Songwriter Profile: J Kash Faked It Till He Made It (Big)
With artists like Sia, Bebe Rexha and Julia Michaels making the leap from songwriter to pop star, there’s renewed interest in the people behind the hits. Which is why I’ve started a recurring feature dedicated to pop’s hottest writing talent. And the latest profile belongs to one of the game’s heaviest hitters. Jacob Kasher’s fingerprints are all over pop radio with credits on Maroon 5’s “Cold,” Jason Derulo’s “Swalla” and Zara Larsson’s “So Good.” And that’s just in the last month!
After trying to make it as a rapper, J Kash (as he is more commonly known) had a chance meeting with a producer and discovered he had a real knack for songwriting. Hits like Kevin Rudolf’s “Let It Rock” and Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad” followed, but the LA-based songsmith hit the jackpot with Kesha’s “We R Who We R.” He hasn’t looked back since, crafting smashes for pop’s elite including Selena Gomez, Meghan Trainor, Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Avril Lavigne, Kylie Minogue and Fifth Harmony. Get to know the man behind the hits a little better below.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue songwriting?
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a rapper. I ultimately was a rapper, maybe not a very good one. I was in rap crews and made rap beats and was always obsessed with rap music. That was my introduction to the studio and recording music — being under the delusion that I was going to be like Jay-Z.
At which point did you really focus on songwriting?
Looking back on my old rap stuff, it’s terrible, but lyrically it was ok. People in my area fucked with it. I used to play my parents my music and they were never too sure about how it sounded. But they’d be like, “The lyrics are great.” After years of struggle rap and quitting and coming back, I stumbled upon Kevin Rudolf. We met randomly and I ended up hanging with him and writing actual songs that weren’t rap songs. He would make the track and I would basically just help fill in lyrics. That’s how I started writing songs.
Was your first cut with him?
Yeah. I helped him on his whole first album, the one with “Let It Rock,” and we flew out to LA together. We did “Good Girls Go Bad” for Cobra Starship together. We did “Round And Round” for Selena Gomez. We did “Halfway Gone” for Lifehouse. We did some weird stuff. We worked with that band Hollywood Undead, we worked with Lindsay Lohan. I was just so happy to get in the studio with people. We were kind of like a duo. We did Leona Lewis. It was awesome. We just really went from zero to 100.
When did you strike out on your own?
Kevin was just a little further along in his life and career than me. He had other things that he was taking care of and I was just this fucking kid with a backpack that was ready to go at all times. I wanted to work with other people and do other things. We didn’t have a falling out or anything, we just amicably parted ways.
Would you say that Kesha’s “We R Who We R” was your big break as a songwriter?
I mean “Good Girl Go Bad” was a huge hit too, but “We R Who We R” was the first solid number one that I really had.
How did that song come together?
Ammo and I wrote the bulk of the song. We had the chorus, the pre-chorus, we had some ideas but we didn’t do the verses. Kesha came in and wrote the verses. I gave her [sings] “hot and dangerous” and she just went crazy. She’s an amazing writer. Then Benny Blanco came in and we finished it. I just remember it happened really fast and it was such a good experience and then suddenly it’s out in the world and it’s huge.
Did you know it was going to be the song?
I did have a feeling about that one. The first time I heard the mixed version of it, I was like, “I have never been a part of a record that sounds like this.” That motherfucker just sounded crazy, you know? I heard it the other night at a restaurant and I was like, “Wow, this is still so good.”
What is your main strength as a songwriter?
The thing is, the cart kept getting put before the horse in my career. I was always playing catch up. People thought I was a good songwriter before I actually was. People thought that I was ready to take on projects bigger than what I was actually ready to take on. I perfected faking it till you make it, I guess. I was always so frightened because I’m a terrible singer and I can’t play any instruments and I don’t know how to turn on a computer, but I’m a really good collaborator. That’s what I do best. I can pull really good things out of people.
You mentioned Selena earlier. I thought “Sober” was one of the best songs on Revival and I’m obsessed with “Feel Me.”
Thank you. Well, “Sober” would have been the next single if Revival kept going. Selena is a really good friend of mine and I respect her a lot. I was actually in a meeting where she decided she wasn’t going to release it. She looked at me and was like, “Kash, I love you, but I’m ready to put out new stuff.” I think Revival had taken its course and she was ready to move on. It’s really cool when the artist will just be honest with you like that. But yeah, I really love “Sober.” I was on tour with Selena, working on new stuff and I would go out in the crowd and that song would really connect with fans.
“Feel Me”… Selena hit me up. She’s hands on. She’ll hit me up and be like, “I’m in LA for a few days, let’s get in the studio.” It was one of those times where she hit me up and was like, “Dude, I’m trying to work, let’s get a studio for a few days and fuck around.” “Feel Me” came out of that. Normally from the business side, you do a deal for a song, you do a production, you get it mixed, you do all this stuff with the aim of being on a project. With Selena, I have a special relationship. We’re friends outside of music. So when she comes to me and says, “I want to play this song on my tour.” I’m like, “Cool, of course. Go fucking play it. Sick!” I don’t know what’s going to happen with it, but if that’s it, awesome.
