YOU do not meet many artists…
who have the same skills and stylings as J Pee. He is a unique talent and someone I was keen to speak with. He talks about his new album, Who Is J Pee?, and the musicians/albums who inspire him – he tells me whether the state of the planet affects his work and whether he is compelled by modern politics.
J Pee reveals the story behind his latest single, To the Kids That I May Never Have, and why Eminem is an idol; a new artist we need to throw our weight behind; how important Los Angeles is in terms of its people and vibes; what advice he would give to new musicians emerging – J Pee selects a rather unexpected song to end the interview with!
Hi, J Pee. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi M.M.S.! My week has been wonderful. I spent the weekend in San Jose with my birth-father and his family (I am adopted and recently met my biological father two years ago, so this a pretty new and exciting experience for me and will certainly infiltrate my music at some point! But, I digress (smiles).
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Absolutely. My name is Jesse Pepe (alias, J Pee), and recently released my debut Rap album, Who Is J Pee? I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ve been writing music since my junior year of college. At first, it was a lot of Pop/R&B stuff. For the last five years, since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve done a lot of Lonely Island-type music on YouTube which has done pretty well. The music I’ve written has taken so many twists, turns and iterations but has landed right where I think it was always meant to land, which is Hip-Hop.
In the past, I shied away from taking myself seriously as a rapper because I thought that what I had to say was too ‘out there’: not nearly mainstream enough. I’ve realized that this quality is exactly why I feel so compelled to infiltrate (and, hopefully, be a voice of change within) this genre. I’m excited to bring a new, fresh voice of storytelling to Rap music.
What is the story behind To the Kids That I May Never Have? How did it come together?
They are my own personal opinions of a twenty-eight-year-old man who struggles a lot with societal and biological pressures (which are, sometimes, one and the same). I feel like we as a society don’t question our actions enough - myself included. I’m really trying to dig deeper into my own life and find the source of my thoughts, feelings and actions.
I’ve been spending more time with myself, trying to come to honest answers about certain topics without added societal pressure. I realized that having kids because ‘I’ve just always wanted one’ or ‘That’s just what humans are supposed to do’ didn’t seem like enough to me. Conversely, not having kids because ‘Ew; I hate kids, they’re ugly’ felt too shallow. There are biological and societal underpinnings for pretty much every decision we make and, when you start pulling that thread and unravelling the thoughts, it is the most fascinating thing on the planet.
I’m hoping this song challenges people’s beliefs on the subject and hopefully launches them into their own internal debate on why they do or don’t want children. It’s an important topic to be talking about right now - and an uncomfortable one.
It seems it looks at the modern world and the risks and dangers there. Does the state of the planet affect the way you write?
100%. To be honest, on any given day I feel so much joy, love; guilt, sadness and anger all because of purely existing as a human being. I feel like I’ve been given such a gift to exist on this planet and share it with so many other wonderful human beings. My heart fills with love countless times a day. On the flip-side, I’ll constantly catch myself feeling like I’m nothing more than meat: part of a deep biological system that I can’t escape.
Ultimately, we’re only alive to breed and continue the species; pretty similar to a virus. I feel like the only sure-fire way to prevent the devastation that comes from overpopulation (and we’re already seeing the myriad of repercussions as we speak) is to question our biological programming and ask ourselves if we have the strength to make decisions that aren’t purely dictated by biology. I’m, in no way, saying “Don’t have kids.” I just think at this point, having kids for the sake of having kids; for legacy, out of boredom; because I’m ‘supposed to’…that mindset is dangerous.
Who Is J Pee? is your debut album. What sort of themes inspired the record?
I feel like I spent my first twenty-five years of life not deeply questioning myself, not spending time with myself: I was simply a reactionary human. I felt things and responded. I thought things and responded. I started meditating, I started doing yoga and, as I began to spend more time with myself, I realized that I had been living in a Matrix of sorts; an algorithm. As I spent more time with myself, I started realizing that how I thought I really felt or thought about a certain topic wasn’t always true. I had been programmed to feel that way because of societal pressure, or by a biological default.
I wanted to create an album that represents the new journey that I’m currently on. I want it to feel like you just jumped into my brain for an hour, experiencing the highs; lows, discomfort; contradictions, vulnerability and, most importantly, honesty. Honesty is something new to my life if I’m being honest (pun intended). I’m hoping this level of openness will give others permission to go on their own journey into these uncomfortable human places, without the judgment we (and others) cast on ourselves.
