Jesus had Paul. Han Solo had Chewbacca. And Zaytoven has Cassius Jay.

Cassius Jay actually considers himself the Scottie Pippen to Zaytoven’s Michael Jordan. Both Chicago Bulls players were members of the 1992 Dream Team, and when Cassius came by the HNHH office to share his story, he wore an emphatic grin, the grin of a man who woke up that day happy to simply be alive on Earth, as well as a patriotic red, white, and blue shirt emblazoned with the name of another Dream Team player across the chest: EWING.

Cassius (gov’t name: Josh Cross) has long-since established himself as one of the most in-demand hip hop producers in Atlanta. Like Zaytoven, he mixes a saucy, bouncy palette of percussion with keyboard chops few producers can match. He has worked with the likes of Future, Gucci Mane, Jeezy, Young Dolph, Kodak Black, & Justin Bieber. And while his path to trap prominence was different from that of Zaytoven, whom HNHH recently profiled, it began in the same place: the church.

Born and raised in Decatur, GA, Cassius attended a church where his dad served as a bishop and a young Nitti Beatz was a member of the congregation. “Everyone I was around was from the church, so I grew up on church music,” he told HNHH.

He started playing the keys at age 15 at the behest of his father. “I ain’t paying nobody else,” his dad told him.

A keen listener and a hungry learner, Cassius soon developed an intermediate mastery of the instrument and a vast repertoire. Before long, he was traveling all across the South playing weddings. He would return home to Atlanta from Alabama and go straight to church and take his seat at the keys. He assumed the role of MD (musical director) at his church.

You would think you was coming to a club at Divine Faith,” Cassius says of the church band under his direction. “The bass, the horns, we had the drums. A good guitar player. Two keyboards, organs. Saxophone players. We used to rock the house. We literally played riffs from Stevie Wonder.”

When he was 20 years old, Cassius secured a fill-in gig playing keys for The-Dream. The short-term gig became permanent, and he soon became The-Dream’s musical director. “I travelled the whole world for free at a young age,” he said. “The whole world literally -  Japan, Tokyo, Bahamas, all that, at a young age, for free.”

Cassius decided he wanted to become a producer when he saw how much money the veteran Southern producer Don Vito was making. Impressed with Cassius’ keyboard work one day at a show, Vito approached him took him under his wing. Under Don Vito’s instruction, Cassius learned the tools of the trade – the technical side of production, the business side, and how to get the streets jumping. “He said if you don’t see them little ladies dancing to your music, you ain’t making the right kind of music,” Cassius said. “He said that. Now when I make beats, I’m always thinking of the strippers dancing.”

Cassius had a contentious relationship with his father growing up. They had just begun to repair their relationship when his father passed away. Cassius was 22 at the time. Mad at God for taking his father, he started exploring the Qu’ran and other religious texts.

“But then I started praying,” he said. “They said there’s power in the spirit of Jesus. I said ‘Jesus, if you’re real, show me in a positive way you’re real – don’t shoot me – don’t kill me – show me in a positive way that you’re real.’ The day that I said that and started praying, I got my first placement with Justin Bieber. [It was “Fa La La.”] 50,000 dollars – I ain’t ever seen no 50,000 in one year at one time in my life. Next thing you know, the blessings just came. $50,000, homie,” he said, smiling broadly and proudly. “I went from making 500 dollars to getting my first check for $50,000.”

One night when he was 24, Cassius was performing at a concert at his friend’s church. He spotted Zaytoven in the crowd and left his post at the keys at intermission to walk across the church and introduce himself to Zay. He was adamant that Zay take his number, and Zay reluctantly gave him his own number.

“He never answered on the phone, until one time – I’ll never forget – it was a Tuesday night, and I was coming out of Bible study,” Cassius recalled. “He said, ‘Hey man, we at the house working, just come by’. I went over there, they was cleaning up, shooting pool. So I thought we was gonna make beats. We was shooting pool, laughing, and he said, ‘Hey man, play me some of your music.’ He was cleaning up while I was playing my music, so I thought he wasn’t paying it no attention. And he comes back in, and says, ‘Hey man, that’s some big music -  that stuff is hard, we need to do something together.’ And we been working together ever since.”

Like Zaytoven, Cassius still plays keys in church twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays at the Temple of Prayer in Fairburn, GA. He’s organized a gospel trio out of his three daughters, Kiara, 11, Kayla, 9, and Khloe, 6. (He also has a 4-year-son, Joshua Jr.) Some of his earlier beats demonstrate a clear gospel influence. The most notable example is Jeezy’s “Nov. 13 Freestyle,” which he originally produced several years ago – an expansive, triumphant beat the sort that Rick Ross likes to luxuriate. The beat featured live instrumentation from his musician friends, including a thunderous drum solo from a guy who’s currently on tour with Aretha Franklin.

But Cassius has steered away from this style in recent years; under the tutelage of Zaytoven, he has learned to maintain an economical output of beats and give the streets what they want.  “Those the types of beats I made originally,” he says of “Nov. 13 Freestyle,” but the world can’t accept that. You gotta make trap music right now.” 

“808 ain’t nothing but a bass guitar in our time,” Cassius said. “In our time, it’s just a bass guitar. It’s funky. We finna make funky trap music!”

Cassius makes as many as 15 beats a day. For him, it’s a point of pride. It’s the Atlanta way; it’s the way of Zaytoven and Gucci Mane; it’s the way to make a name for yourself in a crowded field, where even prodigious keyboard chops can only get you so far.

“I’m about to drop ten albums,” he told HNHH. “Literally. Ten albums. No more buying jewelry, cars -  we only investing in ourselves. When you invest in yourself, you reap from it. Waiting on someone else to invest in you, it might never happen.  But when you invest in yourself, you reap from it. That’s what we on right now. We gotta show people how to really get it. People be waiting on others to come and give ‘em something. Nah, you gotta take it. Go get it yourself. If someone don’t pass me the ball, I’mma go grab me the ball and shoot my own jump shot.”