ATL Jacob is one of the most talked-about talents in Hip-Hop right now, and most of the people talking don’t know the half.
At tonight’s BET Hip Hop Awards, he’s nominated for Producer of the Year alongside legends like Ye, Pharrell, Metro Boomin, and Hit-Boy. Two of his productions—Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin” and Future’s chart-topping “Wait For U” featuring Drake and Tems—are nominated for Song of the Year. Late last week, the former in-house producer for Future’s FreeBandz label announced a deal with Republic Records, launching his own imprint, Wicked Money Family.
“No cocky stuff,” Jacob told me recently, bathed in the purple glow of his go-to sound lab in north Miami. “Cause it’s just a step to get where I’m really goin’. Like yeah, it feels good to be a producer and stuff, but I’m ready for the next thing. Like, I’m ready to be the biggest artist in the world.”
Jacob’s confidence is clearly peaking, but the assurance is understandable. To accomplish what he has done before one’s 24th birthday is no small feat. To do so while earning the respect of one’s musical forefathers defies belief. Southside, the 808 Mafia Boss, calls Jacob “one of the greatest… I tell him he’s me and Metro in one person.” Polow Da Don considers Jacob “the leader of the new generation,” adding that Atlanta needs a leader to keep it going. “Here comes somebody who understands culture, pocket, vibe, but real hits that change the game too. And that’s what I’ve been waitin’ on. Who’s that cold-ass bad-a** motherfu**er?”
To put all of this into perspective, Jacob Canady was not even born when André 3000 threw down the gauntlet at the 1995 Source Awards in New York City. “The South got somethin’ to say,” Dre stated defiantly while accepting OutKast’s award for Best New Group of the Year amidst a chorus of boos. His words would prove prophetic, as Atlanta would come to dominate hip hop by the turn of the millennium.
When OutKast dropped their final album—the certified diamond opus Speakerboxx/TheLove Below—Jacob was just shy of four years old. The year was 2003, and Rico Wade of Organized Noize, the visionary production team that launched the careers of OutKast and many other future ATL legends, was rolling out a brand new crew known as Da Connect. One of the rising talents in the group was a young man born Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn. He went by Meathead at the time, but the Dungeon family had nicknamed him “The Future.”
By the time Future dropped his seminal 2011 mixtape Dirty Sprite, Jacob was 12 years old, growing up in a close-knit family on Atlanta’s south side. “Music has been a thing in our family since we were kids,” says Jacob’s older sister Jamaya. She played the trumpet, her oldest brother Jako played the trombone, and their little brother Jacob played saxophone and percussion. “We did marching band together, the nerds.” She said with a laugh.
Jacob practiced hard, mastering multiple instruments—alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, french horn, snare drum, quad, tympani, mallets, and xylophone. His love for percussion blossomed in a new direction when he began making beats at age 14 on a borrowed cellphone using an app called Pocketband. When his older sister got a laptop for college, he hijacked the machine and started working in Fruity Loops.
His mother, Valencia Canady, knew that her youngest son was special, but she understood the risks associated with pursuing his rap dreams. Jacob convinced her that the risks of not pursuing them were even worse. He saw his friends and neighbors in Atlanta getting sucked into the streets, catching cases and caskets. His mother allowed him the freedom to stay out late in the studio as long as he finished school. “Growin’ up down there, it felt like I was just in a box,” Jacob says. “You ain’t even know how big stuff can go. I didn’t know I would see the other side of the world. So now it’s like I believe you can do anything possible. I can fly.”
Besides his talent for music, Jacob was blessed with determination. “Jacob is very adamant about sh*t,” says Southside. “Jacob will not quit. He’ll ask you a million and ten times to do what he needs done. He don’t care if he aggravates you. He don’t care if you get mad.” The last person I knew like that was Mike Will, and look how successful Mike Will is. Jacob rap too!” His band teachers at Creekside High School in Fairburn, Georgia encouraged him to keep pushing. He even asked the school principal to play his beats over the high school intercom during morning announcements—and they did. But just when everything seemed to be going his way, he hit a speed bump.
“I ate some pizza, and my intestines burst,” Jacob recalled in a Complex interview. He would spend much of 2016 in the hospital. He still gets emotional talking about the memory. His mother brought his equipment to the hospital so he could work on music while recuperating. “He still wanted to make beats in the hospital,” recalls his younger sister Jakeiry. “That’s determination right there,” Jamaya adds. “Even when you’re at your lowest, you’re still motivated to do what you wanna do.”
As soon as Jacob got out of the hospital, it was on. Five months later, he played his beats for Casino of Freebandz, who loved what he heard and quickly introduced him to Future, a meeting that would change his life forever. “Pluto didn’t wanna sign him until he was done with high school,” his sister Jamaya recalled. Once he graduated, ATL Jacob began working steadily with Freebandz. Every beat he made after that point, Future got the first listen. When Future’s 2019 album The Wizrd was released, the name ATL Jacob appeared on the production credits for no less than seven tracks.
