justLISTEN! JayKin

Interview by Jenkin Au & Alan Ng
Words by Amie Nguyen
Photography by Patrick Leung

WEBSITE

JayKin – Nippon

[audio:07_Nippon.mp3]

JayKin, one of Vancouver’s best known underground hip hop artists spends some time with the justalilhype! Crew. He has a lot of nicknames, including The Kid and Vancity’s Nicest, but he definitely prefers The Kid. JayKin shares with us a lot that was unknown to the public, like where his name comes from and even how he likes to have his name spelt. JayKin, now 26, spends his days working at Alife and working hard on his music, which consists of rhymes and flows related to every aspect of his life. To reinforce this, JayKin is releasing a compilation on video games and sneakers. Why? JayKin explains this and much, much more in the interview that we have with him. The track that he has decided to share with our readers is called “Nippon”, which is Japanese for, well, Japan. According to the track, it was produced in Japan, recorded in Japan, and even the music video was shot in Japan. Enjoy.

Oh, by the way, did we mention that JayKin loves Street Fighter? He told us about this arcade on Granville so we decided to have a friendly match. Too bad he didn’t win.

So JayKin Sensei, can you tell us a little more about yourself?

JayKin Sensei, yes, I’m 26 years old and was born and raised in Vancouver. I’m an aspiring, not really struggling, hip hop artist, but definitely motivated. I’ve been rapping now for over 10 years. The first time I wrote my lyrics was when I was nine years old. Recently, I’ve been in Japan for the past two years and things have changed a lot for me, personally, and for the music. Now I’m back in Vancouver.

Back when you were nine years old, what was that first lyric about?

Oh man! Back then, it was kind of tough with my family; there were a lot of things going on and that’s how it is sometimes. It was what was going on at that time; it was pretty heavy for a nine year old to write about. It was mostly personal life.

You have a lot of nicknames, from JayKin Sensei, Vancity’s Nicest and even Bashful and the Kid. Can you tell us which one of these nicknames you really go by and how you got the names?

Personally, The Kid, because I’m a kid at heart. That one kind of came from just the whole baby face that I have, just always shaved. People thought I was 16 when I was 18 or whatever and they just thought I was a young one tagging along. Vancity’s Nicest is just something I threw out there, just to rep the city. If I go somewhere else, I can say that, rather than going around the city saying, “I’m Vancity’s Nicest.” When I’m in Vancouver, I don’t really need to say that. Going on Japanese T.V., I didn’t say Vancity’s Nicest, but in the credits and the video, I put that for people to see.

And for JayKin, the spelling, do you prefer it together or apart? There are a lot of different ways that people spell it: apart or together. I was hoping you could clear that up.

Yeah, some people put a space between it and I change it up sometimes. But it should be put together. My real name is spelt differently. It is spelt Jaakan, which a lot of people don’t know. That name comes from The Bible and was given to me by my father.

Do you know the back-story to it?

Yeah. It’s from Deuteronomy, Chapter 10, and the Jaakanites, was how it was described. Sometimes they don’t put the “ites” at the end. The meaning of it is actually “intelligent person”, not to put myself up, but that’s what it means. My father chose that name because of that.

Sick. Moving on, because of your obsession with video games and sneakers, we know you’re coming out with video game and sneaker compilation. What is it about these two things that you like so much?

That’s when the whole “Kid” thing comes into play. I’m a big fan of video games and when I was young, I just really enjoyed it a lot more than other people did. The sneaker thing is just something I’ve always enjoyed. The name, “Sneakers and Video Games”, comes from when I was in Japan and I was living in this small room in Tokyo. I was busy every day and I just came home one day–didn’t have any time to clean all month–and I look down on the floor and all I saw were a whole bunch of video games and sneakers. That’s when I realized that it was something that I enjoy. During that time, I was going through a whole lot of stress. The culture over there and how people work is very fast and the hours are a lot longer. With all that stress, I found that I could just enjoy myself with sneakers and video games.

For your compilation coming up, what should our readers expect?

