Jake One and Mayer Hawthorne have been kicking around a philosophical question of late: When does a side project become your main gig?
The longtime friends just released their third album as boogie-funk outfit Tuxedo and are on a national tour. That sounds suspiciously like a main gig. But each has a thriving solo career as well.
Seattle’s Jake One, 43, is a longtime hip-hop producer with an enviable list of collaborators. He most recently produced Rick Ross’ new single “Turnpike Ike” from the chart-topping “Port of Miami 2.” The Los Angeles-based Hawthorne, 40, released new single “The Game” in June, and promises a lot of new music later this year.
“I think for us, if we call it the main project, it won’t be fun anymore,” Jake One said. “While we’re doing it, it’s the main project obviously, but we really enjoy doing other things as well and not being attached to one thing. So we’ll put out an album, go really hard at it for six months and do some shows, and then we’ll take a break.”
“Even after album No. 2,” Hawthorne said, “I think a lot of the fans were thinking like, is this going to last? And now that we’ve dropped album No. 3, there’s no question. The funk is here to stay!”
“Tuxedo III” shows the band evolving. It includes featured artists for the first time with Leven Kali, Benny Sings, Gavin Turek, BattleCat and enigmatic rapper MF Doom making appearances. Tuxedo released a video this week for lead single “The Tuxedo Way,” and will be in Seattle Aug. 17 at the Showbox.
Here are excerpts from our recent conversation:
How did you guys meet?
Jake One: We actually met through DJ’ing. We met in 2009, no 2008, I think. In Seattle. Kind of on some rap guy’s stuff. There was no Mayer Hawthorne at this point. He wasn’t singing. We actually came together through our love of obscure early ’80s boogie funk. Fast forward a couple of years, he put out his first song, and I was just shocked he could sing. I sent him a couple of tracks I had ironically been working on, and he sent me some songs back. That was kind of the beginning.
Hawthorne: I wanted to be a rap DJ. I was a hip-hop DJ and producer. I was making rap beats, too.
Isn’t that really what we all want to do?
Hawthorne: I think everybody goes through a phase where they want to do that. If you’re like me, you realize you’re better at something else and if you’re like Jake One, you realize you’re the best at it.
Where does this love for boogie funk come from?
Jake One: It’s kind of like the first music I remember hearing in Seattle. The Gap Band, Cameo, stuff like that. Going forward, when the G-Funk stuff came out, we were really both huge fans of that. Snoop, and whatever Warren G was doing and stuff like that. And they were always sampling those records, so it just got me more into it.
Hawthorne: There was also a period there in the mid- to late ’90s where nobody wanted those records and they were in the dollar bin. And as a struggling hip-hop DJ, those were the records I could afford. I would dig in the dollar bin and be like, ‘Yo, this is really dope.’ It’s something different that nobody else was checking for. I just really liked the bass lines.
What do your friends and fellow musicians think of Tuxedo?
Jake One: One thing that made me feel like we had something is when we did a couple of the early songs, and when I would play it for my peers, hip-hop producers, artists and my friends, they wanted copies of it. Immediately. Like everybody wanted it. It doesn’t always happen that way. … It’s been a crazy transition for me to go on stage and play keyboards and dance around. That was not something I thought I would ever do. And coming to it this late in life is interesting. It’s been a fun challenge to me.
Is there going to be a “Tuxedo IV” or do you feel like this is winding down?
Hawthorne: If the people want “Tuxedo IV,” we will give them “Tuxedo IV.”
Jake One: And as far as the first two weeks on the road, it’s feeling like they want “Tuxedo IV.” We’re definitely enjoying all this. We don’t take it for granted either. That people care is definitely a cool thing.
Hawthorne: It really feels like the reaction to “Tuxedo III” is bigger than the first two records right now, so that is definitely encouraging. I feel like we’re on the right track for sure.
That’s what you want, right? A steady increase in attention?
Jake One: In music it’s really tricky. Because once you think you have (expletive) figured out, it’s over and you don’t. We kind of did these things really to please ourselves. That’s kind of the only thing that’s worked for us. If we try to make a song that we think is going to be a big licensing song or a commercial song, we’re just not really good at that. It’s just not really our thing.
Hawthorne: We just have to make something that we want to ride around and listen to in our cars and that seems to be what works, what everybody else reacts to.
Tuxedo, 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17; The Showbox, 1426 First Ave., Seattle; $22.50 ($25 day of show); 888-929-7849, showboxpresents.com
This story has been updated with the video for “The Tuxedo Way.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct month of the release of Mayer Hawthorne’s “The Game.”