Photo by Jneiro

Rocque One, Panama Black, or Dr. Who Dat? It doesn’t matter what you call him: Jneiro Jarel is your favorite producer’s favorite producer. As an originator of the experimental beats movement currently reigned over by artists like Flying Lotus, Hudson Mohawke, and Mike Slott, he’s been prolific in pushing experimental hip hop to its farthest reaches. Signed to the renowned Lex Records roster along with Danger Mouse and Boom Bip, Jarel has released subaquatic extraterrestrial soundtracks as Shape Of Broad Minds, and brazilian-themed beat journeys as Dr. Who Dat?. Southern hip hop also passed through his tractor beam on a collaboration album with rapper Khujo from the legendary Goodie Mob. Fresh off his latest remix for friend MF Doom’s Gazzilion Ear EP, Jarel has no problem designing “beats for hovercraft Saturdays,” as Saul Williams described him. In fact, with such a complex vision, he had to create his own world just to contain it. In the interview with Big Up, Jneiro Jarel tells us about this world and how it evolved.
Interview by Ryan Gilbert

While you were in San Francisco you visited the world’s second largest coral reef at the California Academy of Sciences. Does that kind of thing influence your music?
Oh, totally. It inspires me in general, in life. I always grew up loving nature, and ecosystems. At my house I had an aquarium and a terrarium, so I’ve always been into natural science. All that stuff inspires me, that’s why my music is like a soundtrack to that kind of stuff. If you see the Shape Of Broad Minds record, that was inspired by the ocean. The album cover is an octopus-squid-alien… it’s like outer space aliens underwater. The coral reef, weird animals, and aliens. I really like strange stuff.

There is also a very psychedelic feeling to that album, with lots of disorienting effects. Do you try to create that atmosphere with everything you do?
That is a huge part of what I do. When you think of waves going side to side, that’s like the panning going side to side. I EQ some of the vocals to make it sound muffled, like it’s underwater. You definitely hear that vibe a lot on that record. In general, I’m always into crazy detail. Even on my Dr. Who Dat? records, which are instrumental, I do that a lot.

You recently collaborated with Southern hip hop legend Khujo from Goodie Mob to create a fictional character known as Willie Isz. Were you a fan of Goodie Mob before you two made the Georgiavania record?
I used to live in Atlanta for 5 years, I spent a lot of time there when I was young, and I related a lot to Outkast and the Goodie Mob guys. I felt like they was one of the best, most innovative groups from the South if you ask me. It was only natural that I related to them, because I lived in the South for a long time. I lived in Houston and Atlanta for many years. But the dope part about it was my friends weren’t stereotypical Southerners, they were progressive.

What do you mean by stereotypical Southerners?
Well, when you hear Southern [hip hop] music, you hear a certain style that gets represented, but there’s so many different styles from the South. I felt like Outkast represented those Southern boys that was on some forward thinking type stuff. Even though they was country boys, and they listened to booty shake music, they would also listen to Kate Bush, Portishead, and Squarepusher. That’s why I related to them, because I was the same way. I was totally into UGK and a lot of the dirty south stuff, but I was also into The Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest. I was into Bjork, Brazilian music, and lots of eclectic stuff like that. I met Goodie Mob and Khujo back in ’96, and I was a fan. But then mad years later, I hit up Khujo because I was always wanting to do a record based on my Southern influence. And I knew those guys get down with rock. I loved the whole Goodie Mob, but one of my favorites was Khujo. I thought he was unique because he was always growling, he was like an animated monster [laughter]. But the kind of monster that was kind and friendly, and would teach you, and sit you on his lap and school you. But if you come at him the wrong way, he could flip it. So I was really into his whole vibe. I hit him up and put him on to my music, and Cee-Lo [from Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley] was already familiar with me, which I didn’t even know. So when Khujo told him “this guy named Jneiro hit me up,” he was like “Jneiro? Yeah he’s dope!” So Cee-Lo basically co-signed me.

