“Beats You Would Give Mobb Deep”: Jake One Re-Examines “Rock Co.Kane Flow”

A look back at the making of a De La Soul classic.

Art and design by pecuedesign

(This is a modified version of a 2017 interview from the Micro-Chop Medium publication.)

Long before he composed Chance The Rapper’s poignant “Acid Rain” and ran a gospel sample through a karaoke machine to make Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, and Rick Ross’ “3 Kings,” Jake One was an aspiring Seattle producer in search of the right piece of gear. “I started off with a Roland sampler,” he says. “Then I had an E-mu Emax that I did some beats with, maybe one or two of those came out.”

Never completely satisfied with the Emax, Jake graduated to an Ensoniq EPS 16+ in 1998—which he describes as “kind of the little brother of the ASR-10.” First introduced to the sampling keyboard after connecting with Toronto-based producer Mr. Attic from Da Grassroots, something about the EPS resonated with Jake right away. “I just loved the way his beats sounded,” he says. “They sounded so warm.”

Despite not having the same level of prestige as other famed samplers of the time, the EPS had some distinct qualities that won him over. “It sounded better to me than the SP-1200 shit,” he says. “The SP-1200 was always name dropped on all these records, but it wasn’t really a good fit for me. When I got on the EPS, I felt like I just found something that worked for me.”

After picking up some tips and tricks from Mr. Addict and fellow Seattle producer Vitamin D, Jake eventually graduated to an ASR-10. The vintage sampler remains an extension of him today after many years of use. “At this point I could really use that thing and not even think,” Jake says. “That thing is so tied to what I do. I can do beats on Pro Tools all the way, but I feel like they’re just not quite all me.”

Despite his ASR proficiency, Jake has made every effort to remain a student of the machine over the course of his near 20-year career. “I always feel like I’m learning something new and figuring out new ways to do it,” he says. “Whether it’s sampling or playing, or whatever it is, I’m always trying to capture a new little nuance.”

A subtle nuance ended up being a key element in one of the biggest songs from his extensive discography—De La Soul and MF DOOM’s 2004 collaboration “Rock Co.Kane Flow.” After identifying a haunting vocal sample, pitching it up, and chopping it in the ASR, Jake found one tiny additional snippet that gave his then-unused beat some additional oomph. “This was kind of the sound that brought the whole shit together,” he explained in his Behind The Beat video while playing an isolated drum sound on the ASR. “Some random ass, I guess it’s a drum sound off…I don’t remember where I got it from. I took that sound and kind of just did it on the four count. It kind of gives it that real dirty feel.”

Once he achieved the desired grittiness by layering a drum hit with the vocal chops, the beat went into a batch of instrumentals he wanted to get in the hands of De La Soul. “I just thought I had the right beats that they might like,” hey says.

When Jake’s late friend J Moore facilitated a meeting between both parties in the early 2000s, Jake brought a beat CD that included an instrumental version of “Rock Co.Kane Flow.” After meeting the group, he handed the CD off to De La and waited for a reply. “Posdnuos ended up calling me maybe two, three days later and he might have wanted nine of the beats on there,” says Jake.

Although the group’s selection of the hard-hitting, ominous “Rock Co.Kane Flow” was a bit of a surprise, it wasn’t a complete shock. “Pos used to always tell me, ‘Man, give me the beats you would give Mobb Deep. We don’t just want what people think is a De La beat,’” Jake says.

After De La chose two of the initial nine beats for their 2004 LP The Grind Date, Jake looked forward to the album’s release. But it wasn’t until “Rock Co.Kane Flow” leaked online half a year later that he realized the full impact his song would have. “I was doing this beat showcase in New York at Knitting Factory called Beat Society,” he explains. “I was playing beats live off the ASR, I was loading the shits up and everything. The song had been out a couple days. And I played that beat, did the beat switch up and all that live, and people just went fucking crazy. I was like, ‘Wow, I really got one here.’”

Looking back, Jake remembers that De La wasn’t the only notable notable member of the hip-hop community that geeked out of his menacing track. “Before De La had recorded to it I was in the studio with Redman. And he just loved the beat—he played the beat for two hours straight,” he says.

Though Redman never acted on his affinity for the song, 50 Cent did. “50 actually rapped on it too,” he says. “I think they wanted to use it on The Massacre but I was like, ‘Nah, De La already used it.’ To certain people it’s a 50 Cent song and to certain people it’s a De La Soul song. I was in New York when the 50 version dropped and I was hearing it everywhere.”

Regardless of which artist fans associate the song with, having De La Soul choose his instrumental at the same time 50 Cent requested it for his Get Rich or Die Tryin’ follow-up let Jake know he was on the right career path. “When something like that happens, it just gives you the confidence like, ‘I’m doing the right thing and maybe if I stay at this it’s going to turn into something,’” he says. “That’s really what it is.”

Micro-Chopping Jake One—a 31-track playlist of essential production.

Thanks for reading, see you on Wednesday!