Not too much of a serious approach. “On The Humble” and “No Time to Waste” are two names that have a deeper meaning to it. With “Sneakers and Video Games”, it’s just what it is. It’s going to be a lot more fun and you’re going to see me doing a lot more things that you wouldn’t expect me to do. I will be rapping over top of old video games and old samples.

Speaking of that, there’s a rapper out in the States that spits over top of old ’90s stuff, like Dragon Ball and Pokemon.

Really?!

Yeah, there are even songs where he’s going over top of Goku charging up and Mario stuff.

Did they put drums in and change it up?

Yeah, they totally changed it up.

Wow. I’ll have to hear this?

Yeah, for sure. Speaking of that, what is your all time favourite sneaker and video game?

All time sneakers, Air Max ’95 and video game, Street Fighter.

Nice! Which one?

II.

The big block one?

There are so many Street Fighter II’s, but as long as it has an II on it. Right now, I’ve been playing a lot of IV and I got a lot of practice playing with Japanese people because they are very good.

The Alpha series falls under II, right? Alpha 3 is my favourite!

Yeah, you can do all those combos on whatever mode, where you have the shadows. I could never figure it out.

Definitely. Moving on. While we were doing some research, we stumbled upon a website from Virginia or Berkeley. They said you were from Vancouver and told their readers not to hold that against you.

– HA! I read that! I read that!

What do you have to say to people who continue to look down on the Vancouver music scene?

At first, I couldn’t remember, but as soon as you said that, I remembered. It made me think that it’s true because a lot of people don’t expect much from Canada. With that said, I felt happy that they would acknowledge me and that they would recognize the music, instead of just the place. Some people would just hear about an artist from this place and they don’t even want to listen to it. I just would like people to look past the place or the environment where the artist is from and just give it a chance–music speaks for itself. With Drake coming out, it opens a lot of doors because people don’t really think that somebody from this country could make such an impact and just dominate over American artists. That’s Toronto, this is Vancouver and as a Vancouver thing, I really hope that people pay more attention, and I do believe–I really believe–that people will. I’m going to try my best.

What do “Illmatic” and “Reasonable Doubt” mean to you?

“Illmatic”, the song that did it for me was “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”, and that’s one that I did at Hip Hop Karaoke–I messed up though. When I heard “Illmatic”, it made me really want to write and actually rap on stage and do it. With “Reasonable Doubt”, it influenced me to progress in my flow and word play and melodies when I wrote. Those two albums definitely made a strong impact. I first heard “Reasonable Doubt” when I was in New York visiting family. It just came out in 1996 and at that time, nobody knew who Jay-Z was in the States. But the word play definitely had a lot to do with it.

Who is your one idol in the game?

Man! Jay-Z or Nas, who is it? I guess I got to say Nas because of his humble character. He’s been able to make it this far, being so humble and focusing on the music, rather than the things outside of music. Jay-Z’s got a lot of things to show and prove that he can be that hustler without that illegal work and prove to the world that he can make it in the business world. But Nas just kept it to the music and I look up to that a lot more. That lasts a lot longer than how much money you make because you can make $300 million, but the music will last longer.

What is your style most akin to? Have you been compared to people in the game based on how you rap?

All the time. I’m not going to say who!

Come on, let’s hear it.

Let’s just say we’ve been talking about these guys in this interview and it’s one of those two.

(Everyone laughs)

I’ve been compared to those two and it’s something I want to talk about. I really don’t want to be compared to any artist. Definitely, there’s going to be an influence and I think all the artists we look up to are influenced by their generation and in no way do I want to follow in any footsteps of any other artist. They have paved their way already and I just want to be recognized as JayKin.

Going into music, did you have a goal in mind?

At first, it was just to be able to make a living off of it. But I guess now, it’s to make music that’s entertaining but also when you can get a message out of it at the end of it, as far as the whole album and not just one song. Just make different music and make people have a good time.

How can your fans hold you accountable to your own goals?

“Kinfolk” is coming soon and just expect “Kinfolk” to be something else. It’s going to be different from what you’re used to hearing. I’m just going to do my best to please them and at the same time, get the attention of others who may not have known my music or looked over it because it’s not their kind of style. It’s a tough thing to say.

