I’m surprised there isn’t a picture of a specs-wearing Jacob Rochester grinning profusely under the word “maestro” in the dictionary.
Jacob is what you may call an artist’s artist. Not only does he create wonderful illustrations, the uber creative Connecticut native knows a thing or two about producing mesmerizing beats that can easily impress the most dedicated Hip Hop head. I was initially aware of Rochester’s incredible talent during the heyday of Tumblr, where his designs continuously popped up in the most prominent fashion and music pages. We eventually met at Nigo’s former New York shop, and kept in touch via social media.
Although having a budding business relationship with Jacob, we never really spoke to the point where I really got to know his story. This is why it’s such a pleasure to present our very first in-depth conversation below. Enjoy!
FRENDY: You were the first person I thought of when I wanted a newly designed logo—thanks for a job well done! How often do you get hit up for commissioned pieces?
JACOB: Glad you liked the logo, man! I think it came out cool as well. I get hit up pretty often actually. I tend to go with what feels right in my gut when deciding who to work with. And I find it best to not take on too many projects at a time—it sucks to get bogged down and not be able to feel like I’m giving enough attention to a client.
FRENDY: I totally feel you. Furthermore, you want to properly execute whatever piece you’re working on. Who was your first big client?
JACOB: Yeah, exactly. And I guess it depends on what you consider to be “big.” I’d say it was working with Flatbush Zombies for the first time in 2015, but honestly it was more so because I was able to work with my good homie Phillip T. Annand on the project. That moment was huge for me personally because I had been following him & the Madbury Club for so long. To be able to work with such genius was mind boggling. And then I was able to see the poster I had created for the [Flatbush Zombies] show in person for the first time out in London on a study abroad trip, so that made it even crazier.
FRENDY: Yeah, man. My fellow Haitian brother Phil is out of this world. The growth of his entire crew is surreal as well. I haven’t seen him post on Instagram for a minute!
JACOB: Yeah, for sure! It seems like he stays low now, evasive I guess. Which is a dream *Laughs*.
FRENDY: Are you working for a particular design studio?
JACOB: At the moment, nope! I’m doing freelance stuff on my own. I think I would be open to working for a studio because a lot of the work I admire from huge agencies or clients etc. come out of studios that I’ve been following for some time now. But luckily, I’m able to work at my own pace by myself. That may change in the future though, who knows.
FRENDY: You deserve all of the success, my man. Speaking of winning, congrats on having your very own font published on Actual Source’s book, Shoplifters 8: New Type Design, earlier this year. What’s your thought process when conjuring up a brand new typeface?
JACOB: Appreciate it yo! Yeah, that was a great opportunity. It felt like a milestone in regards to design and working with Actual Source. Fonts are tricky for me actually, I’ve only designed maybe 3 fully-custom typefaces. And each one kind of came up sporadically when designing something else. For example, the latest one I built is called ‘Neola’ and it’s a monospace font. And the real reason I made it was mainly to set type on PDF’s for decks I make for clients.
I’m super particular with anything I create, and when it comes to fonts I tend to overthink even more than my typical work so it’s hard for me to start to be honest. When I get a solid idea of where the font should go it gets easier. It’s a fun process, though tedious.
FRENDY: Incredible. Did you go to art school at all, or are you naturally gifted with the strokes (pause) *Laughs*?
JACOB: *Laughs* Nah, I went to Uconn for graphic design & before that I took a couple courses in footwear design in high school. Outside of that, I learned everything with the help of my parents. My mom was an artist as well so I always had a good support system. And then, of course, through observation & learning shit via the internet.
FRENDY: Like Blue Ivy, Jay-Z and Beyonce’s first born child, it seems like you were instilled with the belief that there are no ceilings. That you can do anything your heart desires, and it’s apparent as you are fulfilling your array of passions. How was life growing up in Connecticut? Were your parents pretty lenient?
JACOB: Yeah, I’d say so. I still keep that mindstate that if I want something, or want to learn something, there’s always a way to get to it as cliche as it sounds. Growing up in CT was cool, had a good circle of friends that I’m still super close with to this day. I think my parents had like the perfect amount of ‘strictness’ with me and my siblings growing up, they weren’t ever too overbearing and were always supportive of what we did. I consider myself lucky because I know a ton of people now that wish they had went a different route in school or whatever but weren’t able to because of their parents, or just taking what seemed to be a more stable route.
