The NBA YoungBoy Experience, According to His Engineer Jason ‘Cheese’ Goldberg

What goes on in the mysterious world of NBA YoungBoy? We spoke with his trusted engineer Jason ‘Cheese’ Goldberg for a look inside his creative process.

Jason ‘Cheese’ Goldberg, recording engineer

Jason ‘Cheese’ Goldberg

Jason ‘Cheese’ Goldberg, recording engineer

YoungBoy Never Broke Again is one of the most reclusive, mysterious rappers on the planet. Instead of constantly posting on social media and doing big interviews, his main form of communication is through his music, and that’s one thing that he has in common with his engineer Jason “Cheese” Goldberg.

Cheese is a veteran recording engineer who fell in love with music as a teenager and eventually found his way into audio recording while studying at the Institute of Audio Research and Full Sail University. From there, he took on an internship at Capital Records, which gave him a foot in the door to work in studios with big artists. 

Early on, Cheese learned that the only way to be successful in this space was to hone his ear so he could be able to communicate with artists through sound rather than speech. His heightened audio-linguistic approach allowed him to blend into the studio and work with artists like Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, and Pop Smoke, eventually forming a very close working relationship with YoungBoy.

“I wanted to give other people confidence to be really good at what they did, too, and I think that’s one of the biggest things about my relationship with YB,” he tells Complex. “I know he trusts me to express himself however he feels. Any way he wants to go, he knows he has my support, and I show it to him when we’re making music together.”

Cheese and YoungBoy first connected in Louisiana when the rapper linked up with Rich the Kid for their 2019 joint mixtape, Nobody Safe. Cheese had already been working with Rich for the past few projects, and when he met YoungBoy, the two clicked immediately. From there, he worked with YoungBoy on every one of his projects going forward, even entirely engineering his third studio album, Sincerely, Kentrell. 

Cheese slowly entered YoungBoy’s inner circle and is now one of the few people who is around the rapper on a regular basis. “At some points, I may be the closest person to him for periods of time, and ultimately it’s just about the music and if we’re able to create music together,” he says. 

After spending countless hours together, Cheese gained YoungBoy’s trust, and now he plays a major role in his creative process. “I always want to be part of the record making process, and now I have input in the records and help shape the direction musically and sonically, because I record, mix, and master all of it,” he says. We move really fast. We could have a song done and out in 45 minutes. I think that’s a testament to our time and experience together.”

One thing Cheese prides himself on is his ability to work anywhere. At this point, he can create a makeshift studio at a moment’s notice in order to catch an artists’ inspiration. YoungBoy is currently under house arrest in Utah after being granted bail in October as he awaits trial for federal gun charges in Louisiana. While at home, Cheese managed to come up with new ways for the rapper to work on his latest project, The Last Slimeto. For instance, he reveals that “Proof” was one of several songs recorded in YoungBoy’s garage. 

“We recorded that in his Tesla,” he says. “Recording anywhere is something that I’m really passionate about and being able to express yourself creatively anywhere. It’s a huge piece of how I wanted to continue to progress.”

Some songs were recorded in YB’s Bentley, and others were scattered in various parts of his house. Cheese even ran a 50-foot cable from inside the home and connected it to a microphone, allowing YoungBoy to lay a verse from his patio, overlooking the Utah mountains. “He was just looking over the mountain, giving me that record on a microphone with no booth,” he remembers fondly.

We caught up with Jason “Cheese” Goldberg for a conversation about fostering a close relationship with the reclusive rapper, how he helped orchestrate the “Late to da Party” collaboration with Lil Nas X, and his extensive history in the music industry.

NBA YoungBoy press photo by Khris James

Congrats on YoungBoy’s major legal win recently. How was everyone feeling after hearing that news?

It was a relief, but it was also like, “All right, cool. We knew that, moving on.” Immediately, I felt relief because that’s one less thing, but it’s always been like that. We’re focused on how we’re moving forward. It’s cool, but now we have to deal with Louisiana, and it feels like there’s a little less pressure. It was great to see the energy and love around it all. Sometimes you feel a little solo through it all, and he takes a lot of it on himself. I know it was really nice for him to engage with the fans that showed up and to smile and get that win. It really meant a lot.