Now let’s talk about “Kinfolk”. Can you talk about its delay and why did “On the Humble” come in between?

I remember I talked about that in one of the songs–I think it was number four. With “Kinfolk”, I just felt like there were things that I had to get out before; basically all the releases that I’ve put out before was just a build up and getting people an idea of who I am. I feel that an album is just such a personal thing and I didn’t feel like I was ready for an album. Everything that I’ve gone through to this point in time, it’s got me ready to do what I do. I can say that I’m ready now. It’s going to be dope.

When’s the expected release date?

I’m shooting for the end of 2010. I will say that, definitely.

Which tracks do you think you personally killed and which tracks do you think you didn’t do full justice with?

“Nice In Any Crisis”. That was the first song I ever recorded in a studio and my first time in a studio. That one, I did in one take and a lot of people remember it a lot because at the time, it just stood out with the beat and the whole flow and delivery. The one that I didn’t feel like I did full justice with was probably some guest appearances on other people’s songs. Shit, those are the ones that I don’t want to remember!

A lot of your music plays homage to our city, like “Rain Drop City”. We really respect that and like it a lot. As you move up in the music scene, you have an increasing opportunity to do your music in front of international audiences. Do you plan on keeping it tight with Vancouver or will you move to chase the dream?

I used the whole analogy of going first, second and third. Home is always Vancouver and the way I see it, in order for me to rep, get a point and to get home, I got to go through first, second and third. My goal is always to go back home at the end of it, so I’m always going to different places. It’s just the game to go home and that’s my point. I point that out and say that to every artist that they have an accountability to do that to Vancouver, rather than just an individual thing.

That’s a really good analogy. You’ve mentioned before that you lived in Japan for a little while and how it changed you to experiment with more colours and not being so laid back. It is said that personality is the soul and the backbone of music. Is this true for you and how do you foresee your music changing as you change?

Living there, it’s really fast. I fell through the fashion there, where everyone is just trying to be different with their image through their fashion. Japanese people keep to themselves and are shy, especially in Tokyo, because there are so many people from all over Japan. I was just expressing myself and felt I had a need to show myself more bright and through my music. Nothing pop-ish or anything but just open up. The people want to hear more personal stuff in my music and I’m still working on that now that I’m back and now that I’m a bit different from before I left for Japan. It’s really exciting how I’ve been working with different producers. It’ll be good and I’ll make sure.

You mentioned that people want to hear more of your personal side in your music. What are some of the things that you’ve seen that are recurring throughout your music?

Tempo. When I came back, I was talking to my DJ and the crew that he works with: the Freshest, Seko, Marvel, Rico Uno, and Kut Corners. We were talking about the BPM (beats per minute) and how that’s important. We noticed that nowadays, it’s a little higher around 115 or something like that. I went home and checked all the beats I was working on and they were usually around the same thing. That, I realized, wasn’t something I planned on doing and it was just the type of beats that I like. As far as the topics I was writing on, I had to change it up and these things I was just doing because I enjoyed it. Now, I just have to open up a lot more and open myself up to more ideas and challenges.

Bringing those last two questions together, do you think that Vancouver had an influence on your beats, your tempo, and just the whole backbone and personality to your music?

Yeah. Now, Vancouver’s sound has changed. When I came back, I was expecting the same sound when I left. Now it’s totally different and the music is faster and people are experimenting with a lot of different types of things, like dub step. I don’t really get into that much myself, but I had to step back for a second and just see what was going on in Vancouver. I had to figure out what people were listening to and not to just follow a trend, but take my time and try to catch up, because I was gone for over a year. Basically, seeing what’s going on now has definitely influenced me to not just catch up, but to push myself to go ahead and work with producers that are trying move ahead and try something that’s a little more futuristic.

You’re known for your humbleness and it’s recurring. Does producing great tracks, receiving lots of good feedback and being well respected in the game, tempt to you start turning into a man with a big ego?

