"I don’t really believe in boundaries..."

Hip hop was never really stagnant.

Sure, there were reports that rap music had gone off the boil around the Millennium but out at the fringes, out at the edge the genre was still producing new talent who couldn't be placed in any one box.

Take Jneiro Jarel. The producer and MC is responsible for some of the best straight up hip hop to emerge over the past decade, with his Willie Isz project paying homage to Southern rap.

Yet the producer has also crafted an album using Brazilian samples ('Fauna'), recorded in Africa and embraced electronic sounds. For years a lone, solitary figure on the fringes of hip hop the rise of Low End Theory has given Jneiro Jarel renewed support.

Fresh from working with Damon Albarn on the DRC Music project, ClashMusic caught up with Jneiro Jarel to chat about his career to date.

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You went to Congo with Damon Albarn, how was that?
It was a great experience. I’ve been to Africa before but I’ve never been to the Congo. When I arrived there, I mean they warn you before you go that it gets kinda crazy out there when it comes to poverty and war and all that. Man, when I was there it was really cool because you get to see life in a whole other way. There’s no street signs, there’s no speed limits.. it’s a whole new lane! I was like ‘wow!’ It was amazing how you could see people playing instruments using stuff they made, stuff they created. Like, milk cartons.. cigarettes. It was really cool to see people live and make things, getting by by using what’s around them – not having money necessarily but just using what’s around them to get by.

It sounds really inspirational. Do you find the need to move beyond Western pop culture?
I always like to use indigenous type of sounds, so to speak. For instance, I’m a lover of nature also and I like to bring awareness to the destruction that we bring to the Earth. I’m actually trying to get involved with Oxfam, to help them with some other things, to help better the world the best way I can, y’know? Anyway, as far as.. For instance ‘Fauna’ obviously has a lot of Brazilian influence, I just love percussive sounds and what better place to get those sounds from? I just love it.

Jneiro Jarel - Fauna

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Do you feel a kinship with the Low End Theory scene?
Y’know obviously I’m been doing this kind of stuff for a very long time but there was no scene for that type of sound, I guess. It was more like I was just doing something and along with Dabrye, J Dilla, Madlib and other producers that were forward thinking hip hop producers they were doing things that.. we obviously borrowed some inspiration from electronic music in some of our samples, some of our approach to how we worked on tracks. But there wasn’t necessarily a scene for it. We didn’t fit in with traditional hip hop because we was the more weirder of the genre. So when they started the whole Low End thing, and all these young kids came up – Flying Lotus, all them used to hit me up on MySpace back in the day. I ended up befriending those guys. Samiyam, all those guys out in LA. A few other people moved to LA so all of a sudden you had these people meeting on the internet who were into the Doctor Who Dat sounds, the Madlib – forward thinking, electronic hip hop music.

Yeah, this scene just burst out of that and it was really great for me because Flying Lotus helped me out a lot in that sense, he opened the door more for me because when they started that scene out there that gave people some concentration into that sound. So these young guys, who were into forward thinking hip hop or whatever they made it their thing. So after that they showed me so much love that I came, I moved to LA. They always invited me to do Low End Theory and it’s been a real, cool thing. It’s nice to be embraced by LA in that way, the electronic scene.

Do you still see yourself as being a hip hop artist? What is it that keeps those elements together?
I definitely think it’s a feeling, a spirit. Coming up on hip hop: the hip hop that I always was drawn to was boundaryless – there were no boundaries. Like for instance – Public Enemy, that was forward thinking at the time. Ultramagnetics. I come from the old school too, when it comes to hip hop. Ultramagnetics, Public Enemy, Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets. Ishmael is a good example, from Shabazz Palaces. A good friend of mine he’s another peer that I respect on the level of coming from something and being like a flower that just keeps going and changing into different colours throughout his life and it never stays the same. That’s how I look at music. At the time, I don’t believe in titles but I do come from hip hop. The root is hip hop. I love all music, I don’t really believe in boundaries – I don’t want to just make one thing. It’s about the feeling and if the feeling comes across in a certain way then so be it.

