JWhiteDidIt is no overnight success. The Kansas City native has been working towards his recent wins for more than a decade, but within the past two years, the producer’s finally been able to see the fruits of his labor.
“I feel like things didn’t really change until I saw that money hit my account because [in 2017] when ‘Bodak Yellow’ was No. 1, I had maybe $10 in my pocket…,” White reveals. “I saw it hit No. 8 on the Hot 100 and I literally started crying. I couldn’t control myself, because it’s so hard to make it in this music industry and I had been trying for so long to get to this point of people hearing my work.”
After Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” took off, White continued his work with the burgeoning hip-hop star, contributing three tracks to her debut LP, the Grammy-winning Invasion of Privacy. He waited patiently, watching “I Like It” dominate the charts and radio waves during the summer of 2018. Then, on the tail of “I Like It,” Cardi and White struck gold again last October with her thunderous ode to dollar bills, “Money.”
Now everyone is clamoring to work with JWhite, from Mary J. Blige and 21 Savage to Iggy Azalea. The latter is finding her momentum with “Sally Walker” and White’s track “A Lot” with 21 Savage is holding steady at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Despite his success, the producer’s sole regret is that his mother — his biggest fan since the very beginning — isn’t around to see it for herself. But White is still celebrating his victories in her honor, as well as his own. “I just think, ‘Man… Is this what it’s like?’ he starts. “Because I imagined myself here in this position a long time ago. At the age of 15, I already put myself in that seat. So now, it’s like, I’m finally here, but I need to do more. I’m not comfortable. I’m proud of what I’ve done in two years, but I still feel like there’s so much left to do.”
Here, JWhiteDidIt talks with Billboard about fate, the grind, losing hope and finding it again.
We know that you’re able to call Kansas “home.” You also claim Dallas, but talk about your connection to New York City.
I love New York. My connection to the city began in ‘05 when I moved here with two guys. One did music and the other was a manager. I met them both while trying to network on Black Planet. They both say, “Yo. Why don’t you just move to New York? We got an extra room.” I just said, “Yeah. Why not?” So I moved to New York.
I got to New York around July or August of that year. I didn’t know anyone except for those two guys but there was some event in Queens and I figured I would go up there and meet some new people. I happened to walk to a corner of the park where no one was and this guy, [Klenord “Shaft” Raphael] who went on to become my manager later, he was talking to someone in a car and he said something about the MTV Awards. So I pause like, “Oh! I need to connect with him.”
I waited until he was done with his conversation and I approached him, “Aye, man. I’m a producer from Kansas. I just moved here a week or two ago and I have beats on my keyboard. You wanna hear ‘em? My house is right across the street.” He and his friends look at me and he says, “Sure.” I play him some beats that day, and the next thing you know I’m working with him and his artists out of his basement all summer.
But then you ended up back home in Kansas at some point.
I went out to Kansas to visit and I ended up staying in Kansas but Shaft always kept up with me. All throughout the years, like in 2007, my phone was off and he figured out my friend’s number and gave me a call to see how I was doing. Over 11 years.
My mom had passed away as a result of domestic violence in 2016. My life was low, I was low. That’s when I tried to commit suicide. I ended up telling my cousin who lives in Brooklyn, what was going on and she said, “You need to come up here immediately.” So I booked a flight and came out to New York and called Shaft to let him know I was back. He’s like, “You got beats?” I told him, “Come on man. I always have beats.” He invited me to the crib, “Same spot, same basement…”
When I walked into the basement, Cardi B was sitting there. This was a seed I planted back in 2005, and 2016 is when it started to grow, because dude was her manager — and he became my manager again.
Can you talk about what your work relationship is like with Cardi?
I just saw something in Cardi B, where I believed in her and what Shaft was doing with her. I believed in myself and my sound. I figured that this was the only way I was getting in the door, the only way I could make things happen — like, if I could blow this girl up with my sound, I would look like a genius and these people would have to hear me. That’s how it happened. With trial and error. I did the second mixtape with them [Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 2] and then “Bodak Yellow,” and I’m seeing my name on the Billboard charts.
You’ve been in the studio with Iggy Azalea as of late, as well.
Yeah. For these past two months, I’ve been working with Iggy Azalea to give her the best music I can give her. I got to know her as a person and I’m just really excited about this journey that she’s on. It’s like, nobody really believed in Cardi B when it came to music. With Iggy, you can look online and see what she’s been through.
People ask why I would choose to work with Iggy, and I’m just like, “Why not?” The thing is that I believe in myself more than I believe in anybody in the world, so if I touch it, it’s gonna go. So I feel like, if I believe in me that much and you believe in you, then it’s gonna go.
How do you go between vibing with rappers to constructing songs for R&B singers like Eric Bellinger and now Mary J. Blige? How easy is it for you?
I grew up in the church — and honestly, I didn’t like rap music, to be 1000% with you. Rap was my least favorite genre when it came to making beats. I’m an R&B guy. I love making that music. I grew up on Timbaland, Jazze Pha, Rodney Jerkins, DJ Paul and Lil Jon — I had a mix of everything, and I was in a group back in the day where everyone had different tastes in music, so I had to learn how to make all those genres.
To me, it’s simple. Yes, I did “Bodak Yellow” and “I Like It,” but soon you’re going to hear the record I did with Mary J. Blige and it sounds like nothing else — it’s an R&B record that you won’t know I made. To me, it’s easy, moving from trap music to R&B and even gospel. That’s what I’ll be doing next.
So gospel is in the cards…
Of course, I can’t wait to get my first No. 1 in gospel. That’s going to be amazing, starting from where I did — because I feel like, you can’t do anything without God.
Can you see yourself actually writing songs in the future? Or just maintaining behind the boards?
I wanna do everything because music is me. I told myself I’m giving my life to this and I’m doing it all. Music is the number one language. I wanna do everything. One person that I study is P. Diddy because he touches everything. I’ve been looking up to Diddy since I was a kid, 13, 14 years old. I aspired to be him and touch it all. When it comes to music, I can do it all.
Last time I was talking with Billboard, you guys asked me something that I live by now. “If you can define a chapter in your life right now with one word, what would it be?” I said, “Love.” Love is what makes you keep going. You have to love when you fail and love when you win. That’s how I feel right now. It’s been a long chapter but I love it and even if I don’t win, I’m still in love with what I’m doing.
Are you in a place where your recent success is still blowing your mind?
I’m still like, “Wow,” when I think of where I am now. Working with Mary J. Blige is one of those moments. Another is like, “Forest Whitaker is standing right behind me?” or “I’m on FaceTime with Timbaland? Are you serious?” People will ask how it feels, and I feel like I don’t know because I’m in the eye of the tornado. You can be from a place that doesn’t get many looks and end up with the No. 1 song in the country.
What would you like to see happen in the next year?
I really want to be nominated for producer of the year at the Grammys. That’s what I want for myself, it’s a personal goal. I want to work with everybody.