"You have different buzzes in different circles," Trackademicks says. "But when everyone's talking, it sounds like one big noise."
Few know this better than the 27-year-old rapper and producer born Jason Valerio. In San Francisco and Berkeley, the Alameda native is known as a conscious hip-hop performer whose sound embraces electronica,'80s R&B, and new wave. In Oakland, where we're chatting in his Cool Collar Scholar Productions studio, Trackademicks is perhaps better known for production, making beats for hood rappers like J-Stalin and Mistah FAB.
"FAB put me on," Tracks says. "I gave him a beat disc. He called back hella juiced. I started running around with him, meeting everybody out here." FAB, however, disputes this account.
"He put me on," FAB says, laughing. He used six of the beats on Son of a Pimp (Thizz, 2005). "He gave the album that twist where people will always remember it."
"He reminds me of the Neptunes," Stalin says. "He ain't the average hip-hop producer. He produces techno."
Though he finds it imprecise, Trackademicks is used to the "techno" tag.
"I don't do techno," he says. "But people aren't sure what to call it. What I produce for myself I don't give to people. I match what I do with what they do. I won't give someone a track like, 'Go rap on this,' and they've never rapped over 160 BPM. There's a right way to do everything."
This approach is evident on Track's midtempo number on Stalin's new Gas Nation (Livewire/SMC), "Millionaire Status," which highlights futuristic soundwaves atop the '80s-style 808 drums that characterize Stalin's music a perfect blend of what they do. Like Tracks says on his own song "Grocery Bills," "I get mob when I make instrumentals."
Even as he's branched out nationally, producing for Kid Sister and Phonte of Little Brother, among others, Trackademicks is primarily an artist, working solo and with his crew, the Honor Roll. While shopping for an album deal, he's about to drop his first official solo release a 12-inch, "Enjoy What You Do"/"Topsidin'" on the Fool's Gold label. With its improbable throwback chorus from Wham's "Wham Rap" and an electronica/go-go-style groove, "Enjoy" is one of the most original hip-hop tunes I've heard lately. Its quotation of Digital Underground's "Doowhutchalike" is apt: like DU, Tracks combines streetwise knowledge with more uplifting themes.
"My aim is to build bridges," he says. "I'm black and Filipino. I feel at home in a lot of places.
"My goal is to have every kind of people at my shows," he continues. "Not just every race let's go deeper. It's about class, about culture. People say they want everybody, but how are you speaking to them? I'm taking steps to speak to different audiences." Part of his success has been avoiding preachiness in favor of celebrating the typical joys of rap girls, cruisin' around, looking sharp, having skills.
"Kids believe the hype," he says. "You should let them know you need a job to live. We have a responsibility as artists to report the truth, all sides of it. The important thing is to articulate, to communicate all facets of a person as opposed to one thing."
As for his own multifaceted artistic life, Trackademicks is content. "I don't worry anymore. Real recognize real, game recognize game that's how it's going to be."