If the term “blue-eyed soul” evokes visions of saccharine ballads and John Oates’ mustache, Jared Evan should change that. A nimble rapper and versatile producer who also happens to croon like the spawn of Thicke and Timberlake, the 26-year-old Long Island native brings a one-man band approach to both his solo work and collaborations with artists across the hip-hop spectrum.
Signed to Interscope at age 19, he spent nearly three years with Jimmy Iovine’s label before striking out on his own in 2011. Since his independent breakthrough The 4th Chapter in 2012, and a full-length collaboration with rap tastemaker Statik Selektah, Boom Bap & Blues, in 2013, he’s become a sought-after producer and guest vocalist. He's currently wrapping up an extended stint in Los Angeles, where he's put in long studio hours writing for numerous pop acts and recording new solo material.
Raised in Great Neck, New York, Evan found an early outlet in music during a troubled youth. “I was a dark, rebellious kid,” he recalls. “I didn’t follow instructions, didn’t do homework, bullied kids, got bullied by other kids. I have severe ADHD. But I’d been playing drums since I was five — that was my escape.”
Worried about his well-being by his 11th birthday, Jared’s parents enrolled him in a Connecticut boarding school which offered intense personal therapy. “I was suddenly among kids with issues much worse than mine,” he says. “Tourette’s, OCD, oppositional defiant disorder — crazy shit I had never encountered before. It was scary, but it made me stronger than anyone from Great Neck.”
If the environment helped allay his personal demons, it also contributed to his musical growth. “The most popular kid in school loved Wu-Tang,” he remembers. “I became infatuated by old-school rap. In eighth grade I started freestyling every day. I came in as a classic rock kid, but I left a hip-hop aficionado.”
Returning to Long Island for high school, Evan began composing his own arrangements on the laptop he received as a graduation present. After attending three colleges in three semesters, he landed an internship at Fader in New York City, where he made his first music industry contacts and began to pass around his own tapes. A video he shot with director Rik Cordero for his song “Frozen” attracted P. Diddy’s attention, kicking off a major label bidding war that culminated in a deal with Interscope in 2009.
“We were all in a room,” he says. “Timbaland, Jimmy, everybody watching the video. Then Jimmy stands up and says, ‘This is great. We’d love Interscope to be your home.’ I had no fan base, one song, but Diddy and Jimmy saw something in me. I never went back to college. Suddenly I was in L.A. for two weeks a month.”
Within six months, however, he grew skeptical of the label’s vision for his music. “Polow Da Don started presenting records for me to cut that were nothing like me, nothing like what I got signed for,” Evan says. “He gave me one record to cut that was either going to me or to Fred Durst. That was the first red flag.
“I cut the record,” he continues. “The song was called ‘In Love With You,’ and it was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. It sounded like Lenny Kravitz, but it was Jimmy Iovine’s favorite song.
“I could have told Jimmy I didn’t want to do it,” he says. “But I decided that if it was going to make me the most important artist on Interscope, I’d do it. They shot a video that cost $370,000, they put the song on Entourage. They did so much for it, but it wasn’t the right look. It wasn’t me.
“It went No. 1 in Greece,” he laughs. “I was the number one artist in Greece! That made Jimmy pretty happy, but it just stayed in Greece and people stopped caring. I pulled out of my deal and got to keep all my money. I was blessed that I was able to get out untouched.”
Evan carries no regrets about his time at Interscope. “The album they made didn’t represent me,” he says. “It was a big pop-rock record that didn’t tell my story. So I came back where I started. Removing all those chefs from the kitchen allowed me to grow naturally and figure myself out, rather than letting Jimmy Iovine and Polow Da Don tell my story.”
By 2012 Jared was independent and motivated to complete the album that had been delayed nearly three years. “I was back at ground zero, and I had a fucking story to tell,” he says. “I realized that what got me signed in the first place was hustling, interning, being positive, working, recording, freestyling every day. I knew I needed to return to that. I hit up a few of the producers I worked with before I was at Interscope and said, ‘I want to make amazing music again.’”
