After years of elevating his skills as both an emcee and music producer, Jeremy Rist, half JREM/half Funkleberry, released his first official project, Waiting For The Show, as a Digital 45″ on August 25th. Rist is a Durham-native and Brandeis alum who became more serious about music after a number of unfortunate knees injuries in high school and college derailed his soccer career. Well-versed in the Hip-Hop art form, he continues to build his craft as he explores the world and its artistic significance.
Funkleberry is currently traveling in Iceland living out his soccer career vicariously through with his girlfriend Natasha, but we caught up with him to get the scoop on his career growth, Waiting For The Show, Durty Durham, and more:
BR: Waiting For The Show is somewhat of a concept EP. Tell the fans about the idea behind the record.
JREM: “Waiting For The Show” is riffing off of “Waiting For Godot,” the famous play by Samuel Beckett. My friend and talented saxophonist, Joey Page, introduced me to the play when we were talking about ideas for the project and I thought it sounded really cool. Beckett’s play perfectly describes the situation that I’m in as well as plenty of other college graduates who aren’t on a specific career path. I feel like we’re all waiting for something, whether it’s inspiration, a job offer, an idea, or a connection, it’s something… and there’s no guarantee when it will come or if it will ever come. I changed “Godot” to “The Show” because I was trying to connect it to music and bring the play into the present day. I feel like it also has a literal connection to that excited feeling that you get before you go to a show so, I think that’s kind of cool as well.
For “The 18th” I dipped into my research and interest in the Nation of Gods and Earths, or 5 Percenters. I saw the GZA give a lecture in Harvard back in college and also saw him perform last year at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh. I started to look more into their philosophy after the lecture. It’s a really interesting way of looking at the world and I think it makes for really great Hip-Hop. The more I looked into it, the more I realized that literally all of my favorite emcees subscribe to this philosophy or did at some point in their lives. The way that they look at numbers and the significance of numbers is what I focused on for “The 18th.”
JREM: As far as the process goes I started this project with the goal of eventually making an EP or an album and I wanted it to mostly reflect my work alone, meaning me rapping and me producing. I wanted to showcase my skills and how I’ve developed them over the years. It was also important for me to be able to sell my final product since everything I’ve done prior to this has been released for free. For me, that meant no sampling. This was a tough hurdle at first because sampling was how I got started making music. I love sampling and I have always been attracted to the art form but over recent years I’ve realized that there is no light at the end of the tunnel for someone like me that enjoys sampling but cannot pay for the rights to use the songs I’m sampling. We’re talking like tens of thousands of dollars just to clear a single sample. So I kind of had to go back to the drawing board on that. Fortunately, a good friend of mine and a super talented musician, Paul Gulley, lived right down the street from me and we were able to spend a lot of time together messing around and recording stuff. Initially we recorded about 8 different beats with the hopes of making a whole album or an EP. Then Joey Page, a supremely talented saxophonist, lent some of his magic to the tracks and they really started to take shape. Also Paul’s cousin, Pierce Gulley, came in at one point and played some really filthy guitar that you can hear on “The 18th.”
At this point I had a lot of tracks that needed vocals so I switched over in my head from Funkleberry to JREM. I consider the name Funkleberry to represent the production side of my brain and JREM is the emcee side. I started to conceptualize what the project was going to be about, Joey Page was a huge help with that as I mentioned earlier, and I began writing. When I had recorded some initial vocals on the tracks, I started to look for a feature that would lend my song, “Waiting For The Show,” more credibility with blogs. Since I am not an established artist at this point I felt I needed some way to get attention. I had met Median through Pierce Freelon at the Durty Durham studio one night and so I reached out to him. To all of those unfamiliar with Median please, get familiar! He’s a member of the Justus League and has been featured on numerous songs with Phonte, my favorite local musician who is a well-respected emcee and singer internationally. The song “All That You Are,” on Foreign Exchange’s first album Connected is one of my favorite songs to this day so getting a chance to work with Median was really a dream come true. I thought his verse on “Waiting For The Show” was sublime, “On the way I took the scenic route to everything/ So the saying says it’s in the journey anyway.”
