Jay Worthy’s musical trajectory has been marked by unexpected moments. There was an era when he sold weaves in Compton, getting great prices on artificial hair from family connections in India. Or when he toured with his stepsister Grimes, or collaborated on a documentary with his filmmaker brother. Last summer, Worthy met Shlohmo during a show, and since then the two have recorded an album’s worth of material. Still, across all his collaborative projects, Worthy remains loyal to the same music he loved before the notion of being a rapper was even real. It’s hard to listen to the opening of the S.O.S. Band’s “Even When You Sleep” without anticipating his syrupy delivery over it.
The Compton. by way of Vancouver, B.C, artist has helped craft a half-dozen collaborative mixtapes over the last half-decade — including Aktive from his LNDN DRGS duo with producer Sean House, an album with Left Brain (Brain On DRGS), and his work with G-Perico and Cardo as G-Worthy. There are also the more serendipitous connections in his ever-growing network of friends, like the time he recorded in Sarah McLachlan’s house, or when he was roommates with The Game’s brother, Big Fase, or attended private parties at Paris Fashion Week with Freeway Rick Ross, his weave-selling partner, once-upon-a-time in Compton.
On Worthy’s latest LNDN DRGS release, Umbrella Symphony, he teams up with Curren$y. Already sold out on vinyl, the 7-track project is filled with silky ballads, looped and fit for 20-mile-an-hour blunt cruises on the boulevard. “Tears in The Rain” opens, like a soap opera crossed with a scene from a Blaxploitation film. “Sake” is backed by a lo-fi canopy of vibraphones and guitars, with a soft vocal sample in the background. This is tears-in-your-Henny music, meant for solo night drives up and down Figueroa. There are enough guitars, keyboards, strings, and backing vocals to make it feel like Sean House keeps an in-house funk band around his native B.C. More than anything, Umbrella Symphony holds vivid snapshots of life as told by its narrators; livelong bonds, neighborhood politics, and finding real love in East Oakland.
Growing up, Worthy always knew he wanted to go into entertainment. With a steady influence of music and film passed from his father down to himself and his brother, Worthy was submerged in history and culture at a young age. “I remember going to see Natural Born Killers in the theaters at eight years old. By the time I was like 10, I had seen most of the best horror films and documentaries of the 80’s and 90’s.” Still, no matter what part of the world he’s in, Worthy’s music still carries the sound of his days on Brazil & Wilmington Ave in Compton.
In 2012, Worthy toured with Grimes, as well as receiving a major co-sign from the late A$AP Yams, whose cameos would go on to be featured on the LNDN DRGS album, Aktive. By 2014, their friendship was solidified with Yams narrating in the video for “Uza Trikk.” It was a legendary moment in rap. South Broadway’s G Perico before the jheri curl, and Eastside Stevie, wide eyed and clowning as usual. This also marked a pivotal moment for Worthy’s career. In tandem with the music, Worthy works with Pro Club as a brand ambassador. He also received a producer credit for Noisey’s Bompton documentary that focused heavily around Kendrick Lamar and the neighborhood he was raised in. When I spoke with Worthy for this interview, he was in Canada, working on new music and a weekly exercise plan. In anticipation for the gorgeous Vancouver summer ahead, his mind seemed at ease. — Evan Gabriel
It’s been about a year since you released Aktive Deluxe. How are things going? I recently saw you were out in NYC with The Lox.
Jay Worthy: Yeah through my boy Bahr [None]. He’s my New York manager. We have mutual friends through the homies at Supreme. A lot of the cats in New York find out about my music in all the stores that be playing it, like Supreme, Palace, Concepts, they slapping my shit. The whole skate community really fucks with me. I guess Jada walked into Concepts and asked Bahr “who is this?” It was my project with Spitta [Umbrella Symphony] and he was like, “next time he’s in New York tell him to pull up on me.” We just did Rosenberg in the Morning. It was a crazy day. I ran into Biggie’s son, who I hadn’t seen in a long time. That’s my dog right there. He told me he’s been slappin’ my shit. And then from that, to go and meet Jada, and Louch. And Jada telling me he’s a fan and wants to work.
Jay Worthy: Yeah. We puttin’ some shit together. I’m not gonna say too much.
Congratulations on Umbrella Symphony, it’s a great project. You and Spitta have a lot of musical chemistry. What was it like the first time you two hung out?
