Words by Luke LaBenne
In 2015 hip-hop producer L’Orange and MC Jeremiah Jae came together to deliver the incredible The Night Took Us In Like Family, a concept album that followed a 1940’s mob boss navigating a life of crime. Now, their follow up Complicate Your Life with Violence follows that protagonist as he is sentenced to a life of military service, while navigating a war-zone in his own mind. Dreams and prayers for peace are often countered with fear, paranoia and forces that drive him back into cycles of violence.
Jeremiah immersed himself in research for the project. Studying World War II, shaving his head and implementing a military-style workout routine to get in the mindset of a soldier. L’Orange employs his signature style of vintage instrumental samples and clips of dialogue from old radio shows to create a dystopian backdrop for the album’s main character. Jeremiah imbues his rhymes with his own personal struggles, historical context and subtle social commentary. The album is equal parts period piece, dystopian sci-fi and socially relevant character study, that asks the question: What happens when you Complicate Your Life with Violence?
Off Shelf: You guys worked together on the 2015 album The Night Took Us In Like Family. What made you come back together for this one?
L’Orange: For me, it was at a point when I had just finished doing Marlowe and I had so much fun doing that and I was trying to find where I wanted to go next creatively. Looking back on everything that I’d done, the thing that excited me the most and was the most inspiring for me was working with J again. That first one I felt like that collaboration came so naturally and with such little resistance. It felt like he and I are usually on the same page about a lot of things and it became a very fluid process.
OS: When did the concept of Complicate Your Life With Violence come into it?
Jeremiah Jae: Honestly, at first I didn’t want to do the project that much because I didn’t want to go back to that same place that we created in the first record and dealing with that same concept. But, thinking more about the way the story would go and where I was at that point in my life, World War II just seemed like a natural step forward for the character from the first record. It was something I just wanted to throw myself into and do a lot of research.
OS: Speaking of your research, can you tell me about some of your research. I heard you shaved your head and adopted a military workout style. What was that like?
JJ: I mean it was great, like the working out part. I was telling L’Orange too, he kinda saved me at a point when I was just going through a lot of stuff personally, depression and different stuff. It kind of felt like I was in a war zone. Adding the research and just diving in and becoming like an actor, it felt necessary to being as effective as I wanted to be.
OS: Now L’Orange the collaboration in terms of the music, did you hand over some beats or did you guys really work collaboratively the whole time to push this concept forward?
L’O: One of the great things about working with J is how easily those concepts come. It’s always been a very symbiotic relationship. So our process typically would be, I take in the concept that he and I would talk about. I create this production in it’s initial stages and then send it over to him to create something and make it three-dimensional. One thing that’s really important to me when working with artists, and especially J, is being able to get on the same page with a framework, but then to step aside and let them be as creative as possible. To take all the risks and be vulnerable in ways that they probably need to be left alone to do.
OS: Is this a direct sequel to The Night Took Us In Like Family?
JJ: Well yes, to me it’s the same character just time has passed and he gets kind of caught up and is forced to become a soldier. I say character but it’s really like I’m writing a story from my past life. I relate to the character because it’s me. On top of the concept I wrote things that I was feeling at the time and it goes to dark places because that’s just the kind of journey that life is and this is a documentation of that.
OS: You were influenced by the 1940’s and your own life, but I took some current social and political interpretations from it as well. Do you want it to be timeless or be tied to any specific time period?
JJ: I’m all for timeless. To be timeless it’s up to the people, if they want to listen to it and keep coming back to it. To me it’s something that I want it to be up for interpretation. You can take whatever you want from it whether you’re in this period or 50 years in the future.
OS: L’Orange you’re known for doing a sort of noir style and you employed that on the first album. How did you make this one sound fresh in terms of the sounds you’re choosing and the beats you’re building?
L’O: Initially when I thought about working with J again on another album, he and I both felt very strongly that we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. So going into this I had ideas about my own production and how that will show time passing both for me and for the characters that we’ve created in these albums. The first one was a very dusty old sound, for this one I wanted to move forward just a little bit and make it a little warmer and make it feel like time has passed.
