Garland Rapper Justin Mohrle Tells Us How He Linked Up With Dr. Dre, And What's Coming Next.
It's early January, and Justin Mohrle strolls into East Dallas' Goodfriend Beer Garden & Burger House with a look of awe on his face.
“Man,” he says when he pulls up his seat alongside me at the bar, his head on a swivel as he takes things in at this neighborhood establishment that's located not too far off from the suburb in which he was raised. “I've lived in Garland my whole life — right up the road — and I had no idea this was here.”
It wasn't always, I explain. Not even three years yet. Still, I say, it doesn't take much time for change to occur.
He nods in approval. No doubt, this is something Mohrle knows better than most. He's home for the holidays at the moment, but, over the course of these past few months, the 23-year-old has seen incredible change happen firsthand in his own life.
After spending the past few years making a name for himself in the North Texas rap scene — first as Brain Gang JT and more recently as Love, JT — he's been living for the last few months in Los Angeles, keeping something of a low profile while, oppossingly, also filling his Instagram account with selfies alongside various celebrities. Adding to the mystery is the fact that Mohrle's scrubbed the Internet of most every track he's ever appeared on to date, with but a few exceptions. As a result, back here in Dallas, the rumor mill's been active about his actions; everyone thinks they have an idea of what he's been up to, but no one seems to know for sure.
Well, the secret's out now. And, in the span of 24 hours, it's spread like wildfire, hitting pretty much every hip-hop-inclined publication on the internet. Here's the lowdown: Through a series of events, the unassuming kid known to his friends as JT currently finds himself working under the wing of the iconic rapper and producer Dr. Dre.
How this came to pass and what it exactly means for Mohrle's future is a little complicated. Fortunately, the rapper was kind enough to sit down at this Goodfriend meeting to explain his thoughts on it all, in his own words.
In early 2014, you were doing your own thing — not even Brain Gang stuff, but Love, JT stuff. Then, come the summer, a lot started to change for you.
So, mid-summer, this guy Antonio Hall sent a [direct Twitter message] to The D.O.C. and said, “Hey, I got this guy I want you to check out.” D.O.C. hit him back and said, “In God's time.” About two months later, D.O.C. hit us back and said, “Hey, I listened to the stuff that you sent me a while back. I think it's great. I want to meet up with this guy. This August or July. So we meet up with him, play him some stuff that he really liked, and he said, “I'm going to take this stuff and try to show it to Dr. Dre. And I was like, “Yeah fucking right.” Sure enough, he calls us up two weeks later and says, “Hey, I was in L.A. and I showed your stuff to Dre and he really liked it. He wants to get you a flight out here. This was August of September. So I jumped on a plane, go out there, meet Dre in his trailer at the set of the NWA movie — which is just really cool; I walked up to the trailer and they pat me down and shit and are like, “He's good!” — and I walk in, see him. My heart drops and it's just like, “Wow, that's really him.” He gets out of his chair, walks up, gives me a hug and says “What's up, superstar?” At that moment, all this relief just came over me — like, “OK, this is gonna be fine.
That sounds like an incredible moment.
It was awesome. It was. It's impossible to describe. Like, the first rap song that I remember listening to seriously was “In Da Club” by 50 Cent. From there, I did my back research and got into Eminem. And Eminem was just huge for me. I thought I was Eminem. Y'know, I wanted to be Eminem at the time. So that was so big for me. Dre was behind my earliest hip-hop moments that I can remember. So just getting to see him was obviously just this full-circle moment. It was amazing. So he says, “I heard some of your shit. I really like it! Let's go to the studio tomorrow.” I'm like, “Alright!” So we go to the studio the next day, and I write a song there with him that day.
Did you know when you were headed out there that you were going to do that?
I had no idea. I thought I was writing my song. I go out there, I'm writing a song for me, and he says, “Man, I really like this. Can I have it?” And I say, “Of course you can have it.” So, y'know, he takes that song, we make another one that week and then they fly me back home. At that point, I don't know what's going on. I'm just like, “Damn, I hope he liked those songs.” But it seemed like he did. So I was optimistic. Two weeks later, I get the call, like, “Yo, he wants you to come back.” I come back out there, I write some more records, we work for a full three weeks straight, 10 to 12 hours a night, getting out at four in the morning. Then Dre sits me down and says, “Hey, I want to move forward with you as an artist.” So that's kind of where we're at now. We're building on what he's working on and, in my time, I'm building what I'm working on.
