Conversation: Jadakiss

Published at Exclaim.ca

Jadakiss

By Anupa Mistry

He’s three solo records deep and Jadakiss says it’s still tough to get a single on the radio. It’s a testament to the game that Jason Phillips has been a part of for over 20 years and just how difficult it is to achieve stadium status even though you’re a relative household name and have been backed by impresarios from Diddy to Jay-Z. His previous record, Kiss of Death, earned Jadakiss a number one spot on the charts thanks to the contemplative single, “Why?” and the latest release, The Last Kiss — which features production and cameos from long-time affiliates Pharrell and the Neptunes, Swizz Beats, and Mary J. Blige — sold over 130,000 copies in its first week. Still, ‘Kiss maintains, it’s hard work to stay on top.
It’s been about five years between your latest release The Last Kiss and your last solo record, Kiss of Death. How much of that time was devoted to creating The Last Kiss and were there any delays in putting out the record?
It was probably eight or nine months of that five years. For two years I was still doing shows from the Kiss of Death. And I had a court case — a little gun charge — that I was fighting for about a year and then just doing the deal [moving] from Interscope to Def Jam for the remaining year and a half. The only delays were me and Def Jam getting on the same page and making sure the timing was right. And then I had to do a couple more songs, so I went back in to the studio with Swizz Beats, Mary J. Blige and Pharrell. An album can’t come out until it feels right. I waited until I was happy with it, and until people knew it was coming out.

Until you’d generated a buzz?
Yeah, the marketing and all of that we’ve got it down now. You’ve got to have your team and use your own money and then the label will get on board. But when you just drop an album because they say you’ve got to drop it, then it might not be a good album.

What was your goal for The Last Kiss?
My goal for this record was just to embrace the people. After taking five years off, you don’t know what to expect in this rap industry. I just wanted to make some good music that would make my fans happy and that would cater to the people that have been following ‘Kiss. Once I was able to create the music that I wanted to create, everything else just fell in place. Everybody wants to sell a lot of records, but it’s more about catering to the fans. After taking that long off, I was really more concerned with how they were going to accept and respond to the music, as opposed to the sales. And it all worked itself out — there are no words to explain taking five years off and then coming back and still having a good first week, still having a good album, and still having the people love you. It’s a beautiful thing.

How do you think your fans’ listening habits changed?
I think the fans that came in with me have changed their listening habits. They might have gotten a little anxious and a little uptight because some of the fabrics of music are different, but I still have a core fan base. And also these young kids, they play a big role in the hip-hop community so that’s why the song with Swizz Beats (“Who’s Real”) was important. I’ve got a 12-year-old son who gives his opinion without caring. Kids give you their most honest opinion and that’s a beautiful thing. They don’t care about hurting your feelings, they’re just getting their point across whether they like it or not and sometimes you need that.

So what’s your son telling you about music?
Everybody is dancing now. They’ve got all types of dances that they do so they’ve got to have music they can do that too. He’s actually in my new video (“Who’s Real”): my son and his homeboys are dancing in the video. You’ve got to try to cater to the young kids and the old fans—that’s what The Last Kiss is: marrying my regular fans with some of the younger kids.

After putting out three solo records, has your formula changed for how you approach your work?
I stick with what works and then I add a few perks. I’m going to go with my regular formula and when that sounds dated I’ll try my hand with something different. Seeing the game change and seeing how music is going digital, you’ve also got to switch your grind up a little. Before it was making an album and making a mixtape, but now you’ve got to have an internet presence, still make a mixtape and make an album. So it was a little more work and it’s a little more challenging but it’s a good challenge.

What’s given you longevity?
Staying relevant, and just keeping my ear to the street. And not just staying in New York, moving around to Cali, down south, the Bay Area. You can’t isolate yourself in one demographic or area because then your sound will become repetitive; you’ve got to move around and affiliate yourself to what’s hot.

You’ve been affiliated with a lot of camps: from Bad Boy to Ruff Ryders to Roc-A-Fella. What have you learned from working with these different teams?
It’s all business. Never mix personal feelings with business and stay tight with the people you came in with. You’re here to work and that’s what they expect, and you can’t expect them to care about you. They care about the work because that’s what they paid you for and that’s what they want. You can’t mix your personal feelings up with your job or it’ll hurt you in the long run.

How important are the relationships that you’ve established?
Relationships and rapports are a big part of this game: building bridges and not burning them. For the most part, everybody’s doing okay financially, so money’s not really an issue when you’re calling someone up to get on a track with you. There’s just got to be good vibes and they have to feel you and the energy’s got to be right to make them want to hop on a track.

And what about beef?
Rap beefs are therapeutic for the hip-hop industry but they’ve just got to stay on wax. It can escalate. Hip-hop beefs have been going on since the beginning of time, it’s good for the game, but just keep it on wax. We don’t need to go through anymore Tupac v. Biggie and those types of incidents.

What was the most challenging part of making this record?
Getting a big song on radio, which I still don’t have. But I came to find out you don’t really need that. If you’ve got the power of the streets and the people, anything can happen and good music will always come to the top. I was really nervous about my first week sales because I didn’t have a big song on the radio. The Ne-Yo song (“By My Side”), they shot that down quick. “Can’t Stop Me,” I don’t think they understood it how I wanted them to understand it so I was like ‘damn!’ But then it’s a double-edged sword, because a lot of people have big radio songs and they don’t have a good first week. It’s all up to the man upstairs, put it in god’s hands and do a lot of praying.

Your first week sales were good though! You sold over 130,000.
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying! Without a big radio song! You don’t have to have a big single to have a good first week or some good record sales.

So what’s next? I heard there’s a new Lox album in the works, what can we expect?
The new Lox album is slated for Christmas. After we started doing our solo projects, we got a little sidetracked. Then there was the whole Interscope thing with me and 50 and we didn’t really feel they would be behind us. But now the people want it so we’re going to give it to them. Sometimes good things come to those who wait. We ain’t never going to switch up what we do. It might have a little twist to it, but we’re going to stick to the formula of what the people like. I think that’s what the industry is suffering from right now: everybody follows what’s hot or what they think is hot instead of doing what the people like them for. That’s one thing that myself and my group do. We ain’t trying to do what Kanye’s doing, or Lil Wayne, or Drake or Jay-Z. That’s what everybody should do: stay in your own lane. That makes diversity of the game much better.

And I also read that you’re working on a reality show to air on BET.
Yeah, we’re going around picking some male and female DJs, bringing them back to YO [Yonkers], letting them live in the crib and giving them some obstacles, some DJ trivia and some competitions. And then whoever wins could be my next DJ and go on a world tour with me.

What’s it going to be called?
Either “That’s my DJ” or…I forgot. Most likely it’s going to be called “That’s My DJ” because the other name they have is corny.

Last question: you’re known for your trademark sound effect, I can’t really do it…

A-HA!

Yeah that! How important is that trademark to you?
Oh, it’s very important. It’s almost like it became its own brand. The people love it. When I’m backstage before I go on, I give ‘em that and they know I’m coming and go crazy. It’s definitely a beautiful thing to have a little trademark or something that sets you out from everybody else. Grandmothers come up to me trying to make the sound, everybody!

Is there another rappers trademark that’s a personal favourite?
Yeah, Biggie when he used to go “Uh!” [laughs]