“It Just Happened Naturally”: Jett I Masstyr On Beat Battles, Gospel, and Gratitude
Long before he started chopping up samples in 2004, founded the Space City Beat Battle in 2010, or released his latest album Decorative Pillows in Septeber of 2017, Houston-based producer Jett I Masstyr had many years of informal training through constant musical immersion. It all started with childhood church sessions that helped develop a keen ear for gospel and soul music — two genres that would later become his favorite sample sources. “With both sides of my family, church was always a constant,” he tells me. “We always knew, ‘Saturday’s gonna be the fun day staying with grandma and grandpa, but Sunday we’re definitely going to church.’ It’s always been a part of me.”
As an elementary school student Jett spent summers with his grandparents in Lubbock, Texas soaking in the beautiful sounds from their church choir and watching his grandmother flex impressive skills on the organ and piano. “With her being the main musical director, she had to play at every service,” Jett explains. “So we were at church from sunrise to the evening. We ate dinner at the church.”
The familial influence continued during his elementary and middle school years as Jett found himself drawn to his dad’s cassette collection instead of current radio hits. “My dad was always listening to old music, always listening to tapes,” he says. “I remember listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire religiously as an eight or nine year old. So I already kind of knew about more music than some of my peers at that age.”
“We were at church from sunrise to the evening. We ate dinner at the church.”
Though the love of music was there from the beginning, Jett didn’t consider making his own music until his college years. After befriending someone in his freshman dorm who owned a Triton keyboard, Jett was soon questioning if he could make his own beats of equal or superior quality. “It just started as a curiosity to make music,” he says. “I never set out to do it, it just happened naturally.”
After making his first beats in 2004, Jett decided to take the craft of producing seriously around 2007. Though he loved listening the vast array of area artists that were blowing up in Houston at the time, he preferred making soul-drenched instrumentals that spoke to his early influences and defied a specific geographic location. The contrast in styles made Jett question if he’d be able to find his own niche. “I almost quit right before I even got started,” he admits. “I definitely got discouraged early — probably too early.”
Luckily for fans of Jett’s music, he decided to challenge himself instead of giving up by entering a beat battle in 2008. Run by Nah-Meen and featuring high-profile guest judges like The Are, the battle would test if his beats could stall tall next to several talented peers. “I got to this point where I didn’t want to just keep getting confirmation from people that knew me who were going to say, “Yeah, I like your beats,” says Jett.
“You can find soul in anything and gospel is kind of an unlimited source of soul.”
After spending days meticulously organizing his music onto a beat CD in perfect scope and sequence, the unimaginable happened when the CD snapped while Jett sat at the bar during the show. Luckily the judges gave him a chance to find an alternative method of delivering his instrumentals. “I had a USB that had some of the stuff I was preparing, but a lot of it was new stuff that I wasn’t ready to play,” he says. “Long story short, I ended up getting second place playing stuff I didn’t intend to.”
Placing second in the beat battle was a watershed moment, giving Jett a much-need moral boost to help keep him going. “It gave me the confidence that, ‘I can do this. I’m gonna try it, I’m gonna go as hard as I can with it,’” he says.
He has since released a slew of instrumental projects, including the gospel-influenced Early Service. In fact, gospel still remains a favorite sample source after all these years. “You can find soul in anything and gospel is kind of an unlimited source of soul,” Jett tells me. “When you think about all the different choirs and churches out there that may have cut little records or small recordings, it’s pretty much unlimited.”
“It just started as a curiosity to make music. I never set out to do it, it just happened naturally.”
On “Grateful” — the lead single from his new Decorative Pillows album — Jett decided to revisit a gospel sample Jake One flipped to great acclaim in 2012. “That’s definitely one of my favorites on the projects,” he says. “I had heard it used on the ‘3 Kings’ record that Jake One did with Dre and Ross and Jay-Z. I went back and dug it up on YouTube just to see how he flipped it. I actually downloaded the song and began listening to it.”
Through Jett was an immediate fan of “3 Kings” and Jake’s production chops when the song came out, he heard an opportunity to re-flip the song in his own unique way. “I was like, ‘Man, I understand him maybe avoiding the chops because of recognizability.’ But I just thought that part was so powerful,” he says.
Relying heavily on vocal sample chops and some expertly utilized filters, Jett completely re-imagines the sample into something all his own on “Grateful”, providing the ultimate backdrop for some deft lyricism from John Dew and Kashmere Don. After the official music video of “Grateful” dropped on November 20th, 2017, the powerful single now has an equally moving visual to go with it.
“I almost quit right before I even got started. I definitely got discouraged early — probably too early.”
Shot in Houston’s Third Ward, Jett wanted the video to have a optimistic vibe to match the song’s theme of being grateful. “In any real hood environment there’s poverty, gentrification, drugs, and violence,” he told journalist Beware in an interview with Still Crew. “We wanted to capture the belief of hope in a place where many feel there is none.”
Now that he’s had a moment to reflect on Decorative Pillows — an intense undertaking that involved coordinating the scedules of a wide scope of Houston MCs — Jett is proud of his project and optimistic about the future. “It was definitely ambitious,” he says. “I’ve been working on it a little bit over two years, trying to put it together. But it was well worth it.”
With a growing list of artists taking notice of his work and Houston legend Scarface recently reaching out to him for a collaboration, Jett’s production horizons look bright. But for now, Jett remains grateful for the success of his most recent project and is already hard at work on the next one.