At every step of the past decade’s developing relationship between underground electronic music and hip-hop culture, tracks produced by L.A.-based Nosaj Thing have provided the backdrop for many. From Kid Cudi to Kendrick Lamar, and recently Chance the Rapper, the lo-fi and left-field creations of the artist/producer born Jason Chung have appeared everywhere.
Chung released his own third album, titled Fated, on Monday, May 4, via Innovative Leisure, and finds himself at in intriguing place both creatively and as a performer. His laptops and hardware containing his last two years of work (including the stems of the production sessions for Fated) and performance visuals were stolen during a recent tour stop in Houston. But as we learned during this interview, Chung remains undeterred in his passion to create with a trademark flair for cultivating inviting and comfortable aural spaces for curious listeners.
Marcus Dowling is a writer living in Washington, D.C. Follow him @marcuskdowling.
What have you been doing in your live set? I’ve heard that it was a bit different than the usual DJ performance.
Yeah, it’s totally different. Basically what I’ll do is take my stems from the sessions—the drums, the leads, all the parts—and I’ll arrange them live. I can take drums from one track and put them into another track, sometimes I’ll mix it up too. It’s a live arrangement. I’ll have a drum machine and do live sequencing. That’s what I usually do. It’s an extensive set.
So, your album Fated comes out on May 5. Of everything on the recording, what’s the track that you’re truly the most proud of, and why?
There’s a track called “A,” and I really like that track. It puts you in a different space, and I like making tracks where you have no point of reference to connect to the track at all. I try to disconnect myself and make something that takes you away. That’s my goal sometimes. I want to be immersed in a different environment that [the listener] is not familiar with. That’s super hard to do, but that’s what I’m trying to do.
Chance the Rapper’s on the album too, and you’ve been getting a ton of buzz for your work with him of late. How did that partnership come together?
Oh yeah! We first met six months before Acid Rap came out. The first song we did that was released was “Paranoia,” and everything we did came really quickly, I mean like in 10 minutes! He started writing to it, and we had the whole song done in a day.
That’s fast. And what’s up with “Cold Stares” from Fated?
After a year of just sending him beats after “Paranoia” was on Acid Rap, he was interested in “Cold Stares” and wanted to get Maceo Haymes to be a vocalist on it too. I was wrapping up [my forthcoming] album, and I asked Chance what did he want to do with [“Cold Stares”], and he told me to put it on my project. So I flew to Chicago the next day to finish it. We were in this really nice studio, CRC Studios in Chicago, where R. Kelly and Michael Jackson have recorded. We did that song in one day as well. Chance works super quick, and he’s very musical. Even when he performs live he’s directing his band. That’s what separates him and why he has his own sound. It’s like, he knows how to mix his musicality with live instrumentation.
Looking back, who were the inspirations that led you into production? What were your early years like?
I started making beats somewhere around ’99 or 2000-2001. That was when, like, the Neptunes and Timbaland were like crazy killing it, song after song. Being from L.A., I was inspired by Dr. Dre and DJ Quik too. I just wanted to make beats that would recreate all of their beats. I was using an early version of Reason and Fruity Loops, and I kept on doing that. Then I got into weirder music like Aphex Twin, more Warp Records type of stuff. I was also listening to a lot of noise and punk and going to a lot of DIY venues and then I went left field. I grew up in Montebello/East L.A., and I didn’t really know anybody else making beats like mine. It was early Myspace times so I just went left field and got experimental.
What work that you’re currently doing inspires you the most?
What I always have wanted to do is produce for different artists. Some amazing things have happened [in that regard]. When I was recently in L.A., my label reached out to see who was available or down to record with me. [Fade to Mind-affiliated soul vocalist] Kelela reached out, and she said she’d been wanting to make something together for a while. I had no idea, but I really love her stuff. I sent her a bunch of songs and ideas, she wrote to one of them and finished it in three hours, and we performed that song the same night. It was really amazing.
Also, Kid Cudi hit me up when he heard I wanted to work with people, and we’re working on something for Man on the Moon 3. That was great because the first beat I made that made it onto a mixtape was for A Kid Named Cudi in 2007.
Outside of music and given everything that’s happening both positive and negative right now, what keeps you motivated?
Just random people that I meet. I’m usually at home, in a cave. I don’t even go out that much. Usually, when I play shows and stuff I’ll get anxiety and bounce like, right after the show. But I have to say, I’ve been inspired by people showing so much love at the shows. That puts everything into perspective for me.