“The transition into writing stories was natural. I tapped back into poetry, and found broadcasting as a means of expression too.”
Whether in the ’90s, ’00s, or even now, in an era where some Mass-based rappers regularly register on Billboard, the region’s always had one of the most robust organic scenes. As I have said many times, if a person wants to experience hip-hop seven nights a week in Greater Boston, they will have their pick of shows on most days.
Once upon a time I was that rap aficionado, a reporter on the beat when such a thing existed, and as such have seen Jake Fraczek rock hundreds of times, as a solo artist as well as with his Greater Good crew and other acts as well. Better known as Jake the Snake and later on in his career as J the S, he stood out like a Champion hoodie by all measures, from storytelling skills to live performance chops.
I actually caught up with Jake in person a few months ago in his current home of Los Angeles, where he records his Damaged Goods interview podcast and also recently completed his second book, the memoir-esque The Waiting Room. The following interview took place via email in the following weeks as I read through his essays …
So first and foremost, is it fair to say that you’ve made the leap from hip-hop artist to podcaster, writer, and other things at this point. What does your business card say these days?
After my first book, Quicksand, was released, I found myself looking at everything I had been doing in my life and realized what I probably already knew. I’m an artist. I was heavily into painting and drawing, then skateboarding became my life for 10 years, and I consider that an art, a form of expression, regardless of how many corporate skate contests the energy drink brands sponsor. Hip-hop had been in my life at an early age, with frail attempts at graffiti and b-boying, before the music became my main passion. The transition into writing stories was natural. I tapped back into poetry, and found broadcasting as a means of expression too. These have all been my canvases.
Have you ever considered a career as a monologist? Look it up if you don’t know about it. I think it could be a great fit for you.
I’ve been finding ways to tell stories my whole life, as I come from a family of storytellers. A career as a monologist is right up my alley. It seems like that’s what I’ve been doing with each artistic endeavor. So, if you got any plugs in the monologist realm …
What was your experience with the first book, and what made you come back for seconds?
The first book was an impulsive necessity. I began writing some pieces to keep from going mad from the shit I was going through at the time. My eye on all this saw humorous parts to it amidst the pain. I noticed there was an underlying theme and a style to them, so I decided to write more and make it a book. Being such personal content, I was a little scared of how it would be received by people in my life, but I found myself oddly comfortable being that vulnerable. That vulnerability resonated with readers, so I knew I had something. It took another tragic and hectic personal experience to provide material and inspiration for The Waiting Room, and the writing process was again a survival mechanism.
Where did you write most of this? It has a very nomadic feel to it.
Most was written or outlined going back and forth to Mexico to take care of my father. Three international and one intercontinental road trip within 15 months. I was very unsettled anywhere I was, restless, and I knew that energy would bleed into the writing.
The book is a lot different from your podcast. Your podcast is mostly about your guests. This book is mostly about you. Do you keep this stuff all bottled up while making your other art and then just let it all out on the page? Why is writing especially good for doing that?
I certainly share stories and experiences on Damaged Goods Podcast, but some things, especially the heavier content, I keep for the books. I can feel weight vanish from my back and chest as I type. Writing, in the same manner I’ve used other artistic outlets, helps me process everything, and heal a bit. I can only keep things bottled up for so long until I either create or go full-Incredible Hulk on acid.
What impact did your dad’s condition have on this book as you were writing it? He always has a presence in your music, reference wise, but this seems different. You get extremely personal in the parts about your caring for him. Could you see yourself putting those kinds of thoughts into your music?
Not to sound sick or morbid, but it was the inspiration for it in a large way. I had some other stories started, but if I was gonna follow in suit of my first book, I would need some grounding element connecting the other wild stories, and he was a wild man with even more wild stories, so it was natural. I dropped everything and went to Mexico to care for a man that I loved, but had a layered or “unique” relationship with. We both had some need to get as close as possible in those eleven months. Problem is, we’re both strong headed, hot-headed Aries men. And this was different because, regardless of my relationship with him, I always saw him as a tough, sharp, confrontational man who wasn’t scared of anything, that had survived things most people never experience. To see him reduced to less, forced to rely on others for damn near everything, was upending. I saw death move the hands on the clock slowly. I would have had to put what I felt into my music to deal with it. Between playing nurse, translator, cook, and orderly alone, fighting or laughing the whole way through, I would break out my phone and sentences would flow uncontrollably.
Is there a difference between the way you approach writing a poem for publishing in this kind of form and how you would approach writing a verse for a track?
The inspiration and ideas form the same way. I find with poems, like songs, I can say more with less, with even more mystique or room for interpretation than the full stories and chapters. I’m thinking of how it hits the reader like how a song hits the listener, the meter, the delivery, the silent tempo.
I happen to be a big fan of underground hip-hop memoirs, each one doing their own part to document their corner of a scene that meant a whole lot to me. How would you say the experiences you share in this book – tripping on the road, dealing with the cops outside a show, accurately reflect on your time in the industry overall?
What ended up in the books was definitely real in my experience, but there’s so much more that I didn’t write about. I didn’t force anything out. I wouldn’t have. Anything from my music career that ended up in the books belonged there.
And since we’re on the topic, I have to ask the requisite question about how you feel about the music industry as it looks now as opposed to even the way it looked five years ago …
The music itself, I’ve been diggin’. I don’t wanna say “pleasantly surprised” because I’d like to pretend that I’m not bitter or analytical, but there’s more shit out I’m liking than ten years ago. The music industry, I’ve paid less attention to. Purposely. New clothes on a younger body, but the organs are still the same.
There are a few common threads that I can see running through your seemingly scattered chapters, like anxiety, overcoming anxiety, taking responsibility when nobody else will, life on the road. I know you’re someone who always paid close attention to the sequencing of the tracks on their albums. I doubt it is any different for your book. What’s your rhyme and reason for the way this project is laid out?
I always put emphasis on the sequencing of tracks on an album. As a fan, it fascinated me. I approached my first two books the same way. Like some of my favorite films that cut back and forth between timelines, I wanted them to be non-linear, but tied together by an underlying theme for the whole story. In Quicksand, it was redemption, a second chance at a connection, or reconnection with a woman I loved. In The Waiting Room, that reconnection was with my father while he was dying. Littered around those grounding concepts were tales of debauchery, excess, shame, adventure, sex, drugs, cheating, tears, and laughter in the face of it all.
What’s the subject of an autobiographical book chapter you might write years from now in the future but that you wouldn’t want to tell people the details of just yet?
It’s not autobiographical, although I make a few appearances. More biographical. I have a whole book idea of 12 different chapters that are 12 different stories from my father’s life. Each one is like a movie. Some more people have to die before I can put that out.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.