I was fortunate enough to watch Jakey S.F.T.S perform last year at a Teal Cheese event. It was his first show ever and to say I was impressed is an understatement. This is an artist who knows how to command a crowd and convey feelings in a powerful way.
His DJ, Nylon Dreams, makes some of the best beats I’ve ever heard, there’s no other way to put it. At that time I didn’t know they worked exclusively with each other. I find that’s a rare scenario these days especially in the hip hop scene.
I sat down for a very long conversation with them and the newest addition to their live show, Joel Bergersen, to discuss the beginning of the S.F.T.S (Straight From The Soul) movement, their team dynamic, and their upcoming EP.
Nick: When did you guys start making music together?
Nylon: “We had met up a few times and brought up the idea of making some music together just for fun. It was the type of conversation you have with musicians around your area as more of a “what if we did this”. It usually never happens because you realize the vibe isn’t right. I think I made a couple beats for him and they were horrible (they all laugh). I sent them to him and he was very honest with me about what he thought. His feedback was genuine. At that point I’d never made any hip hop beats for anyone.”
Jakey: “I had no problem being honest with him from the beginning because I knew if I couldn’t rap to it, what would even become of it? Nelson and I have had this relationship from the start where if the beat isn’t right and/ or the rap isn’t right, then it’s just that; not right. I think that’s why it’s manifested into what it has, because it’s built on something real.”
Joel: “The fact that they’re two real people who just love what they do really translates. That’s just how it has to be.”
Nick: So it sounds like you both came into it with no real motive. You just like the same things and your tastes are similar.
Jakey: “Everybody has their thing. Nylon was always big into music. He’s a ‘music guy’. I was definitely not that when I started. I wasn’t big into musical theory or writing, I just really liked rap.”
Nick: Nylon, you mentioned you play guitar as well, right?
Nylon: “Yeah the first instrument I played was bass when I was 14 years old. I did drum line in high school. I didn’t start making beats until I was 17.”
Nick: What brought on the transition from playing ‘traditional’ instruments to production work?
Nylon: “There was a kid in my English class who told me he had Fruity Loops and used it to make beats. Immediately I found an illegal copy of the program (of course) and then just went from there.
Musically, Kid Cudi’s Man On The Moon: The End of Day was the first album that showed me hip hop could be whatever I wanted it to be. I grew up loving Tupac and then saw the very quick transition into the flashy ‘bling bling’ era, I knew I wasn’t into that side of things. That pushed me toward things like metal, indie rock, and jazz.”
Nick: Jakey, you said at first even though you liked rap you didn’t know how to do it yourself. When did you decide this is the path you wanted to pursue as a career?
Jakey: “Ever since I started doing it there was always that ‘twinkle in the eye’, that drive. I just like the way it makes me feel. Everybody has that one thing they do that causes an emotion that you can’t get by doing anything else. It was never my intention to turn this into a business. When I rapped I liked the way it felt. At first I was timid but when I was writing it, even if it sounded like shit when I rapped it out loud (because I didn’t know how yet) I would think to myself ‘This is what I want to say. This is how I want to say it. And most importantly it makes me feel good when I say it.’
Nylon had to have a lot of patience with me. He said something to me at the start and he still repeats it to this day, ‘It’s not what you do, it’s the art behind it.’ I still think that’s true.
I feel like I’ve always had something to say, something to get off my chest.”
Nick: You’ve been working together now for three years, why do you think it is you work so well together? It’s very rare I see any rapper only use only one DJ or vice versa.
Nylon: “It’s very hard to find people who have drive to do anything. On top of that, to have similar backgrounds. Jakey and I are both first generation Cuban American. We both share the same integrated culture, we grew up in the same type of environments. Very few people can relate to that. We get each other’s jokes or references that most people just shrug their shoulders at.
We can both go from bumping a Big L track to Selena.”
Jakey: “It’s true, when you can speak a whole different language to someone and they’re the only other person in the room who understands what you’re saying. To have that connection is very tough to find.”
Nylon: “At some point I realized how rare this opportunity was. I didn’t want to have to focus on someone else’s stuff that’s going to be mediocre. I want to be able to use my effort for someone who will work equally as hard as I do.
Also, artistically, we both wanted to grow. Jakey was the first person I made beats for that I felt comfortable in the process with. If a beat is bad we can scrap it and try something totally new. I had one other person I tried to work with and unfortunately he just wasn’t particularly good at his craft. Not to mention we had completely different visions of what we wanted to accomplish.
With someone like Jakey he has so much talent with lyricism and a comprehension of constructing a song for purpose driven reasons.
A lot of the hip hop I see today is based on buying a stack of beats and when you find one you like, go in the studio and ad lib on it. With Jakey’s writing style he really takes his time. There’s very few people who can be intricate without going over the audience’s head.”
Nick: Joel, you’re a relatively new addition to the stage show, what’s your role in the equation?
Joel: “After we performed at Rack ‘Ems (that was my first time on stage) I took on the role of ‘hype man’. From my perspective just going to shows, and I attend a lot of EDM shows. Being a DJ is the center of a performance in that genre. They don’t just press play. It’s an art form to be able to speed things up, slow them down, change the sounds however necessary. I thought with Nylon being the DJ, how much easier would his job be if he didn’t have to also play the role of hyping up the crowd? There’s no limit on how well a performance can go, so coming into this equation, I want to make sure everyone can focus completely on their part of the show. I want to help the shows run smoothly.
When I moved back from Vermont a few years ago I started hanging out with these guys constantly. I’m here for real emotional support also and I’m here to learn from two of the most talented people I know.”