You mix comedic touches with the music. Who would you count as idols? Do you think it is important to mix serious and humorous?
I think Lil Dicky is a game-changer. That dude is (so) unique because he’s so honest about how emasculated he feels in a world that prides stereotypically masculine qualities. Listening to his album was a lightbulb moment for me. But, my biggest influence is Eminem (surprise, surprise). He is a master storyteller. His earlier stuff was so funny, fu*ked up and incredibly honest. His songs have arcs; they have beginnings, middles and ends. They have characters...
He changed an entire genre of music because he was able to take incredibly dark, violent topics and make them relatable. You have to be an active, engaged listener when you listen to his stuff. If you miss a word you miss a part of the story. He crafts his songs in the same way a master comedian like Carlan or Chapelle crafts a stand-up bit.
These guys understand that the majority audience does not want to go there with you because most people don’t like to be uncomfortable. So, you need humour and you need a good story to sever the blow. But, most importantly; they’re going to be more apt to listen to what you have to say.
I get the sense someone like Eminem has made an impression. Are you a big fan of his music?
Clearly, I did not scan all of these questions before I started answering…
Los Angeles plays a role in your life and music. How vital is the city and its spirit been to you?
The longer I live in Los Angeles, the more I love it. I have an amazingly talented group of friends and an incredible support system. If you are fortunate enough to find a strong community out there, it’s the best thing you could ask for. I’m beyond fortunate in that way. It’s a city full of people who left the comfort of their hometowns to risk something. I love that energy.
I also sometimes hate that energy because it can be incredibly desperate, depressing; competitive and isolating - and there are days where I definitely feel all of those things. The joys of being human!
Will there be any live dates coming up? Where can we catch you perform?
I currently do not have any live show dates coming up. Fixing that A.S.A.P. (smiles).
Do you have any ambitions to fulfil before the end of the year?
I already have the second album written and plan on releasing it before the end of 2018. It’s a really tight seven-song album that delves into toxic masculinity. It’s super-dark, heavy-trap and deals with a lot of really uncomfortable parts of myself. I also have five more music videos in pre-production from Who Is J Pee? and will start releasing them in July.
I’m trying to on a tour with Lil Dicky or Rich Brian by the end of the year. There’s a lot of work to be done to make that happen, so I’ve gotta keep pushing.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
Writing the end of Meditation...
I wrote the last two minutes of that song and I remember thinking: ‘Oh, okay; that’s how deep I have to ask myself to go, every time. This is what is required of me if I want to continue to do this in a meaningful way to myself and to others’. That was a pretty pivotal moment.
Which three albums mean the most to you, would you say?
Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP
It is probably my favorite Hip-Hop album.
Radius by Allen Stone
I have no idea how Allen Stone is not a household name. In my opinion, he’s the best singer/songwriter on the planet.
Jingle Cats - Meowy Christmas
Someone legitimately compiled cat meows and assembled them to classic Christmas tunes. My mom bought this for me when I was six and I listened to it SO many times. I’m still blown away that someone went through all that work. How did he find all of those cat meows?! Was he sampling?! Does he have thirty cats?! I still have so many questions. It’s genius.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Spend a lot of time with yourself. Do your best to ‘deculturalize’ yourself (is that word? I don’t think that’s a word). In that strange, exciting and lonely place you’ll start to really get to know yourself (which I’m really enjoying, although it’s terrifying). You’ll start to find what you really think, feel and makes you inspired. Do what inspires you. No matter how bizarre it might feel. If it inspires you it will 100% resonate with someone else. The world doesn’t need your art. There are already too many of us trying this.
That isn’t meant to be pessimistic: it’s actually quite freeing. Because, now, you can stop giving a fuc* about what other people want and do what you want; the way you want to do it. But, you can only find that through spending a lot of time with yourself; asking questions; going down the rabbit hole.
IN THIS PHOTO: Chuck Acid
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I recently found this Philadelphia rapper named Chuck Acid. He has an L.P. on Spotify called Food for Your Sole. It’s one of the best albums I’ve heard all year. Definitely check him out.
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Escape Rooms. I’m absolutely obsessed with Escape Rooms.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Jingle Cats – Silent Night. Just so you guys can experience this. It’s MADNESS.
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