Jay Worthy: Oh wow. Well I could already tell bro was going to be chill. [laughs] I was like, I’m not playin’, I’ma come out there. So I flew to New Orleans. I came and he was there in the daytime, chillin’. I was tapping in with all the people. Then we pulled up to the studio that night and did the whole album. Me and that fool became really good friends that first night. Just like that. He said to me, “I’m so glad you cool in real life bro!” That’s gonna be a friendship that lasts until the end.
You’ve mentioned Vancouver, B.C. as being your favorite place to record in. How come Vancouver is better than somewhere like Toronto, or New York, or L.A.?
Jay Worthy: L.A. is too many distractions. If I’m there, I’m gonna be out, hanging out with the homies. Vancouver, it’s not too many people left over here, except Sean. So, I can really just come out here and eat healthier, the nature’s really nice. I’m able to clear my mind because a lot be going on in my life. Be away from all the distractions, that’s why I like it. If I had roots in Toronto, maybe I’d go there. But I feel like there’s not a lot going on in Vancouver, so it’s like my little getaway.
You seem like a big movie guy with all the skits on the projects. Are those generally old favorites that you’re dropping in after you make the song? Or do you know from the start, this beat goes with this sample?
Jay Worthy: I’m a big movie guy, bro! My dad is the coolest motherfucker, he raised my brother and I with so much culture. He raised us on films, and good music. I was hip to everything at a young age. He raised us on Spike and blaxploitation films early on. I wanted to see Pulp Fiction and he wouldn’t let me see it until I read the screenplay. So he bought it for me. I was watching everything, early on. It’s funny, I ended up doing music but my brother went and did film. And we were able to put together out TV series, Welcome to Fairfax. Right now, my brother lives in Toronto and made a documentary called True North about Toronto basketball.
When you were shooting the documentary with Noisey and Kendrick, did it feel natural to be behind the lens like that?
Jay Worthy: It all just fell into my lap. Yams hit me and asked me to take them [Noisey] around the streets. I was raised watching good docs, so I kind of know what I’m doing without going to school for this.
What one of your earliest memories with music?
Jay Worthy: For sure when the older homies would come through the block, and my dad would get all the tapes and be like, “aight this is Geto Boy, Spice 1, Ice Cube. The Earliest album I remember is Geto Boys. It was tape cassettes too because this was the 80’s.
So it was heavily rap early on?
Jay Worthy: Oh heavy. I remember hearing Willie D’s voice, and thinking at four-years-old, that’s how I gotta sound. The album, The Geto Boys.Then of course Easy-E, I loved his voice too. Then I was eight to ten years old I started buy CDs on my own. The first CD I bought was Ice Cube The Predator. Then came Doggystyle, then I started getting hip to East Coast music like Wu-Tang.
You’re already buying albums at ten years old. Are you already thinking at that age that music’s the route for you?
Jay Worthy: Probably, by 13 we’d all freestyle on the basketball team. But I was shy. There was a time when I liked to rap, make songs, but I didn’t like to perform. I had a really hard time with doing it in public, but I loved the idea of being a rapper and becoming famous. But when it comes to performing, I would get nervous. I still get nervous sometimes if it’s an unknown crowd. But when it comes to making songs or videos, I’m all good. But certain shows to this day I still get nervous.
What do you think helped you transition from that?
Jay Worthy: How did you lock in your confidence? All this shit is new to me bro. I think when I did Fool’s Gold Day off L.A. 2016. I got a good crowd respond. Once I proved to myself I could do it and wasn’t scared to look at the crowd in their eyes, I got over it. I’m a real one, and I didn’t really think rapping was too real of a thing. It was almost kind of embarrassing. Like, I’m not a rapper. I’m a real dude. Even though I always wanted to do this professionally, I just didn’t like the performance part of it. I don’t like the idea of having to look cool for these cameras, you know what I mean?
When did the idea of being a rapper stop being corny for you?
Jay Worthy: I think it was when I hit up Sean like, “Yo, we got a deal! We’re really signed to Fool’s Gold Records.” I always knew my shit was tight, but maybe I wasn’t as confident as I should have been. Having the confidence to really do this, and knowing we have a cold sound. For Sean, he’s been in the game a while and was kind of over it. And then one day he was like, damn bro you’re a real rapper now! And I was like, you’re fucking right, this is a career now and I’m serious about this shit. You know there was a time in life where I didn’t really have too much going on that was going to pan out well, so it was kind of like a wake up call. Like, aight well this is what you’ve always wanted to do? This is what you should be doing. Buckle down and do it. Don’t go half-assed. Ever since then.