Studio Sessions | Jeff Jackson talks helping Common, Kanye West, and The Internet finish their albums
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the accomplished engineer discusses flying to the Dominican Republic to work on Brent Faiyaz’s ‘Sonder Son,’ helping Kanye West update ‘The Life of Pablo,’ and seeing Babyface make great music like it’s second nature.
When Jeff Jackson comes in the studio, it usually means the engineer is ready to help take your record to its final level. The meticulous sound architect has worked with some of the biggest artists in the game.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the accomplished engineer discusses flying to the Dominican Republic to work on Brent Faiyaz’s Sonder Son, helping Kanye West update The Life of Pablo, and seeing Babyface make great music like it’s second nature. Read below.
Who was the first artist of note you collaborated with in the studio?
I’ve worked with a bunch of artists who are in the area of becoming that. As an assistant, I’ve brushed shoulders with artists like Common. I met him at the studio. He was chill and mellowed out. He was just being a human, and I think that’s what the studio does. We know these artists, but the studio has to be a safe space for them to be who they are to create. They just want to be humans and make records… It was a dope project we worked on.
What was he there for?
At that stage, we were mixing, so he was listening back to the records. It was cool because I’m from Chicago and I was able to share that moment. Whenever I’m having a bad time, I bump Finding Forever and Be. They recenter me.
When did you first start working with Brent Faiyaz?
We started working around 2015/2016. I connected with him through a producer by the name of Paperboy Fabe. I was working with him as his engineer for a bit of time.
You worked on the making of his Sonder Son album. How did you all work together to achieve a certain sound for that project?
We were all feeding off each other. It was all organic. We packed up, hopped on a flight, and went to the Dominican Republic for three weeks cooking up from scratch. Producers were laying down drums and building upon that while Brent is writing. I remember the first recording night we had there went until 6 a.m. That was cool setting up and not knowing what to expect.
How was your time working with The Internet on their Hive Mind album?
That was cool. Syd is a great person in the studio. You have some artists who aren’t engineer-friendly because it’s trying a new barber out. It was really dope to lock in with them. It was easy. Syd engineers, so she’s already nice with ProTools and all of that. We were just making sure everything was straight. I was hanging out with the group and everything.
What is their creative chemistry together in the studio?
Everyone played other instruments in the studio. It was very collaborative. If someone heard something they liked, they added to it, no matter what instrument it was. I was in there for a week with them.
Jimmy Douglass is not only a legendary engineer for artists like Missy Elliott and Ginuwine, but also someone we’ve talked to on “Studio Sessions.” What was your time together like?
I did a Mix With The Master series with Jimmy. That’s a company that brings out these mix legends and you can spend a week with them in the south of France. You wake up, y’all go to the studio and you’re able to pick this person’s brain. I was a fly on the wall. He actually used my speakers for that episode. He was a great dude.
One of the more intriguing projects you worked on was remixing songs for the sleep app Calm. How was that process different than what you normally do?
Universal was doing a partnership with Calm. The idea was to take Post Malone’s “Circles,” Jhene Aiko’s “While We’re Young,” and other songs and slow them down so people can wind down to go to sleep or meditate. It was cool to do that. My job usually is to turn you up with a song and make you feel emotions. With the Calm stuff, that was the opposite of what I usually do with a song. For Calm, I’d start at the loudest part, and over a span of an hour, it gradually fades out and becomes more filtered like background noise.
You had an interesting involvement in Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo with Mike Dean.
I never spent any time with Mike Dean in the studio working on The Life of Pablo. I had a FaceTime with him to fix something in a song because it was already released to streaming services. I had to do a last-minute save. I worked on that project as an assistant engineer. I was studying under, and assisting, the guy who mixed it, Manny [Marroquin].
What’s a special session you’ve been part of?
It was cool being in a session with Babyface. It was amazing witnessing how a song gets made from a legend. It was a collaborative process. To see the artists, songwriters, producers, and engineers drop that ego was great to see. There were no egos in the room. You can tell he perfected his creative process until it was second nature.
What do you have coming up in the future?
I moved my studio to a new location and I’m pretty excited about that. I’m excited to have new artists come through, meet new people, and work on new projects. I’ve been working with this cat Hush Forte, he’s hard. Reggie Becton, he’s hard. Frank HaveMercy, he’s hard. I’m just going to be cooking up with people who make good music.
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