Nick: Jakey, your delivery always surprises me. What would you say are your biggest musical influences?
Jakey: “I always listened to things that would make older cats say ‘How do you know what that is?’ People around me were into hip hop and Spanish music. That’s what I grew up on. If you ever listen to Cuban Conga, it’s essentially a form of African music. It has heavy drums just like hip hop. Listening to things like that and salsa and merengue; It has a certain energy that I see as a heartbeat.
Getting into the American side, what stood out to me when I was young was the East Coast rap, ‘boom bap’. Big L, Big Pun, Biggie. The flow was the most important part. I listened to Snoop, N.W.A., things where the flow was ridiculous. I say it’s like water. You can drink it and it’ll go down smooth no matter what. The flow is the rhythm, and again, the heartbeat. You have to let the beat take you places.”
Nick: Can you describe your relationship with Nylon?
Jakey: “Nylon has been there to challenge me every step of the way. Sometimes he makes beats where I wonder what I’m even going to do with it. He’s helped me to digest music and to understand time and versatility. When I first met him I could rap over one type of beat. I remember him telling me ‘You have one flow’ and he would make certain beats to cater to that.
As our relationship progressed he started throwing in twists and turns and it made it become better. He has taught me how to change and adapt to new sounds and ways of rapping. I feel like he’s more than a producer, he’s my best friend. It’s been love, understanding, and patience from the start. We are in this learning process together.”
Nick: Do you feel like you two challenge each other?
Jakey: “Oh, my God, yes! Sometimes I hate him!” (they all laugh). “Sometimes I hear the beats he makes and think ‘He must want me to fuck up!’ That’s what it has to be, though. I love him for pushing me to the point where I bang my head against the wall. In my eyes if I didn’t do that then we aren’t making the right music. I need to be challenged to grow. Struggle leads to growth. We don’t have any limit on creation, we don’t have any limit on our minds, but we DO have a limit on our time on this Earth. In that sense, we don’t want to waste it. There’s a certain amount of heart and where there’s heart there’s pride. When you have pride in your work you want to do it well.”
I embrace things like frustration and writer’s block because without those how would I ever grow? I get to work with two people who push me to be better not only professionally but personally. What more could I ask for?”
Nylon: “We let go of the mentality of ‘Let’s bang out another song’. Now it’s more like if we can leave our meetings having grown in a way of thinking, a friendship, in ANY way, that’s time successfully spent. We would much rather work with people who have heart and share the same vision we do than to just do the things we do for monetary gain. I’d rather wait ten years to add someone else to the group than to force it for the wrong reasons.”
Nick: Is there a concept around this new EP you’re about to record?
Jakey: “I feel like our projects represent seasons of our lives. We’ve matured, we’ve grown and we know more. We’ve learned from mistakes we’ve made. Land of Lost Toys was about finding myself. I was feeling lost when I wrote it and that’s what came out of those feelings. I think at that point we were finding that synergy as a unit as well.
This EP we’re recording now will be called Sin Pena which translates to “Without Embarrassment”. We’ve found our sound and we’re not ashamed of what we’re doing. It’s definitely a project where we are discovering a new part of our sound. The best way I can describe it is progressive. It doesn’t sound like anybody else.”
Nylon: “We’re trying to learn from the masters that we appreciate and not get stuck in following trends. We’re trying to be students of hip hop. What we’re trying to work toward is a sound that has a foundation that other things spring out of. When we put out another album in a few years, maybe someone else will listen to it and get influenced to begin creating music because of our sound. We’re not trying to be experimental just for the sake of doing it. We just know what sounds good to us and that’s what we’re going to put out.
Ray Charles said “I don’t want to be famous, I just want to be great.” I feel like that really sums up our approach to music.”
Nick: How far out are you from releasing this next EP?
Jakey: “The production and lyrics are completely done. We will be going to the studio this weekend and record the whole thing. We know what it needs to be now it’s just time to execute it.”
Nick: What are some of the things you’d like to do next?
Nylon: “We definitely want to play more out of town shows and continue networking. Last time around we were so focused on the art we forgot some of the business side of things. It definitely needs to be a balance of both.”
Jakey: “No matter how many times we make a mistake, no matter how many times we might fuck up that one calculation we can always restart the program. There’s no limit to what we can do. The love of art has no boundaries. There are an infinite number of sounds and an almost infinite number of words that we can put together however we want. Where are the walls binding us? We don’t see them. We don’t have a set of instructions, we’re making our own.
To be able to create something that I can honestly say is amazing and then have someone like Nylon look me in the face and say the same thing is an incredible feeling.”
Nick: Please explain your approach to your art.
Jakey: “With this newfound time and freedom. Now it’s not just a ‘rapping’ thing. I’m trying to train my body and my mind for rap. I want to get my endurance up by doing things like exercising and being conscious of my diet. I understand why it’s important. I don’t just run to run. When I get on stage in a month I’ll feel better, my body will reward me. The crowd in turn will reward the music. I’m able to know that I went to any lengths to be my best. I told myself I was a rapper every day, every step of this journey. I know now there’s no way around it. If I want to be great I have to dedicate every aspect of my life to that greatness. I try to incorporate all the things I do to align with Plan A. I don’t have a Plan B or C. Everything I do, every book I read, everything I study, every step I take, every meal I eat, I want to be dedicated to the music.”
Follow Jakey S.F.T.S on social media in the links below:
Follow Nylon Dreams on social media in the links below:
Check out some of Jakey and Nylon’s music below and be ready for Teal Cheese to cover their new EP, Sin Pena, as soon as it’s released!