Artist Spotlight: J The S
J The S (or Jake The Snake, depending on who you ask) is a Boston-bred rapper whose real talent is not just gifted lyricism. It’s his innate ability to produce street numbers and hard-hitting social critiques, then turn around and delicately balance them out with Beastie Boys–style party cuts and overtly sexual odes (lyrics like “licking on my tattoos like they comin’ off”)—keeping his authenticity intact throughout.
We caught up with J The S recently to talk about his current Wish You Were Here tape, anticipated upcoming album The Last Days, growing up in the “criminal underworld,” and his very honest and critical thoughts on fellow Beantown rapper Guru‘s recent passing.
Wish You Were Here is a new project of original material featuring collaborations with Nipsey Hussle, Jadakiss, Crooked I and more. Why should hip-hop listeners check for it?
“What constitutes a ‘hip-hop listener’ nowadays is different and more diverse than ever before. The majority of people checking for hip-hop, especially newer artists, are not just your traditional true school, backpacker, gangster-rap-fan-type kids. They are listening to other genres, too. And many hip-hoppers are stepping out their personal boxes and listing to more shit, too. Wish You Were Here is real life music, love, pain, partying, politics and crime without being too abrupt or over the top in its approach. Sonically, it acts as a perfect segue into my upcoming album, The Last Days.”
The Last Days…does the title hint at something?
“The title reflects a few things that weigh on my mind pretty heavy. There’s a lot of change going on in the world, and I wouldn’t say for the better. In American society, morals and values are dwindling, unemployment and poverty are running more rampant by the day, the corporatization of our government’s politics is erasing the middle class, natural disasters are more severe and happening at more frequent rate than ever before; all this as we remain so swept up in celebrity gossip and parlor tricks. But there is also change in music right now, specifically, hip-hop. For me to make an album like this, I couldn’t use a more ‘traditional’ or even ‘commercial’ approach with the music. There needed to be a change to how I was presenting my music, so I’ve infused elements of genres such as reggae, rock ‘n’ roll, electronica, soul, folk and more.
“Hip-hop is suffering from a bad lack of originality on many levels. Growth is what keeps the culture and the music moving and originality plays a big part in that. I use a wide range of different vocalists and production to act as a backdrop for the various emotions and topics expressed in the songs, making all these happenings in The Last Days not just depressing and informative, but lively, upbeat, inspiring, fun and aggressive. You can present certain topics in a manner that can be more easily related to, because I’m not speaking to the people, I’m speaking with people. I wanted to make music you could ride to, fight to, f*ck to, smoke to, love to, live to.”
Your video for current single “Handcuff Sex” features “porn star” Jayla Starr. How did that come about?
Well nahright.com has a video feature series called the “1 Shot,” where an artist does a video to a song only utilizing just one shot at one angle, no cuts or edits. I like to get creative with each opportunity, so I thought about each record of mine and I thought “Handcuff Sex” would make for an interesting one shot utilizing just me, a girl, a bed, and some cuffs. The record shows a side to me that is very much real, just as real as the side of me more people see touching on social and political issues. The director, Court Dunn, hit me up with the idea to make it like a POV-style video, and I thought getting a porn star would be a nice touch. My man Mecca knew some porn stars so he hooked me up with Jayla [Starr], who was in town from Vegas; she’s mad cool and she was with it so we just kicked it, knocked it out, and it came out dope. It received alotta attention and a good response.”
Your bio says you can “speak with authority” on the “criminal underworld.” Can you explain further?
“Those two phrases are actually from different sentences in my bio. What it says and means is I was exposed to the underworld, a.k.a criminal activity, when I was very young because of the nefarious activity of my father and his partners. Kids I was friends was, their fathers, too, they all worked together. The ‘authority’ refers to the consistent exposure to it throughout my life, the activities in which I and my friends have participated in, and have benefited and suffered from. Anything in any of the rhymes about shit like that is 100 percent true.”
One of Boston’s most loved hip-hop figures, Guru from Gang Starr, recently passed. What are your thoughts on the situation?
“It’s always a painful shock when an artist you’ve listened to and grown with and respected passes. Gang Starr was one of the most influential forces in hip-hop history—so many cats from my generation were influenced by them one way or another. Being that I’m from Boston, my perception of Guru may be different than that of fans from other places. See, I’ve always been a big Gang Starr fan; their early material was mad influential on me. Guru was originally from Boston, but barely mentioned it or represented it in his music, choosing his dwelling place of Brooklyn as choice representation, which got mad cats in the Bean heated. Alotta cats never forgave him, and I have mad friends who would be like, ‘yeah, Preemo is ill, but I don’t fuck with Guru,” and I’d be the only cat really knocking Gang Starr or any of [Guru's] Jazzmatazz albums.
“When Guru passed there was a lot of support from Boston, which was surprising, but great nonetheless. He had much substance in his rhymes and always a message, and that’s something that inspired me to do so in my own art.”
You’re covered in tattoos. How many do you have and which ones mean the most to you?
“Wow…23 maybe? Or maybe it’s all one real big one now. They’re all very significant to me, and not just corny symbols that just look cool. They’re all custom and original. Some of my favorites are the Atlas holding the world going up in flames on his back; that’s on my forearm. I love my Polish last name on my stomach and my crew ‘Greater Good’ on my chest, because it’s a mentality, not a movement. I also have my mother’s initials and portrait on my chest, which may seem traditional or expected, but it’s very personal to me and I embrace it.
Rounding things out with a fashion question—how would you describe your personal style?
“Confident, original and true. True to me, who I am, and what’s fly to me, not what’s played out that cats still think is fresh. It’s being a step ahead, knowing about ill shit, but no matter what it’s how you’re carrying yourself that’s gonna make the fashion style come to life. Being able to go from elegant to casual, always remaining comfortable.”
Download Wish You Were Here.