inspiring. The daily hand-to-hand hustle … all that shit! I learned a good deal from him about focusing and making work that you feel. The choice is up to you, but never limit yourself and just give in to some shit cuz someone wants to see you cleaner or make you some really cute star. I really vibe with Sharkula. He reminds me of Daniel Johnston—just sitting there telling a story, whether or not anyone is gonna listen to it or not. It’s not his concern.
Have you heard R. Stevie Moore?
I have—there was a track where I sampled him on Raw Money Raps, but I changed the beat so it’s no longer in there.
There was an interview you did where you responded to people who felt you did something improper by rapping over Dilla’s Donuts, and you said you felt those songs were the standards of today, the same way jazz music has its own standards.
People in Dilla’s camp may feel that stronger—‘Don’t fuck with the shit!’ And if people were doing weird shit with my music where I didn’t know what the fuck was going on, I’m sure people in my camp would be like, ‘What the fuck?’ But at the same time, I look at jazz history and all those great artists who were doing the same songs and paying homage to each other and keeping each other’s music alive and flipping it in a new way—spreading it to even larger audiences. When I heard Donuts and other Dilla works—but especially Donuts—I was like, ‘Man, this shit is dope.’ Nobody can take that feeling away from you. Madlib, too—it’d be cool to work him officially but this music is out. This is a fucking beat CD. People should rap on it! And show that they like the shit. Let it be known that you like Dilla or R. Stevie Moore or Sharkula—those weird people. Don’t keep it locked up in the dungeon. At the time, I was living in Cali for a little bit before I moved back to Chicago—driving around looking at mountains like, ‘Wow. This is a record—this is the hip-hop shit that needs to be here forever!’ It’s just a good feeling, and I just wanted to share that. Some good rap shit!
What’s the first song you ever heard that made you think like, ‘They can say that?!’?
I used to go to church every Sunday—I was brought up in the Christian background—and there were a lot of things in secular music I was … slowly getting introduced to. There was almost this fear or lack of understanding. We’re in church getting this really clean philosophy, but the outside world is dirty as fuck—there’s all kinds of shit going on. No rules. Which is another reason I gravitated outside of religion. But I was at church and this dude was playing D12—the first album—and my mind was just blown. In the church parking lot. I was literally afraid to listen to it—I thought my mom would beat me up or some shit. My mom is cool, and she didn’t care what the fuck I was listening to after a while, but there was definitely a time when my intake was jazz music and pop music. So then I was like, ‘I need to expose myself to this shit,’ and not be this little wrapped-up kid in fear and all that shit. It definitely helped. Which I why I don’t knock Odd Future or anybody who chooses to use that language. You can’t take it away—they’re gonna find it anyway. It’s a part of being animals, almost. A dog is gonna fuck shit up as well as be obedient if you teach it. ‘What is the true nature?’ is the question. I don’t know—but I don’t wanna restrict anything. People need access to make up their minds for themselves.
What’s the value in the dirty things and scary things?
It’s however you take it in and however it affects you. What I’ve learned from negative situations is to just accept and be able to loosen up your attachment with things and your control, and to also keep intact your attitude—your discomfort and everything—so that as you grow, you’re not just this nice person who is super fragile and you break if somebody calls you a stupid word. I’ve totally felt that, but after a while you get a certain skin about you. A lot of popular musicians carry the same shit. Growing up I admired the Rolling Stones and the punk bands and Jimi Hendrix—people who definitely had a positive message but that edge. They could reach the gangsters and this really nice quiet girl in the library, and still expose ’em to all this stuff. There’s also a danger about getting exposed to the wrong things … but it’s up to you and the people you surround yourself with.
There’s a story about a guy coming up to Lou Reed like, ‘I started using cuz of you!’ And it horrified him.
It’s all in the language—the power of language goes beyond you thinking people won’t be affected by it. People totally will! But that shouldn’t stop you from saying what you feel.
You’ve said Raw Money Raps is about the relationship between dreams and waking life. How?