FRENDY: You are blessed indeed. My father really didn’t see my vision at first (and it’s all good), but thank God my mother always believed in my abilities. Having a support system is key—even if it’s just one person giving you positive feedback.
JACOB: 100% man! I hate to hear when people are deterred from their dreams due to lack of support or confidence. But I guess that also comes down to having a passion for something too. You’ll stick to it if you know it’s something you want to do.
FRENDY: Facts! Look at us, we’re still here *Laughs*. I’m not sure how many times we’ve actually met in person but I was surprised to see how tall you were. Have you played any organized basketball?
JACOB: Bruh! It’s funny you say that because just 2 days ago I was told I look like I’m 5’6 in my pictures. Which is hilarious to me. But nah, nothing too serious. I played AAU in middle school and played in high school, but kind of lost the ‘hoop dreams’ early on when I realized how much nicer kids were than me when I played AAU *Laughs*.
FRENDY: Pictures can be deceiving! Yeah, I’m not going to lie, I had hoop dreams as well. I played HS basketball, I was so in love with the game. But during my senior year, I just stopped to focus on my “TV Production” career *Laughs*. Why’d you make such a big move all the way to Los Angeles and not a closer booming city like New York?
JACOB: Yeah, yo! That’s honestly one of the worst realizations as a kid like, “Damn, I’m not going to the NBA,” after living & breathing basketball for so long *Laughs*. But yeah, I decided to move to LA after getting a job pretty much after graduation to work with Nas’ clothing line, HSTRY, which is based out here. I would've for sure moved to NY if that opportunity didn’t present itself though.
FRENDY: Nas, the legend! How’d you get the gig with his company?
JACOB: That actually came up through an old mentor of mine, this dude named Jason Mayden who is a genius in his own right. I’m super thankful for that connection. But yeah, he pretty much knew the brand manager at HSTRY and made the connection when they needed a graphic designer. It worked itself out from there.
FRENDY: When the hell do you find the time to sharpen all your swords because they’re pretty lethal! How do you prioritize your time in honing your lengthy skills?
JACOB: Thanks, yo! I think it all comes from learning things super early on. My parents have old home video tapes of me on the drumset at like 2 yrs old and scribbling at like 3 etc. I just had a knack for things when I was young and acted on them. I think a huge part of it was also how I learned certain things, like I can remember being maybe 8 or 9 and just copying this artist Justin Bua’s work over and over. He’s the dude that has the black caricatures in his paintings that are hung in like every barber shop. But yeah, from his stuff to copying graffiti I saw, to pseudo-learning how to draw anatomy from Incredible Hulk comics or the AND-1 dude *Laughs*, I always had references that I found interesting to learn from. And from then to now, I guess it’s all the same really. I’m just sharpening each skill through repetition and further observation from other artists or musicians etc.
FRENDY: At what age did you start getting serious about making music? What compelled you to do so?
JACOB: I’m not sure if I’d even consider myself serious about music now. I just always found it fun & rewarding to make music. I grew up playing drums in the church so it kind of made sense for me to move on to making beats. But I still see it as like something to do when I get tired of drawing or something.
I think it may have been when I first heard MF-DOOM & Madlib for the first time in like 7th grade from one of my music teachers. I felt like, “wow I definitely want to learn how to do this stuff.” It was around the same time my uncle put a cracked version of FruityLoops 3 on my computer at home *Laughs*. Again, super lucky.
FRENDY: There are no such things as coincidences! Do you record at home or pay for studio time?
JACOB: I hear you! And nah, just do things from home. If I took it more serious then maybe I’d try to work out of studios or whatever, but my small setup at the crib is all I need really.
FRENDY: I listened to a lot of your records and I see you have an affinity for using samples, specifically from reggae and soul records. How extensive is your vinyl collection?
JACOB: Yeah, that’s my favorite stuff. And I think now I’ve accumulated maybe a couple hundred, I’m fairly new to sampling from vinyl. I only started collecting a couple years ago. Before that it was the cliche sample-from-Youtube strategy *Laughs*.
