Daye Jack's experimental hip-hop pushes the genre into uncharted territory
At the lively age of 21, Atlanta rapper and singer Daye Jack has already been in the studio with the likes of Dr. Dre. But Jack isn't the type to brag about it. In an age of Internet flexing and likes, he isn't flashy and stays low-key on social media. The dystopian effects of technology are actually a central theme on his latest EP 'No Data.' It comes as no surprise from a kid that once studied computer science at NYU, but the swagger in his music will make you forget that.
Jack's wildly eclectic sound is a soundtrack to our digital era, where kids don't restrict their tastes to one genre and have every era of music at their disposal. Jack is his best singing coolly on house and synthpop beats and still manages to rap bar-for-bar next to Killer Mike. Sprinkle in the synth and electronic sounds of Kraftwerk (who Dre put him on to) and the result is Jack's danceable take on pop and hip-hop. He's a breath of fresh air from Atlanta's usual trap rap sound.
Jack's vocal performances and songwriting have grown exponentially with each new project. He's already been featured on huge albums by Tori Kelly and Ariana Grande, and his commercial album debut is expected to have an even bigger sound with help of juggernaut record producer Max Martin. For a young artist that's been bubbling for a few years now, Daye Jack is definitely ready to pop. We spoke to Daye Jack about his new dance-fueled, tech-inspired rap EP 'No Data' and working with Dr. Dre, Killer Mike, and legendary producer Max Martin.
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You like to merge genres in your music and often go back and forth between rapping and singing. Which one do you think challenges you more?
I think doing both is kind of the whole experiment in of itself, how much you want to rap and how much you want to sing on a song. I have the most fun with the songwriting and thinking about what the chorus is going to be. I recently got signed to Max Martin and his publishing team. They're all geniuses when it comes to writing a song. It's not just having straight-from-your-head random thoughts into a song but actually having a focused, direct message and telling a full story throughout the song. So now, that's kind of like my biggest hurdle or challenge. It's taking the ideas I've been having, simplifying them and having it fit that pop format, while still being able to be Daye on that.
Max Martin has helped write and produce the biggest hits for artists from Britney Spears to Usher. How did you connect with Martin, and what is it like working with him?
I linked up with him when I was working on 'Soul Glitch,' my last EP. I was going to NYU at the time, and he flew me out to LA to play him some music. I played him some of the 'Soul Glitch' stuff, which is very electronic, really experimental stuff. I actually didn't know if he would be into something like that, but I think he saw the songwriting and saw the potential. We have been working together since then.
Technology is a strong theme in your music on projects like 'Soul Glitch' and 'No Data.' Why is that?
I went to NYU for computer science and coding. My original dream was to emulate a Steve Jobs. I knew super nerdy kids in all of my classes who were far beyond me when it came to the programming side of things, but I felt like I had really cool ideas. I knew what kids needed. I went to school for coding to learn a little bit about it and then leave to make a startup and an app. My whole headspace around this was that startups are the new mixtapes, and I just wanted to throw a startup out there and see what happens. Maybe, someone will find it. Once this music stuff started getting really serious for me, after my first mixtape 'Hello World,' I decided that even though I'm not going to pursue being a programmer, I'm going to have my music speak to that world. 'No Data' is a conversation about where tech is going in the next 30 years, artificial intelligence, almost like Siri on steroids.
There's a Siri-like character in your skits. How do the skits on 'No Data' play a role on that theme of tech and artificial intelligence?
My whole concept is thinking about a kid who gets to grow up with a lot of technology, whether we're thinking now or maybe 30 years from now, and what it is to find yourself in a world where all your questions are supposed to be easily answered via the Internet or via some futuristic technology. It's just understanding that no matter how much we progress, there's always questions about how to dress, who to be, how to make money, how to become an adult that are still unanswerable without really getting to know who you are as a person. It's almost showing the flaws of technology and showing you really need to own up and express yourself.
What are your earliest memories of music?
My very, very first introduction was just what my dad was listening to. He was super into Afrobeat, Fela Kuti, and that was music for me. When I went outside and found my own loves, growing up in Atlanta, it was Outkast -- the pinnacle of what it is to make music. I was always singing, like in gospel choir. It sort of transitioned into wanting to rap. I got into Outkast and music of the early 2000's. Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, that was the heat. It was a moment. I think every kid wanted to be like André 3000 and Big Boi, and I kind of just pursued that. Basically, the thing that kick-started it for me was listening to Outkast's 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below' and seeing how André 3000 took rap and made it more of an instrument than a genre. He was singing so much, and the moments that he rapped were like a guitar solo. I kind of wanted to emulate that. From there, I started writing my own music and throwing in a lot of different influences as well. Personally, I listen to everything from André 3000, Justin Timberlake's 'Justified,' and Eminem's 'Relapse.' It was just filling all that in the music and creating my own sound.
How did you link up with Killer Mike for your song "Hands Up," and what headspace where you in when making that song?
That was a time when there were a lot of police killings, police killing innocent black people. I went to the studio and just ran out my heart, watching the news. That was the only song that came out. I just started writing it. I had it for months. It was a song I listened to for myself as a demo. Killer Mike heard it. I sent it to him. He called me on the phone and asked me what high school I went to. We talked a little bit about "Hands Up" and what it means. The next day, he sent me a verse, and I knew the song had to come out.