How has YoungBoy been feeling lately?

I think he’s ready to go on tour and get out of the house. I think he’s happy he has his family, and his supporters mean the world to him. I try to communicate as best I can without speaking for him because it’s not my place. It’s a fine line. The music does say a lot for him, and I know he’s happy making music and being able to do that. That was a big thing for us because I wasn’t able to make music with YB for a little while. I think he’s ready to go and hang out with fans at some of the live shows. That would make him really happy.

It makes sense why you and YB work so well together, because you both express yourselves best through music. How would you describe your connection with him?

It’s so funny because we connect in so many different areas of music. YB is a really special individual who is extremely talented, and for me to be lucky enough to help him express himself is one of the great things in my life. It’s also always been therapy for me. The fact that you can’t express yourself with words but you can with music, there’s a therapy aspect to it. I know there’s a huge aspect of that for him, too. So for him to express himself in that way, we get to feel better and laugh. That’s really all it’s ever been about for me. It’s always been about the music for me, just as much as it is about the music for him. He likes to speak through the music, which is how he sees it, and I don’t care about anything in this world other than music. It’s not about speaking to people through the music for me, but it’s about my understanding within myself that the only thing that gets me to carry on to the next day is music. And the way those two ideas take off is crazy. 

“I think YoungBoy is one of the greatest rappers to ever live, so it’s just about helping him do what he does.”

When did you and YoungBoy first meet?

The first record we ever recorded was at the end of 2019, so it’s been a little over two years.

How would you describe your role as an engineer, and your approach to music?

I spent so much time educating myself and understanding the art, but I come from a musical place, so it’s always been creative driven. I think the lucky thing about this place in my career is that it’s taking off further now, because I’m making creative decisions for the music. It always came from a technical place: Are the vocals in the right place? Are these edits right? Are these gears working? And when you develop trust with somebody you’re making music with, I actually get to make music. I have a really good network of creative guys, and we make music together, and I have an ear now as somebody who’s been making music with YB for a couple of years. Now, I get to take it a step further where, it’s like, how do I create music and add to it in my way? Is it picking out the directions of the sounds? Because I go through a lot of music and my main objective is to create more music, and the last thing I want to do is just listen to a bunch of random vibes. 

I was having some luck creating music with a lot of guys who were doing drums and melodies on beats, and I think there’s a new wave of people putting beats together and making records, and I think that’s where I’m landing. I’m a part of the creative process and I’ve got my name on just about everything since Sincerely, Kentrell because I’ve been so involved in that creative process. I know where to go with the music, depending on what he wants to say and how to make it happen, and a lot of times I guide it so that we can get to where we want to go. That’s how some of the great engineers moved up. When you look at someone like Jimmy Iovine, who was a recording engineer who started producing records for some of the great people in music. He uses his technical ability to get confident in the creative aspects of it. I always want to be a part of the record-making process, but also for me to have more input in the records and help shape the direction musically and sonically. Because I record, mix, and master all of it, and we move really fast. We could have a song done and out in 45-minutes. I think that’s a testament to our time and experience together. 

So I’m an engineer first, and the way I see music and express it, I get to communicate with musical guys in that way. I had a session with Murda, and we were working at a studio, and I was like, “Yo, there’s a resonant frequency at, like, 660 hertz,” which is a very technical term. So he put a little point on the EQ and he dragged the little equalizer up and made that frequency a lot more noticeable, and that was the one that was resonant. My ears allow me to communicate in that way so we can continue. 

But yeah, we move from project to project so fast, because we’ve recorded and released a lot of music. We went from Sincerely, Kentrell in September, and then we did From the Bayou in December, and Colors right after, and the DaBaby project, too. I did that project with those guys in, like, two days. Ultimately, when we started back up, I think we’re at almost 70 records released. In that process, that’s a lot of music, so I’m always communicating and trying to get that edge for what’s next and how I can add to the process in that way. I think YoungBoy is one of the greatest rappers to ever live, so it’s just about helping him do what he does.

Cheese recording YoungBoy Never Broke Again in car

You’re able to be flexible and don’t have to work in the studio. Why do you like to work in different spaces? And where have you been recording YB’s new project, The Last Slimeto?

