What does Queens sound like?
For an answer, just listen to the “Queens” track on local hip-hop producer Rasmus Jensen’s new album “Control Your Own,” which was released this summer by Jensen’s own record label, Worldwyde Recordings. Jensen debuted the “Queens” music video on YouTube on Dec. 20, so you can check it out to see if it looks and sounds like your home borough.
“It’s basically my little nod to my adopted hometown,” said Jensen, 43, who moved to Astoria from Denmark in 1992, when he was 19. “And the video is all Queens street scenes, so I tried to capture what Queens sounds like to me in the music and then what Queens looks like in the video.”
For people who live in Queens, he said, the scenes will be familiar.
“[It] just looks like your neighborhood, whether it’s Jamaica, whether it’s Astoria, Woodside, Corona,” said Jensen, who goes by the name Ras Beats.
And for those who aren’t from New York or who may have never been to the borough, Jensen hopes that the song and video capture the feel of the area.
“Hopefully the video enhances the song even more, and people will go, ‘Wow, that’s what that looks like,’” he said.
“[Queens] is where my home base is and I think my music is definitely affected by it. If I never would have moved to New York and to Queens back then … I’m just pretty sure that [my music] would sound different — whether that’s in the attitude of it, whether that’s in the drums or the melody or what have you. [My music] is definitely affected by [living in Queens] in a positive way and in a creative way.”
With its nickname the “World’s Borough,” Queens is a famously diverse place, which just might be perfect for an artist like Jensen, who likes taking his inspiration from any music he can get his hands on.
“I’ll listen to anything. I don’t care if it’s a folk record from the Czech Republic or Korean jazz record; I’ll listen to anything. So I’m completely open to that and I’m curious about everything, and I think just having the perspective of having lived on two different continents, you’re curious about a lot of stuff. You know that there’s a lot of great German rock or British jazz, whatever it is.”
Jensen said that the borough’s diversity may have been what made him feel so at home.
“I just kind of ended up [in Astoria], but I think that’s probably what made me comfortable when I moved here, is that even though when I moved here I heard, ‘Oh, it’s a Greek neighborhood,’ it was different and never felt like I kind of stood out or didn’t fit in even though I moved here and everything was brand new to me,” he said. “It felt like somewhere I could fit and be comfortable, so I think that’s a big part of why I ended up staying here and made it my home and have been here for so long.”
The “Control Your Own” album features different vocalists on each track, and everything that you hear other than the rapper is created by Jensen, mostly through sampling. The song “Queens” is unique in that Jensen was not working with a vocalist.
“I just wanted to challenge myself to make an instrumental track where I wasn’t working with any rappers or any vocalists on it,” he said.
Jensen has already released two music videos from the “Control Your Own” album: “With No Pressure” and “God Bless.” Those can be found on his website, rasbeats.com, where the “Queens” music video will be released as well.
He said that his previous experience as a DJ inspired him to create his own music.
“My music definitely came from being a DJ initially, playing records and learning a lot of different music,” he said. “DJing definitely played a huge part of when I began to create my own style and create my own music. That was a huge part of my inspiration in the beginning.”
When he sets out to create a song, Jensen puts together the instrumental tracks, and the rappers write the lyrics to those tracks. After the rappers do their part, Jensen puts the finishing touches on the song.
“My stuff is largely based off of rearranged samples, meaning that it’s sounds from different records that have been manipulated and put together in a new way,” he explained. “The majority of stuff you wouldn’t recognize where it came from, so it’s very different from some things with sampling where you take a record and you repeat it and it sounds like the original record.”
In the past, Jensen had released a couple of singles and an EP with six songs. All that led up to the making of “Control Your Own” — his first album, which features 14 tracks.
Even though there are different vocalists on each track, Jensen said, “It’s not really a compilation because it was created to give the album a consistency so when you listen to it, it sounds like one record, not 14 different directions. It’s hip-hop with a little bit more edge, you can say; it’s a little grittier than what you hear on the radio.”
There’s a lot of focus on what the rappers say, whether it’s their message or their clever wordplay, Jensen said.
“Also the beats, the production style is a little harder than what you hear on the radio right now,” he said. “It seems to my ears that hip-hop has turned very pleasant right now, most of the stuff that you hear on the radio. The line between hip-hop and R&B is very blurred. A lot of hip-hop and a lot of rap that you hear is very catchy. It’s very sort of accessible to everybody.
“And music is different things to different people, but this one is something that it might challenge you a little bit more when you listen to it, hopefully,” he continued. “The lyrics are all written for the sake of great craftsmanship and great lyricism, and the music just has more of an edge to it. It’s funkier than a lot of stuff you hear right now on the radio. ‘Underground’ is one of the terms you might use for it.”
Jensen said he kicked around the idea for this album for about five years before he started creating it, and while it required a huge investment of time and money, it was something he needed to express.
“Musically, I wanted to create something that would be my version of a lot of great albums that I’ve gotten a lot out of listening to over the years, and I wanted to add on to that. I wanted to just honor the tradition of this style of music and at the same time add some new twists and turns to it so it’s fresh.”