"I think that there's probably like 30, if you add 'em all up," says Epperson of the decorations lining the walls of his home recording studio. "There's a lot of albums that aren't here. I got a Kanye West plaque coming soon too. They had used some of 'E.I.' on the last one, the Pablo
one. So that's coming in. And then there was like some Funkmaster Flex and some other albums I don't have hanging up, just 'cause of space and tracking them all down and whatnot."
Epperson, better known in the music world as Jay E, rose to prominence in the early 2000s as producer for Nelly and the St. Lunatics, helping to create what is now known in hip-hop as the St. Louis sound. His work on Nelly's breakout, Country Grammar
, brought him his biggest accolade to date: a diamond certification denoting 10 million records sold.
"It's very rare, especially in hip-hop," Epperson, 39, says of the award statue, which sits to the left of the computer monitor in the basement studio. "And then," he adds, pointing to the right of the screen, "Nellyville
is right on its ass, so hopefully I get to put the other one here."
After nearly twenty years in the game and loads of industry recognition for his work, Epperson is doing something he's never done before: releasing a solo record. The project, entitled In the City
, is an all-local affair featuring appearances by a slew of St. Louis artists including Murphy Lee, Sag Live, J.R., the Writerz, Tef Poe, Bryce Green, Fresco Kane, Ebony Eyez, DJ Kut, Kyjuan, Davyne Truth, Keem, Gthesinger, Ali, Story of the Year, Chingy, Ricky Mane, Miistro Freeyo, the Knuckles, Nick Menn, Kaia and Koko.
"The album is all St. Louis-based, it's all St. Louis artists and it's all St. Louis musicians," Epperson says. "It's mixed here in St. Louis; all the songs were recorded here in St. Louis. So it's pretty much all just the home base and all of these artists getting together."
Epperson got the idea to make the record after noticing that producers are increasingly releasing their own albums as opposed to simply working on those of other artists. Figuring he had enough pull and name recognition to do the same, he reached out to a host of St. Louis acts, including all of the St. Lunatics and other well-established rappers such as Chingy and Tef Poe, as well as some up-and-comers and lesser-known names, for a compilation album celebrating the city.
"It's a little bit of appreciation for where I've come from and where I'm still at, St. Louis," Epperson says. "I think that we have a large enough amount of talent here to be the next Motown or Atlanta or whatever. I just think that we need more highlight of all of us getting together, maybe on this album or another album. It doesn't matter how it happens. I think that we just all need to come together and just kind of work together on blowing this place up even more, musically."
Missing from the tracklist is Nelly himself. Though he was originally supposed to be involved, Epperson says that the rapper is getting ready to release a new album and the tracks that they've worked on together might end up on that — in other words, scheduling conflicts proved prohibitive.
One relative oddity in the mix is rock band Story of the Year, but while Epperson is best-known for hip-hop, he's worked with rock acts before. One of the gold records on his wall came from working with California-based metal band Avenged Sevenfold; he's also done some production for Good Charlotte.
"The album isn't just one thing," Epperson explains. "It's hip-hop, it's pop, it's trap, it's rock. I'm a music lover, so I've always wanted my albums to be bouncing around a lot. I grew up with rock, classic rock, and my mom listened to country and I listened to hip-hop and obviously soul and R&B. So I just always wanted the album to be very versatile. Something for everybody."
On top of that, Epperson has a personal history with the members of Story of the Year.
"It's crazy because before Country Grammar
blew up they were the next street over in Overland right off of Page," Epperson says of the band. "That's where I met Nelly and all them. I pretty much musically was out in Overland the whole time.
"There was a lot of musical talent in Overland at that time, because Country Grammar
just popped, and then [Story of the Year's] Page Avenue
just blew up," he continues. "Something was going on in Overland at that point in time. And we've always wanted to work together any which way, so the collaboration was long overdue."
The album saw its official release July 6. Coming in a few weeks, on July 20, is a huge Red Bull-produced celebration at the Pageant dubbed "The Mind of Jay E." Legendary California rapper E-40 will make an appearance, along with local up-and-comer Mvstermind. Epperson says that the idea was to include one artist who inspired him — E-40 — and one who was inspired by him — Mvstermind. Other performances will be by artists on the album itself, including Chingy, Fresco Kane, Murphy Lee and the St. Lunatics.
Between the show and the record, Epperson hopes he can help some of his favorite St. Louis artists get even a portion of the recognition he's enjoyed over the years.
"I wanna kind of give back," he says. "Give back to the artists that I vibe out with and just try to do my best as far as giving them the spotlight, you know what I mean? I've had the spotlight for almost twenty years now, so it's just like, I wanna give back. I want one of these guys to be the next big thing out of St. Louis. Or all of them to be the next big thing."
The Mind of Jay E
9 p.m. Friday, July 20. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $10 to $20. 314-726-6161.
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From the outside, Jason Epperson's two-story brick house in St. Peters is largely indistinguishable from those of his suburban neighbors. But covering the walls inside is something those neighbors almost certainly don't have: dozens of platinum and gold plaques.