Singer/songwriter Justin Watson, known to most local rappers as producer Jay Wat, says the fact he didn’t grow up around San Diego was a good thing.
“I’m from Detroit, so I have a neutral presence,” he says about his La Mesa recording studio.
He says much of the locally produced rap over the years has been inspired by guys who identified as either a Crip or a Blood. “There are certain other studios that cater to one side or the other because of the neighborhoods they are in.”
While he says the gangster imagery doesn’t drive local hip-hop as much it used to, “That’s what San Diego has been famous for.” He wants everyone to know Jay Way Production is neutral like Switzerland. “Being unaffiliated, people feel safer here. I let them know we are not that type of facility.”
After a stint in the Navy and then a job with the electric company (“That shit was dangerous”), he launched the first Jay Wat studios in National City ten years ago. “Then I moved to North Hollywood. I discovered the L.A. music is inundated with home studios that were just as nice as mine. L.A. is very competitive.”
He brought Jay Wat back down south three years ago. He admits the recording business is not so lucrative nowadays: the average rate for studio time has decreased from $60 or $70 an hour to $25. He says his decade-old relationships with local artists such as Mitchy Slick and Vokab Kompany have helped him keep busy.
“Mitchy is the king of San Diego rap, and he still maintains that bad-boy persona. But that gang-life thing only lasts so long.” Watson says gangster connections have probably held back some local artists from breaking through. “It’s not as bad, but there is still an ongoing turf war. The senseless killings have to stop. I’ve lost a few clients to violence. When Lil’ Slick got murdered it really hit home.”
Watson says the future of the San Diego scene may lie with such up-and-coming non-gang-oriented artists as Asian rapper Heartbreaka and Russian immigrant Tonik Slam. Nevertheless, he says the scene is still reeling from a black eye delivered by district attorney Bonnie Dumanis, whose prosecution led to a seven months’ jail stay for Brandon “Tiny Doo” Duncan over his lyrics and label art.
The case was dismissed, but Watson says the episode “...crushed his ability to make music. He was worn down. When he came in here to make music he wasn’t feeling the vibe.” He predicts Dumanis will now be unelectable going forward. “This will all catch up with her.”