OK, that's what I'm really curious about. You're working with Dre. You're working on your own stuff. Dre stuff gets prioritized?
Yeah. So, we go in [the studio], there's numerous beats to pick from — you can either scroll through the computer if you want or, a lot of times, he'll come in and say, “Hey, I like these three. Let's work on this one tonight.” Sometimes, he'll come and leave. He'll tell you which beats and he'll leave. Other times, he'll say, “I wanna touch on something more personal,” and sit there and we'll talk about how to put together what he's thinking and what's going on mentally for him.
It sounds really collaborative.
It's super collaborative.
So you're helping him with his stuff. How is he helping you with your stuff?
In every way. He's teaching me how to navigate the industry. He's teaching me how to make the right decisions. He's teaching me how to keep my head on straight.
Especially musically. If there's personal information I want to ask him, he'll give me advice on that, too. But it's mostly musically. I remember one time, we were in there — this was after he already sat me down and said he wanted to move forward, so I wasn't that scared — and it's like 4:30 in the morning. I'm super tired, I'm losing my energy. I'm kinda sitting there with my head on the board and he's wanting me to rap certain stuff in Spanish. I don't speak Spanish. I'm from Texas, so I have an inkling on it, but no. And, in Spanish, he's wanting me to rap this stuff. So I'm like, “OK, I'll try it.” But, like I said, my energy is low, the night is late. I got in there, it's low-energy, it's unmotivated — not on purpose, but it was late. Then he just slams his hand on the board. He goes, “We're fucking actors! This is what we do! I'm not trying to turn you into Marshall [Mathers] but you gotta act! You can't be cool all the time. That cool shit is only going to get you so far. Shit needs to resonate!” So he said that, and he left. I'm just like, “Fuck, I'm going home.” But I come in the next day — early, before anybody gets there — and I lay down that part with the enthusiasm he wants. He comes into the studio the next night, and he's like, “See? I know how to get to you now!” So that was a cool moment that we had. It showed me that our connection is past the one issue or one little mistake or one fuck-up. Like, “I'm gonna help you get through this, and I'm gonna help you get better.”
Of course, part of what all this entails is that you work on whatever he's working on, too. But you mentioned that you have some time in the day to work on your own stuff, too. That said, what are you working on as far as your own stuff?
I'm just trying to build with all the producers in the building and all the producers at my disposal. They all like me. And they're all kind of clued in on the situation, so they're open to the situation.
Anyone we might know?
Like, Cardiak. He's a Grammy-winning producer; he did “Diced Pineapples” for Rick Ross and Drake, and a record for Schoolboy. Then there's Focus… He did a lot of records for, like, Mariah Carey, I think. Rockwilder, too. I mean, Dre's connected. He's got all the people. So I leave it up to them, like, “Do you want to send something for me?” And if they say yeah, then I get it and I start working on it.
Are people picking out beats for you?
I'm picking them out myself.
Will Dre suggest beats to you?
Yeah. Sometimes, he'll send a couple my way and say, “Hey, I got a couple beats I think you'll sound good on.” And I'll try them. But, mostly, Dre's the priority. So we go in there and we'll try to make stuff for him. So, maybe I get some of the beats he didn't choose or maybe there's a song we made that he liked but that doesn't mean anything to him. That's happened several times. Like, I've got records that I made with him that he ended up being like, “Y'know, we have something like this…” and then he'll just give those to you. So, for instance, “The Recipe” with Kendrick Lamar and him? That was originally for Dre. They were doing the same thing. They were working on what I guess was at the time called Detox. And that ended up being one of the records that Dre just gave to Kendrick. So it's kind of the same situation. I've even had some of the engineers say to me, “Yo, Kendrick was in here just like you are. I remember.”
Are you overwhelmed by that?
Sometimes! In the moment, I keep my composure. But there's times when I'm driving home and I'm looking at the scenery and I'm realizing where I just left and it really hits me. It comes in waves.
