Interview: Jaywop

Interview: Jaywop

On Sew It Seams his new EP, Tacoma-by-Phoenix emcee Jaywop reflects on a life-changing two years, ruminating on all that’s changed and all the things that’ve stayed the same.

Jaywop is kicking back in a Phoenix diner.

He’s got a drink in hand and some headphones on, sipping nonchalantly as he jumps on the call. He’s sporting a Slam Magazine graphic tee — Allen Iverson’s May 2000 cover, rocking a bandana and chain with the Sixers jersey. There’s commotion off screen, the hustle-and-bustle of a weekday afternoon in town. In a few hours, he’ll be playing a celebratory hometown show in Downtown Phoenix; in a few more, he’ll be leaving for Los Angeles, a place he’s lived for the last few years. “I was back and forth starting from like February,” he explains about his stay in Phoenix, “and then in about April, I kind of just kind of stayed for a little while, but I'm headed back.” 

It’s the end of a trip that’s capped off a whirlwind come-up for the emcee, who left his home with a dream and returned with a new reality. He’s honed skills with new peers, cut records with influences and inspirations, and recently opened for Earthgang at a hometown show. On his new EP, Sew It Seams, Jaywop reflects on a life-changing few years, steps past his formative era, and looks to return to California with his eyes on the future. 

The last time Wop spent this long in Phoenix, he was an aspiring emcee making waves in the local scene. It wasn’t until Big Bad, his 2020 single, that he felt he’d finessed his own sound, attracting playlist features and finding further fans. Weeks later, he moved to Long Beach with friend and collaborator Dobey Dobe, taking himself from a small-town scene to a national centre of hip hop culture. 

In 2021, he released his debut album, Suede, featuring the likes of Deante Hitchcock and Innanet James. Singles Screen Door and Gold find Wop skating on synths leads, carving intricate flows and nimble pockets. “There was no plan for there to be a follow up,” says Wop, but just one year later he returned with Corduroy. That record, named for a more durable fabric, found Phoenix’s finest stitching tight bars over beats from pilotkid and Tedd Boyd. Standouts such as album opener Drive and Rounds spotlight Wop’s agility, while joints like Candlewax & Cadillacs and the Sxlxman-produced Red Water pair him with esteemed emcees Chris Patrick and Mick Jenkins. 

Jaywop’s return to Phoenix — the city where he came of age — hasn’t been a vacation. He arrived just a month after the release of Corduroy, but was quick to get back in the studio. “After I put out Corduroy, Chris Patrick actually called me, and he was pretty much just like, 'Yo, like, you have to put out another body of work this year, it's important to,'” he remembers. “We were just discussing the importance of artists that are at the level that we're at — or even a little bit higher, like he is — just in this similar realm, it's important to showcase not only your talent, but your consistency.”

Patrick’s advice speaks to the vast gulf between success and sufficiency, with Wop noting that “we're not necessarily in a position where we can drop an album once a year, like Drake.” In a world where established artists such as Frank Ocean can skirt fan demand for years, artists still building fanbases need a stable presence. “If you build all of it up just to wait for it to diminish again, it's like you're kind of working backwards.”

Sew It Seams could, in the hands of another emcee, be a holdover EP to keep streams stacking. Jaywop uses the opportunity to craft a capstone to his patient come-up, tenderly glancing in the rearview as he pushes on to bigger things. “The first few lines explain where my mind was, it was like, 'so it may seem that I had conquered things and push past you,'” he says, diving into the title track. “When you come from a place like this and you go to somewhere that they deem magical like LA, and you're doing stuff that they're seeing on social media, you're meeting cool people and stuff like that, to them on the outside looking in, it’s like, 'Oh, you're out of here, you've made it’.” It’s a misconception many would let lie, but Wop’s upfront about the experiences of a upcoming artist.

“I still seem just as broke as you, and that’s because I am,” raps Wop on that opening verse, candidly confessional. “We've definitely leveled up, we're definitely leaps and bounds ahead of where we were, but we're not where we're trying to be yet,” he says, taking pause. “I'm still I'm still trying to figure this shit out just like you are, you know?” The stay in Phoenix gave valuable perspective, with Wop taking stock of his changing circumstances from the place it all begun. “At first I didn't quite understand it, but it felt necessary to be here during that time,” he explains. “I started the chapter [here], and now I’m closing it while I'm having this little brief stint back home,” he says, reflecting. “I feel like I needed to be here to close that chapter the proper way.”

This musical epilogue to his last few years, though wistful, indulges celebration on cuts like the soulful All Skate and confident CDG. “My discography has always been a good representation of where I'm at,” he explains, Sew It Seams steeped in his triumphant homecoming. It’s a reflection that speaks to his process, which recently saw Wop take a few weeks off from creative pursuits altogether. “If I'm going to the studio seven days a week, I'm not allowing myself anytime to live and experience, so what do I have to talk about? I got to live and breathe. I gotta let somebody piss me off, or someone upset me,” he says with a laugh, “just to have a new perspective, a new feeling, or something to talk about!”