I wanted more freedom with the art. I spent a lot of time in the studio, and we changed the environment, but the mind state doesn’t change for me. I’m still in the studio because I travel with my studio. I am the sudio now, and that was a step in getting freedom for the music. I had the idea back in 2013, but technology wasn’t where I needed it to be and it wasn’t working. I travel with a backpack, a pelican case, a suitcase, and mic stands. I can throw it on the back of a truck, a jet, a car, and set it up and tear it down in 15 minutes. A lot of my artists that I work with are inspired by the moments they live in, so being able to travel and work in any environment was something I wanted to really incorporate into the music. In my opinion, nobody was really doing it right. I think there’s a level of respect that needs to be given to the art. You can go to a studio and sit in a space, and it’s ultimately there to help you create and reinforce that creativity. I give these other spaces that same respect. 

For Slimeto, there are songs that have been recorded in an empty bedroom with no treatment that I would throw a mattress up on one side. I have my own set-up that helps with the acoustics and psychologically gives them their space, but also helps with reflections. When he moved to the new spot, he was hanging in the garage and I was using his cars as a vocal booth. We cut a couple records in the Bentley, and we cut a couple records in the Tesla. The acoustics aren’t great for mixing from scratch in there, but because of our process of recording, I can get a decent rough from it. Those booths were the cars. And another record that I think is going to make the album is called “Proof,” and we recorded that in his Tesla. Recording anywhere is something that I’m really passionate about, and being able to express yourself creatively anywhere. It’s a huge piece of how I wanted to continue to progress. There’s nothing restraining you, so then it becomes, “Where can I find the best view?” And what can inspire us the most? We’ve recorded on moving tour buses and hotel rooms, but for this album it’s really just been home recording. I just saw him, and I wanted to kick-start things, and he was hanging in the backyard. So I ran a 50-foot cable, put the microphone in his hand, didn’t care about audio, because I knew I could figure it out, and just let him walk the patio with headphones on, listening to the track. He was just looking over the mountain giving me that record on a microphone with no booth and just creating. It’s all a freestyle in the moment. You kind of do the same thing when you’re writing, but now the pen and paper is Pro Tools. At least the paper is Pro Tools, and the pen is me, so there’s ways to move around. He’s got a great memory, and it’s cool, man. Nobody can really go like him, and at the speed he goes. If you want a 48-bar verse, you get one and it takes 15 minutes. 

“Nobody can really go like him, and at the speed he goes. If you want a 48-bar verse, you get one and it takes 15 minutes.”

You’ve worked with Lil Wayne, too, when he and Rich the Kid were making their joint tape. Did you see any similarities in Wayne and YB’s recording style?

The similarities would be that they’re both unrestricted. There’s never anything we can’t do together with me and YB. And from my short time with Wayne and seeing the way he works, he can do anything. That’s such a freeing thing, knowing that you can trust somebody to do anything with. I think that would be the closest similarity—and the way they create and how the music speaks to them and tells them what to do. They’re so in tune. I’m convinced I could throw an orchestra under YB with no time signature and he would shred it, because he’s just so in tune musically. And I think Wayne is so in the music that they are able to throw these rhythms and words in a way that makes it feel right.

You’ve become a conduit for YB’s fans to help them feel connected to him and give them updates. What has that been like for you?

It’s all for the fans. That relationship is really strong. There’s an extreme amount of gratitude and respect to the supporters, as they show us an extreme amount of gratitude just for creating. It’s been beautiful for me because I really don’t have to try so hard. I can just be who I am and we can all just be who we are, and there’s a level of respect that’s given both ways. There’s a lot of different areas of it, too, because they’re all fans but some people like the different styles. I like creating stuff that excites them and I’m glad that it’s been going well. I think my ear was also developed by them, because I’m pretty in tune with both sides. That’s a really important piece when I’m trying to find music, and YB is YB. Bro is going to ultimately take us there, and all we can do is try to help inspire and be connected. It’s been cool and exciting, they keep me honest.

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How did YoungBoy end up on Lil Nas X’s “Late to da Party?” I feel like that was another spontaneous moment that just happened.