I was also able to get Jon LeSueur, JLa of LiLa, to lay down a hook on “The 18th” and the songs were pretty much finished. Local sorcerer and a man that I affectionately refer to as “the best producer in North Carolina,” Patrick Phelps-McKeown, aka Treee City, helped me mix the tracks down and give them a fuller and more vibrant sound. Ultimately I decided to only release “Waiting For The Show” and “The 18th” because I had put a lot more work into these two than any of the other songs on the project. I even played the trumpet for “The 18th!” Joey helped a lot in that process as well and created a cool harmony between the trumpet and saxophone.
BR: Why are you only releasing two songs?
JREM: At first I thought that a two-song release was a really awkward number until I remembered that when I was sampling records I used to buy 45s all the time. (Because they were cheap.) 45s are always simply a side A and a side B: two songs. While I don’t have the financial resources to print actual 45s, which would be amazingly cool, I did feel like it could be appropriate to release just two songs online and call it something like a “digital 45” and so that’s what I’m doing.
BR: What sparked your initial interest in Hip-Hop?
JREM: My initial interest in Hip-Hop…shit I’d have to say to that it was Space Jam. That was the first moment when I was like WHOA. “The Monstar Anthem” was incredible, B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Method Man, LL Cool J all rapping about basketball. It was playful, gangster, hilarious, and catchy. I was smitten. After that I feel like I developed an appreciation for Hip-Hop and listened to whatever came across my path, Lauryn Hill and Public Enemy to name a few. Later on some of the older guys in my neighborhood put me on to a couple mixes of Hip-Hop they had made and that had some incredible stuff on there, that was my introduction to “underground” Hip-Hop. Eminem’s “Infinite” and People Under the Stairs’ “Acid Raindrops” to name a few. It opened me up to the nuances in the genre and the many different styles that you could come at Hip-Hop with.
(One of JREM’s first recordings on LiLa’s second album, II)
BR: How would you say you have grown as an artist since you first began recording tracks? Is there an artist that you feel like represents your style well?
JREM: I like to think that I’ve developed all facets of my game since I first started recording tracks. I think I’m more comfortable now on the microphone and hopefully the complexity and comprehensiveness of my lyrics have developed as well. I’m not sure who I would compare myself to specifically because I spend most of my time just concentrating on how to make whatever I’m working on sound acceptable to me, I’ll let other people make comparisons. For me, a majority of my Hip-Hop comes from that J Dilla family tree of music, The Roots, Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), Talib Kweli, Common, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, The Fugees, Outkast, Goodie Mob and others. In a perfect world I would like to be compared to them. In a perfect world…
BR: Which role is more frustrating to handle, emcee or producer?
JREM: Man, I would definitely say that emceeing is the most frustrating. It’s really difficult to deliver the right message and do it cleverly, charismatically, and conscisely. Sometimes I can get too boxed in by rhyme patterns or specific rhymes that it limits my vocabulary and that can get really frustrating. When that happens I generally just scrap what I’m working on and start over. For these two songs specifically I spent a long time studying rhyme patterns because I was unhappy with how my lyrics flowed together. I literally mapped out on sheets of paper where some of my favorite emcees were dropping their rhymes within bars and tried to get more comfortable with those patterns. That was extremely tedious but I feel like it paid off in the end.
BR: You lived in a house that has seen a number of respected Durham musicians make base there, including members of LiLa, HNMTF, and Big Hell. How is the creative process enhanced by constantly being around other artists?
JREM: Those guys are all older and more established than myself so it’s really cool to soak in what they have to say or just watch the way they work. Some of my best memories of that house will be coming home from work with a big-ass thing of hibachi chicken and sitting down in the back room and listening to Tommy (Rau) practice with his awesome band led by J Kutchma. That doesn’t happen in most houses but it did at that house! Also hearing LiLa practice or the C4 Complete try and figure out what they were doing was super cool too. Shirlette right before she went on tour overseas. So much cool music coming out of that house. Hopefully I’ll continue that tradition.
BR: You have done extensive work with DURTY DURHAM and its crew members. What does DURTY mean to the arts community in Durham?
