Jake Rosh Interview: “I’ve become much more comfortable in my own skin”
Five years on from The Sample Life, Shaun Ponsonby talks to Jake Rosh as he releases his long overdue follow-up, Hydra.
It has been five years since Jake Rosh released The Sample Life – an album hailed as “The best rap album to come out of the Wirral”.
That honour may sound somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and perhaps it is, but it shouldn’t distract from the fact that The Sample Life was a stonker of an album; witty, sharp and eclectic with powerful beats and a distinctive flow.
A lot can happen in five years – especially the last five years – and Rosh has finally released his follow-up, Hydra. The album is already getting rave reviews from the likes of Highwire Magazine, and shows a matured Jake Rosh, introspective and dealing with much deeper subject matter without losing the wit that made him so appealing to begin with.
The past year has been challenging for artists – to that end, Hydra was supposed to be released in May 2020, which is roughly when our initial interview with Rosh was conducted. Thankfully, the album was worth the wait.
Scroll to the bottom of the page to listen to Hydra.
Planet Slop: It has been five years since your debut album, Sample Life. Why has it taken so long to produce a follow up?
Jake Rosh: In short, life! Since then I did a Master’s Degree, graduated, travelled, got a job and have just bought a house so music took somewhat of a back seat at times. I’m not one to force music out anyway, it needs to come naturally for me and self-producing a 21 track album in The Sample Life definitely took a lot of creative energy out of me. I released an EP in 2017, Existence, and I set myself a deadline of finishing it before my travels, so a lot of it was last minute and rushed. I’m still proud of it but it’s not my best work by a long shot so I’ve learned from that to take my time. I think in the past couple of years or so I’ve reached a good place to start creating again, and that’s where the majority of Hydra has been created.
PS: Did the time you spent travelling influence the material on Hydra?
JR: Exploring is a big part of me as a person and my experiences have shaped me into recognising the world is full of lessons to be learned and sights to see, so I think my music reflects that in that it’s not restricted to rapping about what’s just happening around me in my town or my country, but around the world. I visited New Zealand and I have a lot of love for that country. It felt so peaceful and welcoming. One of the tracks on the album called Nowhere is Safe was written after the terrorist attack there in 2019, which made me realise that true evil shows no mercy to anyone or anywhere.
PS: You have said that Hydra comes from your interest in history and mythology – I’m interested to know specifics!
JR: As a kid, my dream job was to become an archaeologist, I was fascinated particularly with ancient history and how life was so different back then. I think tied in with my love for sci-fi, I particularly enjoyed things like learning about the different gods of the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians and mythological tales and creatures. The idea for Hydra, as a multi-head dragon, is kind of a reference to my own multitude of musical trades in that I rap, produce, engineer and other things. In essence the idea also represents my life as a musician, as a mental health worker and as a traveller and more.
PS: Save for a track or two, you have produced both this and Sample Life completely on your own. Collaboration is so all of the rage, especially in this style of music, so is this important for you?
JR: I feel that if I produce, write, record, mix and master my sound, then I will come out with a product that only I could create, so I guess it’s about trying to be as unique as possible. As a producer, I put my passion into my beats and there have been a few occasions where I’ve sold a beat to someone, and their end product has been, shall we say disappointing. So I tend to keep them for myself unless I know for sure the artist I’m selling to is quality. Not to mention as a producer, I can make exclusive beats meaning I don’t have to buy beats saving some cash – I could afford it, but would a baker go and buy his bread from someone else? At the same time I love to collaborate as a fusion of styles is also unique. I have done a few collaborations recently including a few tracks with Wirral based Londoner J.Q. producing tracks for Jamie Broad’s new album, and a couple of more recent tracks I’ve collaborated with Felcon and Zac Jones on. I think once this album is out I’m gonna try and work with a few more people than I usually would.
PS: And you’re self-taught as a producer, right?