I met Take a Daytrip in New York at a session, and I have so much respect for them as a duo. That respect just developed in a way where I tried to keep communication up, and just make music. When you resonate with somebody musically, you’re able to maintain at least a direction. They had a record that they thought he would sound really good on, and this was just me and them—no managers or label because YB works on relationships. 

I respect what Lil Nas X is doing. I think he’s really creative. So I asked them to just send it to me. I fucked with it, and a lot of the things that happen are really in the moment because I literally had him in the booth as I’m multi-tasking. So I was like, “Yo, I got this record, do you want to hear it?” And he smiled. And I was like, “My boys did the record and I think it would be a lot of fun.” And then he went crazy. I think he met X a couple of years ago, so he already had the meeting, so for me to have the relationship with Daytrip and come together as naturally as it did… We wrote and recorded the record and he went nuts. He gave him two verses. And one thing we don’t do is send out anything, but because of the teamwork that I wanted to have with Daytrip on the record, we got them the vocals. I think that it was cool that it happened. It’s cool, because we try to figure out how to keep creating musically, and at the same time, understanding that he can stand next to anyone. You could put him next to anybody.

How does it feel to have that much impact in helping put the pieces together for tracks outside of the booth like that?

I think necessity is the mother of invention, and Top rolls solo. Since we’re able to connect creatively and musically, it allows for this relationship. At some points, I may be the closest person to him for periods of time, and ultimately it’s just about the music and if we’re able to create music together. For me, that’s all it’s ever come down to. I’m just trying to help somebody create and express themselves, and this area of the industry is a lot more one-on-one. I’m also a liaison between the label and I try to communicate professionally and get everything over to where it needs to go. I’m wearing a lot of hats, but I always have. On the path to trying to be great, sometimes you have to hold several positions. Even in the studio world, I had, like, seven job titles at one point. I look at myself as a studio owner, engineer, producer, executive, A&R, and soon-to-be publisher. It all comes down to relationships and I think being honest about only caring about making music has been positive. It’s cool to be able to do it and have fun.

What are you most excited for fans to hear in The Last Slimeto?

I’m most excited that we’ve been lucky enough to continue to give music that inspires and makes people feel better. I get messages all the time thanking us, and I think the message I would give back is thanking them, because they’ve really helped me. Allowing someone to just create and express themselves has helped me just as much as them. I’m excited for the world to get the new music and continue on this journey with him. There’s a lot on the way, too. There’s going to be a lot more. It’s all a part of the journey and I’m most excited that we all get to come together again to enjoy more music and appreciate those moments.

For people who might not know your origins, how did you get into engineering in the first place? 

I started as a teenager. My buddy had a guitar and he wanted to start a band, so I picked up bass and we started a band. We played music and I always used my ear, and it made me feel good. I was able to express myself through music, which I had a problem doing sometimes when I was a teenager. I had no way to express myself, and the only way I could do it was by picking up an instrument, and that first note I hit would tell the story of how I was feeling. I was able to get that out. So continuing on, I was closed emotionally, and music allowed me to open that up into what I call the universe, because it all travels, and I was able to speak in that way and feel better. I was kind of addicted to it. We were making music, but then I got this little 4-track tape machine, and I was recording in my bedroom. This was in 1999, and it was a lot of fun for me. I was just recording our songs and I would play them back and be like, “Wow, I have something.” So I kept doing it and I dove deeper into it. 

Moving forward to when I was in Jersey City, taking the Path train into New York, I decided that I wanted to really have control over my music. The problem with that is you have to deal with another person to get your ideas out, and I wanted to have control over how I was doing that, which is why a lot of people like working with me, because that’s how I originally got into it. I just get out of the way and allow the process to be organic, so when someone is trying to say something, they’re able to do it freely and they’re getting everything they want at the speed they want to do it. If they want to do it really fast, they can. Or they can take their time, and I’m just there to reinforce and help that process be as natural as possible. 

