Jay Cue Interview

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In my early obsession with Odd Future and all of their affiliates, I went on to discover The Jet Age Of Tomorrow. Half of that group is Matt Martians, producer for The Internet, the other half is Hal Williams (aka Pyramid Vritra) and to call him a musical genius is putting it lightly. As it would turn out, Hal was also a part of another crew called NRK, mostly comprised of kids along the same wave of inspiration as Tyler The Creator who looked up to Pharrell’s original compositions.

One of NRK’s brightest moments to date was Jay Cue’s Pyramid Life. As ambitious as a debut can get, he sings, raps and produces his ass off, and the album resonated with me from the perspective of a frustrated kid just trying to make sense of the world around him while working his hardest to be recognized for his talents.

After releasing the R&B EP Asleep At The Keys last year, Jay Cue’s sophomore album Visions Of Utopia released last month and it’s proven further growth as he continues reaching for the stars.

I picked Jay Cue’s brain a few weeks ago about NRK and his short albeit bright career to date, with any luck he’ll one day succeed in his mission of getting listeners to dream big along with him.

To start, tell me about your crew NRK. What does the acronym Nobody Really Knows mean and how did it the crew begin?

We’re a collective of musicians that started before high school, but I joined in high school. We were friends before we started doing music together, it includes me, Pyramid Vritra, Tyler Major, Pyramid Murdock, Gloomy Pyramid, Pyramid Quince, Andre McCloud, Mr. Northstar, Lui Diamonds, KC 2.0, and Floyd Mables. As time went on, we went by Nobody Really Knows and our symbol is the pyramid because we were starting to make top notch stuff and though a few people would catch on and listen, we always felt like we were overlooked.

The pyramid symbolizes our friendship and when you think of a pyramid there are always speculations or people’s opinions of how they got there. People say Egyptians built them and some people say aliens, but nobody really knows for sure because they weren’t there. We’ve been escalating and the more we rise, people are going to wonder how we got there, but nobody’s really gonna know.

The title track to Pyramid Life was loosely based off of MellowHype’s “Chordaroy”. Talk to me about Odd Future’s influence on you and NRK altogether.

NRK actually introduced me to OF’s music back when the only release they had was The Odd Future Tape. When I first heard it I was losing my shit, we played the hell out of that tape. OF has influence but I draw inspiration from a lot of places, you could say they influence my production that really stands out. I feel like my presence on the microphone is not one you can nap on, but I got that from other places. But Odd Future definitely influenced us because we listened to them in their early days and ever since then we’re really big fans to this day.

Who else inspired your rapping and production?

My rapping was definitely inspired by Cassidy, he’s probably my biggest influence. People would always seem hella confused when I told them my favorite rapper was Cassidy because they would only hear his radio songs, but I used to listen to his freestyles and battles when I was coming up and starting to write my own stuff. My flow and the aggression I incorporate into my rhymes, I get that from him. Also, when I was a kid my dad used to play A Tribe Called Quest a lot, one of the first rhymes I memorized and could spit was Phife’s first verse on “Buggin’ Out” when I was in elementary school.

As far as production, definitely The Neptunes, Pharrell and Chad’s work has always been some of my favorites from middle school to now. Also NRK, because they started me on production. I didn’t even produce, I was starting to record music but I was just rapping and singing.  I didn’t start producing until I was in NRK and they got me hip to the programs, so they’re an influence not just because they got me started, but the crew’s sound as well. I was surrounded by them making beats, so I would just latch onto what they were doing.

Asleep At The Keys found you showing off your singing talents, did that help you gain recognition as more than just a rapper?

Yeah I think so, because I was singing on Pyramid Life too but I guess it didn’t stand out as much because there was way more rapping. But with Asleep At The Keys I wanted to show people I had way more to offer than just rapping and that I could put out a project that has absolutely no rapping on it that’s still enjoyable. Once I put it out, I saw that people enjoyed the direction it went in. I think that was a good look.

Some of your songs such as “Not Listenin” and  “Awesome Sauce” have to deal with doing things on your terms, is that a running theme in your music?

I guess it’s a natural running theme, I don’t aim to make that my personal theme but I write from the perspective of what I’m going through at the time or something that happened in the past. I guess when I wrote those songs my mood was “Fuck off”, it’s funny you mentioned those two songs because they do tie in with the same theme. “Awesome Sauce” is kind of angry and “Not Listenin” is kind of sing-songy, when the mood strikes, that’s what comes up.

In a big collective like Wu-Tang, they all have different roles and styles. What would you say is your role or style in NRK that helps you stand out?

I think it’s that I’m the only one who can sing (laughs). I think I’m also the loud one, when you listen to NRK’s music collectively it’s chill and for more of a mellow mood. But my presence and tone comes off fierce but at the same time I can put out Asleep At The Keys.  I don’t like labels, I’m me.

A lot of Visions Of Utopia sounds like a floating dream sequence. Was that intentional like you’re dreaming about blowing up? What is your definition of utopia as the album’s concept is concerned?

I definitely wanted to make it a cohesive theme where I had this vision of this pefect place. My utopia would be having a NRK mansion as I stated on the title track. We always talked about having this big ass mansion that we lived in and even though that’s unrealistic, it’s your own utopia. A place for you to live and have everything that you want, the album deals with my idea of a perfect life.

For example, the song “GPS” deals with wanting a girl and then “Sample Cup” is about totally not wanting a girl and just having fun. No matter what my mood is or what I perceive utopia to be, I would still have a vision of it when writing the album. Where I was isn’t where I wanted to be, and I’m still not there but I have the vision of that perfect place.

Despite all of your talent, enough people aren’t paying attention. What do you think contributes to you still being slept on?

Lack of visuals, videos are a huge factor in getting noticed nowadays and I don’t have any. It’s a work in progress though, they’re coming soon. Once I start cranking those out, people should start to discover me more.

Where do you draw up the ambition to keep going despite being the lack of big press?

This is something I love doing. I used to sit around bored as hell but I got a keyboard and a mic right here, so there’s endless possibilities. I always feel like even if I didn’t “make it big” or whatever I would just keep doing it because it’s something I love to do.

Have you ever considered using your voice for vocal coaching and ghostwriting for other R&B artists?

I couldn’t teach anyone with vocal coaching, but I’d be down to work behind the scenes  doing songwriting for other artists.

Who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet, whether it’s you on another producer’s song or someone over your production?

I definitely want to rap with Curren$y, that would be cool as hell. If Pharrell could layer a hook of mine with his vocals or adlib a song, if he were just in the same room telling me to do something while I was making a song, that would be cool. Also Toro Y Moi and it would be cool to sing on a song with Mayer Hawthorne.

In the end, what is your ultimate goal with your music?

My ultimate goal has always been to be able to live comfortably just doing music. It’s something I want to be doing forever, I want to keep progressing and learning new things. As I do that, I just want to be able to live just making music as a source of income. I definitely also want to inspire people, Visions Of Utopia was an album that I hope people got inspired by.

I try to make music for people to feel, my intentions are for you to feel some kind of emotion. It doesn’t matter if you feel the way I felt or how I intended for you to feel when I wrote the song, as long as you feel something besides boredom (laughs). Just sit back, relax and enjoy what you’re hearing.

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