FRENDY: Hey, some of the biggest records today used samples from YouTube *Laughs*. Your highest played song on Soundcloud is, “Maria I’m Smacked (Trust Me),” which reworks the intro of Travis Scott’s “Maria I’m Drunk,” featuring Justin Bieber and Young Thug. What intrigued you so much about that particular part of the original tune?
JACOB: I think mainly the chord progression in the beginning of that song intrigued me the most. And I just wished it was longer, with drums. I was going to take that down from my Soundcloud actually because it’s one of those things where you look back and wish you did certain things differently—which is how I feel about almost all of my work *Laughs*. But yeah, I think it still holds up today, kind of.
FRENDY: Nah, please leave that song up ‘cause I need to put it in this piece *Laughs*. Which musical artists do you enjoy listening to right now?
JACOB: Let me check my ‘recent’ in Apple music. I love this chick named Kadhja Bonet, her stuff is like modern-mid 70s soul, it's crazy. Also been playing a lot of DaBaby, Mach Hommy, Matt Ox, I always have Knxwledge on rotation. Weird grouping of artists, but that’s what I’ve been slapping recently.
FRENDY: That’s an eclectic mix right there. As far as illustrating, do you have a certain process to get in the zone?
JACOB: A lot of my stuff is referential so it comes down to having an idea + references for me to start a piece. I don’t always stick to the references verbatim, but It helps when starting for sure. Other than that, I usually have a movie on in the background or music when knocking out an illustration.
FRENDY: Who are your dream collaborators in any art field?
JACOB: Working with Actual Source was a huge one for me, would love to work more with them. I’ve always wanted to have an artist-specific project like, for example, doing a full collection in the same way Raf Simons worked with Sterling Ruby or Brian Calvin. I think the ultimate dream would be doing a BMW art car. With music, I don’t know, maybe DOOM rapping over one of my beats would make everything come full circle *Laughs*.
FRENDY: Hey, you never know who’ll come across this interview and connect the dots! I stumbled upon one of your latest sitdowns which revealed that you are not fond of wearing heavily branded clothing. What brands are you actually into?
JACOB: Yeah recently, and I have no clue why, but I feel weird wearing huge logos. I’m not sure what that stemmed from but I’d much rather wear things that have more attention to detail. I like OAMC a lot, Sacai, Rick Owens, Tone Customs makes amazing bags & utility-accessories. I still love Palace a lot too as a brand, but I don’t think I’d wear much from them.
FRENDY: The last time we saw anything related to your clothing line, Massive, was an Instagram post in 2016. Is it safe to say that this ship has sailed?
JACOB: Yeah, for sure. Massive was fun while it lasted, but when I moved to LA I just didn’t have the time or passion for it & just wanted to do something new that would be more specialized & detail oriented. I’ve just started another ‘thing’ called, a.Construct, that operates the same as Massive in a sense, but just has everything I’ve learned up until this point behind it. I’m able to make what I want with more knowledge & with a better understanding of how clothing works. It’s still a slow-moving brand, but I’m excited for what will come of it.
FRENDY: Is a.Construct a one man operation or do you have a team of people working on the brand with you?
JACOB: Nah, it’s all me for now. That way I’m able to have control over what I want to put out, and more so because a lot of times I’m lazy & just need time to make or think of stuff. Which is kind of how the whole brand came about, just overthinking and not trusting an idea. I use it as another outlet for ideas, which don’t always come consistently.
FRENDY: What else do you have planned for the rest of 2019?
JACOB: I think for the most part, just more of what I’m doing now: freelancing, making beats & chilling out. I recently worked with a brand out in Italy that should be showing a collection in June at Pitti Florence, so hopefully I’ll be out there in the summer. I’ve also been working on a bunch of paintings, would be cool to show them at some point this year.
FRENDY: My man, this talk was phenomenal. Thanks for your time. Any last words?
JACOB: Bruh! Thank you so much for the opportunity, man. I’ll never forget those days mad long ago heading up to NY, showing up in the BAPE store like, “Yo, there’s Frendy!” *Laughs*. Really crazy how time flies, man.