JR: Yes, persistence was the key with it to be honest. Nobody is good when they start, so it’s about believing in yourself and getting familiar with your weapon of choice. You then learn to do things in a way that suits you, whereas if you did a music course, you’re probably going to learn how to do it in a way that suits someone else, and there’s more than one way to skin a cat. If I got stuck I would maybe watch some YouTube tutorials. I’m still learning now seven/eight years on. I sample a lot in my production, so you do have to have the ear to spot a good sample too.
PS: Who do you look up to as a producer, as opposed to as a performer?
JR: The first hip-hop albums I got were by Timbaland and Kanye West, both producers with distinctive sounds that made incredible music and also vocalled their own beats. I also have had a picture of Dr. Dre on my wall for a long time. Again he’s an icon in producing and hip-hop. I would say those three are my main influences. But I also got into Dubstep and Drum n Bass in my late teens, so there’s definitely influence there from a lot of the big names in those genres, Chase & Status, Caspa & Rusko and Shy Fx to name some. I always like to put a lot of bass in my music because of that
PS: You have previously had a rule of only using your own beats, but you’ve broken this for Hydra by working with OdotZed, who you have described as a “mentor” and “partner in grime”. How did you meet?
JR: We met on a website called Looperman when I started rapping aged 15/16. It’s a small community of musicians who share their tracks and get feedback from each other. The more tracks you reviewed, the higher your profile score got and the more reviews you got in return. There wasn’t much grime being put on the website, so when me and Oz encountered each other we knew we had to collaborate and we took it from there and he produced my first mixtape, Blue Murder.
PS: What led to you working together again?
JR: I hadn’t heard from Oz for a few years and this was when I was really getting into the swing of producing myself. I saw he was really back into it about a year or so ago so we messaged and he sent the beat for Tusken Raider which was incredible so I knew I had to use it for old time’s sake. Hopefully there’s much more to come from us together, we’ve even talked about Blue Murder Vol. 2.
PS: Tusken Raider actually references Blue Murder, and the track itself seems to be particularly autobiographical. It made me wonder if working together again made you think about your artistry and how far you have come in the last few years, which then became the basis of the track?
JR: Very much so yes, it had been a good seven or eight years since we collaborated properly, so it was a statement that we were back and that we have both grown as musicians and gotten even better at what we do. It’s definitely the best track we have and fits nicely on the album with its energy and nerdiness whilst allowing me to flow on some real grime.
PS: Well, since you mention the nerdiness, the video has clear references to Star Wars, and was released on Star Wars Day, which made me chuckle. What made you choose this concept, and is it important for you to include humour in your work?
JR: In my early years as a rapper, I very much bought into the idea you had to try and be hard and aggressive in your music. Over the years I’ve become much more comfortable in my own skin to the point I am really showing myself in my music. I’m a big nerd for sci-fi and I can’t say I’ve heard anyone else try and make a Star Wars themed grime track and still get it sounding so greezy, having some of that aggression still in there. I’ve got the one ring from Lord of the Rings tattooed on my arm, so there’s probably going to be a track themed around that one day too. In terms of humour, I don’t take life too seriously so it’s going to come across at times. I thought the May 4th release date was too good to miss and perhaps would have helped with the promo.
PS: Your brother is Left-Blank, another artist. Although you work together, is there some friendly competition there also?
JR: I wouldn’t say there’s much competition in our music, we are fans of each other’s music so we both want the other to succeed. Also, if one of us makes it big, it’s an easy way in for the other! As brothers, there is not so much competition, but if we get the chance to take the piss out of each other’s lyrics or something we will certainly take it. Brotherly love some may call it.
PS: You’ve worked on a track called Green Light together, it has a very dreamlike quality to it.
JR: It’s incredible that Green Light is actually over two years old now. It was the track that got the ball rolling for Hydra, to be honest. I hadn’t made much music for a couple of years and it was a chance for me to release some energy without having to fill a whole track by getting Left-Blank on it. The lyrics are very much around creativity and writers block, how I was sitting waiting for the lyrics and music to just flow out of me but it wasn’t. I think all artists who value quality over quantity can relate. The beat is very dreamlike, it’s one of my favourite that I’ve made. Left also made an incredible video with nothing but a knock off go-pro and his laptop too.
