800 the Jewell (aka Phillip Embry) is a man of many words and even more substance. In addition to his work as a producer, musician and rapper, he is the founder of Jewell Tyme Music, the label that houses such artists as Haven the Great, King FOE, Karma, and others. We sat down with 800 the Jewell to go behind the music and talk about the history of Jewell Tyme and his strength as a producer.
Jewell Tyme began in the late '90s as he built his image and credibility as a producer, working with artists like Rie Rie and Gangsta O. 800 met F.O.E. in 2001, and they decided to work together and expand the roster. Today, Jewell Tyme Music is home to eleven solid musicians, both novice to veteran in the game.
800 has produced for artists like Sista Soul and is working on a collaborative album with Julox called Jewell-Lox. His production style is inspired by The Love Unlimited Orchestra, the band that backed the Barry White, Isaac Hayes, James Mtume, Curtis Mayfield, Ice Cube and others. 800's style and taste in music is even more versatile than it is reverent.
Westword: How has your work as a producer and rapper manifested into the whole Jewell Tyme family?
800 the Jewell: Rap was the thing in the early '90s and I was hugely influenced by the times and the music. My mother bought me a Casio when I was thirteen for Christmas because she knew I was captivated by music. Around that time deejays were the producers of most rap records because it was a combination of samples finely tuned that made the beat. Artists like Public Enemy, EPMD, NWA, The Flavor Unit were killing it and I was taking it all in.
A year later I entered high school and lyrics were the lunch hour past time. We started looping little pieces of songs together and rapping over them using a dictator tape recorder my mom had. Later that year my life changed forever... I heard Ice Cubes "Lethal Injection". This is where the Casio kicks in. I use to come home after school and spend hours trying to figure out the synthesizer part of "Ghetto Bird" and "You Know How We Do It".
At the time, it was only F.O.E. and I doing shows and attracting some curious attention due to the fact that we were from 2 different sides of the Boulevard (Colorado Blvd.), but we both decided that this needed to be done.
In 2005, I had the opportunity to release an international project with a Sony subsidiary called Sonic Wave International for my album, Only N'Colorado. One of my songs from that album ("Who Said the Funk Would Die" Feat. Street) was referred to The Grammy Foundation and the next thing I knew it was being considered for a Grammy nomination (Best Alternative/Urban Performance 06'). I remember it like it was yesterday... We were both shocked and decided from that moment on that we could become a driving force in Colorado urban music.
You often say that you are a fan of music so your production style will usually take from diverse influences. What are your most immediately inspired by?
A lot of people probably are not going to like my answer, but I am not into the music of today. However, I do respect the industry and the artists. Being a musician, my musical hunger is always tamed by chord progression, melodies, and harmonious riffs. I have something called a "self trained ear" meaning that my ear has become used to what I am into. Now, what makes 800 The Jewell tap his toe? I like Funk!!! Plain and simple.
How does it work together to not only be a producer and a rapper, but the head of an entire crew of folks who do those same things?
Funny you ask that. As of last year around this time, I was ready to put 800 the Jewell on the shelf for good. I was beginning to feel like my time had come and gone but, then I had an epiphany. I decided to record one last project and give it away for free. This is where my most recent album, Life At 31, comes into play. I was not happy with my second album, 8thooven, because it was recorded while I was facing a few trials and tribulations in my own life.
After recording Life at 31 in the summer of 2010 I realized I was still relevant when the first month resulted in 10,000 downloads. Even though it was a free project, it was evident that 800 the Jewell still had a fan base.
As far as being the head of the J.T.M. crew, I would share that credit equally with my brotha's and sista's affiliated with Jewell Tyme. Every artist(s) knows what he/she wants their record to sound like and usually can already hear it mentally. My job is to take those thoughts and make them reality. We, J.T.M. all work collectively on every project or record. Once a project has been completed, we all review it and give our inside feedback until we all agree a project is worth releasing.
You call your ability to balance being a hard worker, a good father, and strong provider the "Superman effect." That takes a lot of balancing. What is it about music that keeps you so devoted?
It is my passion for excellence and my love of music that keeps me devoted. When it comes to being a relevant musician and a father I would say it is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I am the type of parent that enjoys spending time with my children and I find it difficult to do that sometimes due to constant demand. There are times in which I have to tell myself, "I am not going to touch the keyboard today." It is so easy to get caught up in the studio, especially when you are really into a project. Seconds can become hours in no time and by the time one finishes a session, everybody else in the household has had a normal day and are in bed asleep. Some people take walks, while others read books. Music is my release.
Having worked with tons of artists in the hip-hop scene, how has the scene's aspirations developed as the music climate changes?
Once again, I gotta' give credit where credit is due. There is definitely a new wave of young creative talent along with a new generation of producers here in the town. I was just talking to one of my promoters the other day about a new beginning.
If you ask me, it is almost similar to pushing reset on the Playstation. Like a gaming system, when you press reset, you are still playing the same game on the same console but, your effort is going to change once you start from the beginning. Only a third of the artists remain active from my teenage years. Everybody else is brand new. Most of them were children when I first began rocking the stage.
You're working on a collaboration album with Julox, titled Jewell-Lox. I heard that track "Bloated" and was blown away by your flow. How was it working with Julox and how did both of your talents rub off on each other during the process?
Working with Julox was a breath of fresh air for me. I had always been a fan of his since I first encountered him eons ago when we both happened to be doing a show. Julox has always been known for his deep voice and his ability to deliver a story from beginning to end when he spits. He is truly blessed within his talent and will not lose you (like most artists do) on a record. Similar to what F.O.E. and I had agreed on many years ago, Julox and I thought it would be an excellent Idea to bring the "A" (Aurora) and the "E" (Eastside) together for a record. If you have lived within the Denver Metro area for most of your life, then you probably know how territorial things have become throughout the years. Our main goal is to break down some of those old negative ways. No, we don't expect every single person in every neighborhood to be at peace, but change has to start somewhere so, why not within the music?
The Jewell-Lox album was almost meant to be. Nobody would ever believe that we recorded the entire album in less than a week. We sat down on a Monday and by the following Monday, we were done. The music, the lyrics, the concept, all came from scratch.
What are the keys to longevity and success in the music game? It seems like everybody is making music but few are truly making moves.
First, you have to be able to reinvent yourself constantly to keep up with the times. Second, you cannot be afraid to work with other artist. Every artist has a fan base and for some reason, most are content with that same fan base that they have had for years, not realizing that if they were to open up the circle in which they dwell, they would more than likely turn other fans on to their music as well. You must make a decision and decide if music is something you really want to pursue. I respect anyone who can stand in front of a large audience and perform. It is not easy but, in the same breath, not everyone is built for this. Some people have a gift for telling stories and keeping a listening audience's attention, while other just rap words that rhyme together and will lose that same audience due to the lack of substance in their rhymes. Keep in mind as well, this profession is very time consuming and will require you to sacrifice a part of yourself.
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January was a big month for Jewell Tyme. What are the latest happenings?
This January holds a new year for JTM with the release of the BLKHRTS record, Karma's full length studio album, and the release of the Jewell-Lox project. We are hard at work as we speak recording new material as well. F.O.E. has said that he is going to accomplish 12 albums before the year is out, J Money's mixtape is dropping in February, and Myrical Child is about half way done with his album, so we should be seeing him toward the approach to summer.
I am also working on two projects currently. One is a new-age jazz EP, which will feature seven songs and is based more on an eargasmic feel for the true music consumer , and the other will be a full length 800 The Jewell album called, UNORTHODOXED.