Turning right onto YoungJae Avenue
// Image courtesy of YoungJae.
Jaeschel Acheampong ‘24, artistically known as YoungJae, is a Ghanian-American artist, producer, national track champion, and Harvard student-athlete. Growing up in a musical family, made his artistic talents almost second nature and his identities intersect at YoungJae Ave where he’s passionate about authenticity and contributing to things bigger than himself.
Read more about YoungJae’s journey in conversation with WHRB below and stream his debut EP Crowd Control.
[Interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity]
How did you come up with YoungJae?
YoungJae: So, funny story. I wasn't a fan of the name YoungJae in the beginning. One of my family friends was giving me information on making beats at one of our church camps and I made the beat, but didn’t know what to title it. Then, one of my friends was like “Ooo YoungJae made a nice beat type thing” and then we titled it YoungJae and ran with it.
Oh ok, and describe YoungJae in a sentence.
YJ: Unfiltered Jaeschel. It’s a lot easier to articulate myself to a microphone.
So you’re from Ohio, you’re Ghanian-American, and you’re a student-athlete. How do all of these identities influence your artistry?
YJ: I use each one of those things to separate me from reality in a sense. Running track is an escape from school, school is an escape from the stress of the track, and music is an escape from both of those things. All of those things are an escape from one another which inherently influences my music.
We have to talk about Crowd Control, your debut EP. Can you tell us a little bit about what that creation process was like and how have you grown since then, as it’s coming up on it’s one year anniversary?
YJ: I’m so glad you asked, I just listened to that album yesterday. A lot of Crowd Control was spontaneous. For example, “Insomniac” was written a year and a half before I put it out, but then “Silent Thoughts” was written three weeks before I dropped it. I would do a verse or something and send it to a groupchat with my friends and they would be like “This is it or isn’t it” and eventually we compiled a list of eight or nine songs that we liked.
Did you have lyrics for all of the songs or were you just sharing beats at that point?
YJ: They would have lyrics, but I would go back and redo a lot of them. I would send a lot of rough copies to the chat and eventually my friend told me to make it into a tape, so I was like “go crazy.” I started having my friends do a verse on the songs and then they would make me like the songs more than I thought. The one song I did without their approval was "Silent Thoughts" which is why it’s so much closer to the album because the album was almost complete but the ending just wasn’t there.
I’m so glad you mentioned working with other people because along with rapping you’re a producer and you collaborate with other artists a ton. Why is producing and ownership in music important to you and what do you enjoy about collabs?
YJ: One reason I like collabing with people is because alot of the times when you hear the same thing over and over you become “ear blind.” Talking to other people gives you a fresh perspective and new ideas, also it makes you realize how much better something could be.
The reason I started producing is because there are times when I can’t articulate what I want so I’ll just do it myself. Therefore, I have control over all aspects of the song and my own capabilities are the only limits. If I watch enough Youtube videos or listen to enough songs I can figure out how I want something to sound. Also, a lot of the artists I idolize end up producing their own music. For example, I know that Kanye produces his own music and also collaborates with other people or someone like Tyler The Creator or Travis Scott. When you produce your own music you own everything with a song. Also, to be completely honest I was broke and it’s a lot easier not having to deal with clearances and paying people for beats when you make the beat yourself.
Switching gears, I personally am obsessed with your cover art and designs. What is your visual design process like?
YJ: So I took this one test sophomore year and I think I have synesthesia. Whenever I hear beats, I’m not necessarily like “oh this is green”, but in the beat-making program I’ll end making things a certain color because that’s what it sounds like. A lot of the time I start throwing stuff together and there’s no real method.
I love that you’re creative in different ways, so will we be seeing some music videos or other moving visuals from you?
YJ: Definitely yes, but it’s just the execution. One problem of mine is that I would rather do everything myself than articulate how someone else should do it. And it’s really hard to shoot an entire video of yourself. I need to figure out how to eventually let go and allow other people to do things, because I could shoot a video myself but I know there’s someone who could do it better.
Over the summer, you donated profits from Crowd Control to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and I wanted to shine a light on that because I think it’s really important to use our art for something bigger than ourselves.
YJ: Of course. I just thought that I didn’t need the funds from Crowd Control to be okay and I didn't need it to survive. There are better things that money could go towards and one of those things happened to be the George Floyd NAACP fundraiser. There’s always something bigger than myself and I like to keep that in mind.
Definitely. What’s next for YoungJae?
YJ: Working. I’ve been working on this tape ever since Crowd Control called Jaeschel—
Oh my gosh, is this the first time you’ve mentioned it to anyone?
YJ: No not at all haha. The whole thought process behind the album Jaeschel comes from what inspires me. I’m combining all of my favorite albums and aspects that I love from them. For example, To Pimp A Butterfly is a very good album and the poem that Kendrick wrote to Tupac is strung throughout it. So, I would do a poem written by Jaeschel to Jaeschel because it’s about Jaeschel. Pretty narcissistic but you know.
And what are some bucket list items for your career?
YJ: To work with Travis Scott or Kanye West, easy. A more tangible thing is to have a concert where people know the words. After my brother’s graduation, a few boys were in the basement and one of my songs played. I don’t know why but a lot of people that were there knew that song and it made me feel so good. I was cheesin’ the rest of the night! To have a concert where people are singing my words to me would blow my mind.
Well now that’s in the world and I’m feeling pretty good about it.
Keep up with YoungJae on Instagram @youngjae.wav and on all streaming platforms including SoundCloud as YoungJae.
// Kristian Hardy ‘24 is a writer and broadcaster for The Darker Side.
*correction on 11/17/21 to replace "Crowd Control" with "Silent Thoughts" for the following sentence: "The one song I did without their approval was “Crowd Control"....