As a child growing up in Covina, California (a diverse suburb of Los Angeles), Justin Williams fell in love with the sound of Timbaland’s productions. His use of thumping drums and unusual instrumentation sparked Williams’ imagination. But when he started making his own beats—under the name Jansport J—Williams moved in the opposite direction, leaning toward gritty, eccentric compositions—the kind that have more in common with Madlib, J Dilla, and the Alchemist than Missy Elliott. His sound earned him a solid niche; Williams has become a staple in L.A.’s famed underground beat scene, producing for the likes of Snoop Dogg, Planet Asia, and Dom Kennedy.
Williams’ new album p h a r o a h, named after his distinct facial hair and personal leadership philosophy, first started taking shape in early 2016. The producer was stuck in New York during Winter Storm Jonas, which dumped up to three feet of snow on the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern parts of the country. “That was my first time in New York, while a blizzard was happening,” Williams says. “It’s crazy, because we were out there in 10-degree weather, and I’m a California kid. Everyone tried to prepare me, like, ‘You’re not gonna be able to deal with that weather.’ But I loved it.” At 27 tracks, p h a r o a h is a sprawling work, foregoing the cohesion of a regular studio album in favor of giddy stylistic detours and experiments. Nevertheless, the project feels incredibly cohesive, each snippet quickly leading to the next, making for a seamless listen.
We spoke with Williams about the importance of studying his heroes, keeping a consistent work ethic, and what Donuts meant to his class of producers.