Newburgh, NY might not be the first city that comes to mind when considering the landscape of rap, but neither does the Ivy League right? Jacques Laine comes from a warm Haitian household that emphasized the importance of education and embodying love for music. Spending time with his older brothers who would burn him CDs of music from Nas, JAY-Z, and Andre 3000 fostered the love that later became this pursuit he’s on. Admit it, you’ve also tried to spit a bar before after listening to a really good rapper.
Jacques Laine’s experiences hanging with local friends and navigating the rigor of the University of Pennsylvania, whether academically or professionally, were formative. They became the driving force behind his April 2018 debut project, Homecoming.
Written quite literally upon returning to his hometown, the authenticity and self-awareness was front and center. The hunger, passion, and clear learnedness of rap’s origins especially. He describes the process as “therapeutic and it helped me deal with feelings of survivor’s guilt.” It was for him and his family, but touched more people than he imagined. His single “Check In” resonated even further en route to racking up over 100k streams.
Now, the Pride of the 845 looks to take things further. Our conversation, below, is full of gems. I specifically bolded some. Learn about who Jacques Laine sees as his biggest competition, his biggest pet peeve when it comes to producers, and how he feels a full-time job has benefitted his career. Also, stream his newest single “Bring You Down” on all platforms.
It’s been over year since you dropped your debut project. You’ve had a lot of success, touring with Cozz from Dreamville. What would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learned in this year since dropping Homecoming?
It’s important to network, which I learned in college. You can put together as good a project as possible. If people aren’t hearing it then it can’t reach its fullest potential. Secondly, everything is a marathon like Nipsey Hussle said. Nothing is really overnight, whether that’s making a song, putting together a project, seeing a project do well or not. There should be no expectation, if you’re really in this shit, to want to blow up overnight.
That’s a reality for very few people and that’s not the type of music I make. I make music for people to connect with, understand. I tell stories. That slow cooker, slow burner music for fans to really connect with me. They understand what I’m trying to do and what my purpose is. I understand that it really is a process. Every win has to be celebrated and every loss you move on from.
What’s something you feel you could have done better with that project?
Hindsight is 20/20. I can find a lot of things that could be done better. Understanding where I was at that point, I think that was the best project I could put together because of the timing. Coming back from college and seeing the juxtaposition of people in my college community and my community back home. The different problems people face. I got a lot of friends that didn’t go to college, they work regular jobs. On campus, you have people worried about recruiting. So for me, it was about recognizing that balance and my privilege to go to a great school. I think I put a good amount of that into the music and that’s why I started making music. It was to communicate and create something that’s casual and familiar.
I think the best way to do that is through rap music. It’s popular music now, so understanding who your audience is and how to communicate best with them is as important as the message you’re trying to convey. I came home with a mission to tell people stories from college just as I would tell my college friends stories from home. I wanted to bring back the lessons I learned. From an objective standpoint, the hooks could have been better. I grew up on the 90s and 80s raps, which was more about lyricism and verses. Song-making wasn’t as important, it was more about bars. So I definitely think hooks and beat selection, though at the time I wasn’t fully aware of how to get in touch with producers. I went off of what I could get.
I definitely got the sense that Homecoming was more reflective and introspective, but these latest singles seem like you’re looking towards the future. What would you call this chapter of Jacques Laine’s career if you had to put a label on it?
I think this point is called alignment. Homecoming was more me getting out of the gate, dipping my toes in, and trying to tell a story. Now it’s alignment, and that goes for all aspects of this music shit. Finding your sound and really knowing what it is. And sounds can change. Artists shouldn’t always be the same. Alignment in terms of the mission, in terms of goals I set for myself, in terms of sound and where I’m trying to take shit. So the music I’m making now is way ahead of Homecoming and even my latest singles. Just in terms of being comfortable with myself and putting songs together.
What is your song-making process? Does it start with the bars or the beat?
I used to hear a beat and start writing right away. Now I hear a beat, and I chill with it. I throw it on in the car and ride around. I workout with it, clean with it and write the song in my head. So when it’s time to really lock in, it feels more natural because I’ve had time with it. One thing I feel is most important is flow and delivery. How you say something is just as important as what you’re saying. Making sure that when you’re putting these bars together and putting these songs together, it’s best to not overwrite. I used to overwrite, make my pen work double time. And the bars would be there but it would sound very forced or I’m trying too hard. Almost stressed in the booth.
People often want artists to stay in the box they discovered them in, without realizing it is limiting. How do you maintain Jacques Laine’s identity as an artist while also delivering music the people are going to enjoy?
I think it’s a balance. Understanding that people have different moods. I’m not introspective all the time. Sometimes I do wanna have fun. Be outside, drink D’Usse haha. It’s not always me thinking about the roles in the black community. I think it’s important to also be as open as possible when depositing yourself into the music. Just because a beat is upbeat doesn’t mean a whole song has to be happy or you have to say nonsense the whole time. You can put an upbeat beat with some dope lyrics together. Kendrick Lamar is a good example of making songs that have double meanings where he can serve a wider audience but get a message across.
Ideas and beats too. When producers ask me what type of beat I want, I say “I’ll take any beat. Send them all.” I’ll listen to them all. Don’t give me beats because you heard my old shit and you think that’s what I want to hear. I’ll tell you if I can do something or not. I love rapping, but dudes send a lot of soul beats. It can get annoying. It won’t help me grow as an artist.
So I like to try things like a trap beat to open myself up to a wider audience. One, it serves people who have been there and then the new fans who like trap shit. People always expect or want something specific, but they don’t really know. That’s why I admire people like Travis Scott who are always experimenting. People will get used to it if they feel like it’s a true expression of the artist. Good music is good music.
