Introducing JoeJas: The Free-spirited Hip Hop Artist Doing Everything Himself

        On JoeJas’s Spotify bio, he explains how his music is inspired by his personal experiences being labeled weird and different. After listening to his music and checking out his various design projects, it becomes clear that being weird and different is an asset, not a hindrance, for the UK-based creative. Few artists embody today’s limitless do-it-yourself (DIY) spirit quite like utility man JoeJas, who has found a way to control the entire narrative, all from his own island. 

        JoeJas’s creative energy flows into many different projects beyond music, manifesting in his music videos and across his HairyMuffinMan and Fat Llama Instagram accounts. His projects range from selling sweatshirts and tees with llama heads on them to podcast shows and live event series. As corny as it can be to refer to an artist as a ‘brand,’ it’s hard to avoid the term when going through JoeJas’s portfolio of content, mostly because of the signature (and charming) design stamp he’s put on all his work: neon colors, custom graphics and animation, and a ubiquitous self-aware goofiness. Rather than being a musical extension of this brand, his new album, Four Wing Island, is the center of its creative universe, with a gravitational force pulling everything else in its orbit.

        JoeJas does everything on Four Wing Island. He handles all the production, rapping, and singing; the promotion; the selling and distribution of physical album copies; the graphic design; and filming for the music videos. It’s as if he were literally stranded on a desert island (with wi-fi) and forced to do everything himself, rather than making a conscious decision to do so. He told us that he wouldn’t have it any other way – he likes having control over the whole project. After hearing the album, we quickly came up with two explanations for why it makes sense for him to do everything himself. Firstly, JoeJas packs so much energy and expression into each song, that there’s no empty space for outside voices. Secondly, a huge part of the record’s appeal is that JoeJas comes off unequivocally himself; he indulges in his idiosyncrasies without ever taking himself too seriously. You get the sense that anyone else attempting to conform to the album’s vibe would risk sounding contrived, or even alien. 

        Handling all the aspects of creating an album like Four Wing Island is no small task; it requires a broad skill set and willingness to invest time in each part of the process. It also requires a 21st century competency: knowledge and understanding of a plethora of digital tools and software programs. JoeJas told us he’s grateful to be able to make music in 2020, with so many tools at his disposal that make it possible for him to do everything himself. Even just 10 years ago, recording, mixing, promoting, designing, and distributing an album by oneself would have been immensely more challenging than it is today. Having access to the huge pool of resources available today doesn’t necessarily translate to higher quality work, but it does thrust open the doors of opportunity and innovation. In JoeJas’s case, we’re witness to the creative output of someone seizing on exactly these opportunities.

         As lazy as it can be to assign constructed genre labels to an artist’s work, such labels can be useful in introducing the work, and placing it within the broader culture. In JoeJas’s case, his music (and accompanying videos and artwork) is defined by its free-spirited looseness and do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude. We’ll call it DIY hip hop. When referring to DIY hip hop, we’re thinking about artists (or groups of artists) that handle everything in-house, whose music is often experimental and rough around the edges, and whose influences are overtly non-traditional from a hip hop perspective. Odd Future pioneered the modern version of DIY hip hop over 10 years ago, and artists such as JPEGMAFIA and JoeJas have taken similar creative approaches to their work in Odd Future’s wake. JoeJas’s love for skateboarding, his passion for designing Fat Llama branded sweatshirts, and his earnest commitment to doing everything himself qualifies him to be a part of this group. (In our interview with him, we asked about how he feels being compared to these other artists).

        JoeJas’s DIY approach to his music is all the more impressive given the new album’s eclectic mix of production, which varies dramatically in tempo, mood, and instrumentation from song to song. This sort of experimentation throughout an album, and even within songs themselves, reminds us of alternative artist JPEGMAFIA’s music. When asked about JPEGMAFIA’s music, JoeJas told us he appreciates how you can’t predict what his next song will sound like. Given JoeJas’s affinity for the unexpected, it’s fitting that Four Wing Island is largely unpredictable and genre-bending in its own right.

