Blue Chips is a monthly rap column that highlights exceptional rising rappers. To read previous columns, click here.
By most metrics, Jay Worthy is refreshingly accessible, communicative, and punctual for a rapper of his stature. He has hundreds of thousands of monthly listeners on Spotify and millions of streams to his name. Still, with no manager, regular publicist, or team of record execs behind him, he fields interview requests personally. He’s applied this hands-on approach his entire career, quietly rising through the ranks of West Coast rap.
“If I was in the hood, I would’ve had you pull up to [Gonzales or Enterprise Park]. If I was at my house, I would’ve got you to meet me at the Bel-Air Hotel,” Worthy says over the phone. He’s lived in Los Angeles since the early 2000s, but scheduling precludes an in-person meet. The Compton parks were practically second homes during the decade-plus he lived in the city, though the hotels are more recent haunts. “I love the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bel-Air Hotel. Anywhere that Sammy Davis Jr. or Frank Sinatra would go is a place I like to go.”
Worthy speaks with the same unflappable calm and sedate cadence he brings to his generally relaxed and conversational verses, his composure likely acquired during the years of high-intensity hustles and potentially fatal affiliations he reflectively recounts on albums like August’s You Take the Credit, We’ll Take the Check. Over the last decade, he’s curated a unique strain of West Coast street rap on EPs and LPs produced by an enviable list of elite producers, including Alchemist, Cardo, Budgie, Harry Fraud, D.J. Fresh, and Sean House, the producer half of the Worthy-fronted duo LND DRGS. Most offer their interpretation of the LND DRGS template: subdued, downtempo, and sparsely knocking beats of deep groove that sample ’80s R&B and R&B-leaning funk from the same era (aka “boogie”). Each instrumental is ideal driving music, beats that lend themselves to Worthy’s casual rapping and cruising through L.A.’s endless sprawl and eternal summer. Whether rapping alone or alongside project-length collaborators like Larry June, Curren$y, or G Perico, his songs are the soundtracks to posh dinners at his preferred L.A. hotels and post-dinner drives to house parties in the hood, the Mercedes convertible backlit by rainbow sherbet sunsets of deep orange and purple.
“I never bought a feature in my life. That came off of the respect from the streets. I never bought a beat in my life,” Worthy says when asked about the collaborations on his CV. He’d spent the morning before our interview in the studio with DJ Muggs, the sonic wizard behind Cypress Hill’s smoke-choked psychedelic funk. “All of my relationships in this industry have been organic. Either they want to fuck with me because they like the sound and style of the music, or they fuck with me as a human being… Maybe one of my gifts is being good with people.”
You Take the Credit, We’ll Take the Check is Worthy’s latest refinement of his player memoirs, another project that confirms his curatorial expertise. Backed by beats from venerated New York producer Harry Fraud, Worthy offers more direct and detailed lifestyle raps documenting the week-long stays at luxury hotels, trips in expensive cars, and his sartorial preferences. He occasionally departs to deliver clipped eulogies for friends lost to gang warfare and string together vignettes of former hustles, but Fraud’s slowed cinematic suites generally sound like they’re scoring lounge scenes in Blaxploitation flicks or footage of private yachts drifting toward neon skies. In other words, even Worthy’s darkest lines have a sonic laxity. While the tone and themes remain largely the same, Worthy says he’s changed.
“Now you’re getting a more mature perspective. I’m living a different life. Am I hanging out at the park every day? Naw. Do I go there still? Yeah. Am I doing the same shit I used to do? No,” he explains. “So you’re going to hear different things and different albums are going to have different feels and different themes.”
Worthy readily answers music-related questions, but he’s grown weary of explaining his Canadian youth. He’s also increasingly frustrated by prying journalists who can’t reconcile Worthy’s lyrics with his famous step-sister.
“I don’t do a lot of interviews and tell my whole life story like that because I don’t have to. I can go pull up wherever the fuck I want out here and get love where most could never,” Worthy says. “I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain myself to anybody that don’t come from this lifestyle… When I was coming up, if you didn’t bang, you wouldn’t get talked to. You’re a pedestrian, so you don’t matter to us. My mentality is still a little bit like that.”
That mentality began in Vancouver, where the 36-year-old rapper grew up playing basketball with his younger brother and listening to MC Eiht and Ice Cube. By middle school, he and his brother were smoking blunts and “doing whatever the fuck we wanted.” According to Worthy, his predominately Indian section of Vancouver was rife with gangs, drive-by shootings a regular occurrence. After several friends died, Worthy left Canada at 17 as a matter of self-preservation.
He briefly landed in San Diego before bouncing to Compton, the city he reps in his music and often refers to as “Bompton” for reasons obvious to anyone with a tenuous grasp of L.A. culture.
“Even if I don’t got family in the set, I’m loved like I have family in the set. I’ve been over there for 20 years. Real history. Stayed at people’s granny’s houses. I’ve been around too long and been too solid and I never came on no weird shit,” Worthy explains. “The internet will love to tear you down or try to make you seem one way or the other. Don’t believe everything you read. You have to tap in with the soil and come to some of these places. Come to some of these corner stores. Come to some of these parks. Come ask about some of these names that rang bells before Instagram. We wasn’t on no motherfucking social media.”
While Worthy engaged in stripe-worthy activities and various hustles in Compton, he fell in love with the ’80s boogie and R&B his music samples, hearing songs at block parties and via Art Laboe’s renowned oldies radio shows. During sporadic trips back to Canada, Worthy met with fellow Vancouverite Sean House, gradually finishing the songs that would wind up on their debut as LND DRGS.
“I didn’t even really care to jump into the rap genre. I was always like, ‘I make funk.’ I want to make this shit, but every producer I went to didn’t understand it. I was just looking for an engineer more or less to help with these records and loop them up,” Worthy says. “[Sean] understood exactly what I wanted to do and brought it to life. It was a blessing.”
The first LND DRGS songs appeared on SoundCloud in 2013. They also popped up on the Tumblr of the late A$AP Yams, who Worthy befriended at SXSW the year before. Yams’ endorsement likely put them on the radar of A-Trak, who released the duo’s 2015 debut, Aktive, on Fool’s Gold Records. Worthy welcomed the jump from taking penitentiary chances to making legitimate from music. As he strung together one improved and independent project (through his GDF Records) with more revered producers and rappers, leaving behind his Compton life became his sole pursuit.
Today, Worthy is elated that music is his full-time job. Songs from his early 2022 album with Larry June and Cardo, 2 P’z in a Pod, have millions of streams, numbers for his new album with Fraud continue to rise, and tickets for his September tour of Texas are moving. He’s also completed projects with Dam-Funk and Roc Marciano, as well as one with Jake One and Kokane. Worthy’s ultimate goal is to record a proper solo album, working with musicians and producers to craft original instrumentals that reverently expand on the rap and boogie music that has soundtracked his life. Radio hits and ubiquitous critical acclaim have eluded him, but he’s not chasing either. He’s comfortable with himself and his catalog.
“I’m still just trying to make it, but I’m comfortable with where I’m at. And I like to celebrate my victories, even if they’re small victories.”