Read our exclusive interview with Jacquees, Birdman's newest protege.
When Jacquees signed to Cash Money Records in October 2014, many onlookers worried that Cash Money CEO Birdman would exploit Jacquees' vocal talents and strip him of everything that made him a budding star -- his carefree demeanor, bright smile, and modelesque good looks.
A year and half later, Jacquees is still in his honeymoon phase with Cash Money. He showed off the Rich Gang handshake in his music video for "Like Baby," his ode to Birdman, and he's been logging long hours in the studio with Birdman plotting the joint mixtape he's been tentatively slated for a late 2016 release.
A few weeks before the release of his mixtape Mood, Jacquees swung by HNHH HQ, his last stop in NYC before heading to the airport to catch a flight to Arkansas. The 21-year-old radiated an uncommon youthful charisma as he detailed his childhood years, his relationship with Birdman, and much more.
Your music has elements of ‘90s R&B. People like Tyrese, Ginuwine, Tank. Did you listen to any of those artists growing up?
Oh, definitely. All those guys. But I remember the first song I knew how to sing was “Pony.” That was like the first record I knew. Ginuwine. [Starts singing “Pony”]
What else were you listening to? What else inspired you to get into singing?
I was listening to R. Kelly. What inspired me to sing was definitely Michael Jackson and The Temptations. I could say those are like the first artists that made me want to copy them. I tried to sing one day at my cousin’s house. I bust out and did it. He told me it was good, and I went back to the house and did it again. My momma told it sounded good. I got in a talent show and I won. So that kind of inspired me to do it. The Temptations, Michael Jackson – of course other artists like R. Kelly, Ginuwine, Jagged Edge.
You collaborated with Jagged Edge. What was it like working with some of your heroes?
Man working with Jagged Edge -- it was legendary. You know, Brian and Brandon [Casey], those are the twins. Those are the ones who do a lot of the writing. I was in the studio with them for quite some time. We had a lot of fun. It felt like I was working with legends, you know? They’re like my big bros, so they schooled me on how to hit notes better, how to sing better, how to harmonize better. It was a great experience.
Do you practice singing a lot? Like do you have a warm-up routine and exercises to improve your vocal chops?
Well to get my voice started, to warm up, I probably just sing a song I like, like real low. I got a song – its like a Boyz II Men song when I’m trying to get my false right. It’s “[On] Bended Knee.” I always try to sing that real low just to get my vocals real warm like real quick.
Was that talent show your first time performing ever?
Yeah. My first talent show experience was crazy. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was epic. I remember I had the Michael Jackson boots – you know, like when he used to dress with the vest when he was in The Jackson 5 with the afro? The vest, the bell-bottoms. Man, I had everything on. I remember I sung “I Want You Back” It was the first time the school had did the talent show. I was new to the school. I was the new boy.
How old were you?
I was nine. This was in the 4th grade. I came over there in Decatur. I remember getting up there and just singing and dancing. You know, I was moving. I was up there doing the little kick. Yeah, I remember being up there kicking and moving and everything. I remember when they were calling the winners – ‘cause there was another girl and she could sing real good too. I was just hoping like, “Man, I wanna win.” And I won. And after that, the rest is history. That’s when I started winning every year.
It seems you’re like 9 for 10 on talent shows.
Yeah, I won 4th. I ain’t do a 5th. I won 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th. After 9th grade, I quit.
I had to give somebody else a chance.
How did you connect with Birdman? What was your first impression of him?
First time with me and Birdman – it was epic. It was in Atlanta too. I remember Stunna [Birdman] was out there working with Thug and Quan and I was looking for an opportunity. I remember I called Corey – Corey is one of my managers now. He was with Birdman at the time. [Corey] is Rich Homie Quan’s dad. And I remember getting on Stunna’s tour bus. He wasn’t right there, he was in the back. I remember I sat down and waited for him to come [out]. Once he finally came out, he ain’t dap me up first. He dapped Corey up first, you know what I’m saying? And then he turned to me, he looked at me. He was like [rubs hands together], you know what I’m saying? He was like, “Is this who you’re talking about?” He dapped me up then he sat down next to me. He just stared at me. For like a minute straight, didn’t say nothing. Didn’t say, just staring at me. And he starts shaking his head. He looked at Corey and then he looked back at me. He’s like, “We gon’ do it.” He was like, “You’re a superstar.” And he got up, you know what I’m saying?
Wait, he was rubbing his hands for real?
Yeah, real talk. [laughs].
About a couple days later, I had a deal. But it was crazy meeting Stunna, like seeing him in person. You know, Stunna was one of my idols growing up. I wanted to be just like Birdman when I was little. He’s like one of the idols. I wanted all the ice, the cars, the houses, you know what I mean? I actually wanted to be a rapper when I was little. So seeing Stunna, meeting Baby in real life, was one of the moments of my life I’ll never forget.
What’s the most outlandish shit you’ve seen him do?
I’ve seen him carry like a million cash in his bag. So I’ve seen him pull out a mill with no problems.
I mean, I’ve seen you carrying a lot of cash too.
Yeah, you know that’s pocket change [laughs].
Birdman isn’t exactly universally loved. How would you characterize your relationship with him?
Well me and Stunna’s relationship – you know, I’m like he’s nephew. Stunna is like an uncle to me, you know? That’s my dawg, that’s my big dawg. That’s my nigga, you know what I’m saying? That’s my dawg. Man, he just gives me a lot of game on the game. Me and Stunna real close, like we always together. I’m always with him. Whenever I ain’t working, I’m with Stunna.
How long have you been growing the hair out?