I feel like Meghan Trainor’s last album didn’t get a fair shake.
I don’t know. I think those songs were a lot of fun. Meghan’s super talented. The songs did well. Maybe they didn’t do as well as people thought they should have done, but at the same time, Meghan’s not slowing down. She’s got a long, successful career ahead of her and I feel like I helped in the evolution of it, you know? I feel like we took her out of ’50’s doo-wop. Maybe it was a little too soon, but she was down to experiment and do new stuff and for me, as a writer, that’s awesome.
I loved the first two singles.
Thanks. I like them too! I think they’re great and I think she pulled them off really well. I mean, music is so weird. When you look at chart positions, sometimes it’s really about the stars aligning, you know? Certain songs come out at certain times when there’s not a lot of competition and they go to the top. At other times, radio is super competitive.
Can you talk about executive producing Maroon 5’s new album?
It’s obviously the most amazing opportunity I’ve ever had. The failed rapper from Virginia Beach EP-ing Maroon 5! Adam Levine is a better songwriter and has written bigger hits than all of us, so to be responsible for keeping them on brand and steering the ship, it’s a huge honor. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a nail-biter because you don’t want to fuck it up. The first two singles felt really good and there’s a few more coming that feel really good too.
What’s the strangest song you’ve ever written?
The strangest song? Um, I don’t know. That’s tough. I mean, maybe “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo just because I put the words “ham sandwich” in the chorus and wiggle” is just a weird word in itself. It’s funny, Jason actually came up with “Wiggle.” I was singing the same melody, but saying “whistle” or “wizzle,” and he was like, “Oh. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.” That song to me is maybe the strangest song that I’ve ever been apart of.
Your latest song with him is pretty raunchy too.
Oh, “Swalla?” I forgot I even did that. I love that song. Jason and I and LunchMoney Lewis and Ricky Reed, we get together and have fun. If you listen to LunchMoney’s stuff, “Bills,” or “Boss” for Fifth Harmony, the stuff that Ricky, Lunch and I do together is always kind of wacky and out there.
How do you go about writing a song when you work with someone for the first time?
It depends on the artist. Obviously, I always have two goals when I write with an artist — making a song that I like and making a song that they like. Sometimes those things don’t align, but I try to marry those worlds because it’s important that the artist go out in the world and really get behind the song. I tell artists all the time, let’s either write something that completely misses and we leave going, “Wow, that was the worst song we ever made but we had fun together,” or something that we both love.
If you want to write a fucking piano ballad, I’m down. I’ll try one, but you should probably call Toby Gad. If you want like a deep R&B cut, I’m probably not the guy. I’m the power-pop, jock-jam guy, whatever the fuck I am. I speak a certain language and make a certain kind of thing. I think I’m diverse, but at the same time, let’s get the best out of everyone in the room and see where that takes us.
Is there ever a case of too many cooks on a song?
Sometimes there are songs that have a lot of songwriters on it, but that doesn’t mean they were all in the room. Sometimes, you’ll have a song where let’s say I’m in a room with two other writers and we’re jamming around on guitar all day and we’re kind of hitting a wall, so I pull up a beat loop and we write to it. That, all of a sudden, makes four people. But then you discover that three people made that loop, so that’s six people. Oh, and then the artist wants to change a few words. That’s seven people. And then the production’s not quite right, so you get somebody to finish it. Now it’s eight people.
If you really break it down, it’s not like eight people were in a room making the song. There are so many different ways that that kind of cluster fuck can happen. But yeah, I don’t do writing camps because I get really competitive and overwhelmed, especially when my friends are next door and I know they’re really talented. I’d be so worried thinking, “Is my song better? Are they doing something I should be doing?” I like small, focused groups to bounce sounds with.
Do you ever hear a finished version of something that’s completely different from what you worked on it?
Is that usually a good or bad thing?
It’s been both. For example, I co-wrote a song called “Shed A Light.” Jason Evigan did the original demo — me, him, John Ryan and Ammar Malik. You know, the homies. David Guetta loved it and wants to make a version and a couple names were tossed around. It ended up being Cheat Codes. It sounds good, but it’s not the vocal I imagined. And Robin Schulz got involved and I was thinking it would sound like “Waves,” but it became this big, disco thing. I don’t think it’s better or worse than I imagined, it’s just not at all what I imagined.
Have you ever written something that you hate?
Oh yeah. There are things that I borderline want to hire a PR person to wipe off the internet. But, at the end of the day, it’s always a blessing to get stuff released.
Is it mostly earlier stuff?
There’s something very recent.
Who would you still love to write for?
I have two goals. I want to produce artists that are good songwriters and have a message. I also want to develop new artists and use my strengths, and my relationships and everything that I’ve built all these years, to help them succeed.