        And of course, we’d be remiss not to mention one of the most refreshing parts of listening to JoeJas’s music, which is that you can tell he’s not taking himself, or his music, too seriously. That’s no secret though; look no further than his wacky production alias HairyMuffinMan or the chicken wings disguised as coconuts on the Four Wing Island album cover. But this attitude also permeates the songs themselves, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so much. In the video for his song DROPTOPTIKES, he pokes his head out the window of a Little Tikes toy car and raps: ‘this is the shit that you need! Put that on gaps in my teeth, my head out the window just catching a breeze!’ (This is depicted perfectly in the thumbnail for the video below). He’s the guy that’s referring to skateboarding when talking about riding around, and mac and cheese when talking about cooking in the kitchen. Not only is JoeJas not taking himself too seriously, but humor and sarcasm are absolutely core to his appeal. The snippets of his music videos could work as TikTok shorts as much as they could be featured in an underground music blog. 

        The challenges and limitations of 2020 have caused many of our worlds to temporarily shrink. Most of us have looked for various new ways to escape the new normal in our COVID-affected worlds. For JoeJas, one of his escapes has been Four Wing Island – his imaginary utopia inspired from his time eating fried chicken at Chester’s during college. Indirectly, it serves as a powerful example of what the last 6 months has made very clear: many of our most precious memories come from the everyday, unspectacular pleasures of life. 

        As for Four Wing Island, this is how JoeJas summarized it in his own words, “The story behind it really is just a look into my brain and all the music that I liked growing up all smashed together in a Chester wing box.” 

        Check out the full interview with JoeJas for more on his new album, his biggest musical influences, and his approach to making music.

🍑

Freezepeach: Elements of your sound remind us a little of JPEGMAFIA and early Odd Future, largely because of your music’s versatility and volatility, with humor sprinkled in. How do you feel about those comparisons? How do you feel about being compared to other artists in general?

JoeJas: Those comparisons are pretty fire as Odd Future was a really big inspiration to me growing up. I felt like they mirrored a lot of feelings I had around not being in a box. Also, Jpeg is someone I find really cool because I don’t know what the next song is going to sound like, but I respect that. With comparisons – I used to hate them, but now I don’t really care because no one is fully original, what makes you original is taking what influences you and putting it out in your own way. Also, it’s a way for people to understand you for themselves, if they have something to compare you to. 

FP: Who would you cite as your biggest musical influences?

JoeJas: Like I said before, definitely Odd Future and early 2000’s music like Timbaland, Pharrell, Kanye West, Outkast & Black Eyed Peas. I think this [early 2000’s hip hop] was so interesting to me because hip-hop was at this weird change between boom bap being the main sound to something new, so the drum choices and sounds they used in that period were so interesting. I feel like we’re heading to that period with trap instrumentation now, and how it’s so dominant in every genre that people are just gonna go left with sound choices. 

FP: How do you feel about the term DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Music? It seems to describe your music well, since you do everything yourself on the album: production, rapping, singing, ad libs and sound effects, design, distribution, etc.  

JoeJas: I guess that’s the name of it haha. I feel like there’s no other way I could do it and I’m so glad I grew up now where it’s all possible for me to handle everything myself. Cause I know exactly what I want and I find it easier executing an idea for myself. Also, the type of person I am if I like something I just do it so everything feels right from filming and editing my videos, producing and mixing the songs to designing art work and promo.

FP: Why is the album called Four Wing Island?

JoeJas: Four wing Island is like, in my head, a sort of utopia. It’s called that because I remember being in college in 2015 and always getting wings from Chester’s and they tasted so fire and it was a time where I really learned and understood what I wanted to do with music, mainly because it’s when I started producing for myself. The story behind it really is just a look into my brain and all the music that I liked growing up all smashed together in a Chester wing box.

FP: What do you want people to know before listening to this album?

JoeJas: I would like people to know that you can make and do anything. You don’t have to be defined by one thing and I hope that people use that to have a great and full life. That’s all to say, don’t go into the album expecting anything specific haha.

Listen to the new album now or support JoeJas by buying physical copies from his website:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s