There was a time when I totally didn’t feel a part of society—not even part of this realm. Once you zoom into your subconscious, dreams will show you certain symbols. Even writing them down, they got way more vivid. It sharpens the experience. You start getting these visions … you don’t even know what they mean, but the act of writing them down is like writing down a rap. Just trying to tell this story or this experience—writing it down. It was twelve-day period where I’d write them every day. I still do it from time to time. One in particular: I saw this crazy sacred geometry spaceship thing flying over Chicago—clear as fuck. I didn’t know it was a dream. I woke up and drew it, and then randomly on a Google image search … it came up, and it was all about the Kabbalah and all this shit. The concept I saw dealt with aligning yourself in this time with light and knowledge and being as clear as you can be. Really heavy shit when you’re just learning! I wanted to put that into writing a rap—writing from a dream point-of-view.
What was happening that made you want to turn away from waking life and concentrate on this?
I’m still a normal person. I don’t desire to be a superstar. I like the idea of living off art and music. I think as I was focusing on that, this parallel world opened up all about metaphysical life and health. You experience certain things—synchronicity or whatever—and shit starts lining up. Like, ‘Damn, I have to focus on something higher in myself.’ It was just what I felt, responding to those feelings. I was making music with YBP—Young Black Preachers—and we were totally on the same page. Everybody was coming over to make music on this higher vibration, and we were all buzzing off that shit. Then listening to mainstream shit or the radio … none of that information is in there. It’s all just distractions. It’s a good sound, but we were interested in getting deeper in ourselves and seeing what we’d create. It’s a lifestyle. What you choose to work on and express yourself and choose to eat—it’s all the same thing. The universe in some ways was trying to get me to see the full package and realize something more and awaken to that, and not just make music. Me and my friends felt like Neo, like unplugged from this shit. You start to realize the bullshit from the truth. Even when your parents or teachers don’t see it—like, ‘Damn, is this really happening?’ That’s when you get even more riled up, and you can get into LSD and drugs or just escaping. But I wasn’t really into the drugs. I was just into taking the time like yogis take time, and meditating and work on your physical body and just slow down. Your mind is like the internet anyway, so you should just realize what that shit can do. Once you do that, you do feel like you have this height over regular shit. You only wanna deal with real shit … with truth. It’s hard sometimes even being an artist now, and realizing that. You can’t shut it off. I constantly have to keep reminding myself—even listen to certain lectures over. Concrete points. You have to do the shit! You can’t half-ass it or go conform to a normal life—this is the normal life! It’s knowing what the matrix is, pretty much.
So what have you learned through doing music that you feel is real?
A lot. There’s the business side to art and creativity. I’m learning more about how to think about yourself in a business light without just sinking into the business model. You have to be secure in yourself and your vision. Anywhere there’s music industry and pop culture, people try to mold you into certain things you’re not—to present certain ideas and images to the public. But it’s to stay with your idea, even if people think you are crazy. Stay with it till it works.
Isn’t that what you did?
Raw Money Raps—that’s what it’s about. You’re not gonna get all this money necessarily, but you’re learning from this raw experience and staying like that. I could be this big corporate tree or I could just be a natural tree—I just choose to be this natural tree that gets what it gets and receives what it receives and puts out what it puts out. And not be forced to change or anything.
What does ‘money’ actually mean to you? You play with the word and the concept constantly.
It’s weird cuz money is new. In the beginning of time, there wasn’t a need for that shit. I’m sure there was trading or something, but … when I talk about money, it’s different than when Lil Wayne talks about money. Or if another rapper or person talks about it. Everybody has their own ideas, and when I talk about money, I think of it as … not only an objective thing but a subjective thing that doesn’t really exist. You can’t make money come through your hand—it’s this outside thing—but why is everybody always in need of it? It does in one way make the world go round, but it also creates all this conflict, and I don’t hear people rapping about the conflict of money. It’s about getting money and celebrating money and wasting money on material stuff. Instead of joining that conversation, I wanted to open this new way to think of the value—‘Do you value this more than yourself?’ We’re the people we should be … we should have this higher value for yourself, and raw money—just being raw—you’re not gonna make money if you pimp yourself. Or you’ll make money but not the true money. Raw money is what I’m talking about. Making the true shit versus all the superficial ideas.
What’s the difference between ‘raw’ money and ‘true’ money?
