[With his new The Urban Hitchcock LP now available, hip-hop producer Jonathan Hay exclusively speaks to SOHH about piecing together the new album, recruiting rap stars like KXNG Crooked, CyHi The Prynce and Royce Da 5’9 and much more.]
Before even getting into it, please dish on the project’s cover art. The beard, ball head, smoke – decode the story behind coming up with this idea.
Sabrina Hale aka Sabrina The Creator created the artwork. She actually did it a few years back while she was working on Kxng Crooked’s project Sex, Money & Hip-Hop for SMH Records. Once I saw it I told her ‘hell no, don’t give that to anyone else, I want that’ [laughs]. So I kept it for myself. She said it was inspired by The Big Lebowski.
Where does the “The Urban Hitchcock” album idea come from? The title, notably, references Hitchcock – was he a big influence on your personal life or are you a fan of his films/shows?
Urban Hitchcock is kinda like a dope invisible character that represents everything we do. He’s off the grid. He walks his own path, he breaks all the rules, he’s rough around the edges. He’s offensive but interesting and people are captivated by him. It’s really a vibe and feeling that we’re trying to convey, an attitude.
Why release the project as a studio release? Did you consider the idea of an EP or mixtape initially or did you feel like an actual full-length release was the best presentation?
I did two full-length records right before this, one album was called When Music Worlds Collide which I produced with Mike Smith and King Tech. The album is loaded with features and was handpicked by Roc Nation to be a TIDAL Rising album. I also co-executive produced Kxng Crooked’s album and handled some of the music production on that as well. I did drop a mixtape at the same time called Mountain Biking Through Louisville with DJ Whoo Kid.
Where does your relationship with Public Enemy’s Professor Griff stem from? Did you approach Griff about the narration opportunity? How did that conversation go down? Even more specifically, why the emphasis on having a narrator rather than going song-to-song?
I reached out to Professor Griff because I love the touches that he gave to the classic Public Enemy albums, and I wanted this to be about adoption which is a serious issue so he was the perfect person to do it because he can pull that emotion out in a song. It’s very emotional. Ajami and I actually built some of the music around his narration. He was really into it, and also very professional to work with. He went above and beyond, he even added vocal effects to certain parts of his performance. I’m a huge Public Enemy fan so to have Griff on the album is so awesome. It sounds like some vintage Public Enemy. I wonder what Chuck D would think about it. He follows me on Twitter so I’m going to ask him [laughs].
How important are the collaborations on this project? Did you approach each artist with the idea/concept in mind?
I approached each artist with the concept in mind. It’s different with Kxng Crooked, I’ve done a lot of songs with him and we do it all in the studio with a cool vibe. But songs like “Hush” with Chino XL, Ajami and I had the track and Frida Dee had the hook already and Chino wrote it like that. I like to have the songs with the hooks already laid out and the rapper puts in the verse. However, if the rapper brings a hook to the table, even better. I like to be in the studio with the artist rather then just mailing it in. I do most of my recordings out of Louisville, Kentucky and Atlanta, Georgia. And also Charlotte, North Carolina.
This album appears very personal – even having your biological mother involved. How long has this been in the works?
Parts of it have been in the works for a very long time like I do with all my projects; I take bits and pieces of songs, sound effects, samples and words that relate to something from my life and things I’ve been through. Other parts were adapted from recent experiences and deep emotional things I’ve walked through lately. So there’s always a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new. It’s been over a year and a half since my birth mother was found but I’ve still never met her. There’s a lot of emotions involved with that and I put that into the music. I added a voicemail from my biological mother on the first single “Don’t Close Your Eyes (Ashamed)” that features Kxng Crooked, Truth Ali and Morgan McRae. It was only right to include her, it wouldn’t be real if I didn’t.
You have an array of collaborations on here – who do you share the closest relationships with?
I really liked working with all the artists. Cyhi the Prynce and I, along with his management, have talked about me producing a full EP for him. He’s the one I connected with the most musically, and he really loves our production on the song “Addict Part Two” off The Urban Hitchcock LP and “I’ve Been Waiting” from When Music Worlds Collide.
Definitely talk about the motivation and thought placed into the “Prayer” song and music video, especially the idea to show it in black-and-white. Where was it shot and it is about redemption or overcoming struggles – if so, what in particular?
All of our videos in The Urban Hitchcock series are black and white. Sabrina Hale (Sabrina The Creator) does the editing for most of our videos and I believe the black and white is a nod to Alfred Hitchcock.
The song is about overcoming the struggles of your own mind. It tells the story of a person trapped in his own thoughts until he decides he’s not going to “cater to the haters” anymore. The video for “Prayer” was filmed in Norwalk, Connecticut and Directed by Chaz Ultra and Bobby Sax. I think “Prayer”, “Black Pearl Jam” and “Hush” are my favorite songs on the album.
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