Jay Stone and Queens D.Light are figuring it all out, together
Jay Stone could be cut from a cloth of the “last real MCs,” except his swatch would be some thrifted, metallic, purple-and-gold synthetic hemp (despite being born and raised in Oakland, Jay is a diehard a Lakers fan).
The stream-of-consciousness flow and elasticity in his delivery marked Jay as a tried-and-true lyricist on his last project, the 2015 Foreign Pedestrians collaboration with producer Monster Rally. Considering himself more of a “rhythmic observationalist” than a rapper, Jay’s long-awaited Calibration of an Altered Mind (primarily produced by Micah Aza) released last November on Gold Robot Records, is his subconscious let loose into a full-length album of worldly ruminations disguised as playful rap music.
“I don’t feel like I made it, I feel like it made itself,” Jay says, his lyrics born from the energy and sonics of the music and moment. “I was the orchestrator, the conductor who arranged everything and pieced it together to become what it is now.”
Jay describes it as being “submissive to the process,” (he typically doesn’t rewrite any of his songs: “You’re trying to rewrite the past and that’s impossible,” he muses. “You can’t change the past so you keep moving forward. I’d rather just write another song,”), but there’s also another de facto pen in Calibration: Queens D.Light.
“I tell her, ‘You really wrote the songs on this album,’” Jay teases. The process of putting Calibration together surpassed the time Jay spent making music for 2016 Sundance film Morris in America, starring Craig Robinson. It also went with the couple to New York, when Queens was also going through the creative process for her own graceful 2018 album, Flavor of Green. And then, their son was born.
“She just inspires so much of the music,” Jay explains. “I don’t really write my songs, it just comes to me and I’m good at connecting the words together to make it rhythmic. But
[as] the ideas pour out of me, she’s all in there.”
A rapper, filmmaker, and art director, Queens is a creative force. Following up 2014’s California Wildflower, Flavor of Green is a recording of the past four years as Queens went through a rediscovery of her artistic identity. At a December SMARTBOMB showcase, Queens was a show stopper; in the summer, she shared the stage with Kelis at Feels VI and prior to, she screened a short film at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Just last week, she performed alongside Bells Atlas at Bandcamp’s grand opening event in downtown Oakland.
“I feel like I’m a culture purveyor,” Queens says, who also co-founded the House of Malico, a women of color-focused creative agency. “Whatever the culture needs from me, I try to be and I try to do.”
On Flavor of Green, Queens’s poetic hip-hop challenged the status quo on spirituality and heteronormativity, her overall vibe atmospheric and hazy over Monster Rally productions. But Jay wanted her to be aggressive for “Fortitude,” the sixth track on Calibration, so he asked Queens to spit a verse. The initial one didn’t sit too well with him.
“She wrote this verse, she spit it for me and I was like, ‘Oh. That’s what you wrote? Well…if you’re not going to really try…I guess that you don’t have to get on it,” Jay laughs. “We can be honest with each other so I’m not going to lie and bullshit her. If I don’t think it’s tight, I don’t think it’s tight. We don’t do that to one another.”
“I was totally offended but I mean, he wasn’t lying,” Queens chimes. “He heard that there wasn’t that much craftsmanship put into it and so he wasn’t lying, but for me, it was like, ‘Well, that’s the route I want to take for this song.’ So I got touchy about it. Then I had to flame him. It was a shot at the ego.”
Calibration, Flavor of Green, and previous records share common features and guest spots, including Monster Rally, Lauren Dupree, Joe Mousepad, and Brandon Rayson. You can argue they are each other’s greatest collaborators — they are, obviously, co-parents — but creative energies manifest differently than familial obligations. Being in each other’s corner, Queens and Jay have established a unique support system that pars their creative children equal to their flesh-and-blood one.
“The energy you put into your work takes up a lot of space,” Queens explains. “And it requires you to be very emotional, uninhibited and I think that sometimes that energy can be very explosive between strong energies.”
“We are a good team, I feel like. It’s fun being in her life,” Jay adds. “When we’re keeping honest with each other it keeps it easy to move forward and problem-solve. When you’re honest with yourself, (you can) be honest with people that you have to communicate with and have relationships with. It just makes life easier if everybody was being honest about their feelings and their intentions and if they’re really in it. We’re both really in it.”
Two albums and 2018 in the books, Jay and Queens have 2019 set up to be fruitful and prosperous. Doing music is a constant, but they also plan on tapping into their other creative endeavors: Queens will continue her work with House of Malico and organize community arts events; Jay is overseeing his own label, working on production, and continuing to give Calibrations legs with shows and merch. In Queens’ words, “choosing to be creatives for a living” requires focus, ingenuity, making due with what is already accessible. As rappers, they were creating their own language; Together, they can be visionaries.
“Energy is not lost. Even if you don’t see it next year, you’ll see it eventually. I definitely think me and Jay put a lot of work in our projects and just trying to be good people, just to be good to those around us. We work hard at that and work hard at putting the best art we can put out there,” Queens said. “And I enjoy having a partner where we’re aligned and we both have the same vision of what creativity can look like — I can be uninhibited, it doesn’t have to be a trend, you can create your own. And we had to figure all that out — 2018 was one of those years, we figured out a lot this year.”