A rapper’s origin story is often a modern-day myth. If the past is prologue, one’s roots inform an artist’s slang, accent, and forward-facing narrative. In the case of Jay Worthy, his story is completely singular. A true original. If he didn’t exist, no one could have invented him.
Born in Vancouver, Canada of South Asian descent, Jay has become one of the most respected rappers in Compton’s legendary hip-hop firmament. He’s a Hall of Fame hustler who moved to the Hub City at 17 and embraced the street life. While in pursuit of a music career, he supported himself by selling hair through familial connections in India (among other things). But he didn’t fully commit to music until a life altering event presented itself. While accompanying his step-sister on tour (the experimental pop artist Grimes), he met the late A$AP Mob founder A$AP Yams at the 2012 SXSW. Their instant connection and mutual respect for one another led to Yams’s endorsement and features on Worthy’s breakout mixtape Aktive with his signature producer and close friend from Vancouver, Sean House.
Under the LNDN DRGS moniker, their brand of concrete reports over luscious retro R&B feel both grounded and heavenly. Worthy makes peak golden hour street music, portraits of palm trees and low riders surrounded by pink, purple, and orange skies. A thing of menace and aesthetic beauty. In addition to the stunning tapestries of 80s funk-rap slappers, he gives us the investigative reports of Compton street life. On one of his recent singles “Hate On Me,” the Dogg Food-era Dogg Pound influence is strong as Worthy reinforces his Westside bonafides. He recalls: “When I had no home, I used to live on ‘Dre couch. So if you wasn’t with me then, keep my name out ya mouth. ”
His adherence to the G Code transcends music. He was so street certified that he co-produced Noisey’s Bompton documentary in 2016, lingering in the background in many of the scenes, acting as the creative liaison to ensure that Compton’s story was told correctly and with the proper respect. Additionally, he serves as Pro Club’s brand ambassador in Gardena, California. Whether it’s Worthy’s side hustles or his craft, his impressive work ethic and three-dimensional vision informs nearly every move.
Over the last 18 months, Worthy has released one of the most eclectic slates of collaborative projects of anyone in rap. However, all these projects cohere into his blunted, chromatic and funky west coast aesthetic. There are projects with Harry Fraud and Curren$y, Shlohmo and a forthcoming project with Dam-Funk. Of course, there remains LNDN DRGS, and their most recent release, the fourth and final installment of the Burnout EPs. Songs like “Rokk Dreams (Intro)” and “Gangsta Party” offer more of the sun-stunned California anthems that Worthy is known for. While his origin story has already become the stuff of legend, he continues to offer realistic and beautiful testimonials of Compton street life every time he drops. Recently, I spoke with Worthy about what keeps him inspired, his love of cinema, and the art of hustling. — Caleb Catlin
You’ve released three projects this year. I believe you said not too long ago that you have something with Sean House for more LNDN DRGS music. What inspires you to get up and write songs at such a rapid pace?
Jay Worthy: I just like to work man, like that’s my high, dog. Seeing my name on websites, I love that progression. If you stay working and grinding, you start seeing results. It’s like going to the gym, if you’re working out and you don’t see the results, you’re not too motivated. But when you work, you’re in the gym, and all of a sudden, you start seeing that six pack, or you start getting swole, it’s kind of like with this shit. It’s like, every time I keep dropping something, I get new friends, I get different people engaged. It just gives me more of a drive to keep going man.
Is it ever difficult to find the right words to say or does it all come naturally to you?
Jay Worthy: I mean, it usually comes natural but I’ve been trying to challenge myself lately. You got to realize, when I wrote Aktive, I was really active then. I wrote most of that music when I was like 27. By the time I was 30, I was active but I was slowing down a little bit. Now at 34, my life is a lot more different, relaxed and healthier. I’m challenging myself to rap about different things and just show people a different perspective on me.
One thing that I found really interesting about one of your projects this year was the Two4one joint. You released all the singles with a cover art like cigarette ads and you released everything like little loosies. Where’d you get the idea to release everything like that?
Jay Worthy: Well, that’s the thing, I do my own marketing, my own PR, and my own managing so I just think of different ways that would be creative. With that, I was like “I wanna do these double A side singles.” Back in the day, a lot of bands would do double side A vinyls for two singles. So I was like, “I’m gonna put four producers, two songs for each and the features, I would put one on each side. So it was really a theme. Two songs for the price of one. I’d always been a fan of the Newport ads as a kid too. I wanted to market and package it like they did.
I know A$AP Yams played a big role when you were really finding your footing when you first started rapping. How did you guys first meet?
