Jackie Chain knows about the long hard road to success. As a teen he came up roaming the streets as a small town hustler in Alabama. Looking for more in life than stints in jail and crime, Jackie found a lane in hip-hop that was relatable to the dope boys in the streets, party-loving college kids, and trap-rap obsessed hipsters. He eventually broke away from juggling drugs and got out of the hood and into the studio.
Originally signed to Universal in 2008, the Alabama native’s debut album was pushed back numerous times after restructuring within the company left him in limbo. With the fans on his side, he flooded the Internet with mixtape releases and collabos with the likes of Bun B, Diplo, Yelawolf, Big K.R.I.T. and more. Coming off the heels of his latest project, playfully dubbed Bruce Lean, Jackie sat down with VIBE for a convo about his latest projects, progression, outlook on hip-hop, the explosion of Molly culture and more.
VIBE: You named your latest mixtape, Bruce Lean. Were you hesitant or scared to use a name that is so respected.
Jackie Chain: Nah, man. I never really thought twice about that. I just thought it was kind of funny. I’ve been messing with the lean for years but lately it seems like it’s been more abundant, especially in the rap seen, so I’ve been on it a lot more so I just took on a new alias. [laughs]
I know you were saying you went kind of out of the box on a few songs.
Man, actually I got maybe 3 songs that can be considered cross-over. To be honest with you I kept it really, really hood, like I always do [laughs], I just feel like on the Diplo record, there’s really like a hip-hop story telling vibe, and I’ve really never done anything like that. I just rap about the shit I see every day.
Has working with Diplo made you open your ears up to different types of sounds in your music?
To be honest with you, I don’t even listen to rap. Like, if you look on my Pandora, I don’t have a lot of rap on there. I love classic rock, southern rock. I love blues, I love pretty much anything but country.
So you grew up on all these other genres?
Yea, I’ve always listened to all kinds of music but I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument. I can rap so... and don’t get me wrong, I love rap, I listen to it but it’s just, it’s not the only thing I listen to and it’s not like…[plays Prince on his ipod]. I’ll read off my first Pandora stations… Weezer, Jimmy Buffett, Tom Petty, Samantha Foxx Cam’ron, Smashing Pumpkins, Collie Budz, Sublime, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, UGK, and There 6 Mafia
Do a lot of the samples you choose come from your personal music collection?
Yeah man, almost all of my records that are sampled, I picked it. Like “Blinded by the light.” Sade, “Smooth Operator” I came to the producer with that song. The thing about music man is, it’s like history. Music always repeats itself.
Word, it’s all about adding your own flavor to it.
Yeah, you know, I grew up listening to a lot of different music. I got 20 songs right now that I would love to get sampled. I just learned through recording my first album that it’s just a whole lot of headache and a whole lot of money. I had a song with me, Yelawolf and Big K.R.I.T that was gonna be my first single and I had a Bobby Womack sample that I couldn’t get cleared. I just had to scratch the whole song.
That could have been a huge one for you. I’ve noticed you’ve started collaborating with a lot of different people over the last two years.
A lot of people that didn’t know me before the Bun B joint but now they’re checking for me. I got a joint on Bruce Lean called “Windows,” produced by Burn One. I’m not the type of rapper to sit up and listen to other rapper’s problems. I don’t got no baby mama, I don’t got no kids I don’t wanna hear about your kids, I don’t wanna hear about your problems. I don’t wanna hear about you and your girl fighting, I wanna hear about ridin’ around in the drop-tops, smoking weed, fuckin’ with bitches you know what I’m sayin? That’s what I do. So I don’t wanna hear about people’s problems.
Is it cool for other people, though?
It’s not what I’m into! I don’t go through that. What I go through is having fun, partying and doin’ that. I’ve been signed to Universal since ’08. “Rollin” came out in ’08 and in ’09 and ’10 when Kid Cudi and Big Sean jumped on the remix it really breathed life back into the song. But like I said I’ve been signed since ’08 man.
Can you clear up the Universal situation right now?
What it was, I was with Universal/Motown and as you know they formed a new label, so I was fortunate enough to get moved with Cudi and all of Young Money to Universal Republic. Right now, I’m part of the Universal Republic family now and when you got artists like Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Wayne, Drake, in front of you it’s hard to get any time when you got these major artists. I’m still moving, though.
They’re definitely the main priority.
Yeah, I’m not a top priority right now. So my job is to make myself a top priority and get out here and grind. I made the mistake the first year of waiting on the label, and I’ll never make that mistake again. I’m not dissing Universal, but I just can’t let nothing stop my grind. I’m not gonna wait on nobody.
I think it also has a lot to do with timing. With you and your music, true fans of Jackie Chain know that you’ve been talking about Molly and Lean since the beginning of your career. Now, that whole culture is like the biggest thing in hip-hop. Is it kind of frustrating to see people capitalizing off it now?
I want you to put that in there, I been doin’ Lean and Molly since the ‘90s, early 2000s. You can go back to my first records, and I’m talkin’ about X. I’m talkin’ about Molly. We called it Molecules back then and Molly is the new slang word but if you ever hear me talkin’ about Molecules on my old records that’s what it means. In about 4 or 5 years rappers are gonna be talkin’ about DMT and all these other drugs. The rap community is about 5 to 10 years behind.
All the rave kids have been on this shit.
Yeah. I remember I sold weed and I used to have Purp and my Black friends wouldn’t even smoke it. They’d be like ‘$100 a quarter? I could buy a whole ounce!’ [laughs] you know, and now they won’t even touch the mid. And 10 years ago when I had the Purp, they was scared to smoke it.
[Laughs] You’ve definitely been on it.
It’s just funny to me because like I said, I dropped my “Molly” song like 2, 3 years ago and just to hear Kanye rappin’ about it now is cool. Don’t get it twisted, I’m not a drug head, and I’m not a dope head. When I was younger, I did a lot of drugs, man, and I really got fucked up. So a lot of what I rap about is past experiences but I still catch a mean buzz, I just don’t do it everyday. The only thing I do everyday is I smoke and I drink beer. I’m a country boy, I smoke weed every day. I got my Cali card so when I’m out in Arizona and Cali I’m good. I love it, I’ll be out in L.A in August I can’t wait man [laughs].
So for the people that didn’t know who you were in the first half of 2012, it seems like you’re about to go on a crazy run with these 2 mixtapes. What do you want them the new fans to know about Jackie Chain?
I just want you, when you hear it, to know everything’s a 100 man. There’s a lot of watered down hip-hop. I never even really even considered myself “hip-hop.” I don’t follow trends. I represent for the dope boys. I represent for the hustlers and the pimps. White, black, Asian, whatever, when I’m in Cali I kick it with my Asian gangsters, when I’m in Atlanta I kick it with the hood cats, when I’m in ‘Bama I kick it with everyone. It’s just good music. I don’t wanna be classified as nothing but good music. Ain’t Slept In Weeks, the album will be coming soon.