Jay Ant is a rapper/producer from the Bay Area’s HBK Gang. He’s recently been putting his own post-Hyphy take on 90’s hip hop / R&B and building steady buzz leading up to Blue Diamond Dreams mixtape later this month. Jeffrey Powell caught up with him during SXSW to find out more about his relationship with the Bay Area, and the influences that drive his creative process.
NORTHERN TRANSMISSIONS: What’s the Bay area scene like?
JAY ANT: The culture in the Bay area is really chill. There’s not a ton of industry though; not like how it is in LA. Everybody out in the Bay’s doing something out there, but it’s just more on the creative end. And LA is more of the business side. Life creative y’know, like a lot of culture out that’s come from all over the world. I went to school with all kinds of different kids – asian kids, indian kids, mexican kids, latino kids – you name it. And we all learned how to live amongst each other, but it’s not like that everywhere else. I’ve been on tour and I’ve seen the segregation at different stops, but in the Bay everyone’s out there and none of that matters. That’s what makes it really special.
TN: What’s your relationship like with other artists in the scene?
JA: I’m in a group called HBK. That’s me, Iamsu!, Sage the Gemini, Kehlani, P-Lo… a collective of a lot of people; my little bro Dave Steezy… The Cataracs are really cool. They’ve produced a couple songs that are fly, “Like a G6″ and a couple other songs that are really popular. Also G-Eazy, who’s my homie and his music is a little different. And then there’s Wallpaper, who’re friends of mine and they make completely different music. They wrote the new Jason Derulo singles as well as their own stuff too. It’s just like a super hip ass white guy who sings hella autotune but it’s really groovy. He’s from the Bay area – not a lot of people know that – but he’s got fans all over the world. So it’s dope to experience that scene.
There’s a lot of shit, a lot of culture, and if you open your eyes and pay attention you can soak up a lot of shit out there. That’s why a lot the stuff out of the Bay area – it’s always “the language, the lingo”, it just comes from so many different types of people. A person that mighta made up a word that’s used by a lot of urban communities might look like you! (laughs) And he might be in the urban community, for real. You know what I mean? It’s just different. There’s no real color boundary or anything, it’s just real chill.
NT: So the scene that you’re specifically involved with – how did that come together?
JA: Ya, I used to be in this group called The Diligentz, we had a lot of stuff going on. There was The Pack, which was Young L, Lil B and a couple other people. And another group called Go Dav who has Bobby Brackins and this other kid called Nic Nac who produced “Loyal” for Chris Brown and some other things. Anyways, we were all in these groups together and we were all making music with each other. Like I been knowing B for a long time, life before all the Based God stuff. I’ve known L for a long time but he ended up making the clothing line Pink Dolphin and that shit blew up. But we all just kinda started in this core group to shows together, playing music to impress our homies, put it on MySpace, which was a big deal. (laughs) MySpace was a big deal for the area because it became our hub of everything – you knew what was poppin’. That’s where I originally meant G-Eazy. Back then he was completely different. He was a little hyphy kid who used to wear big baggy clothes, tall shades with no lenses. But you grow and you find your niche besides just being from the land of hyphy and you keep it all tied in. That’s how I’ve met a lot of people and we’ve grown.
NT: Does everyone share a passion for collaboration?
JA: Everyone doesn’t even collab, it’s just we all kinda know each other. We’re all friends. I don’t necessarily have a passion to make music with a lot of people like that. I mean, I don’t go out of my way all the time because it’s just like I got to the point that I’ve just got to focus on myself. But we all support each other, like we’ll post stuff from each other’s shows on Instagram or just genuinely want each other to do good.
NT: Is there ever a bit of competitiveness that drives the music?
JA: Sometimes! I might be like “Su, what the fuck?” (laughs) He’ll make some shit and I’d be like that’s crazy. Make you wanna go home and be like, I gotta turn up. Same thing with me, I’ll make some shit and he’ll be pissed – he’d be like “why didn’t I think of that?” (laughs) But that’s only when we’re making music in the same way. We’re different artists, but we’re all the same group of friends.
NT: Where do you find inspiration for your creative process?
JA: I find inspiration through older music. I don’t listen to a lot of new stuff. I mean, I am up on a lot of turntable music and I’m out there having fun, but on my down time, I’ll listen to a lot of different things. I’ll listen to Erykah Badu every day – the first one, “Baduizm”. I’ll listen to a ton of 90’s R & B and really really hype music… Ginuwine, Mac Dre – it’s reminiscient of home to hear it. That’s usually where I find my influence from older things. Pharrell’s like my biggest influence. Aside from music, to see him doing things properly, things the right way, the way he carries himself. He carries a great personal reputation, and that’s another inspiration I find when I see people out there doing something. You’re being yourself, you’re doing something hella dope, that inspires the fuck outta me.
NT: What came first in the writing process for you?
JA: Before I first started with my group I was telling you about, my boy was telling me I should be in a rap group, because his older brother was doing and playing overseas. So I thought about it and thought let’s do it. So we just started rapping like three-ways and making beats on our phones and shit. That kinda progressed to using this program called eJay, then onto Fruity Loops, then Reason… and it just kept growing because we needed some real beats to bullshit and rap on for fun.
NT: So it’d evolved just from a fun endeavour?
JA: Ya, and then MySpace popped in and then shit just got real. The songs just started travelling hella far. It all of a sudden became not just about at home. That’s how I ended up making music; putting a lot of the influences, like the 90’s R & B to the house and hyphy shit. I put it all together just to make it my own, where I felt like it was me.
NT: You brought up Pharrell, who’s recently run into some issues with the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit. It’s sparked a lot of debate on the idea of writer’s intent, song influences and the creative process. Is that something you can speak to?
JA: I’ll listen to a lot of old shit and sometimes when I make my beats, I’ll get cool bass lines from old ass songs from the 70’s, and I’ll tweak them a little bit and make em tight. And I’ll add other things around them to make it my own. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that especially if it’s from things that are older and influence you. Or made you reminisce the past or puts you in a good place. You just want to make it, and it makes you feel good. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that as long as you’re giving credit to where your influences are from. That’s a big part of it.