Beatmaker’s Corner: JAE5

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Hyperfrank

Since beginning this Beatmaker’s Corner column in 2017, the commonality I’ve found between producers is their humility. Rather than shouting to the heavens that they helped craft the hits behind some of the biggest names in current UK music, the work definitely speaks for itself for the underrated people behind the boards. And JAE5 is no exception.

The East London-born musician has expanded the reach of black British music that has success consistently knocking at his door. From his work with the Bouff Daddy himself, J Hus, and NSG (two of which are his brothers) to pop-leaning Jess Glynne and Rudimental, he is well rounded, meticulous and becoming synonymous with the term ‘genre blender’, fusing Afrobeats, bashment, hip-hop and pop for an infectious wall of sound that has infiltrated the scene. Chances are you’ve done a hard bop to a beat with the now-legendary shrill of J Hus saying his main man’s name on his producer tag. It has become almost synonymous with a party steeped in Afro flavours but brought into the eclectic musical context of the UK with a blend of the genres that came before it.

As we chop it up in his studio in West London, JAE5 carries a refreshing energy as he admits his nerd tendencies: “I watch YouTube clips about tuning sounds and frequencies; how a sound is made; why it affects you a certain way. That’s when I realised how much of a nerd I am!” It’s a telling indication of how seriously he takes this production game, a detail lost on the consumerist public. While his interests are in multiple sounds and how they form the building blocks of a beat, JAE5 is unsure what to label his own style. “I don’t know if I have a ‘sound,’” he tells me. “I literally just vibe. Sometimes, like with Jess Glynne’s track ‘123’, there’s no tag and a lot of people don’t know I produced that, and it sounds very different to what people know me by. If I’m working with NSG it’s going to be within the Afro realm, so it does depend on who I’m working with. What I’m known for falls into a certain sound, but I have that other side too. Anything I like the sound of and can get involved with, I am all in.” Refusing to pin himself into a particular realm, JAE5 is so accepting of all kinds of music, driven by that innate feeling of inspiration that any genre can take from him.

This speaks volumes for a young man who has spent much of his life finding his place in music, while taking it in from all corners. Though music wasn’t a priority, things changed once he and his siblings were sent to Ghana for bad behaviour at age 9. “When I went back, there was nothing to do in the house, so I had to use PCDJ Red and then I got a hold of Fruity Loops,” he remembers. “I never took [music] seriously but I enjoyed trying to make beats while everyone else was playing The Sims.” Though his parents’ afrobeat and highlife collections would dominate the family household, JAE5’s introduction to hip-hop, namely Timbaland, made sure nothing was the same for him. “I used to listen to [Timbaland’s] songs and not even hear the lyrics like that, more the beats,” he says. “They made me really want to break down beats and stuff. Timbaland was super-talented. We still knew what was going on over here musically—a song like Lethal Bizzle’s ‘Pow!’ crossed over to Ghana—but I was still listening to more Celine Dion and Lucky Dube.”

“Anything I like the sound of and can get involved with, I am all in.”

Returning to England at the age of 12, JAE5 attempted to rap but now with a thick, Ghanaian accent, however the tough crowd of inner-city London kids put a stop to that—“People were not feeling it,” he says—so he doubled down on a career in production. It is here where, still new to the game, he would meet grime legends such as P Money and Blacks at his uncle’s studio in Thornton Heath, South London, even working with them on a few unreleased tracks. “That stuff probably wasn’t good enough and I probably wasn’t either in those early days, so it was more me trying to find a sound,” he remembers. “I was doing everything on the Top 40; if there was a pop song blowing up, I would do pop; if it was drum and bass, I’m doing drum and bass. I was just following at the time, anything that would get me in.”

The early 2010s was rife with artists exploring new sonic ground. JAE5 was trying to fit into the narrative, working within various periods of peaks and valleys of the time. It wasn’t until the arrival of UK Afrobeats and pioneers like Kwamz and Flava, Mista Silva and Fuse ODG, that he would find his pocket. “I was working with a few of the Afrobeats guys early, NSG as well,” he explains. “You didn’t get paid for that stuff but you got fame and girls. Then, when hip-hop started merging with it, it was kind of like a lucky break because with hip-hop becoming more Afro, I got pushed to the top, then I kind of just milked it.”

Having a hip-hop background seemingly made JAE5 more comfortable with his craft and, as Afrobeats has continued to blow this side of the pond, his skills have continued to blossom. This is achieved in no small feat by his creative process which, while sounding long drawn out, is actually very methodical. “Before, there was no process or thought—I just did whatever I wanted,” he explains. “Now it’s just a whole load of opinions when I send a beat to people and you get different reactions. If I make something and I love it 100%, I don’t care what anybody says. But if there’s a slight doubt, I’ll send it to like 10 people and if six or seven people say it’s a hit, we’re dropping it—if not, you will never hear it. I learn from working with artists; like when I make a beat, something might be missing and it could just be the vocal, so you play bare stuff and then the vocal comes on and it’s too much. When I’m in sessions now, I usually have four or five sounds on a beat, get the vocal and then produce it afterwards, so instead of having the vocals clash with the sound, you lead with the vocal and delete the sound—even if it’s the most musical bit, you meet in the middle.”

“If I keep on achieving for the next 10-15 years, I’ll know that I’m a legend.”

It is this approach that has spawned for JAE5 a number of accolades, including Top 10 singles with J Hus’ “Did You See” (as well as work on his debut album, Common Sense) and NSG and Tion Wayne’s “Options”. The taste of success is even sweeter for the beatsmith who, before meeting Hus via his badgering DJ, Young Boss, and forming the partnership of a lifetime, was already disillusioned with the game and had one foot out. It was only after working with Hus that his love for music came back to him, and he hasn’t looked back since. And though J Hus’ success took him by surprise, JAE5 was in no doubt about what “Options” would achieve.

“I can show you emails from me to people saying it was a hit, so I was very sure about that,” he says. “‘Did You See’ and others, I wasn’t as sure, and you kind of act like you knew when you didn’t. After we did ‘Options’, I drove home playing it and said to myself: ‘This is a banger! We’ve got another one.’” Putting his name on his own songs is a natural next step, and the thrill of taking artists out of their comfort zones is an enticing one. “With my own projects, I’d want to be able to get something out of artists that they wouldn’t normally put out themselves,” he says. “Artists are very limiting—they care too much about their image, even if the song is fucking amazing, and sometimes that removes the strongest part of their talent. I’d want to do features that make mad sense, like Meek Mill and Dave, J. Cole and Wretch. Sometimes you see a glossy guy next to a raw feature and it doesn’t come off well, and of course the Americans don’t feel it. If I can do it, it will be with artists that suit each other.”

Above all else, despite charting hits and the tangible accolades that come with it, JAE5 is here for a greater purpose. Too often, artists oversaturate themselves, releasing a load of tunes to the masses to keep up in this age of instant gratification. But JAE5 is not about that, valuing quality over quantity at all costs and the game of longevity that eludes many. “A lot of sick producers and artists tend to throw everything they have at a wall and see if it sticks, rather than choosing the best four or five tunes they have and put them out,” he says. “I’d rather put one song out in three years, as long as it’s a banger. I don’t think I’ve achieved for long enough. If I keep on achieving for the next 10-15 years, I’ll know that I’m a legend.” With a humble but driven and intuitive attitude, and a constantly evolving wall of sound, JAE5 is well on his way to his version of what success really means.

Posted on March 04, 2019