Earlier this year, Jacob returned the favor by producing Future’s #1 pop single, “Wait For U,” a career first for both men. Jacob had been listening to the Tems album For Broken Ears while recovering from a breakup. He decided to sample her song “Higher” and struck a chord with his Atlanta/Lagos/Toronto collab. Future had been featured on Drake’s chart-topper, “Way 2 Sexy,” but the ATL Jacob track appears on Future’s own album. “He was a part of my story, and now I’m a part of his story,” Jacob says with satisfaction, his FreeBandz chain glinting in the studio lights.
“Time flies, don’t it?” Future told me with a grin later that night at a private dinner for Jacob before the BMI Awards in Miami. We had been discussing the time I edited a 2015 cover story just before his album DS2. Now I was working on a feature about a kid he put in the game. “Gotta shout out Big Pluto,” Jacob said later that night, raising a glass of sparkling cider (he doesn’t drink or smoke). “Wouldn’t be here without him.”
“Jacob is just a good kid,” Young Thug used to say when he saw the high school marching band member hanging around the rough-and-tumble studios that form the beating heart of Atlanta’s Hip-Hop scene. It’s true, he was a good kid. And with all respect to KDot, ATL can get every bit as mad as Compton.
Reminiscing about his first big placement—“Splash Warning” from Meek Mill’s Championships album—Jacob told DJ Akademiks how he first met Meek. “You know in Atlanta the gun laws is no gun laws,” he recalled. “I just told Meek this the other day. I was at this studio going up the steps, and I was the guy with the two guns… I’m just walkin’ around with two big ARs… At that time, you’re around the people who got stuff goin’ on. People will see you with them and just assume you with the smoke. I grew up around that, so I just look at it like, we gettin’ the job done. That was the first time I met Meek, though. He didn’t even know I was a producer.”
At this point in his trajectory, ATL Jacob is not just an award-winning producer, one who reps his city every time he says his name. He’s also a recording artist with music on the way. He told me about a recent studio session where he played some of his music for Kanye West, Travis Scott, and DaBaby. “At this time, I’m tellin’ them it’s ‘references,’” Jacob explained with a grin, “but it’s really my songs that I really like. So they in the room, they like, ‘Ain’t gonna lie—you need to rap, you need to drop!’ And after that, I was like, Say less.”
He played me a preview of a song called “Blood in the Streets” that features Fredo Bangz and Big Sean. “I was taught that exchange is not a robbery,” Jacob spit in a melodic Auto-Tune flow. “But what I get in exchange for my pain was not the lottery… A step away from modern brainwashing lobotomy.”
The lyrics struck me as pretty deep for a 23-year-old. “I gotta add structure and balance back to the industry,” Jacob told me. “Cause it’s a lot of ‘Call of Duty’ music and not enough real music. Everybody got a switch on they Glock. Everybody pow pow pow. Tired of that. Let’s bring back some emotion, you know? Real emotion. It’s time to bring back love. It’s like everybody wanna be toxic. Everybody wanna be hated or be the biggest opp. Nobody wanna say what’s really going on behind them closed doors when you not on the street with your gun. What you’re goin’ through with your girl or what you’re goin’ through with your family. I’m bringin’ that back.”
“He’s gonna drop multiple EPs within a year,” says his business partner IG, who’s been with Jacob since his high school days. “Almost a DJ Khaled type vibe, but he’s an artist too. He’s gonna rap on the songs with these featured artists. It’s gonna be big! You got all these relationships with all these artists and producers that he’s helped acquire hit records who respect his craft and wanna collaborate with him.”
He took his mother with him to the BMI Awards, walking the red carpet with the woman who believed in him, who brought him equipment in the hospital and told him to turn it down when it was disturbing the other patients. Inside the storied Miami Beach nightclub Liv, the rap and R&B industry was there in full force—DJ Khaled, Pharrell, Busta Rhymes. When Jacob collected his plaque for Top Producer of the Year, he walks on stage, thanked his team with a smile, then brought the plaque back to his mom to hold onto. That same evening Gunna’s mother and brother accepted an award on behalf of the incarcerated artist for “Pushin’ P.” Afterwards, Jacob walked over to wish them well.
“I know they gonna be good, man,” Jacob told me earlier that day, speaking about Thug and Gunna. Jacob agrees with the governor of California that music should not be used as evidence to build a case against artists in a court of law. “That’s crazy,” he says, “cause acting is an art. You gonna see this man in court and say, ‘He played this role, so I know he did this.’ He played a thug, played a gangster in a movie, now you gon’ take that to court and be like, ‘Hey, I know he got a violent past cause he played this role in this movie.’” That’s the same thing with music. It’s entertainment. It’s art. We puttin’ on a show. Let us put on a show about these stories.”
Jacob’s real-life story is still being written. He barely sleeps these days. He’ll book out the studio for a week solid and take naps on the couch. The vision he’s cherished for a decade is so real now there’s no reason to stop. He donated $10,000 to his high school band. They’ve added his song “Super Gremlin” to their repertoire.
“I’m just proud of him,” says IG. “It brings tears to my eyes. When we went to see the band play and all that. The media was there, we captured it all. They said I cried, but I didn’t for real. My allergies was actin’ up that day. You know what I’m sayin?”
When I ask how it makes him feel to hear his old marching band playing one of his songs, Jacob cracks a smile. “It make me wanna sample it,” he says with a laugh. “It just feels good. I went to this school, and now they love playin’ my song. That’s a good feeling. It made me happy.”