How Vine Star Jay Versace Became a Rap Producer

The former teen sensation told VICE about his first major album placement and why he keeps getting roasted on Instagram Live.
18 May 2020, 6:44am
Jay Versace Vine comedian producer
Photo by Alex Barcenas

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

When Westside Gunn posted a tracklist for his album, Pray for Paris, on April 1, the features and producers attached were an interesting mix of established and new talent. Frequent Griselda collaborators like Alchemist, Daringer, and Camoflauge Monk make multiple appearances. Tyler, the Creator contributed a verse and a beat on two separate tracks. Perhaps most surprisingly, former Vine star Jay Versace is credited as the producer on a track titled "Versace," a sparse, drumless gospel loop which Versace described as his biggest placement to date.

One of the most recognizable faces from Vine, Versace encountered an unimaginable level of online fame early in his career. In 2015, Versace was described as a "teen sensation" in a piece explaining how black creators were largely influencing the overall tone of Vine in The Guardian. Fader called him the "funniest teenager on the Internet" in 2016. In January 2017, Vine officially shut down. But instead of joining an influencer commune, or becoming a branded content troll, the 22-year-old comedian continued making videos, got his own show, and as of 2018, started making beats. In fact, Versace told VICE, the beat he gave Westside Gunn was one of the first he'd made. And he credits the rapper for exposing him to a new audience.

"The industry can be so homophobic. Once they saw me and [Westside Gunn] work together, him working with [Tyler the Creator], it bridged a big gap. It's definitely made people open their eyes and realize art is art, and that homophobic stuff is unnecessary," he told VICE.

VICE spoke with the comedian and producer to see his first major album placement, his musical inspirations, and why he keeps getting roasted (and roasting) on Instagram Live.

What made you get into music in the first place?
People who were experienced in music, giving me inspiration and telling me that I should start. I'm always opening myself up to new things and new career paths, not limiting myself to what people like from me. My first beat was in 2018, and the first couple beats I made were so bad. It's actually funny, one of the beats I did with Westside Gunn was one of the first beats I ever made. When I hit him up and we talked, I was looking at some of my beats and I was like, 'You know what? This would be fire with just no drums. It doesn't need any drums.' That's the first really big placement I've gotten. And that was one of the first beats I ever made.

What was your production setup when you first started?
When I first started, it was just Ableton. All my friends use Ableton and my friend came over, he put Ableton on my computer, and that was it. My other friends told me to get a little MIDI keyboard, then I started getting synths, and it just went from there.

Is it helpful or harmful when you're trying to seriously approach someone to place a beat or collaborate on music, and they're only familiar with your work as a comedian?
At first, it was interesting to see, but then I had to realize how many times I've pushed boundaries in my own life, and how many times I've surprised people with what I do. Originally, I wanted to be a photographer or artist, and I had no idea I was gonna start doing comedy. I even surprised myself. So it's understandable that people are surprised but when you let the work show for itself, people will understand.

Have you had any artists or producers kind of help you out, that you look to as a mentor as you've been getting started?
My friend, the producer Knxwledge, he really helped me a lot. I've been a fan of him, if you look at my old YouTube videos from 2014, I was a little kid and I had his music playing in the background just always supported him. I always supported different SoundCloud producers when I was on Vine, in 2013. Before I even knew I wanted to make music I just loved instrumentals. Just seeing me and Knowledge coming together and working is really powerful because that man has inspired me so much, growing up.

Anything you can talk about in terms of upcoming collaborations or things you've already placed?
What I'm excited for is a project that I'm coming out with with Westside Gunn, fully produced by me. Me and Freddie Gibbs, we're coming out with a tape fully produced by me. And some other people, that will be brought up a little bit later [laughs].

How do these IG roasts keep happening? Could you explain what's going on there?
I will say, me being from New Jersey, have a specific type of humor that only a certain type of person will understand. How I grew up showing love was through roasting people, taking jabs back and forth, that's how I grew up showing love to family and friends. As far as me and Freddie, he a Gemini, I'm an Aquarius, we automatically get along, so that interaction that you saw was actually good friends coming together. We both have similar mindsets about music, taste, humor and everything. It's all love, it's just fun and games and stuff. Even Retch, too, Retch is from Jersey.

What else are you listening to that you're inspired by, production-wise.
I've been listening to a lot of Kendrick. Sun-ra is someone that I idolize. Sun Ra and Dwele are the two people, like, my main inspiration for music. But Kendrick has a lot of jazz in his music. So I've just been listening to how [Kendrick Lamar's music] incorporates jazz and makes it into hip hop. It's just really inspiring. Also, just Jay Z. Jay Z's last album, all his old stuff, everything he put out is really good.

Are there specific lessons you've learned from already having fame from comedy, that you're taking into your work as a producer?
I definitely take the lesson that nothing is permanent. Everything has its time, everything comes in waves, especially if you're a creator. The feedback that you get for what you create comes in waves, it doesn't come consistently. It does if you're Beyoncé. But I'm not Beyoncé. Sometimes I'll just have so many people supporting my music, and support my Vines and I will make like 100,000 followers in a week. Then it'll be a month where I've lost 100,000. So I have to just understand that he said that every place that I go, and just realize that it's all about internal peace and being at peace with myself. It doesn't matter externally how people react to it, that's their decision. That really affects how you work, not getting the right feedback that you would expect or want. Just trying to make peace with knowing that nothing is permanent, even though right now a lot of people are supporting me, there's gonna be times where I'm like, I need more supporters! Just getting right, with myself.

Maya Angelou had a quote she told Dave Chappelle about how if you pick up the compliments, you have to pick up the criticism, too. What's your strategy with reading the comments to your work, either positive or negative?
I have learned the hard way not to attach myself. Even though good comments, you love that when you get good appreciation and feedback, I learned to not attach myself from any type of feedback, good or bad, unless there's something that could really build on my character and development. Sometimes, you can do something great, and people can follow you for it, and support you. And then you start to lose yourself trying to please others. That's why I moved far from everybody else, I stay at home, I stay in my backyard, I meditate. So I just try to do that as much as possible. Sometimes it can [feel] little bit like, everybody coming at me like, 'Jay we love it when you do this, we love this!' Then people start to build your character without you realizing, because you're trying to do what people want you to do.