Jay Loud Escaped Naptown, and Now It's Shaping His Music [Q&A]
Jay Loud made it out of the maze. For the multi-faceted Indianapolis artist, that fact was easier said than done. Life in the middle of Naptown involved shootouts, constant peril, and all the dangers that come with living in one of America's most dangerous cities. It took an acquaintance’s mother stepping in for his fortune to change for the better, helping him relocate to Seattle where he received the break that would spark his music career.
Now, he's making his voice heard with Naptown, his debut project released via EMPIRE. Despite all he's endured to get this far, there's a sizeable amount of brightness on the album, present in his joyful melodies and the bouncy production behind them.
"Ice Cream" sounds like the Santa Monica Pier in the middle of summertime, drenched in twinkling synths and a sugary hook that's sweeter than a pint of Ben & Jerry's. When he does treat his songs with a harder edge, it's just as compelling. "Wait" brings the abrasive percussion to ratchet the energy up a notch, while his stuttering flow keeps it rolling along without a hitch.
We caught up with the artist to learn how Naptown came together, how he was first discovered, and how the move to Seattle changed his life.
Ones To Watch: Naptown is out now. What does that city mean to you?
Jay Town: Naptown is like a maze. That's the only way to describe it. You've got people who are lost, you've got people who are trying to get out, and you've got people who know they're never getting out, so they try to keep you locked in. It's like a system, either you fail or you find a way to get out.
What kept your head on straight within that maze?
My mama being there. If she wasn't there, I don't know what I'd be doing. She still calls me to this day. She still gives me advice and makes sure I'm feeling right. It's been times I didn't think I'd be able to handle the situations I've been in, and she'd just remind me, "You're good, move like this and you're good." She's been a big part of that.
How much pressure did you put on yourself before this album?
I put a lot of pressure on myself. My manager Taj was like, "We have four weeks to get this done," but it was hard for me to write songs. The simple fact that he and everyone else stayed on me, to make sure it all got done. My struggle was mostly trying to come up with hits, non-stop. If I wasn't going to make a hit, I didn't want to make a song. I had to warm up into exploring my way into the music, where I can come up with something regardless of how I feel about it.
What makes you feel like you have the hit?
Previously to now, I would say "Narcos" is the hit. But "Ice Cream" was definitely a hit. It was a different sound that I didn't even let anyone else hear. I was just rapping, with a little bit of that auto-tuned singing. But once I started actually working on it, and was able to figure out the lyrics, I knew right away. As soon as I came up with the hook, I knew it would be catchy.
You said your manager gave you a month to finish the album. How much of it came together in that final stretch?
Within the first three weeks of that deadline, it really came together. The last week, I was just sprinkling extra things on it, or maybe replacing a few songs with older ones. But really, the album was made in those three weeks.
Talk about how you got the idea for the "Ice Cream" video.
That was Taj's idea. He came out with the Friday look, and it fit so well, with the ice cream truck and Big Worm. I didn't even think I'd be wearing all the curlers like that, until he showed the picture and said "We got all this for you." You don't know how many times I went over that scene. I know everyone else's scene in Friday, but Big Worm is like, you don't really pay attention to him, you're paying attention to Smoky. I had to go over it like 10 times, until I could really come up with it. It took a lot of practice.
You ever think about acting?
I just got asked this (laughter). I promise, I really do. I could see myself on a show. I would want to direct my own, though, and then I'd be a character in it. I don't want to be that person that just dies off.
Let's double back to the album. How did you put it together? Did you have a checklist of like, "I have to hit this sound, this topic?"
I was cherry-picking, really. Everytime I would hear a beat, I was coming up with different sounds. Everytime I came up with a sound that was really sticking in my head, it was like, I'm going to do something with this. I didn't write as much, so I would come up with a hook and a little bit of a verse, and then just freestyle the rest. I had to find something juicy enough that would stick with me. When it came down to it, though, it was definitely hard putting it together. I'm not going to lie, I was complaining, I was acting like a punk, like "I can't get this done." Taj kept reminding me, stop thinking too hard, it's not about making a hit every time.
When it comes to the album as a whole, who do you make you music for? Do you have an audience in mind, or is it more for yourself?