Are you looking to address similar social or political issues in your upcoming music?
I think it's something you have to do if you're given any sort of voice where you can affect a person, whether it's a conversation or through your music. It's all of our jobs to talk about the issues in this country and our world. I don't think you should ever force an artist to preach, but if it's weighing on their heart, I think every artist should be honest with their music.
Have you experienced an "I've made it" moment yet?
While I was working on 'No Data,' I got to sit on a session with Dr. Dre and watch him work. I was kind of like a fly on the wall. He was working on a song. I was just watching him work. It was a feeling that this character that's larger than life is standing right there in front of me, making a song. We had a little conversation, and I told him about 'No Data' and the influences, tech and all that. He put me on to Kraftwerk. Then, he told me to "keep doing you" and "keep grinding."
What did you get the most out of interacting in the studio with Dr. Dre?
I think I learned the most by seeing him work, his attention to detail, really caring about what you're making. Every little piece matters, you should be annoyed in the studio, really, really hone down on the song idea. Make sure it's perfect before you give it to the people.
How did you connect with Ariana Grande and get on her song, "Sometimes"?
There's a producer Ilya [Salmanzadeh], who is part of Max [Martin]'s camp. Me and Ilya are really close. He was working with Ariana on her latest album and the song "Sometimes." He called me and was like, "Yo, Daye. I have this song and I think your voice would be perfect for the background vocals." I literally was on tour at the time, sang the background vocals into my phone voice memos, sent it back to him, and he ended up using it on the song.
What is the process like when you're picking instrumentals? What makes a good beat stand out, and how do you write to it?
Depending on the project, I have a couple keywords for the types of beats I'm looking for. On my EP 'Soul Glitch' I would just hit up producers and tell them I wanted something glitchy and soulful, which is the title of the EP. 'No Data' was kind of honing down on the early 2000s. I really wanted to make something that a 13-year-old me would f*ck with, something that sounded like 'Justified' or 'Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.' Each project has a couple keywords or influences. Then, I just try to find beats that fit into that pocket. When it comes to writing, I write the hook first, then the chorus. I think that's the main staple of every song that will tell you what all the verses should talk about, what the bridge should feel like. It's perfecting that hook, then telling the whole story after.
What is the collaboration process like between you and your producers in the studio?
Now, I'm in the studio from the ground up. I'm writing from the very beginning which was a luxury I didn't have when I was making music from my bedroom. For 'No Data,' we really just started each song, whether it was with a guitar riff or a little melody on the piano, just writing the song out from the earliest stage. Then, bounced ideas with the producers about what the beat should sound like.
What have you learned about music from working in the studio with Max Martin?
I've learned a lot from him. I think he's very much a perfectionist. Every time I've worked with him, you can tell he's prepared before coming to the studio. All of the ideas, where the song is going to go and the melodies are all in his head. I remember one time we were working, and he had a melody in his head for a chorus we were working on. I started writing some lyrics to it, vibing out. He knows exactly, all the way down to the syllables, what something should sound like. I think that's dope to know. But then, he's also super chill. He'll leave the room. I'll just do my thing. Then, he'll come back and be like, "That's perfect. Let's go."
Has Martin helped you collaborate with other artists?
He was working on Tori Kelly's album. That was like two years ago, and I put a verse on that. I played her some of my music. She was really down. I love the song "Expensive" that we did.
How does collaboration with a singer like Tori Kelly compare to working with a rapper like Denzel Curry?
I don't think they are that different. With Denzel, we already had the song, "Raw." I just knew that he would sound perfect on it, and the vibes were right. So, I sent it to him. He was feeling it. He cut a verse to it. With Tori, she must have known my vibe would work on that song and decided to throw me on it. I think it's pretty much the same thing if you can connect with someone as a person. Then, regardless of what genre of music you make, you can probably work together.
Are there any artists you're dying to work with in the future?
I would love to work with André 3000 and Big Boi. That's like a dream of mine, so hopefully that can happen.
What can we expect from your next project?
I think 'No Data' was a statement and kind of its own thing. There are a lot of big songs that I wrote that just didn't really fit the vibe of 'No Data,' that are for the next thing. I really wanted 'No Data' to be its own story. I've been writing this next album. It's really telling the story in a simple way, flexing the songwriting and creating what's at the core of pop. I think the beautiful thing about pop music is that you can tell your story in the simplest way possible and have as many people connect with it as possible. After hearing The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" -- a song about cocaine that I can vibe to, and my little sister can vibe to, and my mom can vibe to, I realized that that is the beautiful thing about pop music.
When can we expect your album?
Hopefully, this year. I've just started working on it. But if I could hone down and find exactly the right songs and where I'm going with it, I'd like to put it out around the wintertime.
Why should people listen to and care about your music?
I think my vibe bounces around. My music is a lot of experimenting. Each album has its own sound to it, but I think the thread that connects all of it is trying to empower kids to just express themselves and be themselves and be independent thinkers and not give a f*ck about what society tells them to be and what boxes they're being put into. Basically, it's just music with a thread of self-love.
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