'Julius the dot is free'
Riding high from his new "About Damn Time..." mixtape series, local music producer J.Phree is unapologetically switching gears to write the most authentic chapter of his life, yet.
J.Phree was running late for our interview. “It was picture day for the team, and we ran a little over,” he explained. He’s a high school social worker, and up until two months ago, was a coach for the Thornton varsity baseball team. Now, he’s one of Harvey’s burgeoning music producers.
He’s riding the wave of his second mixtape “About Damn Time…Vol. 2: Showtime.” Released in March, ABT2 is a clear nod to early aughts Hip-Hop, when producers like J.Dilla, No I.D., and Kanye West crystallized an ethereal plexus of 1970s soul ballads into the genre.
The instrumental ABT mixtape series builds on a sound that resonated with conscious rappers like Common who were concerned with a pro-Black, anti-capitalist politic and mafioso rappers like Jay-Z who embraced the life of luxury, materialism, and crime noir, two lyrical extremes of the time.
The ABT series is accentuated with pop culture nods, from Omar of HBO’s “The Wire,” to the Black millennial south suburban Friday night respite Markham Skating Rink, reimagined as a funk groove.
J.Phree sits parked in his car outside his South Loop apartment, clad in a royal purple baseball uniform. An unfinished copy of “Dilla Time,” a biography on the late superproducer, sits in his backseat. He briefly scans the perimeter “to make sure I don’t have to move my car.”
The scene is a fitting analogy for how he meanders through life, as a comma personified—there’s always something next to come. Embrace spontaneity. That game plan, one where he knows when to hit the reset button, is allowing J.Phree to write the most authentic chapter of his life, yet.
Music isn’t some anomaly for J. Phree, whose real name is Julius Patterson. He grew up on both the baseball diamond and at band concerts as a fourth grade saxophone player.
“My mom and dad played a lot of music in the household, the Anita Bakers, the Al Greens, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson—a plethora of artists,” he said. Then, the Louis Vutton Don appeared.
“I was about 12, 13 [years old]—this guy Kanye West came on the scene. He reminded me of me in the sense of like…back then, rap–it was about if you’re a thug or a gangster. Kanye didn’t have that approach. He had the approach that I had: a suburban kid that was taken care of and just had a love for music.”
In some ways, it’s an accurate parallelism. Others, not so much.
West’s mother Donda was a Chicago State University professor who relocated to the white middle-class Oak Lawn suburb when he was 10. Patterson is the son of the now-deceased Julius Patterson, a political fortress and influential voice both as an Harvey alderman and Harvey Park District trustee.
However, West met megaproducer No I.D. at age 15, shortly after he received his first beat machine, an mpc2000xl. “Since I was 13,” Patterson reflected, “I always wanted that machine.” Patterson’s parents, however, wouldn’t budge. “They said, ‘I’m not spending $2,000 on a music machine.’”
In 2015, he used a refund check in graduate school to purchase one.
Harvey’s a largely poor Black and Brown community filled with vacant lots and boarded-up homes, far from an idyllic suburban oasis.
But, Patterson, 31, doesn’t consider himself an underdog. He could do anything he wanted, Patterson said, “as long as I put forth the effort in order to be successful or happy— whatever it is that I wanted to do.”
The guy has a certain je ne sais quoi. He literally thinks and does.
In 2019, he launched a bid for City Council. He founded Degrees Funding Dreams, a fashion brand dedicated toward millennials who use their education to finance passion projects and creative endeavors .Patterson briefly coached a little league baseball group bringing together youth and law enforcement.
He lost his political bid and that youth program no longer operates.
Whenever Patterson has an idea, however, he’s willing to see the project through to the end—regardless of the outcome. That’s a baseball mentality, he said.
“If I get three hits out of every ten at bats, I’m doing good, in a sense.”
In college, he hired a hitting coach and trainer to elevate his skillset between freshman and senior year. “It’s the same thing with my producing. Putting money into my equipment, looking up YouTube videos, asking other producers ‘how do you do this? ‘How do you do that?’” Even sitting in his office after hours making beats.
“I don’t have too many people around me who I’ve seen do it,” he said about why it’s important to affirm himself when amid any professional leap. “It’s like can this happen? Can I make this happen?”
And, if the next pitch or 808 kick doesn’t make sense to him, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks.
Music is a first love deferred, inspiring the name behind his popular mixtape series. But, it likely came as a hobby for those who expected him to follow in his father’s footsteps or pursue professional baseball, he surmised.“A lot of people put me in a box growing up.”
His moniker is his response:
“Julius the dot is free.”
It’s the throughline between possibly leaving social work for music full-time and unapologetically repping Harvey when others in the city falsely claim Chicago as their hometown.
“Music has freed me of who I am and let me be creative in my style and appearance.”
While working from home due to the pandemic, he had more time to plunge himself into his art, both as craft and reprieve—especially as a social worker. “Working in the schools, seeing the difference from a social-emotional standpoint of students and the staff,” he’s seen the toll the pandemic has taken on well-being, he said.
“About Damn Time… Vol. 1: Life is Beautiful,” released last fall, is a pandemic album, where he could understand his own life and find a niche in his sound, he said.
Patterson certainly did the work. He had a point to prove on ABT2 to any naysayers. There’s less filler than its predecessor. More dexterity in sound. He takes care of, rather than abuses, the soul samples. It’s an existential experience, intercut with voice messages from friends and family.
The somber “Complexity of Love” is in adoration of his longtime girlfriend, whom he’s madly in love with, he doted on. “Paris Fashion Week” is heavily influenced by House music and dubstep. The ominous minimalism of “Beef” could’ve perfectly found its way onto Pusha T’s 2013 “My Name Is My Name” debut album.
Nas, Mobb Deep, G Herbo, and Rhapsody—all whom Patterson hopes to work with someday—could all ride “Mother*****.” And, “Voicemail” fits the classic Hip-Hop feel DJ Drama brought to Tyler the Creator’s critically acclaimed “Call Me If You Get Lost.”
Patterson’s already plotting the third and final ABT installment, this time with artists. He also has plans for a House-influenced album to “show off my Kaytranada,” he said.
He quit coaching baseball to devote more time to his music career, he revealed.
He didn’t secure an album placement in 2021 as he hoped.
But, this year, he’s got two.
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