Raw money is true money and money is just money. But what I wanna collect is from reaching people’s minds in a higher way than just a superficial way—the material way. Then it’s like I’m exchanging money for money, but instead of inspiration and ideas and love for money, it’s like, ‘Just gimme this money cuz I need money—I’m a pimp, I’m gonna pimp game!’ I was just never into those ideas. I had a regular job and was happy doing that shit for a while and making music, but there’s a certain point where you wanna see it grow. It’s a crazy game. You’re in the moneymaking process and it’s gonna happen. You can’t deny money. But at the same time, you shouldn’t be a tool for money.
What about the song ‘Money And Food’? That sounds like nothing else on the record. It actually sounds like it could be on the radio.
It’s a response to dancing and money and hustling in general. Everybody’s out in the street hustling—drugs, sex, clothes, food. I put myself in that person’s shoes and whatever music that person listens to to get by—the hustle music—whatever that sounded like is what I just went for. It’s like going back from dream to waking state. People have these really crazy dreams, but in your waking state you only get so far and you’re back to the trap shit. It’s remembering and paying homage to that lifestyle—of hustling and making money and getting that shit and celebrating it like a lot of artists celebrate it, but in a different way. ‘Everybody wanna dance can just go crazy—you’re living for the moment and this moment’s so amazing.’ That’s tough shit to say to somebody almost, but that’s what you’re doing—realize what you’re doing: You’re dancing and saying ‘Fuck it!’ but let’s zoom in on that moment and see what it’s really about. With the record I wanted to leave it open to other people’s opinions and not just this one opinion. Sometimes on the record I play devil’s advocate—it’s to make it more interesting. I want people to listen to the whole thing, obviously, and not just take these one tracks and run with it. Not to be name-dropping, but Gucci Mane—you could take any one of those songs and be like, ‘OK, this is the record. This is what it sounds like.’ But same thing—you get a taste of something familiar, but it takes you to a different place because the context is dfferent, and it’s not really siding with anything else. It sounds like it’s on the same side—that’s cuz it IS on the same side. I was riding the bus with those same dudes, I was walking down the street with those same dudes. We’re in the same living space on this world. Let’s share the shit and learn from each other. When people get left out … I dunno if you feel really involved in that, but I feel left out because I’m not hustling and shit. Sometimes I wish those artists would make more of a creative leap and do weird shit—a weird take on the hood. Not just this dark grimacing vibe. It’s cool to listen to it and I like to party to it sometimes, but I wanted to do something with a different concept.
It’s like a cut scene in a movie. Different place, different people but the same story.
It’s just showing people you can do that shit. Same as talking about health. A lot of people on the block don’t necessarily wanna hear it, but you can still talk to them in different ways. It’s just a different use of language. And not just say all these things cuz you want everybody to party. It’s just different. It’s why I came up more in the experimental realm—I wasn’t siding with just one genre. It was many ideas and many things. Especially with Raw Money Raps, I wanted to make a piece of music that pulled from everywhere and focused on the dreams and the raw expression. I grew up with my grandma and my mom, and my grandma thought I was trying to be like another dude when I started making beats. ‘I’m not trying to be this thing—I’m just trying to express myself and how I feel.’ And whatever that is, trust it—a lot of times people don’t trust their own voice, and end up molding that voice into something else they like, versus what it actually is. It’s about accepting it and keeping it raw. I didn’t make the mainstream industry, so I’m not trying to create for it. I’m just trying to be who I am. … I want at least somebody out there to understand that’s okay to do. There’s no rules. Hip-hop artist, punk rock artist, whatever—keep expressing how you want to. I kinda felt isolated in school—I had friends into partying but … you just have to be honest with yourself. Being weird and having motherfuckers calling me weird, I was just like, ‘Fuck it. I’m gonna do the weird shit!’ I got that a lot, but that’s just the mainstream world. I’m not trying to fuck with it or attack it, but I’m not gonna change what I’m talking about to be accepted. Even if I feel like that one day, I’ll do it—but cuz I wanted to! Not just because that’s how people are becoming popular. There’s a lot to this shit, but I feel good being able to say that—and not say something else.