Photo by Watchara Phomicinda

A lot of people are doing some really great music, man, I’m really happy. The only thing I’m not happy about, and it’s like this with any type of music, is clones and people that aren’t trying to push.

The Georgavania record was more vibrant and poppy than your Shape of Broad Minds and Dr. Who Dat? records. Was that intentional?
I said to Khujo, “I don’t want you to worry about making a pop hit, I just want you to do you.” When I lived in Atlanta as a kid, that’s when I found out about Prince. And Goodie Mob and Outkast are totally on that tip, too, so it was really easy to do that Willie Isz record, and include shoegaze, punk rock, electro, and hip hop as one thing. We had a lot of fun making that record.

Your music is very visual, it feels like reading a comic strip. Is that a coincidence?
It is a coincidence, but I’m also inspired by visuals. I always liked the fusion of sound and visuals without really noticing it. I like people like Bjork, whose videos are always interesting. I was always like, dang, if I had a budget like that, I would be that type of artist. But I didn’t, so I had to be creative. From the beginning, I’ve been like, “I cannot have an album cover that is boring.” It has to be something that matches the music. Initially, I wasn’t really crazy about [the artwork for my album Three Piece Puzzle], because I thought it was too colorful. I was all Brooklyn, New York, like, “yo, yo, the colors are too bright, yo!” For the US version, I got Joshua Mays to do the art. These are real artists, not just homies. These are real people who are out there grinding, who get a lot of respect for what they do. Then I got signed to Lex Records, and they were like, “this guy is obviously into art, and we’re into art.” And I got with Bhat, and ehquestionmark [UK art collective that does Lex Record sleeve designs]. I was like wow, these guys’ visuals work with what I do. It’s very intricate and detailed, and out of this world… it’s perfect. I told them I wanted to do a Brazilian type vibe record, so use Brazilian colors. That’s why Beat Journey is yellow and green.

I didn’t know that album was Brazilian themed.
Every sample on there is Brazilian, for the most part. But there’s also stuff on there that I played live.

Photo by Watchara Phomicinda

I’m trying to open doors for people that feel out of place. Don’t worry about it. Do what you do, and keep doing what you do, and eventually you’re going to make an imprint.

You use a lot of live instrumentation mixed with diverse samples. How do you balance that?
All of it can work hand in hand. I know many live musicians, I play drums, and I’m starting to play guitar. The way I do it, is I kind of treat musicians as records. I tell them ideas, and they’ll manifest it through their instrument and rock out through the whole track, and then I go back and treat it like a sample. I’ll put it where I want to put it and it really works out. I don’t neglect any of those things, that’s why I have such a warm feeling. I also use synthesizers and all that, but it all still has a warm feeling. A lot of stuff can sound kind of tinny, and I want to make sure it’s not like that. I want to make it full, thick, and meaty. [Laughs].

It seems like working with live musicians and artists is just as important to you as developing your sound as an individual.
Art is so important to me, that’s why I developed my website Viberian Experience. Totally bigging up all the artists… whether it be photography, animation, painting, or whatever. Instead of collaborating with musicians, I like collaborating with people like that. That’s what I’ve been doing in recent times. That’s why I big up Big Boi from Outkast doing that whole thing with ballet, because dancing is part of the arts too. I have total respect for the fact that he went there. That’s what stimulates me at this moment. I feel like we need more of that. Instead of working with other musicians right now, I’m into working with other types of inspirations, whether it be authors, or whatever. Next year I’m working on an animation project with Yu Sato (of Norwegion/Japanese animation collective SSSR)… it’s pretty dope, pretty serious.