The 4th Chapter arrived that June, bearing the title he'd originally planned to use for his Interscope debut. “‘In Love With You’ was a sore thumb,” he says. “The 4th Chapter was a personal project. It’s what my album always should have been at Interscope.” It features introspective songwriting and seamless transitions between rapping and singing. The song “Traffic Light” recounts Jared's breadth of disparate musical influences: “You say I'm rock but I'm not/I'm hip-hop but I'm pop … When I was a kid, my daddy played guitar/He showed me Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and The Doors.”
Soon after The 4th Chapter’s positive reception, a further humbling experience came in the form of an old fan from Evan’s Interscope days — then an unknown, now a far bigger star than Jared. “Hoodie Allen had been a fan of mine since 2009 — he looked up to me!” he says. “He would tweet at me, and he emailed me once — it’s an inside joke now — asking me to sing a hook on one of his songs. I snubbed him, I couldn’t give him the time of day.”
Following Hoodie’s hit EP All American, the two crossed paths in New York. “After I left Interscope, the tables were turned,” Evan says. “I got randomly put on a show with Hoodie at Highline Ballroom. I had to apologize to him for being an asshole. We went to work the next week, and from that point on he was my best friend. We’ve been on two nationwide tours together.”
Another old acquaintance reemerged in the form of DJ and rap producer Statik Selektah. “I met Statik right when I got signed in 2009,” Jared says. “He didn’t know much about me, but he knew I was on Interscope and wanted me to sing some hooks. We cut a song at the end of 2011 that I thought would end up on The 4th Chapter. A year and a half later I asked Statik what he was doing with the record. He said, ‘I was saving this for our full-length project.’ I thought it was a joke.”
As the two went to work on a collaborative LP, Jared was uncertain whether it was the appropriate follow-up to The 4th Chapter. “I was nervous,” he admits. “Kids loved the poppiness of The 4th Chapter and my work with Hoodie. I thought if I followed up with a Statik Selektah boom-bap project, they wouldn’t get it.”
Prior to 2013, Statik Selektah’s discography consisted of extended collaborations with gritty East Coast rappers such as Termanology, Reks and Bumpy Knuckles. Boom Bap & Blues called for both Statik and Jared to stray beyond their comfort zones. The music blends nostalgic soul instrumentation with sturdy hip-hop percussion, and Jared’s vocals are interspersed with verses by Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson.
“It made me part of the conversation again,” Evan says. “It was like I was brand new. Hardcore rap heads, people who didn’t know about the Interscope shit, they loved Boom Bap & Blues.”
A follow-up, Boom Bap & Blues 2: Still Blue, arrived in 2014. “The Boom Bap thing where I bust out the suit and tie is my alter ego,” Evan explains. “That’s the Slim Shady to my Eminem. Normally I’m focused on Marshall Mathers, but when I hook up with Statik, that’s another side.”
Now artists are turning to him in equal measure as a producer, songwriter, rapper and singer. “The Hoodie stuff helped me as a producer,” Evan says. “He had such a following, people started coming to me for beats. Since the Statik stuff, his audience — the urban crowd — they want me as a hook man now.”
His latest album, The Art Form of Whatever, arrived in May. Its co-producer Arcitype was turned on to Jared Evan through the Statik Selektah records. “I would never have made that amazing music with Statik if I hadn’t left Interscope,” Jared says. “Making independent decisions is what got me signed in the first place. The end game is to do it again, but it needs to be the ideal situation.”
In Los Angeles, he’s been working on music for an unlikely range of artists, including Philadelphia rapper Chiddy Bang, teen prodigy Gabi Wilson, and Stella Santana, Carlos’s singing daughter. If his earlier experiences in L.A. provided hard lessons, now he works here on his own terms.
“I think I’m actually in demand again,” he laughs.