Photos and words by Will Geier
The much-anticipated Jaguar, Jae Sterling’s latest EP, is about to drop. It’s unapologetic, energetic, diverse and creative, and has a driving beat behind it to get people engaged, moving and rowdy. I stopped by the Th0t Police headquarters to talk to Sterling about the inspiration for Jaguar, his growth over the last year, what’s next, as well as more about the collective Th0t Police.
I showed up to what seemed to be an unassuming apartment building in the beltline on one of the recent cold nights that make this city so wonderful. The particular apartment I’m headed to is the headquarters of the collective, Th0t Police. Perfect timing as Jae Sterling is finalizing the release of his upcoming six-song EP, Jaguar, and has graciously let me listen.
“I think I’m going to lose a couple fans with this one,” jokes Sterling as we ride up the elevator.
The apartment is relaxed and cozy with records adorning the wall and a patchwork of beautiful framed artwork surrounding a portrait of Lil Wayne (Jae’s contribution to the framed pieces). I’m offered tea and Sterling flicks through some trap music as we wait for Ryan Tram (Yungkamaji) to show up before he previews me Jaguar. Tram shows up after photos and we get into the interview and what Sterling has in store for people with his new EP.
“I wanted to drop it bad last year,” laments Sterling. “If I [dropped] this in 2018 and I cap it off with this shit, I would have different tapes that cover everything in hip hop.
“[Kimberley the Short Tape] was proving I can rap, [Vagabond] was showing a part of myself that I shouldn’t have showed, maybe..time will tell, and [Jaguar] is fucking crazy and manic,” laughs Sterling.
Jaguar is Sterling’s third EP in a year and half, and it’s a testament to his skill that he’s has already produced an incredibly diverse and ambitious musical catalogue.
“It’s really important to me that I don’t get misunderstood this early in the game,” clarifies Sterling.
“I wanted to write a lot, I wanted to prove myself,” explains Sterling regarding his process when writing Vagabond.
Sterling’s Jaguar is a different beast from Vagabond. While Vagabond is lyrically dense and effortlessly smooth, Jaguar grabs your attention and takes you on a wild ride and doesn’t let go.
“With this one everyone is going to be listening to my lyrics coming to scrutinize lyrics because that’s what they enjoyed the most about the last one,” explains Sterling.
Sterling realized during his set at the King Eddy in October that while the crowd might be interested in his lyrics, he needed something to get them moving.
“I had the crowd but I like when my crowd moves more. I think the songs that I chose people just really wanted to listen to what I was saying, but not when I was like this is my moment kind of thing.”
Sterling learned an important lesson that night.
“I need some fucking live shit up here,” admits Sterling. “The minute I tried this, the first night it was so easy to win the crowd.”
Musically, Jaguar is inspired partly by Sterling’s hometown of Bull Bay, Jamaica, just outside of Kingston. Clashing DJ’s would use gun sound effects throughout their diss tracks and they would become part of the beats.
“It stuck with me. I always wanted to bring that to Canada.”
“Lyrically I wanted to rap like I was when I was a kid,” laughs Sterling. “I wasn’t listening to conscious shit; it was never peace loving unity. I would be telling a lie if I told you that’s how I grew up.”
“Of course you get older and more conscious and start listening to music about better things. But when you’re 17 and 18, you’re listening to crazy shit.”
The album art is a portrait of Sterling done by artist Larry Ohaka, inspired by the video game Bully.
“I had to get something drawn for the cover; [Jaguar] sounds like an anime action scene and then credits,” jokes Sterling. “I like it so much…everyone better like it.
Sterling and Tram are both a part of Th0t Police, a collective that also includes members of Cartel Madras. The collective is set to officially launch soon and ready to find and nurture genuine talent in the city.
“It doesn’t matter what level you’re at right now but if we hear you’re actually someone who cares about their craft, we will reach out to you in a genuine way,” illuminates Sterling. “Trying to make something real happen for once in this city.”
Th0t Police is also behind the trap and rap event Sans Fuccs.
“Best fucking trap show in the city,” boasts Sterling.
“There isn’t a showcase space for trap music or harder hitting hip hop,” enlightens Tram. “A lot is 90’s or Drake all the time; it’s very rare that you would get modern hip hop. Going out means you go to a show not to the normal club night.”
“It’s like they’re scared of it. Everything that bangs that makes your audience moves is trap.”
True artists progress and it speaks to his talent how Sterling can go through progression of what could be a career over a year and a half. Makes you wonder what’s coming next, but know that it is going to bang.
Jae Sterling is playing Sound Off on Feb. 23.