When I was going to school, I decided to go to the Institute of Audio Research in 2006. There were some really good teachers who taught me some fundamentals in audio and music that I use today, and that gave me control over my music. I want it to sound a certain way and I want the audio to make me feel a certain way. The music made me feel a certain way and I want it to carry on into how I receive it back. It’s cool. You get to sit on the trains and listen to your own music and relive this creative expression. It’s always just been about the music for me, and creativity at its core. People do it with art, people do it with paint, and all these different forms of art, but creativity at its core is really the only thing that motivates me day-to-day. Seeing the creativity in something, and how to express it in a way just gets me excited. 

After the Institute of Audio Research, I knew I wanted to be a professional. I wanted to be a badass, and that was how the next 10 years played out, where I was like, “Okay, I’m going to go get a degree in audio from Full Sail University. I’m going to put the money into myself and take the trip out to Florida and live there for a year and educate myself more.” And then I came back to L.A., which is where I’m from. When I got back I had my first internship at Capital Records in the studios. I was there for about a year, and I learned a lot on the floor. It just got me more excited about being on the right path. From there, I got lucky and ran into Hans Zimmer’s engineer and we just immediately clicked. He brought me into the building and we did some music for movies. That was in 2010, which was a busy year. 35-hour days and 5 hours of sleep, 7 days a week, with nothing less than 18-hour work days. You’re working that hard and you see the boss in the kitchen after you’ve pulled 18 hours straight, and they’re still going. It was just eye-opening because he’s the boss, and this is how he’s moving. Right through the door, I was like, “Nah, this isn’t going to be easy.” This is going to take an extreme amount of effort and discipline on my part to carry on with what I wanted, which was at the time to be best. That changed because, when you get to a certain point with your peers, it’s not about being better but having a seat at the table and being able to sit with these people with respect and showing the respect back. I think that’s what makes you great. But if I didn’t have that motivation and I didn’t want to be the best, I don’t think I could have pushed as hard as I did, where it was like 65 days straight, 14 hours minimum in the studio. 

After I left Zimmer, I wanted to get back into music and I ended up in a studio in Santa Monica. I put myself into that for, like, 5 or 6 years, and I just showed up. That was really the only thing I ever did right was just show up, and I did that for years while I continued to educate myself on how this area of the world that I decided to jump into works, from how the gear works and how sound bounces off of walls. Then I really developed an ear, which is your most important asset as somebody who wants to keep pushing boundaries for how you express yourself creatively. Developing and growing allowed me to then hang out calmly through all of that exposure, which can get extreme sometimes, and to be the core of a situation no matter what’s going on. 

There’s this balance that I try to carry. It’s music. It’s art and creativity. So you can’t expect anything, except to expect the unexpected on something that has no rules. There’s no rules, so how do you then become in control of something that’s really just chaos? It’s just about developing the time and experience and understanding where I wanted to be, which was just really good at what I did. I wanted to give other people confidence to be really good at what they did, too, and I think that is one of the biggest things about my relationship with YB. I know he trusts me to express himself however he feels. Any way he wants to go, he knows he has my support, and I show it to him sonically when we’re making music together. It’s gone a step further now. My ear is always developing, but when you work with somebody, your ear develops on what sounds they like and appreciate. It’s like being in a band, knowing that this bass line is going to work with that guitar. When you see all of the guys grooving, that’s because they’re speaking to each other through music, and it’s a beautiful thing. 

I think the strength in why I’ve been as successful as I’ve been is because I don’t have to say anything. I can speak through the computer. I can speak without words and move without saying anything. As an engineer, you have to do a lot of mind reading. Somebody can say, “I want this,” but for some reason, three seconds before that, I already did it. We’re all just communicating with music, and when you do it enough and understand the situation, you get to move really fast when you do it. Ultimately, I started as just a musician and then obsessed over audio and understanding music, and understanding the art of creating music, which is different. The art of creating music is a really beautiful thing, and I ended up gravitating towards rap and hip-hop. I just appreciate the artists. They’re honest, they’re real, they’re straight up, and loyal. It’s a great area, and I was doing pop music and working with songwriters and producers. That’s creating in a different way, but when you have a rapper, there’s nobody involved. You got some music, you got me, you got the rapper, and you just do it. For this little slice of the world that I live, that’s a really cool place to be, because it’s real and honest. 

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