OS: How did you guys land on the title Complicate Your Life with Violence?
L’O: Well this title was one of the early names of one of the songs. I was using it as a benchmark for what I wanted the record to sound like and the longer we went the more I really liked the title for the record. For working with J I like having these really pulpy title, like something you would read on one of these books from the 60’s or even one of these detective novels. Where they tend to have these longer titles, these more descriptive, almost like one line poems. When it was time to actually name the record that was my first pitch to J and luckily we settled on it pretty quickly.
OS: The album cover actually looks like one of those old detective novels or sort of like a fucked-up military recruitment poster as well.
L’O: J and I collaborate in kind of an interesting way. I don’t like being involved in telling people, ‘Ok here’s where I want this dude to do this, so write something about it.’ As much as I like having my hands in different things, I feel like I might as well rap myself if I’m trying to do that. The way that I like to communicate is talk about very abstract concepts. We talk about perspectives and a lot of things through imagery. We did that a lot on the first album too, sharing those images like propaganda posters and that kind of imagery was very cool to him.
OS: I noticed a theme with our narrator saying he wants to find peace and then Part 5 of the album is titled No Peace for the Peaceful.
JJ: Sometimes you feel like there’s no hope and everybody’s doomed. Those are the kind of things that confront you like everything in the war. All this stuff just suddenly comes up and it’s a just about how you interpret it and deal with it. You get over those obstacles, get through it and find the light. If you just say you’re doomed and accept that then you’re doomed.
OS: Was it ever a struggle to stay within this concept or within this character?
JJ: No, I wouldn’t say it was a struggle at any point. It was like an evolving feeling. I think it just got stronger as we went along and researching and working out and just feeling like a soldier.
OS: Was it sort of therapeutic in a way? I know you said you were dealing with some personal things and brought that into it.
JJ: Yeah definitely. [L’Orange] came to me at that point when I was like ‘I don’t want to rap. I can’t see myself doing another project like that.’ But just going through it I felt like the universe was speaking to me. Like this is something you need to do and just do it. It definitely turned some gears and I feel like we both connected on deeper levels with this one. We’re both lovers of what we do and we’re lovers of the old school and part of me feels like we’re carrying the torch. We’re kind of chosen to carry and preserve and reinvent this art form. When you’re called to that it’s like Spiderman, you know? It’s a great responsibility. You’ve just got to be strong and get through it.
OS: Speaking of the whole retro style that you create. L’Orange you’ve got these great audio clips, that I was reading you have a volume of old radio shows?
L’O: Yeah, I have a lot of those. That’s something that I really like regardless of what genre trying to work on. My appreciation for old radio shows ties in nicely with my need to structure records around narratives and it gives me a voice to be able to tell a story parallel to the rapper. I like to think that it gives the albums structure, which frees up J to dive into the more psychological or more symbolic parts of the concept without having to veer off too much from the narrative.
OS: So are you constantly going through those and have your favorites or do you with each new project go like “I’m going to dig through some clips,” to find some that could relate?
L’O: You know what I do is, I have a huge collection of them that I will go through and try to pick out the ones I think could work with any album that I’m working on. There are a lot of record stores around here that know what I’m looking for. So when I call they kind of already have a couple held to the side for me or they know what I want. Unfortunately there’s no trick to it because I’ll just sit there and listen to them for hours and hours and hours. As much as I love it is hard work to just do that part of the record. There’s no shortcut to it, I can’t google the words I’m trying to say and pull up the radio show. So it’s really it’s just an intense labor of love to be able to to get that structure it the way I want it to.
OS: What do you want the listener to take away from this album?
L’O: I love telling stories and being able to guide someone through this story. My hope would be that someone hears the path that we’re taking and are able to appreciate the songs individually, because that’s always my goal. I want to make it accessible to both the people that want to sit down and go on this journey with us and also the people that want to drop in and hear some music that we’ve worked very hard on.
JJ: For me it’s the same way that you can tell a story in a film or a book or a video game. I think you can do the same thing with music. For people to just take it in like a film or a book or something that has multiple meanings. You can take away whatever you want to take away from it.