Hip-Hop Humility: An Interview with Jake The Human

Getting older just happens, but growing up takes effort. It calls for humility and honest self-reflection–all part of the game for Jacob Rodriguez, AKA Jake The Human. The Chicago rapper proves as much on Some Type of Better, a debut mixtape that follows the fledgling artist as he navigates the confusion of young adulthood with calmness and candor.

Whether he’s sorting through memories of a rough neighborhood on “Hanson Park Headaches Vol. 1” or taking stock of his romantic shortcomings on “Rilles,” his incisive lyrics flow with ease. No matter how serious the subject, his referential humor keeps things light; quips and quotes from the video games of his youth pave the way to a place of contentment with life in the present.

Meanwhile, the lo-fi beats and soft, synthesized strings of his sampled instrumentals give the whole project an aura of warmth. “Cornered Desk Soliloquy” is the culmination; an intimate acoustic guitar loop provides the ideal setting for some of his most vulnerable verses.

With his debut behind him and a new EP on the way, Jake The Human spoke to The All Scene Eye about the making of Some Type of Better and the importance of finding balance in all areas of life.

First, and most importantly, is “Jake The Human” an Adventure Time reference?

My name is an Adventure Time reference! At least at a surface level. It’s also a reflection of my desire for humility and denial of fitting specific labels.

That desire for humility also comes up on “Cornered Desk Soliloquy.” You say “I do not feel that I am the story’s protagonist / just a side-character that might sell you weapons.” How did you arrive at that mindset?

I’ve never been a self-absorbed person. At the same time, I try to stray far away from insecurity. After all, if I had too much humility, I wouldn’t put my work out into the public. There’s a gray area I try to strike in my day to day energy and when I write.

You also mentioned labels. Are there specific labels you want to avoid, or is it more about the concept of being labeled?

It’s the concept of being compartmentalized into a personality type. In high school, I vibed with everyone I felt a connection with–jocks, nerds, theatre kids. I never thought I was above someone for their scene. We’re all just humans trying to figure it out.

On “The Magnificent Over-There,” you say ”my fate was decided a long time ago, bro / the first time I picked up a Ticonderoga.” When did you first start writing? What inspired you?

From what I can remember, I wrote my first rap when I was in third or fourth grade. I’ve always had an itch to write my own raps from listening to hip-hop albums in the car with my dad and older brothers at an early age. My earliest inspirations were Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool and Kanye West’s Graduation. As I got older, I got into more obscure artists, particularly a troop of independent rappers showcased on the YouTube show Knocksteady. The biggest influence was Wax, but I attribute a lot of my style to rappers like Dumbfoundead, Milo, Open Mike Eagle, Intuition, and The Palmer Squares.

When did you start working on Some Type Of Better? How did you know it was time to make your debut mixtape?

I had written countless songs all throughout high school and the beginning of college. Through lack of resources or time, I never put my lyrics into practice. When I began to record music, I wasn’t proud of my work, and I didn’t want to put anything out until I was confident enough in my ability as an artist. Once I decided it was time, I wanted to begin by taking on a full project. My mindset at the time was big on self-improvement, which became the entire theme of Some Type of Better. Being busy with school, I worked on songs sporadically throughout the school year and released it this past summer.

Some Type of Better is filled with references to video games and cartoons. How did you get into video games as a kid? What was your first anime?

My older brother had a Nintendo 64 and GameCube. I came to find the bright worlds of video gaming to be a proper escapism or stress reliever. Banjo-Kazooie, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine, Pokemon Stadium, Luigi’s Mansion. To this day, I’ve only owned Nintendo systems. I just copped the Switch, actually. I’m a die-hard Smash Bros. stan.

Honestly, I’m not as extensive of an anime fan to identify as one. I’ve only watched Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and Yu Yu Hakusho all the way through.

There’s a tension throughout this mixtape between growing up and staying young–being “early in the game” but not being a kid anymore. What brought out that anxiety for you?