What does Viberian mean?
Viberia comes from a long time ago. I always felt like an outcast. I lived in rough neighborhoods growing up. People knew me in the hood, but I felt like I couldn’t relate to a lot of stuff in the hood, because my family was different. A lot of times the way I escaped was through imagining being somewhere else. Musically, that’s where I go, to another place. That place, at the time, was like a whole other vibe. It’s like this world that’s so enchanted, and beautiful, if you could see it. But since you can’t see it, just listen to this, and imagine what that looks like, and that’s Viberia. It’s my make-believe world, know what I mean? [Laughs] I was one of them young kids that wasn’t happy with where I was at, and that was my sanctuary. So that’s why my audience always hears me talk about Viberia in a lot of titles I have. “Viberian Twilight”, “March Over Viberia” from Beat Journey, “Viberian Sun” from Shape of Broad Minds. I always introduce people to it, it’s been a part of my world for a while. The Viberian Experience website is not as extravagant as Viberia for real, but it’s my window to the world.


How do you see your style of music evolving in the future?
It’s funny you say that, because right now, there is an audience for the style of music I do. Before, I felt like I was displaced. Maybe if I was here on the West Coast I would have seen that there was kind of a scene for the forward thinking type of music that I’m doing. But at the time when I was creating it, that was before there was any of these cats that’s kind of jamming right now. And it’s cool that I got homies now like Mike Slott and Hudson Mohawke. These are people that used to hit me up before they were even out. They would hit me up online, respecting my music, and they were super young kids, and it was dope getting hit up by these people that I met in like ’05 and ’06 online, Fly Lo, all these people. And now these people are doing their thing. I didn’t know this type of music would become that successful, as it is forward thinking hip-hop-slash-future music. And then you got dubstep, which is like the European version of what they do, and we’re doing the American version of what we do, and it’s hand in hand. You never really know, you just gotta stay doing what you do. I didn’t know it was going to be what it is.

Photo by Eye Nichols

Where did it come from?
All we had at that time [around 2005], you had Dilla, you had Madlib, doing forward thinking hip hop type stuff. Then you had people like Dabrye, Prefuse 73, and the stuff that I was doing, that was kind of like hip hop, but you couldn’t place it. So there was really no Low End Theory [Los Angeles club that has become an institution for experimental beats] at that time. There was no place for us. That’s why me and the Low End cats are so tight, because it felt like home when I was playing my crazier Dr. Who Dat? beats. The standard stuff I do can be at any hip hop venue, but when I want to play my wild, weird, off the wall stuff, Low End Theory is open, and down. That’s where I can vent and play stuff that nobody would probably like. But y’all would, because y’all crazy and nuts like me![Laughs] Y’all just want some crazy sound frequencies!

What inspires you to push that limit?
I never think about it. You gotta keep staying true to what you do. The way I get inspired is I like to inspire people too. That’s why I did the Viberian Experience website, to let kids into my world, and it might inspire them. They might have their own little world that they felt like they couldn’t really manifest because they don’t know where to start. Maybe I can help inspire them, who knows? I’m trying to open doors for people that feel out of place. Don’t worry about it. Do what you do, and keep doing what you do, and eventually you’re going to make an imprint. I never knew it was going to be this type of thing like it is now. I’m sure a lot of heads who were doing this type of music 4 or 5 years ago never knew it would be as cool as it is now. A lot of people are doing some really great music, man, I’m really happy. The only thing I’m not happy about, and it’s like this with any type of music, is clones and people that aren’t trying to push. I say this because a lot of people try to play me like “yeah, we’re forward thinking”, and I hear their music, and I’m like, oh, this sounds like my homie so-and-so. That’s not really forward thinking. Forward thinking is you respect what they do, but don’t bite. Take elements that inspire you, and create something that you feel. It’s doper when you don’t try to steal someone else’s style, just do you. And if there’s something you might appreciate about what they do, it might inspire you to make a track. But don’t say, “oh, since they sampled this Kraftwerk record, I’m going to sample this Kraftwerk record.” Take the time to experiment and do you. I get tired of styles really fast if I hear it too much, for any genre. Dubstep is poppin’ right now. Electro/glitch-hop, whatever you want to call it, is poppin’ right now, but that doesn’t mean that next year it’s gonna still be poppin’. You gotta keep evolving.

Tap into Jneiro Jarel’s world at www.viberianexperience.com.