A&R Awards Producer of The Year Nominee JAE5

A&R Awards Producer of The Year Nominee JAE5

Ahead of the Music Business Worldwide A&R Awards on 7 November, we’re taking a closer look at the fantastic nominees for Producer of the Year.

In what is our seventh year of association with the awards celebrating the UK's best A&RS, labels, publishers, managers, songwriters and producers, we're proud to again support the Producer of the Year category and the amazing group of nominees including Billen Ted, Catherine Marks, Fred Again.., JAE5, Lostboy, Mark Ralph, Mark Ronson, P2J, PRGRSHN, Steve Mac, Kid Harpoon and TMS.
Next up, British/Ghanaian producer and the king of afroswing JAE5.

What was the most fun you had in the studio this year?

"Working with Lojay. From the first time we linked up in the studio we made amazing music! Since then we’ve created some exciting stuff that I’m eager for everyone to hear.” - JAE5
The summer-heralding sound of afroswing has warmed up the past half decade worth of shoobz in the UK and beyond, via melodic tracks like Dave and Burna Boy’s Location, J Hus’ anthemic, garage-tinged Did You See and NSG and Tion Wayne’s ultra sleek club tune Options. The man behind those tracks is British Ghanaian producer JAE5 – the scene’s genreshifting pioneer.

The east Londoner’s evolutionary blend of rap production, layered minimalism and afro-beat instrumentation has locked off house parties, wound down car windows and gelled several generations worth of rooms together, nabbing mainstream award wins (Best Producer – MOBOs 2020), nominations (Best Contemporary Song – Ivor Novello 2020; plus multiple BRIT and Mercury nods) and platinum records along the way.

With his partner in crime J Hus – who he has a classic producer-artist relationship with in the vein of Dre and Snoop, Timbaland and Missy or The Neptunes and The Clipse – JAE5 helped open the door for heritage-embracing British African artists. Now, with two Hus albums in the bag, he’s about to embark on a solo project featuring a room full of dial switching acts – leading with debut lead artist single Dimensions, feat UK rap heavyweight Skepta and afropop hotshot Rema.

But for all his success, in the beginning the producer born Jonathan Mensah couldn’t catch a break. He’d seemed destined to make music – his uncles produced for Nu Brand Flexx and Ms Dynamite and he hung out with them in the studio as a child – but things initially didn’t click into place. He began producing in his teens by ripping apart his favourite songs and trying to recreate them “but it just wasn’t working man, I was sending beats to people and I wouldn’t hear nothing.”

In those early days, knocking up tracks quickly became a job. He charged £20 an hour and made dubstep, drum’n’bass, grime, rap – anything to pay the bills. Generally, the artists JAE5 worked with didn’t like being instructed and so he turned up and just did whatever needed to happen to keep things moving. “It was really disheartening. I felt like I had an opinion and a good taste in music. I’d be like ‘Yo, I think you should sing’ and they’d be like ‘Nah man, man’s a gangster.’”

Thankfully, things swerved out onto the open road when J Hus – a complete unknown at the time – entered the picture. Initially, JAE5 was longed out by the notion of being treated like an engineer by another artist – “it was ‘spit your bars for the two hours you’re here and leave’ kind of shit.’ That was my mindset.” – but then Hus began asking questions like “‘How do you want me to rap this? How do you want me to sing this? What type of beat do you want me to be on?”

The two became fast-friends. Hus had brought the versatility and openness that JAE5 had long desired from an artist, and JAE5 gave him the guidance he needed to succeed. Not long before working on Hus’ debut mixtape ‘The 15th Day' in 2015, the pair released “Lean & Bop” – a song that “opened doors” by balancing classic hip-hop lyricism with cheeky, rude-boy flavour. The rest, by now, is history.

Hus’ breakthrough 2016 single “Friendly” and its infamous “I like my Fanta with no ice” lyric doubled down on the crunchy, UK feel. The following year, in 2017, Hus dropped his debut album Common Sense. Fusing 00s rap with grime, dancehall and afropop, it defined an era of boundary breaking Black British music and opened the floodgates for a new school of musically diverse artists. With JAE5 taking on an Executive Producer role, the pair were instantly hailed as a critical, commercial success, picking up a BRIT/Mercury Prize nomination for Album of the Year and landing at Number 6 on the UK album chart (a truly landmark moment for a UK rap album back in ‘17).

Before Common Sense, JAE5 had mostly worked under the name J.O.A.T. Short for Jack Of All Trades, the production team was initially made up of JAE5, Randy Valentine (one of Jae’s pals) and JAE5’s uncle (the UK rapper Blemish). The name still exists, but JAE5 decided to step away from the J.O.A.T moniker shortly before work began on Common Sense. Blemish and Randy had long ditched production duty as they pursued a career as a reggae artist/manager duo and with the Hus collabs under his belt, the time had come for JAE5 to take named credit for his work.

With his producer tag front and center on Common Sense, JAE5’s name started to carry immense weight. Collabs with big-name artists began rolling in. Nigerian superstars Burna Boy and Mr Eazi tipped him for collabs. Rudimental and Mark Ronson came calling. Jae also continued his knack for turning homegrown talent into bonafide, chart-beating stars. NSG – whose members include two of JAE5’s little brothers – entered the UK top ten in 2019 with Options. Scan his catalogue and you’ll land on names like Young T & Bugsey and MoStack too.

JAE5 is technically minded – he’s the sort of producer who nerds out over sound frequencies – but his knack for intuitively knowing what to leave in, what to leave out, and how to fuse everything into one intergenerational, cross-genre sound is unparalleled. He makes music that feels real and, as a producer, is an extension of self. “The afro-beat production wasn’t purposeful; those were the rhythms that seemed to come. In my mind that was how percussion sounded because I’d been around so much afro-beat,” he says.

This approach of acting with heart over head is infused into his latest work. Lead single Dimensions – JAE5’s first as a lead artist – takes place in Ghana: a key location for JAE5. “I’m African and proud – it’s always going to come across. It’s where I feel comfortable,” he says. Featuring a pensieve Skepta rapping about “PTSD” and “looking for the beauty”, and Rema’s hook about “living in another dimension”, the characteristically balmy and laidback production is a bedrock for thoughtful reflection.

Having galvanized artists across several continents with his afrobeat tinged sound, there’s plenty of music waiting in the wings and more singles coming. Think – big superstars and homegrown acts, combined in the JAE5 way, with his melodics, his smoothness, his thing. He’s released some of the biggest songs in modern British history. With all the accolades under his belt, it’s now his turn to lead. JAE5 has followed up with ‘Propeller’ featuring Dave and BNXN last year.

Finally JAE5 returns with I Wish - yet another banger just in time for warmer days. Known for consistently collaborating with the hottest talent out there, the Grammy-winning producer has enlisted Nigerian rising star Lojay and Cameroonian-American breakout songstress Libianca for his latest offering. With much more music to come, we can only expect his trajectory to skyrocket from here onwards.

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