I’ve been growing my hair for 10 years. It’ll be 11 in April. I’ve been growing it since ’05. I ain’t never cutting it.
Don’t cut it man. Hair is power.
Yeah, yeah. Hair is power. It done got so long that why I like to wear it braided.
Justin the Photographer chimes in: Yo, on everything, I’ve been getting way more bitches since I grew my hair out long.
Way more. That’s what I’m saying.
Justin: On everything. Its power.
Long hair don’t care man, you know.
Justin: It’s like Samson bro.
Justin: It really works. All the dudes hate on it, but I’m getting more girls, I swear.
Yeah man, fuck what the dudes say (laughs).
[Interview resumes] So I watched one interview where you were like, “Alright, my 21st birthday is coming up. Let me see if I can swing Kim and Nicki.”
Oh yeah [smiles].
So, did you swing it? What did you do for your 21st birthday?
I was in New York. Matter of fact, I was in Atlanta to bring it in on the 14th coming into the 15th. Thugger threw me a party for my 21st. He threw my 21st in Atlanta. And then I remember we came to New York. Slim and the whole Cash Money family - they threw me a big ole dinner. It was crazy. I remember walking in the restaurant. I’m telling everybody like, “Bruh, It’s my 21st birthday. I’m 21!” I ain’t know they knew. I’m like, “Man, I’m 21 today. I’m 21!” They like, “Man, look at the menu.” It was like, “21st birthday celebration for Jacquees.” I was like, “Oh shit!”
I know Shaq gave you props. What other sort of unexpected people like that have shown love?
Yeah, Shaq. You know, that’s my homie. Shaq’s been showing me love since I was like 14-15, when I was young. But I just met Jarrett Jack the other night at the club. Yeah, Jarrett Jack! I ain’t even know he knew me. He was like, “Jacquees? What’s up boy? Put your number in my phone. Let’s link up.” He was like, “Whenever you’re in the city, you and whoever you with, come to some games.” And then he was like, “Let me introduce you to Tank.” He pulled Tank over there. He was like, “This my young boy Jacquees. He’s only 21. He’s killing that R&B shit though.” And Tank already knew who I was. So you know, that was crazy. Who else showed me a lot of love? My boy Lou. Lou Williams. Lou Williams – that’s my dawg. That’s my homie. What other players? I think those are the only athletes.
Not just athletes, just anyone you look up to.
Oh man. Everybody. Chris Brown showed me a lot of love early on in the game. Probably when I was like 18-19, Chris was somebody I really looked up to in the game and he put his arm around me, you know what I’m saying? He let me know that I’m next. He let the people know that I’m next. We did a lot of work together. That was like one of the dopest experiences I had ‘cause Chris was one of my idols growing up. So I’m getting to work with him. [I’m] getting to work with Stunna, getting to work with Thug, Quan, getting to work with all these people, you know what I’m saying? Like I just got a text the other day, one of my people’s like, “Bow Wow wanted a hook.” That was dope for me, ‘cause I grew up on Bow Wow.
“Like Baby” has been getting some radio play. Are you saving that for the album?
“Like Baby” [will be on] Lost at Sea, a project that’s going to come before my album. [It]s actually my current project with me and Birdman.
How is that going to compare to ‘Mood’ and your previous projects?
Lost at Sea is different from all my other projects because this is the first I’ll be doing a whole project with another artist. And I’m really versatile on this project. So you know like records like “Like Baby” where I’m swangin’ – You know, I call my rapping ‘swangin’’ cause its not real rap. It’s swangin’, its melodic. So I’m doing a lot of swangin’ on the project. A lot of R&B records too. The music’s just dope. It’s a new wave for Rich Gang.
What’s your chemistry like with Birdman in the studio?
Oh, it’s easy to work with Stunna. Because I grew up on Cash Money. It’s easy, it’s just a vibe. Like, Stunna likes to vibe in the studio. Stunna will be in the studio everyday. This is what they don’t know about Stunna – He’s in the studio everyday. He’s probably in the studio right now. He’s got a studio in his house that he live at. Now he ain’t gotta drive to the studio.
When you’re that rich, you might as well.
Yeah, Stunna got one of the dopest studios at the crib. So we always working. He likes to work. I the studio, Stunna’s like a young nigga.
What is he now, like 40-something?
I don’t even know. He’s like immortal, you feel me? [laughs]
Did you record “Like Baby” in his home studio?
I recorded that record in Miami at the Hit Factory Studio. We had just got done recording like three songs for my album and I had a couple beats from Cassius Jay. That’s one of Zaytoven’s producers. I had a couple beats from him and everyone had went to sleep in the studio. You know, they were tired. I was still up. My engineer in there, I was telling him like, “I got some rap beats.” And I pulled them up and I was like, “Man, I’m finna go in on this beat. I need an anthem. I need a Cash Money anthem. I need a song that’s going to let everybody know where I’m landing my flag at.”
I didn’t even think about the hook until I got to the hook. When I was doing the verses, I was doing them line by line. In the song you can hear I’m talking about my grind like how I came up and where I am now. So once it got to the hook, I was flexing so hard I was like, “Damn, this feel like a flex song so I might as well let them know I’m a Cash Money nigga like Wayne now.” Cash Money like Baby. I was just letting people know like where I was and where I am now. This is where I’m landing the flag. I’m just letting them like that’s my anthem. It was a point in time where everybody wanted to live like Baby. Everybody wanted to have all the cars, the rings. They wanted all the chains. They wanted to be Cash Money and now I am Cash Money. That was a dream for me, you know what I’m saying? I’m just letting people know what it is.