Willie Isz - The Grussle

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Could you make another straight up hip hop album again?
Definitely. Oh, for sure. I definitely could go back to doing something like that. One thing is that obviously a lot of my friends.. I do a lot of more instrumental albums becomes I feel that you don’t always have to speak. Fortunately I’ve blessed with the capabilities to produce music without words that people still appreciate. I kinda like stripping in that side of my production. When I collaborate with MCs or vocalists I like it to be an artist that pushes me also, not just someone that’s an everyday rapper or an everyday whatever. I like someone that’s not scared to push boundaries. I hope one day to do an album with my man Ishmael from Shabazz Palaces, I think that me and him have a lot in common. It’s not impossible, we always talk about doing some things. I really want to push forward to do something like that at some point. Maybe if he reads this in this article then it will inspire him!

He can try. The Shabazz Palaces album is incredible.
Very unique. Incredible. That’s what I’m saying about hip hop.. It’s like with De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet High & Rising’ y’know what I mean? I like records like that. That’s the kind of albums that attract me – it could have come out ten years ago or ten minutes ago. That feeling is timeless – it’s timeless music, and I think Shabazz definitely captured that. That’s from a hip hop / rap perspective. On a production level, I’m excited about music right now I think it’s a good time for music. I think more people are being exposed to experimental music and it’s becoming a thing where it’s almost a blessing and a curse. I made a comment recently about music becoming very popular, as far as the type of music that I produce and certain other people produce. Like dubstep. I love dubstep, I’ve been listening to dubstep for many years and obviously in Europe and the UK it’s old school to you guys. You guys invented it, and then it came up to the United States and got a little.. not as deep to me! I don’t know if you agree with that, but that’s how I feel.

It’s kind of a blessing and a curse, I kind of like that. You have people like Skrillex that are really big, doing that electronic thing. There are others, dubstep guys that hate him. It’s a blessing and a curse. You should be happy that electronic music is big, that our thing is getting exposure but then you’ve got purists that don’t love it. It’s hard to please everybody I guess.

Which dubstep producers inspire you?
Fortunately I had the privilege to meet Mala, he’s one of the early guys. My girlfriend at the time, she introduced me to him. I met Skream and Benga. It was cool. Those are the guys that I appreciated. There were some young guys that I was into for a while. Joker. I’m definitely.. I’ve got a lot of dubstep, hip hop mixtapes. I’m definitely aware of that scene and I can appreciate their music.

Do you believe that hip hop has a universal feeling?
Yeah. OK put it like this: I feel like it’s from the soul so it doesn’t really matter where I go. For instance, I went out to Kenya.. I totally respect that. Going to different places, y’know what I mean? Appreciating the culture. It’s almost like a conversation. I would like to travel the world at one point, to seek out the indigenous people and just live with them. Have some of the money come back to them. I’m more of a very unselfish thinker, I’m trying to get worldwide. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m not really in this to be the biggest producer in the world, with the best this and the biggest that.. My attitude is more about – if I have it then I like to share it. I can get with people that I love and if they share the challenge also then I like to bring the light to that. My goal is to go to different places and to help out, to make a connection through my music, through what I do. That’s really my goal. I want to make that goal happen, definitely.

So what's your focus on right now?
Now, I’m kind of just talking amongst a couple of producers and artists, I’m trying to get my lane together right now. I’m definitely going to do more stuff with Dave Sitek. Definitely. We spoke about doing some more stuff so I can speak about that. Some other stuff I won’t speak about, it’s pretty cool. I’m excited about it. That’s pretty much that. I just recently did a Lex compilation, Complex..if people want to hear some new stuff.

That’s the track with DOOM?
Yep. Me and DOOM did a collaboration. I did a Doctor Who Dat track on there. So keep your ears to the street, there’s gonna be a lot more things happening in 2012.
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Catch up with Jneiro Jarel HERE.

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