I guess it’s a product of my age; I feel the pressures of an adult with the uncertainty of a kid. Early 20s are a confusing age. I have friends in the same position as me, friends with children, friends who already have their life and career set, and friends who are dead. I’m old enough to be nostalgic and miss the past, yet still be hopeful and uneasy about the rest of my life.

Your lyrics bring in this motherly advice to not rush into growing up. What’s your own advice to other people coming up on this awkward stage of life?

My advice would be to live in a happy medium. You’re not a god–you don’t know everything. You’re also not worthless. Everyone figures shit out at their own pace. Don’t be a defensive asshole, but don’t let people walk all over you. Enjoy it, but don’t be lazy. Everything’s relative. Everything needs balance.

You also talk about growing up in a traumatic environment on “Hanson Park Headaches Vol. 1.” What was it like looking back on that with a more grown-up perspective?

My neighborhood is an emotionally confusing topic. It’s a bad neighborhood by ideal standards, but I wouldn’t go as far to say it was traumatic. It goes back to having a balance. I was able to learn the more realistic, difficult ropes that life can provide. At the same time, I had restrictions growing up, like not having friends in my immediate surroundings–having to be careful with how I moved and interacted with people and the environment. I wrote this song almost as a dialogue with myself to come to a concrete opinion about it. I don’t think I did, but that’s okay sometimes. Also, shout outs to my homie Young Reese for killing his verse.

How did you two end up collaborating?

Reese and I had an intro to psychology class together, and a mutual friend made it known that we both rap. Reese actually recorded, mixed, and mastered the whole project as well. I recommend y’all check out his music, if you don’t mind me plugging for a friend.

Should we take “Vol. 1” to mean you’re planning to tell more stories in that setting?

Yes–I don’t know when, but I plan to add more volumes to delve further into Hanson Park.

Towards the end of the mixtape, you say ”I don’t know why I made this tape, maybe to just keep me sane.” In retrospect, was making this record a useful exercise for you?

Absolutely. It was an extremely nerve-wracking and gratifying process. I commend any artist who puts their personal work out there; it requires a lot of courage and vulnerability. One of the biggest benefits was getting over the initial hurdle of a debut release. I feel like I can only grow from here. Overall, it made me some type of better.

On “OBITO,” your latest single since the mixtape, it sounds like you’re calling out artists who don’t evolve.

I wouldn’t look at it as calling out any artists; I don’t consider myself some master of rap with an authority to judge the landscape. It’s more a frustration with how the landscape is perceived. The new wave of hip-hop gets a lot of hate from old heads and hip-hop purists. A lot of criticisms I agree with, but these new rappers wouldn’t be successful for no reason–clearly, they’re doing something right to connect with a large audience.

The point is a lot of older artists and their fans complain about the new style’s success and feel they deserve the spotlight more, but there are plenty of rappers who have stayed relevant across generations because they were willing to let their styles change. There’s nothing wrong with staying true to what made you–in facts, it’s really admirable–but stick to yourself and don’t complain when times change.

What’s next for Jake The Human?

I’m currently a busy, stressed student studying theater. I definitely grind on my music whenever possible. I can’t for certain confirm when my next full-length project will see the light of day. That being said, I have quite a bit of material ready and loaded in the chamber. Sooner rather than later, I’ll be releasing an EP, and I’d like to announce the title: Kerriden Coast.

How has studying theater impacted your perspective as an artist?

In a general sense, I think being involved in multiple art forms puts you in a headspace where skills picked up in separate fields can bleed into one another. I feel theater has impacted my music in that it inspires me to give projects or songs a theme and concept. I want to be able to build set pieces and perform a scene with my lyrics and instrumental choices, even for a song that’s not blatantly story-driven.

Who’s your Smash Bros. main, and why?

In Smash Bros., Pikachu. In Melee, Falco. In Brawl, Wolf. In Smash 4, Mario. I’m a simple man. I like a character who’s not afraid to throw hands. I don’t rock with the more complex, strategic characters. King K. Rool’s looking like a snack in Ultimate, though.


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