Since founding the Hit Cartel in 2014 and signing to Think It's a Game Entertainment in 2016, the hitmaker has been on an upward traejctory, and is expected to climb even higher in 2019 with a fresh batch of music. James is off to a solid start early in the year, having already having co-produced the growling "Baptiize" off Future's new The WIZRD album.
Billboard spoke to James over the phone about his foray into the music business, the creation and success of "Yosemite," and what's coming next for the producer:
Growing up in Houston, what were some of your musical influences?
In Houston there's a group called Screwed Up Click. DJ Screw paved the way with great tapes, and showed people in Houston how to move independently. That influenced me. Also Slim Thug, Mike Jones, Paul Wall. I grew up listening to them. You know, Michael Watts (of Swishahouse), Rap A Lot, all of them paved a way for my city. That motivated me to do what I do now.
What was your first major placement?
The first major placement I ever got was a song with Plies called "Scarface." That was my first one with a major artist. It was 2010 and Plies was hot... I had never met him. It was a producer from Houston who was tapped in, and I was his little homie. He put me in the door, having me send beats and seeing if he could get me a chance to work with him, and I did.
What led to you wanting to partner with Think It's a Game Entertainment?
At the time, [YFN] Lucci and I was really close. He had wanted to sign me, and I didn't really want to sign to no rapper. Warner Bros had came to me, Atlantic had came to me, and I wanted to make a situation where I could set something up with my bro, but at the same time take care of myself and my family.
So I looked at it like that. I signed there because it's him. We were already tight, and had made "Key to the Streets" before I signed. I had booked him to come to Houston, and helped break him there. I was doing Industry Nights every Tuesday. We would have a major artist come to town. I brought him, Bankroll Fresh, Young Dolph, and more. Lucci and I had a good relationship, so I signed to him and it made the bond even stronger.
What was the process of creating the track to "Yosemite"?
I made that track in Atlanta and wanted acoustic vibes. I had actually just finished a session with Rich Homie Quan that night, and I really made five beats around that same tempo. My guitar pulled up and we just caught a vibe. One of the tracks from that session is actually going to be on Rich Homie Quan's upcoming album.
I did half the beat in Atlanta, and then brought it to Houston and finished it. It's crazy because my homie was DJing one night, and I don't usually go out -- but I went to support him. My girl encouraged me to go, and said I never knew what could happen. So I end up going, and it just so happened my people were promoting it. It was an easy process to get in. When I pulled up, I noticed Travis Scott was there too. I had one of my friends introduce me to him. I had never met him before in my life previously, even though my homie Brett Sweeney had been trying to plug me up through his management.
Through Brett and my other partner bringing up my name, when I ended up getting introduced to him, he already knew who I was and he knew my work. So it helped with getting a placement. I didn't ask for a picture, I just wanted his email to send him a pack. I sent him five beats, and months later, that's how I got the "Yosemite" record. It was really quick and at the end of him recording the album.
What was your first thought when you found out you had made the album?
I was working on a bunch of projects and checking my email, doing what I usually do sending packs to artists I got ties with. I checked my email and I had an email from Travis Scott back and I got an email from Sickamore with them both saying I made the album. I was like, "Damn I really made the album." It didn't hit me until a day later.
Who are some of your dream collaborators?
It would probably be OGs -- nobody my age -- probably like a Pharrell, where you can learn something from them. Nowadays, everybody who got the same stuff is all about who you know and not what you know. I really would like to learn some game from Pharrell or Kanye. That's who I would want to work with.
What is some good advice you've received in the past?
The good advice I've received is you got to find your passion, and your passion will lead to your purpose. When you chase down what you really love doing, it becomes your purpose, it becomes your hustle. I knew what I wanted to do, and I never wanted to get a 9 to 5 because this was going to be my 9 to 5.
I feel like a lot of people are scared to chase their dreams because they're scared to fall. They want that security. Even if you got a steady job, don't be afraid to do what God called you to do. A lot of people run away from their gifts just to be secure in a sense. But I don't live like that. Definitely chase your dreams.That's the advice I would give. If you really want to do something, stay down with it. Don't give up on it. Because you only going to let yourself down at the end of the day.
Beyond producing, what part of the industry intrigues you and you see yourself working in down the line?
I got a label, Hit Cartel, and we are doing our thing. I got two artists that's signed, and they're doing their thing locally in their reigions. I'm getting with my business partner to open up studios in different cities and stuff. I'm into songwriting. Eventually, I want to be an A&R. I'm going to take it as far as I can take it. There ain't no limits to this.
Last question: what can people look forward to in 2019 from you?
I'm working with some people like Yo Gotti, Lil Baby, Rich Homie Quan of course. Saba Baby, a lot of folks. I got some shit with Future on the way too. It's going to be a really good year. I got a lot of shit popping off real fast for me. I'm grateful for this. This is my time.