L.A. Jay Is All Love - Q&A with co-producer of Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde
Posted by Alice Price-Styles on June 05, 2012 0 Comments
John "L.A. Jay" Barnes III and Delicious Vinyl share a mighty fine history together. Producing dope tracks such as The Pharcyde’s ‘Otha Fish’ and ‘Pork’, and working his magic to create impeccable remixes of Masta Ace’s ‘Saturday Nite Live’ and The Pharcyde’s ‘Passin’ Me By’ (Fly As Pie Remix), as well as so much more, Jay has undoubtedly contributed some pretty special jams to the labels catalogue.
Playfully described as the ‘George Clooney of hip hop’ by J-Sw!ft on DVTV, L.A. Jay is certainly one smooth operator when it comes to the beats and samples. Just as the soulful delivery of SlimKid3’s poetic lines manages to work in aural and thematic harmony with Fatlip’s wild rhymes and the high-pitched intonation of Imani and Bootie Brown, L.A. Jay’s smooth touch always provided a nice twist to Pharcyde beats and the rambunctious production style of J-Sw!ft.
At the recent Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde 20th Anniversary Celebration at The Roxy, Jay not only controlled the turntables but was also the man supplying the mind-blowing visuals during the sensory overload of a show.
So, we caught up with Jay to chat a little about the landmark show and indulge in even more reminiscing…
Alice Price-Styles: You put together the live visuals for the Bizarre Ride show – could you talk about the idea to use video and how it came about?
L.A. Jay: Well, the very first thing that I envisioned, which is the reason I ended up being the one to do it, was for the song ‘I’m That Type of Nigga’. I saw this vision of Godzilla, from the old Japanese movies, him just coming through knocking buildings down and all of that as a visual representation of what the song is about; boasting and telling emcees that you will crush them. I mentioned that one idea to Mike Ross and he was all for using visuals to make the show pop onstage. So, the ideas to do something unique for each song spawned from that original seed.
AP-S: Now to take it back – how did you first meet The Pharcyde? And how did you first get involved working with them?
LAJ: Wow. Let’s see. I think Derrick, Fatlip, was the very first person that I met maybe back in 86/ 87. There was this whole scene in LA, a dance scene where dance groups would compete with one another. He was in one of those groups called the Jammers, which is why his original name was Jammer D. One of the main crews promoting those parties/ dance competitions was called Jam City, and I was one of the deejays for that crew. I think I met Fatlip during that time.
J-Sw!ft and I met because I was producing a girl group called The Good Girls, whose record is the first major label record that I produced. My manager at that time was also managing the group so we were kind of a crew – me, the girls, and a couple of other producers. J-Sw!ft’s manager, Reggie Andrews, knew my manager, and presented some of J’s music to us for the groups album. At the time I was a little cocky, and I think you kind of have to be when you’re first starting out; you have to feel like you can do it better than most. I felt like no one could come in and knock me out of my spot as one of the main producers of the album. They had just signed with Motown and those album placements were important to us. But, when I heard his stuff I was like ‘oh this dude is pretty serious too!’
AP-S: Recently on DVTV J-Sw!ft referred to your track Pork as a jab at him – was it ever that competitive between you two with your production?
LAJ: Um…no, he was joking when he said it was a jab! We were very competitive, but we were homeboys.
Back then, everybody would be hanging in a room like this – a bunch of us – and there would be a cassette deck and you’d come in with your new beats for everyone to hear. When you pressed play, you'd see on everybody’s faces instantly if the energy in the room elevated or not.
A lot of times it would be J-Sw!ft and I going back to back, and it was friendly competition. Though, at the same time, I’m sure that he wanted to make sure that his beats were better than mine, and likewise I did the same – we were pushing each other.
So, he meant that in a fun way like ‘aw man – he came with a left hook! And he got me with that one!’