Jay Worthy: I first met Yams in Texas, 2012 SXSW. I was on the road with Grimes. I had a gang of homies from L.A. that was out there and I was moving around, doing my own thing. Me and Yams really clicked up and we stayed in contact, man. Next thing you know, I was in New York, recording in their studio in the Bronx. That’s my dawg.
What was your first impression of him when you guys first clicked?
Jay Worthy: Man, he was hella cool. Like I didn’t have a way of getting into the Fader Fort. Without questions, he just gave me his pass and put it around my neck like “you good, bro.” I’m like, “yeah I’m from Bompton” and he was like “you from Bompton? Take my line.” Then, we hung out that night, I think that was the night they got into that crazy fight at The Fader fort. But yeah man, Yams was always really cool. God bless him, it’s not a lot of people like that left in the game. Thank God, if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be.
I remember reading how you wanted Suge Knight attached to your work and you wanted him to link with Yams. What was the big idea you had in mind for them to sit down together?
Jay Worthy: I just knew he was always a big fan of the Death Row/Bad Boy era. He would always be on this “executive produced by” shit. Instead of saying something for song premieres like “East Coast this time, West Coast this time,” he was the first one I would see say something like, “Death Row this time, Bad Boy this time.” I thought it would be cool, I ran it by both of ’em, the same way I brought Freeway Rick [Ross] up to Fairfax and introduced him to Yams and certain younger people that were different from Rick’s older crowd and the South Central gangsta rap shit he was moving around in. I was like “here’s all this other shit. These kids are into fashion and skateboarding and stuff.” It’s kind of like what I wanted to do with Suge, just do something that was so different but also made sense.
One similarity I find between you, someone like A$AP Yams, Suge Knight, and someone like Master P is how you guys are all true hustlers. How would you define the art of the hustle?
Jay Worthy: Gotta be hungry, man. Blood, sweat, and tears, you know? A lot goes into this, not a lot of sleep, a lot of grindin’. I remember Yams would take 20 minute cat naps and just keep going. That’s some real New York shit, you know what I’m saying? Sleep in the studio, P on the boards, making beats like “all right let’s do this.” I naturally have that drive. When it comes to anything, if I was selling clothing, selling hair, music, or if I was doing street shit, I applied the same hustle to everything. I think that’s what real hustlers do.
Do you think that’s something that can be taught or is that something you’re born with?
Jay Worthy: That shit gotta be in you. I tried to teach it to some of my homies and they just don’t have it in them, you know what I mean?
You mentioned her earlier but one interesting bit I read is how Grimes is your stepsister. You have a couple songs with her, the Christmas ones.
Jay Worthy: Yeah, yeah, we’ll just fuck around. Get these weak ass family Christmas shits we both didn’t want to be at, so we just go into the basement and just make a song. We could probably put out a Christmas song EP.
Considering how different y’all are stylistically in the genres of music you guys make, what was the common ground you initially had with one another?
Jay Worthy: Just wanted to have fun. I don’t think we’re really into the same music or have the same musical backgrounds. She wanted to make a rap beat though. The first Christmas song is actually really hard. The other one was more of a joke but the first one was actually a dope song. I need to go back to that record, I might have to put that on my album.
Movies seem to be a big factor, not just in your music but in your household in general. I know that your brother is a filmmaker in Toronto. What were some of your favorite films growing up?
Jay Worthy: My favorite films growing up, I was heavily raised on all the classics, man. All of the early Spike Lee films, the Hughes Brothers joints, Boyz N The Hood, a lot of Blaxploitation films. A lot of old hip-hop films, Style Wars, Wild Style, tons of shit I can remember as a kid growing up. We were pretty cultured that way and I came up on a lot of good films like that. A lot of Scorcese and Tarantino, the list goes on. I was big into foreign films myself and I’m a big horror movie fanatic.
Are there any new movies you’re into or do you mostly stick to the classics?
Jay Worthy: I really like old movies, I’m not gonna lie. I’m always on Amazon Prime going to watch all the old classics. I’m always finding new old ones I never saw before because they got so much shit on there. I’m trying to think of a new movie I really liked and I went to go see.
You mentioned Tarantino earlier, I liked the last one.
Jay Worthy: Oh, that movie was good! The last one? The [Once Upon a Time In] Hollywood joint? I liked it.
Do you feel like there are any similarities between music and movies?
Jay Worthy: Definitely because every time I make a song, I look at it like a movie. I’m really descriptive, trying to paint you a picture in my mind. I’m seeing the movie go on in my head. I try to make things as cinematic as possible and give my songs a movie type view.
Do you think you’ll ever make the transition into filmmaking full time or are you fully committed to music?
Jay Worthy: 100% I am [interested in filmmaking]. I’m in the middle of writing a script right now for the LNDN DRGS album. We’re gonna put out an animated movie actually, we’re working with a team of animators.
