Twenty years after stepping onto the Hip-Hop scene CookBook has decided to call it a career. The L.A. emcee leaves behind a catalog that includes numerous solo projects and group releases as a part of L.A. Symphony. CookBook’s official goodbye comes in the form of his last album, “Jason Soto Was Here.” Jason Soto Was Here is a musically-diverse look back at CookBook’s career in Hip-Hop.
Jason Soto Was Here features appearances by MURS, DJ Hydroe, Danielle Davis, Pigeon John, Sareem Poems, Grt. Jsn, Pawz One, inDJnous, Reebok, Kahlee, Billy Klinten, and Gangsta Boo. The album is produced by M.A.D. Smooth, Freddie Bruno, KINGductor, Thomas Swanson, Brown Royal, Hayden THC, Fanga Lee, OKHipHop, Billy Klinten, and CookBook himself.
CookBook spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his new album, Jason Soto Was Here, his decision to step away from rap, and what the future holds for Mr. Jason Soto.
TRHH: Why is “Jason Soto Was Here” your last album?
CookBook: I just felt like at the level that I’ve been pursuing this, for the length of time that I’ve been pursuing this, it just came to a point where I didn’t really know what else to do to contribute to the game. I can keep making songs and what I feel is great music, but at the same time, it was sort of taking a toll on me. I’m not able to make enough money like I used to, to do it for a living. I’ve got kids. It became a choice that I just needed to make. I’ll always be making music in some form or fashion, but pursuing it as the artist CookBook, I just needed to put a period at the end of that sentence and maybe start a new paragraph.
TRHH: What changed that you were able to make a living off of music before, but not anymore?
CookBook: So, when I was in L.A. Symphony we blew up big early. We didn’t have any real knowledge of the business side of the game. A lot of stuff came at us fast, but we also got a career out of it. We started doing it for a living. We got shelved by Warner Bros. When that went away soon after that the manager went away, the lawyer went away, all of our team that was doing all of the professional stuff for us went away. Now we were thrown to the wolves. We had all this buzz and all these fans and then we had to figure out how to actually run the business of music. We did, but we made a lot of mistakes along the way. So, when it came to me doing my solo career I just think that you plant seeds and the plants don’t grow for a long time. Sometimes you plant seeds and you don’t realize until many years later that you’re reaping the fruits of some bad seeds that you planted. It’s like hindsight. I couldn’t have known what I know now. I can do a lot of stuff right now, but those are like new seeds for future things.
As far as running hard as an artist, I didn’t plant enough good seeds early on. So, when it came time to do my solo album, I Love the 80’s, which dropped in June of 2009, I took it for granted that the L.A. Symphony fans would be with me and they just weren’t. They weren’t interested in me as a solo artist as much as they were the big group. So, I had to start over again. I was all of a sudden, a new artist, and a solo artist. Everything was on my own. Not only did I not have the manager, the label, and the booking agent, I also didn’t have a crew. It was me doing everything. It was a huge re-boot. I had to do it all from scratch. I hustled it out and I scratched out money here and there, but at some point, it just wasn’t enough. And then I started having kids and stuff and I really had to start doing other things to bring in income.
TRHH: On Jason Soto Was Here the music and the flows are eclectic. You do a lot of singing on the album as well. Did you go into this project trying to make something that would please everyone?
CookBook: No. I mean, of course I want as many people as possible to love it, which we all do when we release records. I more so wanted to do a record that displayed everything that I could do. Not to sound conceited, I really feel like I can do it all. I really believe in myself and in my talents. I’ve always known that. I felt like when I go out and I want to go out blowing people away where they’re like, “It’s like this? We’re letting him leave?” I just thought I love to sing, I grew up singing and playing the piano, with my family that’s all we did. I grew up doing that and I always loved that aspect of music, but also, I’ve always been super-versatile. I’ve always enjoyed new styles, new patterns, and new ways of doing it, and I can do it. I kind of wanted to show everybody, “I don’t care who you are. I’ve got your style and I can body you in your own style.” In a way it’s like some emcee shit like how we do. We flex and we tell people we’re the best. I wanted to do that in as many styles as I could and show everything that I could do.
TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Philosophy’?
CookBook: Really the beat inspired the song Philosophy. My man Billy Klinten co-executive produced the record with me. He heard that beat from a producer that he works with. He hadn’t heard it in like a year and he was like, “I hope that beats not sold, because I really think you can do something with it.” I hadn’t even heard it. He gave it to me and I was blown away by the beat. I started rolling around with it. The beat is what inspired the flows and the idea. What I do a lot of times with songs, especially when the beat is very different from what I usually do, I roll around with it in the car and basically freestyle to it. Even if it’s not full words, just patterns, and I start getting melodies. The song starts to form itself from me doing that and then I start inserting the words. My quote unquote “philosophy” is really the opera part at the end. The things that I say are kind of like my philosophy on life; do great music, live good. If there is my philosophy in that song it’s at the end. I actually wanted to call it “My Philosophy” and I wanted to be paying homage to KRS, but I thought, “Nah. My Philosophy is a Hip-Hop classic so I’ll just call it ‘Philosophy.’”
TRHH: There are a few songs on the album that sum up your life and career. Was it therapeutic to rhyme about and relive your story on Jason Soto Was Here?