Me and J-Sw!ft have never been enemies, it’s always been all love. By the time that I met him I already knew his work and he knew mine. We had a mutual respect because I knew that he was good, and he liked my stuff too. We worked on some projects together as a production team for a while. J-Sw!ft and Fatlip were the first to work together in terms of any Pharcyde connection. There are so many connections though, as even Imani from The Pharcyde was instrumental in helping with some choreography for The Good Girls, so I had kind of met him through that.
Basically, we were just a bunch of young folks that ended up connecting on a creative level, even before they were called The Pharcyde. Even before they were the group which they were before The Pharcyde, which was called 242, we were starting to link and hang out and have a mutual respect for people’s different crafts.
We became this collective group of people who hung out, bounced ideas off of each other, partied a lot, worked a lot, and built a lot in terms of brainstorming and listening to music, critiquing other people’s music. That whole thing was just a juggernaut that carried everybody to the next level with The Pharcyde.
AP-S: As a group – what do The Pharcyde mean to you? What do they symbolise?
LAJ: They symbolise sincerity number one, and just openness, colour, and artistry. Artistry meaning whatever it calls for; they dance, they rap, and they’re song-writers. They may be song-writers first, rappers second. Great examples of that are ‘Passin' Me By’ and ‘Otha Fish’ – those are songs. That’s one of the things that the collective really contributed to. There was a wealth of heavy musicians around us and a wide range of perspectives because of it.
I came up under my father (John Barnes) who was, and is a serious session musician/composer/producer who had worked with tons of legends from Marvin Gaye to Michael Jackson, and Bill Withers to Lionel Richie to name a few. And then Reggie Andrews, who really mentored them, was kind of a father figure to all of us. He was a serious figure in the L.A. music scene and had written and produced hit records as well. So, we had a real foundation of that record making mentality.
There is a certain type of hip hop that is all about spitting rhymes, a banging beat, laying those verses one after the other – that's really dope and I do love a hard-ass emcee. But I’m saying what makes the Pharcyde a little bit different, is that they came from the standpoint of not only making a banger, but a true artistic song.
It’s all about the end result translating to listeners as a really clear message, and to bare your soul on that record. Not just trying to destroy every emcee in every verse, but baring your soul and sharing your experience. The Pharcyde honestly express themselves and I think that’s one of the things that makes them so memorable.
AP-S: Do you have a particular favourite or stand out memory of The Pharcyde?
LAJ: My goodness. There’s so, so many. J-Sw!ft is better at this stuff than me –not only does he remember everything but he’s a great storyteller. We’ve had so many experiences but one of my favourite times was Lake Arrowhead when twenty, maybe twenty five, of us rented a big cabin for the weekend and we just had a blast. Oh my lord.
That was even before they had a record deal. It was a bunch of us, a bunch of girls, and we were just hanging out, partying – can you imagine?? It was a three story cabin and it had a Jacuzzi and a sauna, balconies and we were out in the forest. It was a hell of a party. We went out hiking one day and J-Sw!ft jumped off of a cliff into some water…we didn’t even know how deep the water was.
AP-S: I can’t imagine J-Sw!ft loose in the woods….
It was one of my fondest memories of everybody hanging out. But, it was just a daily affair back then - all day everyday hanging out and vibing. It was such a pure time because we were just about what we were about, with no corruption. Seeing everybody being supportive, building, encouraging each other, encouraging people to push the envelope with their craft…it was a really good time.
Oh – one memory on a personal note – one time we were out at a club and for some reason there was this dude that had it out for me and wanted to fight me. I still don’t know to this day why. He came up to try and sucker punch me, to take a swing at me while I wasn’t looking. My best friend was there and caught him right before, as the guys knuckles scraped my head. I look up after that and I see Tre, I think Romye and a bunch of the guys all fighting the other dudes homies – you just don’t know how much someone has your back until something goes down. Every now and then I would think about that and be like ‘wow - they really had my back’. It’s always been a lot of love, and to this day it is, for all four members. All four of those guys I’ve got a lot of love for; I want to see them all win.
Alice Price-Styles is a UK-based writer. Read more of her work at www.MintMagazine.co.uk