My father has always told me to be humble and not to really exalt or embrace myself. It may sound funny, but just let others do it for you. That’s actually from The Bible itself so that’s where [my dad] got it from. It does tempt me and it is flattering, but everyone loves to have and receive compliments–it makes you happy and cheers you up. But it’s just having those thoughts circulating in your head and then it just gets stuck in there and that’s when it becomes a problem. I just know where I am, so if I’m opening up for a big artist, I know I’m just opening up. I’m not trying to be an opening artist that’s trying to be the headliner. It’s just knowing my position and knowing where to go.

Throughout this whole interview, I’ve noticed that the way you talk is very slow, thought out, and enunciated. But on your tracks, there are some really fast verses and fast and sick flow. Why is there this contrast and have you thought about this before?

Performing now, the first show I did was 18 years old and I’m 26 now. Every time I go on stage, I just turn into something else and I’m on HYPE and the energy is going. I feel a lot more confident, definitely. But, I know that when I’m on stage, that’s what I’m there to do and that’s what I love doing. Personal life and outside, I’m a calm and quiet person–I don’t say too much. There are a lot of other artists where when I go into the studio with them, it’ll be a little bit of awkwardness. Maybe the first time they meet me, they’re thinking, “OK, let’s do this,” but I’m actually a quiet dude.

Yeah, when we went to Alife to find you and we introduced ourselves, you looked like you thought you were in trouble!

Yeah! That’s what I mean. I don’t expect people to come and go (whispers), “Oh, you’re JayKin!” There have been some times where I’m at a store like Dipt and someone comes up to me, and I don’t work there, and they go, “Do you have some CD’s?” I tell them I don’t work there but they go, “No, no, I’m talking about YOUR CD.” I even sometimes forget that I do music. It’s funny because some people just go up to me and I go, “What did I do?” I know what position I’m in right now and I’m just keeping it humble and work my way up. I do think before I speak, it’s something that I do.

Sorry! I didn’t mean to put it out there as if you didn’t think before you spoke!

No, not at all. I wanted elaborate on that and I forgot to put that out there. Nothing wrong about that, it’s just how I was raised. My mother is the same way and I was raised by a single mother so I kind of get that from her. My dad is kind of the opposite and he’ll say some things that he doesn’t mean but he’s just the type of guy to get his thoughts out there.

Speaking of speech, when you make a song, do you think of the lyrics or the flow first?

I start with flow and music. I don’t like to say how I do it, but that’s how I do it. It’s just like, you hear a beat, and regardless, there is always a way to flow with it. I think the toughest song I did, as far as finding a way to deliver on it, was a Jazz song I did called “Take Five” by Joani Taylor. That one was extremely hard but I was happy. That was another song that I think I did very well.

What’s your favourite Dragon Ball character?

I know the Japanese character… Kaioshin and he was …

King Kai?

No, the Supreme Kai. He was the short purple dude and gray hair, kind of like a mohawk. He was the dude that was in charge of it all. You see King Kai and he’s this fat, rocked out dude, and you would think that the Supreme Kai would be huge! But then all of a sudden, you see this small black and purple dude. The Supreme Kai is definitely it.

While we’re speaking about black and purple, you’re wearing black and purple today.

Hey! I didn’t mean to do that! Purple is my favourite colour, without a doubt.

The song that our readers are listening to, can you tell us about it?

The song is called “Nippon” from “On The Humble”. That song has a lot of meaning to me personally with my experience in Japan. It’s not really explaining the whole situation but just the vibe of it. The producer is Japanese; the video was filmed in Japan and recorded in Japan. I’m the only thing that’s not Japanese in that song.

Will we be seeing some Japanese in your songs?

Yes, right now I’m planning on taking some courses on Japanese and I’ve been testing it out a little bit here and there. It’s a little tricky but definitely, you’re going to see me more than talk about it in English.

Who’s your favourite Japanese artist?

Cleba. They can’t pronounce the V’s and in English, it’s Clever, but in Japanese, it’s Cleba.

What is HYPE?

HYPE is like a movement. HYPE is a lifestyle and a style itself that is going beyond the norm, I feel, going beyond the trends right now and something that is moving on to the next. It’s like, it’s going on to something next and you can know that things are shifting towards something else, whether it’s in music or fashion or whatever. HYPE is not just a buzz thing – HYPE is a style like no other.