Words and Photo by Nneka Nagbo
The early 80s marked the rise of hip-hop culture. When the hip-hop scene exploded, along with the early contemporary urban “street style” scene, it was vibrant and coming of age.
At the height of its eminence, the era was characterized by steady drums and smooth, banging bass lines, soul-funk-and-jazz samples, and lyrically good flow. A culmination of characteristics adopted by Ottawa’s most eccentric hip-hop producer and multi-instrumentalist, Jeepz, whose soulful and fervent golden era-inspired sound continues to elevate the art form.
Born Jean Paul Tyo, Jeepz has been honing his craft from a young age. He dabbled in a variety of artistic platforms, beginning with learning to play the drums and briefly dipping a toe into rap.
But his most notable credit of all is his treasured beat-making archive of tight, rhythmic, and melodious tracks heavily reminiscent of hip-hop’s most esteemed era.
“I think I was in the sixth or sventh grade and I got my first drum kit. The first albums I bought were Jay-Z, Nas, and Mase, and I would play along with it—that’s where I kind of figured out the rhythm of hip-hop,” he said.
Jeepz’s calling card is his ability to spin heavy basslines and syncopated drums into tight hip-hop and rap instrumentals while blending slow and cool tempos for vocal poetry to melt over. Though paying homage to his hip-hop predecessors, his stylized musical mixes nostalgic notes with smooth jazz and soul infusions.
“To me, [hip-hop] is a sound that dates way back that I fell in love with,” he said. “It was the first time that music started moving me. Hip-hop, to me, is a lot of things. It is a creative process and at other times it’s a political statement. It’s origins come from revolt. It’s a means of communication—it is music that speaks to a different group of people.”
Jeepz produces beats out of sheer personal passion and love for the genre that influenced him most. Confident yet humble with his continually rising success, Jeepz has grown to produce beats for artists such as Homeboy Sandman, G.Grand, Hyf Gypsy Sun, Ghettosocks, Shaun Carlo, and Kay Flow, to name but a few, including one of his most notable influences, Blu.
“My most direct influence was Blu and Exile. They came out with this album in 2007 that kind of was a game changer for me and it got me to buy my beat machine. Anything J. Dilla produced, A Tribe [Called Quest], Sum Village, Pharcyde, Jurassic 5—you know, a lot [of the beats] that came out in the 90’s that had a lot of soul and grit to it.”
The producer’s wide-spanning discography contains innumerable references to classic hip-hop styles and sounds. Most notably, his choice of drum beats and sampling—both core elements of hip-hop production since its inception.
“In terms of where I get [my samples], or why I decide on one over another, it’s usually a feel of attraction where I’ll feel that it carries me somewhere,” he said. “I like really lush and thick sounding samples so as soon as I hear something like that, it’s on. I go record digging and I’ll pick up old records and then you listen to it and you wait for something to strike you, and the moment it does, then it’s about feeling out where you want to take it.”
Jeepz layers his samples and weaves them into intricate loops. His beats bang in a seductive way, melting over his listener as they dissolve into sentimental warm waves.
“What I do with samples is a lot of heavy processing whether it’s changing the pitch or reverbing or echoing and just filtering a lot of different elements at the same time. The first [thing to do] is to find the right sample and then you load it up and you chop it into little pieces so you’re kind of replaying the composition,” he said.
To even an untrained ear, the diversity of sounds coming together within his beats is noticeable. He dives deep into a pool of samples and various points of inspiration that span the obscure to the highly relevant.
“I like to make evocative music using evocative sample sources,” he said. “I generally don’t touch too much modern day music, both because it tends to lack this quality and also because it’s more traditional to use material you can find on wax.”
“As much as I don’t want to pigeonhole myself in sounding like the 90s boom bap era, I also want to stay true to hip-hop’s roots in my approach and in the feel it creates. I find that tends to bring out more depth in MCs.”
Throughout his career, Jeepz has amassed a collection of signature beats, debuting his first tape in 2012.
His most recent release, titled Re(Fresh), is a slow, sun-kissed jaunt laced with soul strings and twinkling notes. At 12 tracks stretched across roughly 21 minutes, Re(Fresh) fuses rap acapellas to Jeepz’s own hazy, nostalgic aesthetic.
There is an effervescent, reminiscent quality about Jeepz’s beats that feel almost like time travel. His devotion to the craft of beat-making coupled with his nonchalant ability to package hundreds of stray threads into a whole is not just thrilling, but fated.
Jeepz is a vital vessel for hip-hop in a millennial era. His abiding soundscape gives us pause, prompting us to listen with care to the algorithms and rhythms of his music, rather than simply consuming with deaf ears.
“I may not understand what it’s like to be a black youth in Queens, but I have to respect that that’s where [hip-hop] came from and it was a revolt against the system. So I can’t just be putting out subpar music and shitting on that,” he said. “Thus, as a producer and as a listener, we all have some responsibility to the art of music. Within the scope of hip-hop, one must respect the art, its history, as well as the craft and its all-encompassing, culture-shaping prowess.” •