(Jake) One for the Road

Freeway gets a boost—and old-school beats—from one of the city’s finest knob-twisters.

"It's still kinda crazy to me that I did a whole record with him," says Jake One (real name Jacob Dutton), in an almost gravelly tone, of The Stimulus Package, the album he produced for veteran rapper Freeway.Dressed in a vintage Nike T-shirt and dark jeans, Jake, a Capitol Hill native, is seated in the Pioneer Square studio he shares with local hip-hop outfit the Physics. Although he's not quite pinching himself at the thought of working with Freeway—a first-rate talent who came up under Jay-Z and Damon Dash's bejeweled wings on Roc-A-Fella back in the early aughts—he might as well be. "I was just such a fan," says Jake of Freeway, his voice rising an octave in rare excitement.It's funny to hear a producer of Jake's caliber sound almost starstruck. After all, he's worked with some of hip-hop's finest, from supernovas such as 50 Cent and his G-Unit Crew to underground champ MF Doom. In 2008, Jake upped his national cachet by releasing his debut compilation, White Van Music (on indie powerhouse label Rhymesayers Entertainment), notable for including national acts such as Busta Rhymes alongside local lyricists like D. Black.Jake and Freeway met via mutual friends in the music biz, and from that point the two began recording tracks, including two inspired cuts on White Van Music—"The Truth," featuring Brother Ali, and "How We Ride"—and a cut called "It's Over," from Freeway's second disc, Free at Last."The chemistry was there," says Freeway by phone from Philadelphia. "And he continued to send me tracks. It was like the perfect marriage." The union resulted in Freeway asking Jake to produce his third full-length.The Stimulus Package—to be released by Rhymesayers on Tues., Feb. 16—is Jake's first solo album. That he's working with Freeway made Jake, normally so low-key he's almost monastic, sit up a bit in his chair and project a little more—not quite giddy but not quite contained, either. "I never really know what he's gonna do, which is one of the reasons why I love working with him," he says. "The way he does it is always something bizarre."Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers has rolled out a full-tilt publicity campaign for The Stimulus Package, even springing for elaborate album packaging courtesy of revered hip-hop artist Brent Rollins, who also designed the iconic logo for John Singleton's film Boyz N the Hood. This, plus the fact that Package demands a listen from beginning to end, reinforces the notion of the album as cultural artifact—a radical move in an era defined by the download.For those who grew up listening to hip-hop in the middle-to-late '90s, The Stimulus Package will feel like a sonic yearbook: a reminder of when rappers and their producers slathered hard-edged, streetwise lyrics over rough-and-tumble, often orchestral beats to create a sound that could only have come from a specific pairing.Listening to The Stimulus Package, you can't help but think of classic two-man teams: P. Diddy and Biggie, Premier and Guru, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Of course, it's far too early to determine Jake and Freeway's place in the pantheon, but the concept remains the same. Indeed, Freeway had his own legendary producer/rapper team in mind: Erik B and Rakim."For a while it was all about the producer," says Jake, citing Timbaland and the Neptunes as examples of producers who were once bigger draws than many of the artists they were making beats for. Although that time has more or less passed, the producer remains as important to fans as cinematographers are to cinephiles. "There's certain people that just have a diehard base," Jake adds. "And I'm definitely trying to be part of that."By returning to that formula—a kind of doubling of the auteur theory—and by couching each of Package's 15 tracks in the style of the previous decade and the funky soul music that informed it, Jake and Freeway have done more than take it back to the old school—they've reminded us why the old school matters.Thinking of the '90s in these terms may be a little unusual (it wasn't that long ago, right?), but it's the music both Jake and Freeway came of age to. And as far as Freeway's concerned, there's no other reason for the album's sound than that. "It's just, like, a style I'm attracted to. That's what I know and that's what I like to do," he says.On the super-sexed "She Makes Me Feel All Right," Jake updates Rick James' classic "Mary Jane." The original song is easily recognizable, yet Jake gooses and chops it up into a fulcrum for Freeway's operatic growl. "Never Gonna Change" opens with a reference to Biggie's classic "Warning" by way of Freeway relating his own paranoid hustler's tale. And "Stimulus Outro" finds Freeway reading fan letters over Jake's easy, symphonic beat before finishing off with what amounts to a manifesto: "I am not gonna hate on the state of hip-hop/In fact, all I'm here to do is give y'all real rap."Ironically, what inspired Jake for The Stimulus Package was the sound that Roc-A-Fella Records rode to prominence with albums such as Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt (1996) and Freewayt's gold-status debut Philadelphia Freeway (2003)."That was the first commercial stuff that I liked in a minute," says Jake. "This is hip-hop, but it sounds big." He adds, "Basically, since then, I've been trying to get that sound. I want it to sound classic, but it has to sound bigger than that. And I think we did it on this album."music@seattleweekly.com

 
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