Do you ever feel a responsibility to put on other artists and friends from the area?
Jay Worthy: I definitely do. I always wanna put on for my homies and my community. I’ve been helping a lot of my homies get their shit together, pushing them in the right directions. Lately, I’ve been working with more singers. I’m working with this artist out in New York named Nandi Marie. She’s an amazing singer and I expect big things from her. I’m gonna have her featured on a couple of my projects. I’m all about helping the people and pushing them. If I can help them get exposed and use my platform to help them, then I’ma do that.
That’s dope. Speaking of putting on other people, you said in a previous POW interview you felt like you should be A&R’ing a lot of projects for people because they lack in beat selection. We’ve seen someone like Westside Gunn with his Griselda crew. Do you have plans to do something similar?
Jay Worthy: Would love to. We’re putting together a compilation right now for my homie Serv-on, he’s somebody from my hood that wants to get into the music game. I’m executive producing his compilation called Funeral Service, curating and choosing who we think should be the producers and artists for the project.
That leads into my next question, is there anyone in particular you really want to help in the studio?
Jay Worthy: I wanna get in there with Nandi, we’ve just been sending stuff back and forth. I’d love to sing myself but maybe I don’t have the singing voice. But I feel like I could sing a little bit and maybe she can push me in that sense. Maybe I could write some things for her, she could sing it, and I could hear my stuff come to life. So, I’m really looking forward to working with her
Yeah, and I’ve seen you, slowly but surely, add a little bit of singing in some of your records. We’ve seen someone like Tyler the Creator, who may not have an amazing singing voice but he’s diving into the melodies more.
Jay Worthy: That Igor album is amazing. I was able to tour with him and see him perform that. That was really a big inspiration, to be honest. To see somebody who isn’t exactly like a singer be able to perform and sing and change his voice like that, I’m like “alright, I could do that too.”
There’s a lot of love shown to West Coast and New York artists on your projects, what southern artists are you into?
Jay Worthy: Well, me and Cee-Lo Green are working on a lot of shit. I mean, I came up on a lot of southern rap. I’m a big fan of Scarface and a lot of the shit that came from Houston. The Geto Boys, UGK, Pimp C was like one of my top 10 for sure. New cats out of the south though, man, I’m drawing a blank here. I just don’t listen to enough Southern hip-hop. I love Big KRIT, he’s amazing to me. I love Andre 3 Stacks. The south has so much talent, man. Shout out to the south man, I gotta get out there more and start working. Reese Laflare is tight. Eldorado Red, that’s my dawg, he’s dope out of Atlanta.
You’ve mentioned quite frequently that you’ve been working on your first debut solo album. How has that process been different than honing in with one producer and working on something?
Jay Worthy: It’s been crazy because I can show just how diverse I am. People are used to me rapping on like the New York sound or on funk West Coast shit. This shit is gonna change your whole opinion. It’s gonna have that on there but it’s also gonna have all types of different flavors. I think almost every song is made by a different producer.
With artists like Curren$y and The Lox, they’ve been rapping for decades. Do you feel like you could do the same or do you feel like there’s a natural stopping point?
Jay Worthy: There you go, like Curren$y, I be forgetting New Orleans, I came up on the whole No Limit/Master P era, that’s my shit dawg. But nah, I’m gonna go until I’m like Frank Sinatra’s age, I don’t give a fuck. As long as I feel like making music and I’m inspired to make music, then I will make music. One day, I might wake up and be like “nah, this not it.” But nah, there’s no time in my head, I don’t let age fucking judge any of that shit.
In an interview with Viper Magazine, you talked about how you’re a storyteller and “a reporter of the streets from a real point of view.” Most people might hear your work and instantly get drawn to the beat. What do you want listeners to come away with when listening to you as a storyteller?
Jay Worthy: I just like to paint the picture. I’m being a voice of my neighborhood. I got to represent what’s going on over there and how homies be and talk, bring you the lingo and the lifestyle of what motherfuckers are doing in the section. That’s what all rappers are, man. We reporting live from the streets, you gotta live it to know it.
I remember hearing that you used to hate the idea of being a rapper. What eventually made you change your tune to the idea?
Jay Worthy: Well, I still think rappers are corny and I still don’t really fuck with how they move. You gotta think, I transitioned from being a street dude into a rapper at 30 years old. When you in the streets, you don’t really give a fuck about rap. But, you know we’re around it so much and we listen to it so much, we can’t help but not to do it. When Yams and certain people pushed me in that direction and I realized this could actually be a career and a lifestyle change for the better, it was a no brainer. So I don’t give a fuck, call me a rapper all you want now *laughs*. I’m a rappin’ ass motherfucker, you know what I mean? I’m getting paid off it too.