JREM: Durty is the best. After graduating from Brandeis, I moved back home to Durham and I had stopped playing sports because of repeated knee injuries. My focus was on art and music. I wanted to make music with people in Durham and network with other people who were in a similar situation as myself and Durty was perfect. I used to record and perform every now and then with LiLa when I was in Durham but, it became pretty clear early on that that ship had sailed. I had to go out and meet some new people. I met a bunch of amazing artists through their studio space. That little room right next to the bull statue gave me some of the best memories being back in Durham. It allowed a great spot for myself and some of the other guys to meet up and work on music until the oddest hours of the night.
(The standout track from the Possecut sessions at the DURTY DURHAM Studio)
The deal at the studio is that you can’t be loud until after about 8pm, which was great for us because we would just come in late at like 10 and stay up all night doing whatever we wanted to. Unfortunately, it ended up being a chill-spot a little too much and stifled progress a little but at the same time it was still a great spot because it allowed for that to be a possibility. The studio was a super fun place to meet other artists of all shapes and sizes and network and plan things like the Illegal Dance Parties, Jamnesia, art showcases, fundraisers, etc. Durty is really a magical place. For all those interested there are open meetings at the studio space, 305 East Chapel Hill St. every Wednesday at 10pm. I think it means a lot to the arts community in Durham because it’s not a part of the established arts community. Since there’s no major funding behind it, it allows for a lot more freedom. I think Durty represents the young, underground scene in Durham well. Really great people there.
BR: You spent some time in Vietnam in college, and now you are in Iceland. How do their respective music scenes differ from the US?
JREM: I can’t speak too much on Iceland’s scene at the moment because I’m too new here. It’s a really beautiful and ominous place though, I’m sure there are some noteworthy musicians around and I hope to meet some soon. I did research on their Hip-Hop scene the other day found one epic album from a group called Subterranean released in 1997 titled Central Magnetizm. Vietnam was crazy though, seeing Communism first hand really gave me an appreciation for just how much shit we have here in the states! I mean, being able to walk around freely in Harris Teeter at 3 in the morning and have your selection of over 100 different types of chips is mind-blowing compared to the Vietnamese condition. For the most part day-to-day life I don’t think was wildly affected by Communism, people were still allowed to work and try to make money for the most part and it didn’t seem to stifle too much of that. There were obvious things NOT to do like run down the street carrying a “fuck the government” sign but nobody does that in the states anyway. The area that I really saw it affect music though was that you had very little to choose from as far as options go. There were like 3 main singers and that’s who you had to choose from. Just like there were 3 types of cigarettes. 3 different clothes stores. Things like that. They don’t have the options that we have in the States. In a way that gives me hope for my own music because placing it into the context of America and how we fit into the world I would say that Americans love having tons of options to choose from. If you don’t like the Barbeque flavored Lays chips you can try the Mesquite Barbeque flavor and maybe that’s more your speed. Or you can try to the Barbeque flavor from a different brand and maybe that’s the one. It makes me feel like as long as the quality of what I produce is high enough, then my songs will be acknowledged because I’m just another flavor of Hip-Hop. Nowadays we have Hip-Hop everywhere, from a blonde Australian woman to an oversized prison guard posing as a cocaine king-pin…we got the full fucking spectrum, and people can choose whatever they want. Hopefully some people end up choosing JREM!
BR: J Dilla is a big influence on your style. He recently just had his instruments placed in the Smithsonian. What does his career mean to you?
JREM: Dilla means everything. The first Hip-Hop group that I ever got super obsessed with was The Roots, I thought they were incredible and they thought J Dilla was incredible. Naturally, I had to figure out what made them think this man was so special. When I started to listen to Dilla, it was obvious to me. His music was transformative, it totally blew me away. I want to donate half of the profits that I make on this project to his foundation. The J Dilla Foundation helps fund inner-city music programs and it seems like a nice gesture for me to make. I feel like Dilla gave so much to the world with his music and it would be nice for me to try to continue in his giving spirit.
Waiting For The Show is available for download on the Funkleberry Bandcamp page.