You work full-time. You’re also doing this music thing. What’s that balance for you like?
All of my life has been balancing things which lead to this so I’m prepared. I also learned it from my big brother. He was in the Olympics in 2012 but also in law school. He was competing full-time on a global level in track & field while attending law school in Georgetown. Once I saw that I felt music and a full-time job would be nothing for me. He’d be doing his readings for exams while flying back from Malaysia.
At the end of the day to support anything you feel is palpable and want to grow, you need capital. There are certain things I wouldn’t compromise. Right now I’m working at Nike doing global strategy. That’s a company I love. The energy I’m putting into them won’t take away from my creative process. If anything, it’ll help me. Music is a business and learning things in your full-time job can apply to your music career.
People don’t really get the life of an artist either though. I guarantee none are writing 24 hours a day. There’s no way. You want to live a normal life. If anything, this full-time job pushes me to put more into my music when I get the chance. I don’t have a lot of time so none of it goes to waste. I know how to put an album together with limited time. Driving for hours to the studio for very long sessions because I can’t go everyday. Getting into the right mindset and practicing songs before I even get to the booth so they sound clean. Budgeting too and knowing what my money is actually going toward. At the end of the day, it’s my money and not someone else’s to spend so I want to invest it properly.
What do you feel about the current state of New York rap? There’s a lot of big names but there’s a feeling of New York being divided, unlike other strong regions. What’s the experience like for you as a rapper from the area?
I’ve felt unity in some places, but generally, I do see a big divide. It’s annoying because I see people who could really help each other that just don’t do it. People feel like if one person makes it, others won’t. I’m seeing more collaboration within the younger generation, which is good. There was a point where people weren’t. Now we have Dave East collaborating with Don Q, Fetty Luciano collaborating with Casanova. People are realizing we can get money together. Atlanta sees that and they’re killing it with all the producers. Everybody plays a role. I haven’t been able to get in contact with everyone I’d like to but that’s just music, whether in New York or not. If you want to get in touch with people higher up you have to put yourself in a higher position.
If you could have a Jacques Laine project produced by just one producer, 10 songs. Who would that producer be?
I’d do either 9th Wonder, No ID or Kanye West. Kanye for the way he experiments and chops up samples. 9th Wonder, man I’m just a huge fan. Ever since he worked with Little Brother back in the 2000s. The soul he puts in music is unmatched. No ID is just nice. The way he produces, it’s like a big sound. I can’t explain it but the work he did on 4:44, sounding so cohesive yet distinct was dope.
Do you have any weird habits when it comes to the studio or songwriting? What is your ideal environment?
I sit down when I record. It’s better for my breath control because I relax more. You can hear the difference in the records. I got that from Orlando McGhee at RocNation after playing him some of my music. He said my lyrics will always be there. I just needed to sound a bit more relaxed. Have fun with it. So I tried sitting down and it changed things for me.
I like it just me, the engineer and someone whose opinion I respect. I don’t like a lot of people there. Especially if you’re not contributing. I don’t pay for studio time so we can chill when there’s work to be done. To each their own though. It also depends on the nature of the record. If I have a party record already done, I’ll invite some girls and people through to check it out. I’m not gonna have a lot of people there while I’m recording because it’s all about being locked in.
If you had to make a starting 5 made up of the future leaders of rap who would those people be? You can include yourself.
This is a tough one. I’d say Tierra Whack. Jack Harlow. I’ll put myself, Jacques Laine, of course. One of my homies from the area named Mercy Da Don. I really like Lil Tjay too. Wait, hold on. Take out Jack Harlow. Is JID a star yet? (Editor’s note: He is, but he hasn’t peaked yet so he’d go on my list.) Yeah, I’ll put JID and Boogie. Take out Jack Harlow. (Editor’s note: We love you, Jack.)
It seems like you don’t really feel much pressure. You focus on the art and you’re very composed. Doesn’t feel like you compete with anyone.
Yeah man, working and doing music is kind of privilege in that way. Being independent especially. I don’t work on anyone else’s time, but that can be a con as I can be my own worst enemy. Good thing is time is on my side right now. I don’t see people or other rappers as competition. They’re sources of inspiration if anything. I never get down on myself thinking someone is better than me because everybody brings something different. Also, I know I can go bar for bar with mad people. I don’t see or hear something and hate on it. It’s just about making Jacques Laine’s next song better than the last. I send my stuff to people and bump a lot on my own before moving forward with songs. I really am my own competition so I seek out my flaws heavily.
Some artists say blogs and writers don’t matter, after they get negative reviews. Others think blogs don’t matter period, even if the writers have good things to say about those same artists. Then there’s those who feel that recognition by any blog really helps their career. What’s your take? Do you feel they can determine your worth? Do you care? I won’t be offended.
They don’t necessarily have the weight they used to hold in, say, 2010 during the J.Cole and Big Sean era. Artists would debut whole mixtapes on blogs. That was one of the biggest sources of people accessing or going about music. You would always check HotNewHipHop or 2DopeBoyz. Social media has made finding music way easier, so blogs lose a little power there. If your friend says something is fire you may be more inclined to listen to them than a blog you don’t check regularly.
However, people who do write-ups do them because that’s their job. Social media has given people the opportunity to communicate opinions but they may not be as well thought-out as someone who actually critiques music. I always read reviews. One of my favorite sites is RapReviews.com. I like that professional perspective on music. Often writers have the words to describe something that I don’t have. No one’s worth or value is completely tied to them but I do think they do still hold weight. It means something if a bunch of writers is calling you trash.