All jokes aside, it’s more often those who inspire joy that help inspire Wop’s pen. It breaks through not only in the tellings themselves, but the guest lists, with Sew It Seams charting Jaywop’s roaming life, from his birthplace of Washington and his home state of Arizona to the recent shores of California. “She's from Lakewood, Washington, that's another Tacoma rep,” he says of Livt, a friend and frequent collaborator. “I'm from Tacoma, Washington, and that's where a lot of that camaraderie with those people comes in. It's just much easier to connect with people that are from the same place as you… I didn't know any of them before doing music, but just throughout the journey, that's definitely something that has always brought me closer to artists like Dave B, Liv, and Dave Shenae.”

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The intimacy that bond fosters shines through on Black Sheep, featuring Seattle-based singer-songwriter Shayhan. “That was a collaborative effort on writing that hook,” he says, crediting Shayhan and “a couple of friends that are originally from back home as well.” The group, all far from their Northern home, draw on that shared experience, channelling a feeling familiar to any ambitious transplant. Wop sees “Black Sheep” as relatable to “anybody that has done what I'm doing, like leaving home, moving to a place like LA, trying to try to almost fit in and find your schwing,” calling the track “the perfect story” to close out the record. “Being someone that wants to be a part of things and fit in too much, that can lead you into some financial trouble,” he says with a laugh. “I didn't always feel accepted, and it was important for me to kinda find my way in.”

That self-belief and perserverence came good in May this year, when Wop took to the stage of Phoenix’s Van Buren to support Earthgang. “That was crazy, that was such a dope moment,” he says, still excited. As a J. Cole devotee — Wop has some Born Sinner ink — he first caught that Atlanta duo on the Too High To Riot Tour, supporting Dreamville signee Bas. “I’d never heard of Earthgang before,” he recalls. “I remember looking at the ticket being like, 'What the hell, like is this some type of globalization group!?'” Wop was soon won over: “they fucking stole the show. I was seeing stars. I was amazed with how great their set was, I was instantly a fan.”

His fandom was coming up on eight years when Wop was approached about the support slot. “Earthgang's manager reached out to me and asked me to be the opener in Phoenix. That shit was so gratifying, just because it's like, ‘what the fuck, [he] knows who I am’,” he says, glowing. “Having that moment and getting to go out there, getting to meet them, getting to perform for the audience that they brought out… you know, it was definitely a 'what the fuck?' I felt like a real rapper that night.”

Wop’s trip home has been hemmed by that feeling: as our conversation wraps up, he’s readying himself for a special hometown gig. “It's such a sentimental show, just because when I first started to take this serious, there were a lot of people that were respected in the circuit that don't necessarily give you the time of day,” he says, stressing just how understandable that can be for busy artists. “PK and Dobey Dobe, they were the first people to really take me serious, and almost take me under their wings.”

“I just learned a lot from these guys. PK was always one of the most exciting performers in the city,” he waxes, touting that tutelage as an invaluable learning experience. “Fast forward some years, everybody's leveled up, everybody is in such a respected space, we're all equals at this point. For it to be the last show that we're doing with Cofey before she goes back to the Dominican Republic, before PK goes back to Chicago, before I go back to LA... it's beautiful for us to be able to take a journey throughout all of those moments that led us up to here,” explains Wop, passionate. “One final night before everybody goes their own way.”

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The crew might be scattering, but it doesn’t phase Jaywop. If anything, he’s more confident than ever, plotting on his return to Los Angeles with greater drive and sharper vision. “I feel like I have a responsibility to those people, and myself at the same time,” he muses. “This sound is the type of music that people favor hearing from me, so now I feel like I have the responsibility of not only tending to that audience, but also maturing and furthering that sound, just so it's not like I'm giving you the same vibe every time I drop something.”

Though unclear about the sound and style, Wop’s across the spirit of his next record. “In a perfect world, even though I don't know what it's going to sound like, my goal would be to take some of the highs from the last album, learn exactly what it was that people gravitated to, and just reinvent those ideas,” he explains. It’s a thoughtful approach from an emcee who sees his music as an ever-evolving reflection of his self, always searching for a way to “level [his records] up the way I feel like I have as a person.” 

It’s an inextricable link that cuts to the beating heart of his art. The records are products of Jaywop, but as rap continues to change his life, the records feed back into Jaywop himself. They’re a portrait painted in instalments, features morphing and colours changing as the emcee charts the highs and lows of being an artist. It’s honest, it’s fun, and if Wop is to be believed, the best is yet to come. 

 Jaywop Sew It Seems

Jaywop's new EP Sew It Seams is out now.

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