CookBook: Yes, it was. I just wanted to leave it all on the table – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I haven’t talked about this, actually. I had this one moment when I recorded the first song, “The Birth.” I finished the verses and I felt overwhelmingly emotional. I just threw the instrumental on the back and I just started talking. That was so therapeutic for me. I filled the whole three and a half minutes up of me talking about how I felt about all of this shit. I don’t even remember what I said, but I remember I was crying and it was all hitting me. I haven’t told anybody that. It was a moment that hit me. I have it recorded still, but I didn’t think I was going to put it on an album or do anything with it. It’s just something I did in that moment when I was feeling it. I just let whatever come out of me. Another moment that I had like that, that was more so emotional was the song “Gains.” The hook says, “Heavy hitters give me a pound/So I gain weight.” I’ve always loved that line. My man Sareem Poems wrote that line from L.A. Symphony and I always thought that was such a hard line. It paints such a great picture. I chose that line to put into that beat so I can show respect and love to the people I feel have contributed to my life, my career, and my music.
A lot of the dudes that I talk about in that song are L.A. Symphony, and there was a couple of other people that I felt were key. The very last person that I talk about is my man, UNO Mas. He was in L.A. Symphony and he was literally my best friend since I was a kid. I recorded that song and I cried during that last verse that I rapped about him. While I was rapping I was crying. It was amazing to me, actually. I have a bounce of it, but my computer malfunctioned and erased all the vocals. I had to re-record that song. I’ll never capture that again. I shared that with my wife and she was like, “You’re not going to keep that are you? Are you going to re-record it?” I said, “Nah, I’m keeping it.” She said, “But you’re crying on it.” I said, “That’s real.” Unfortunately, my computer crashed and the vocals just literally disappeared. It was heartbreaking. I went back in and matched the tone, but the emotion was gone from that moment. Those are two specific moments that were really therapeutic and beautiful moments, but neither one of them ended up on the record. That’s a long answer to say, yes, pouring my heart out into those things was definitely therapeutic.
TRHH: The video for ‘Fine Wine’ seems to take a shot at a certain incarcerated artist. Who came up with the concept for the video?
CookBook: A little bit. My man Mighty Muds directed the video. Him and I kind of brainstormed. I didn’t think I would want to do that idea, but the more we kind of brainstormed about it he had a vision of me trying to be something I’m not and in the end the people just want me to be who I am, and you see that happen in the video. I think I started adding on and we bought the colorful wig. It just so happened that right at the time we recorded the video that’s when dude went to jail [laughs]. It was working out well. It was timely. He mostly came up with the idea but we collabed and came up with the fine details of it. It’s me on this side of my career and being a little thirsty like, “How can I get people to like me?” and realizing that, that’s not the way. It’s always best to be yourself.
TRHH: Looking back on your rap career, what was your favorite moment?
CookBook: Oh wow! Honestly, probably right now. The reason why is because I feel so proud of the record. I had a vision in my mind and I really feel like I accomplished it. Now that’s it out and the feedback that I’m getting from people is telling me that I accomplished my vision for the record, because they get what I was trying to do. They’re hearing it and they’re connecting with the lyrics almost the same way that I connect with them, so it’s not just music to them either. It’s really beautiful to me. I’m in this moment right now and people are understanding that this is the last record I’m doing as CookBook. They’re genuinely celebrating with me and supporting in a way that I haven’t felt ever. The kind of support and the amount of people that are supporting and being fans of mine, I’ve never felt that myself. I haven’t felt it since the days of L.A. Symphony. In those days I was used to doing festivals where there was 18,000 people or doing big tours and big shit where there were a lot of people and you could feel it. As a solo artist I’ve had these great moments, but I’ve never had what I have now.
In the moment that I’m in now it’s very gratifying. It’s just a great feeling. This is similar to what I used to feel with L.A. Symphony, but I got it on my own. I did it on my own strength. It’s my own songs, my own album, my own everything. I did it myself. That’s what makes this moment my favorite moment. Having said that, I have so many times that I cherish, times that mean so much to me, and times that I was able to be a part of — amazing Hip-Hop moments, amazing musical moments, meeting certain people that you looked up to that were your idols and now you’re in the room with them. I have lots of those. At my album release show people came from Nashville, Arizona, and Florida to come to L.A. for my show. How can I not say this is my favorite moment? I’ve never really had a fan base be this way to me, just for me. It means something to me even though it’s my last record. I could be like, “Where was y’all these last five records?” but nah, it’s great. It’s a great feeling.
TRHH: What does life after rap look like for CookBook?
CookBook: Man, that’s a humongous question. I’m a father and a husband so it’s always going to look like that for me. That’s the number one priority for me. It definitely looks like that. I on purpose tried really hard not to give a lot of thought to what I’m going to do next, yet. Because I know myself and if I start thinking too much I’ll start thinking creatively and go, “Man, maybe I need to do another record.” I want to give all of my creative energy and everything I’m focusing on now to this record at this moment. I really want to make the most of it and enjoy it. What I think might happen is quite honestly, I’ve had a singing record inside of me for close to ten years. There are certain songs I wrote maybe 8-9 years ago that I’ve just been sitting on. I might do that. It wouldn’t be a CookBook record, it might just be a Jason Soto record, I don’t know. I might just go ahead and do that. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do because like is said earlier, I grew up playing music with my dad.
My dad got to see a little of my rap career before he passed away in 2004. He got to see a lot of the big moments in L.A. Symphony and he was really happy to know that his son had achieved success, because it was something he wanted. He never achieved his musical goals. He just ended up being kind of a backyard dude. He got to see that, but one thing that connected me to him really strongly was singing Motown, salsa, oldies, and jazz. He would play guitar and I’d play the piano. A lot of the songs when I started writing them, I always had him in mind like, this is the record that I want to do for my pops. The album, I already know it would be called “Songs for my Father.” I don’t even care if no one likes it. It will be a record that will get done and it will be exactly what it says, songs for my father. Life after CookBook will look like that record at least at one point. I will actually write and record the songs. What it all entails, I don’t know [laughs]. I haven’t put too much thought into it. It is something that has been in my heart and my mind for a long time.
Purchase: CookBook – Jason Soto Was Here