I have a certain, personal audience. It's for me, but I want someone to feel how I feel, in that song. I want someone to feel those emotions. I just want a crowd that's similar to me, I want to gravitate toward people who resonate with me. I was trying to figure out what I would want to listen to.
What made you leave Indianapolis and move to Seattle?
I had too much on my plate in Indy. I was talking to somebody, and their mom gave me a connection out. I told her my story, about shootouts, all of that, and she was like, you'll at least have a better chance of dealing with your case out here. I didn't even know how that was possible, I told her I was going to pass. I called my cousin after and he was like, "Are you dumb? There's nothing here." I ended up taking the chance, I took the Greyhound to Washington.
Once I got here, I was living with the mom for about two weeks, before I separated and went to the shelter. I actually got two jobs while I was working at the shelter, one at security, and one working at the mall. But I lost them both, because I didn't have transportation. I was basically homeless, it was hard to get anywhere. One day, I decided to try and get another job. Someone told me that McDonald's was hiring, they were doing walk-in interviews. I decided to do it, and went over for the interview.
I'm always singing and rapping out of nowhere, I don't know where it comes from. But I was singing in McDonald's waiting for the interview, and this dude Vontae who was doing security was like "You're dope." I told him I was just trying to start over, and get a better life going. He told me he had these big producers who lived in Seattle, they were looking for artists like me. I sent him a snippet and he sent it to Taj, and he got me in the studio. I recorded "Lick," that was the first song I ever recorded. And then Taj was like, "I want to push behind you." It just went up from there.
Did you ever work a day at that McDonald's?
I didn't even make it to the interview! On everything, as soon as he said "Send me a snippet," I sent it to him, and I was like, "I'm out of here." I'm not gonna lie, I was feeling weird about it at first. I'm from a different place, I thought it was a setup. I'm thinking, "Why is he talking to me out of all people at McDonald’s?" It didn't make sense. But then eventually, it was God talking to me. He was saying, "I'm going to set this in front of you." Matter of fact, he put it around me, so I couldn't even go anywhere.
How different is the energy for you in Seattle compared to back in Indianapolis?
It's much more relaxed. I'm able to actually chill, and think about what my next move is. Back there, it was like "I don't have a dollar in my pocket." I gotta go out and make something happen, sell hats, whatever. Down here, I don't even have to think like that. It's like, "Oh, I can go get a job."
You don't even want to think about a job back there; minimum wage is $7.25, and you're only getting section 8 a certain time of the year, you have to wait for that. Until then, what are you gonna do? You can't buy an apartment, that's $2000 a month. You can't buy a house, that's even more. Even if it's cheap, it wasn't cheap because of minimum wage.
You named this project Naptown. Do you feel any responsibility to the music scene back there?
One of my good friends, Melo, he's a great rapper. It's a couple people from back home I would work with, but as far as anybody else, I don't think so. Most people would hate, or they're just doing it for the fame. They'll be like "Let me do a song with you," and then they'll diss you on their own song. You have to be cautious about who you let into your music world.
How are you with the other parts of the music industry? Does social media feel like a chore to you?
For a second, it felt like a chore. I was like, "I'm not even a social media person," but then, how do you expect to be heard? You can't just go around selling CDs anymore. You can have someone in the studio post you on their story, but that's only going to get you a couple followers. You've got to be promoting, you have to reach out, you have to engage. Even with non-social media people, you still have to reach out. They might have the whole city on lockdown outside of social media.
What's your definition of success?
I could say... everybody around me in a wealthy living situation. My family back home, and me too. But everyone around me has to experience it too. Even if you weren’t there through everything back then, if you're making an effort to show me you're with it until the end, I got you.
I don't want to be that guy where it's "If you weren't with me from the start, then it's F you, yada yada." It's a lot of people who weren't with me, but they're with me now. Half the reason why I'm even blowing up now is because of people who weren't with me from the start. You have to be cautious, but at the same time, you have to open up. I just want to see everyone around me eating, that's going to make me feel successful.
Who are your Ones to Watch?
My friend Melo, back home. Keshawn from Seattle, Louie from Tacoma. It's a lot of artists... Rod Wave is still coming up. Duke Duece, TJ Porter, he's from New York. 147 Calboy, he's already making a name. It's a lot of people that I was watching when I was in that area, props to them.