When Jesse Woodard was 5 years old, his uncle bought him a Fisher-Price drum set. It didn't last long.
"I used to f— that motherf—er up," he says.
Woodard — aka West Bank-raised rapper and hip-hop producer Chase N. Cashe — graduated to school desks, which he'd use to lay the beats for classroom rap battles. (Woodard, the youngest in his crew, was allowed to curse in his verses — a treat for him at a time when hometown hero Lil Wayne famously swore never to curse.) "And then I'd always get in trouble with teachers for beating on desks."
Now 28 years old, Chase N. Cashe is a go-to rap producer with a prolific back catalog of dark, lush compositions and spaced-out, snappy beats popping behind a dozen albums and mixtapes (including his own) and on countless rap tracks — from his latest EP, Cathedral, a sort of duet with Curren$y, to his first big break in 2008 on Flo Rida's "Priceless."
That "Priceless" beat borrows a heavy clap from the beat that made Woodard want to make music for a living — Pharrell Williams' breakthrough beat for Clipse on 2002's "Grindin'." Woodard illegally downloaded beat-making software and bought a Korg Triton LE, a similar model to the keyboard Williams used. In high school, Woodard made up to 10 beats a day and shared them on artist message boards, where he sold his first beat.
"I was like, 'Word? People buy beats?'" Woodard remembers. "'What do I charge for a beat?' At the time, $100 is a pair of Jordans."
So he asked for $150. He got it in a money order. Woodard was 16 years old and a junior in high school.
"If you went on the Internet, it was like going into Atmosphere's house," Woodard remembers of early days of pre-social media music sharing. "They all wanted to be like DJ Premier or guys who produce for Nas or Gang Starr. I came in with all these Mannie Fresh-ass sounding beats."
Following Hurricane Katrina, Woodard moved to Los Angeles, hustling burned CDs of his beats around recording studios, then spending his hustle money for studio time. "I was just out there hustling — hustling beats, weed, all type of shit just to pay rent," he says.
That California influence drips all over Cathedral, full of West Coast-inspired low-rider funk. His next mixtape is The Heir Up There 2, which he says will be a more "visual, colorful sound." (It drops Oct. 27, opening game day for the New Orleans Pelicans against the Golden State Warriors, and, like every New Orleans basketball fan, he hopes Eric Gordon gets time off the bench instead of "getting paid $50 million to cry.")
"I'm just about to enter a zone, and the music is going to speak for itself," Woodard says.
"You're going to have your own video to it in your head. ... That's the kind of music I'm trying to make. ... This generation likes vibes and feels. Some things are better left unexplained. That's where I'm at with this shit. I'm done explaining."
But not on Twitter (@chasencashe), where his hourly musings — fat-free, no wasted words or emoji overload — add up to an oddly profound manifesto in progress.
"I just read the shit out of Deepak Chopra's timeline and it was just f—ing motivating and I was like, 'I need to be like this. If I'm like this, it'll come back to me,'" he says. "The best thing I learned with Twitter over the past few years is that it opened so many doors for people who are looking for something new, and I just want to be that new thing that people gravitate towards.
"If you're dope on the independent scene or dope on the major scene, and into soul music and into a different feel than what's going on right now, then come holler at me, because I feel like I'm the flagpole leader."