Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One Go Deep on the Origins of Tuxedo
Published Mar 11, 2015Singer Mayer Hawthorne figures he and producer Jake One made the best Pitbull song ever. Of course, this was mostly by accident. In early 2013, they put out a few songs under their secret Tuxedo moniker, including the chorus-heavy, club-friendly "Do It."
"We got a message from Pitbull saying he wanted to sign us," Hawthorne tells Exclaim!, laughing. "Then he ended up using 'Do It' for his album. He didn't change it all around or nothing, he just left it just like it was, so we were cool with that."
Having fashioned a solid dance record that spoke to seemingly dichotomous audiences, it was evident the world was ready to revisit the sound of '80s disco. "Then it was like, we got to finish it," says Jake One. And they did just that, as Tuxedo arrived this month via Stones Throw.
Fans of Hawthorne's Where Does This Door Go album may have already caught a glimpse of what he and Jake One could concoct together. Buried deep in the bonus tracks was the slept-on "Designer Drug."
Hawthorne explains: "[It] was obviously a Tuxedo song that I stole for my own album. We tweaked the production to go with the sound of Where Does This Door Go so it wasn't so disco. But we had 25 Tuxedo songs and I was contractually bound to Universal at the time — we couldn't release those songs, so that was my loophole. That was my way of getting some of those joints out."
It was on that solo album where Hawthorne really honed his strengths as a vocalist, which perhaps injected a new level of confidence into Tuxedo.
"In the beginning of the Tuxedo sessions I was trying to emulate the singers that we were being influenced by," he says. "I ended up going back and recutting a lot of the vocals and just singing them in my own style, just doing Mayer Hawthorne. That was what worked, that is what made it original."
As much as the project is a homage to an almost abandoned sound, simply rehashing old records wasn't the intention for Jake One.
"We wouldn't be able to do it as good as them. We had to bring our own take to it. And I think his voice and his harmonies and just the way he approaches it is just drastically different."
The self-titled Tuxedo album is composed of a dozen mostly original songs, all of which are designed to keep dancefloor varnishing companies in business. While emulating was avoided, staying sonically true to the era was paramount. For that they went to the legendary '80s producer and engineer John Morales to mix the album.
"That was a big deal for us!" proclaims Hawthorne. "We're just big fans of him in general. We wanted for our album to maintain the authenticity of it, but we wanted it to compete with Katy Perry if it got played back to back in the club."
While that's certainly possible, what's even more likely is that you're going to want to revisit the artists who inspired Tuxedo.
"I would say you just got to start with a lot of the producers of the genre," advises Jake One. "Like Leroy Burgess or Leon Sylvers, if you just listen to what they produced, you're going to hear the best. And obviously Roger [Troutman]. That and the Death Row G-funk era. That was the main inspiration for all this stuff."
Knowing this is a group comprised of self-defined rap guys, the standard 16-bar guest appearance is notably absent.
"We didn't put any rappers on this album on purpose, just because we didn't want to do that. But we might have some remixes and have some people show up that you wouldn't expect on them," Jake One teases.
This coming from the man who paired De La Soul over the "Rock Co.Kane Flow" beat and made a great Pitbull disco song. Any expectations were left on the shelf some time ago.