PS: Is it a coincidence that the album is being dropped during this truly bizarre period, or has lockdown increased your work rate?
JR: The album has been in the works for three years and it’s naturally reached its conclusion now, so it is complete coincidence. I saw a lot of rappers putting out self-isolation tracks and projects and challenges (even you Lefty!), but I really hope my album is not viewed as part of that rabble, I want it to be known and recognised for its musical quality.
PS: How have you been doing through this truly bizarre period?
JR: Aside from the horrible reason that we all have to stay inside, I’ve actually found it quite positive on a personal level. I’ve still had to work from home so my musical output hasn’t really increased, but I have been doing less commuting, more sleeping, more relaxing and been doing more exercise which is making me feel good. I’ve been putting out my singles for the album and have used my free time to learn and push the marketing/networking side of things so that also makes me feel good. I also moved into my own house in May and have constructed a “studio” in my garage, which you can see in the new mini-series, Rosh On The Beat, in which I break down the production on some of my favourite tracks from Hydra.
PS: Just to talk a bit more about rap and R&B in Liverpool, how difficult do you think it has been for MC’s to make a name in the city, especially when compared to guitar bands?
JR: I think this question is going to get a similar answer from most hip-hop and R&B artists round here. There just seems to be so much more opportunity, industry and infrastructure for indie/rock bands because of the musical legacy in this city. Even some venues in the city won’t put on hip-hop artists because of the reputation or stereotype of the people that it attracts, but I feel I’m a living testament that hip-hop is for everyone. There is a growing feeling that it’s soon to be Liverpool’s time to showcase itself rap wise though. I saw recently that Tremz got played and co-signed by Drake, which is unbelievable, and shows that hard work, make good music that’s true to your roots and growing a solid fan base will get you heard no matter where you’re from.
PS: Do you feel like it has been getting better?
JR: I think it is in a sense, as I mentioned the likes of Tremz, there’s also Aystar who are being recognised on a national level now. But compare those two artists to someone like me and we’re totally different. So, I personally feel that their style is what’s grabbing people’s attention towards the city, with that dark, gritty drilly sound with lyrics that shock. But as I said, I think if anyone has the right ingredients for good music and recipe for marketing themselves, they can go far in this internet age. I think one thing that would help me personally, and probably a lot of others, would be the presence of artist managers and people who can help with the business and marketing side of things that were willing to get involved with the scene. There’s a lot of burden for those at my level to be a jack (or Jake) of all trades. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I’m learning new things all the time.
PS: You work a lot with our friend DJ 2Kind and the L100 Cypher. Do you think being a part of such a collective has opened up doors for gigs that many local artists wouldn’t otherwise get?
JR: DJ 2Kind is someone I owe so much to, for myself and other local artists he has opened doors for us that would have been locked shut with armed guards patrolling them. Before I knew him, I was emailing promoters and venues like the O2 Academy trying to get myself a support slot for any hip-hop artists that played. Never heard a peep from them. All of a sudden, I meet 2Kind, he likes my music and has me alongside the best in the city supporting hip-hop legends from America. Absolutely crazy opportunities. If I speak to rappers outside of Liverpool, they can’t believe I’ve had these opportunities, and so many of them. It’s such a privilege.
PS: Do you have anything else in the pipeline at the moment?
JR: I’m always looking to grow and develop as a person, not just as an artist so I’m always looking at what’s next for me. Now that I’ve got my studio and I’m in a good moment creatively, I want to keep producing and making music. I’ve got my album coming out and a few collaborations with some of my friends in the scene Felcon and Zac Jones. So I am excited to see how the album is received, but more importantly I’m excited at the prospect of adding it to my proud list of projects.
Hydra is out now. Find more information about Jake Rosh by clicking here.