Obviously, this has been a whirlwind couple of months. But even before you left, you'd gone through something of an arc where you were hitting your stride creatively just right here. What, as far as where you're at and what you're doing right now, are you doing differently these days with what you're eventually going to put out?
My mindset has definitely changed just as far as all the change I've seen and everything I've seen around me. I'm starting to understand how it all works. I don't know all the ins and outs, but I'm learning the industry and the paperwork and all that. So that's one change. But, musically, I'm trying to take it to a place where the music resonates in people's soul. I don't want people to just hear it and go, “Hmmm, that's dope,” or “Oh, that's cool.” I want people to cry. Or I want people to laugh uncontrollably. I'm trying to tear at those emotions. So that's where I'm trying to get to. And that's where Dre is helping me. Like, if you look at some of Eminem's music — like “Kim,” where he's screaming the whole time — that takes you to that place or that moment and it really resonates with you. And no matter what kind of music I put behind it — guitar, whatever — I'm trying to take you to that space emotionally. And that's something that I wasn't really doing.
Right. Because, and I don't mean to put what you were doing in a box, but there were definitely some party elements in your songs before.
Yeah. Definitely. More so now, though, I'm doing the stuff I really wanted to do the whole time.
Is it a matter of feeling a sense of freedom? Like, you don't just have to shout along to a beat to get some attention?
Right. And [Dre] recognized my more emotional sides. That's the stuff that really got me in the building with him, one of the emotional records. Like, he doesn't care about the party shit with me. So it allows me to phase it out. Plus, I'm not in a space any more where I'm performing somewhere every weekend and I need to have the songs that get the crowd wild. Or even to get recognition or notoriety or things like that. It's more about being the actual artist that I was the whole time, that I always wanted to be. That's what I'm trying to be now. And he supports it. Our vision aligns a lot more than you might think. Like, he's really behind me. The song was “Selfish” — that was the one that got him. It's super soulful, it's got these guitar parts. I remember D.O.C. telling me he hadn't rolled down his window and hollered at a chick because of a song in 20 years and he was like, “I was bumping that song with my windows down, yelling at girls like, 'What's up, babe?'”
OK, but those tracks are now longer to be found. You scrubbed the internet of them. Why?
I took them down because I was driving people in the wrong direction as far as where I'm going to end up at as an artist. And I don't want to leave that trail of bread crumbs that shows people like, “Oh, he could've been this type of guy,” or “He should've keep doing that party shit!” I just want to start clean. Clean slate. I want my first record to be my best record. It's like tattoos. Like, if you got a tattoo when you were 16, then, sure, you got a tattoo when you were 16 — but you wish you would've waited until you were 25 when you have the money for it and the idea thought out, where your first one is just badass. So it's the same kind of reasoning.
But your name is going to be different now too, right? That doesn't negate some of that?
Well, I guess i could've left it up. But it was just a decision I made. I went back and forth on it.
Are you embarrassed by some of your older songs?
Some of it. Yeah. It just doesn't represent me now. And if you have the option to remove tattoos you didn't want, wouldn't you?
I guess I'm lucky that I don't have any.
Let's get into specifics. Are you signed to a label at this moment?
No. I'm in a space where that's quickly approaching.
What is the deal you have in place? Is it a management deal? A writing deal?
I'm in a management situation with D.O.C. and John Huffman, and it's through D.O.C.
Obviously a lot is still up in the air. But is there a formal plan in place about releases or anything?
I'm working on my music. Soon as I get to a space where I'm comfortable with that, I'm gonna go to Dre and say, “Hey, I'm ready.” He'll likely listen to it and then tell me, “No, you're not.” Because I've seen him do that to several people already where they thought their album was done and it's not. They thought, “I'm finished, I'm good to go.” And then he listens to it and is like, “I like that one, but I don't like that one.”
Do you appreciate having a gatekeeper like that?
And you have a stable of songs somewhere, right?
I'm not going to put a number on it, but I've done several for Dre and several for myself.
Is it, like, dozens?
And you don't know yet what's going to happen with those?
There's a few I wrote for him that I really hope he doesn't want. I would love to have a few of those records.
Is it that nebulous a thing where you don't even know who the song you're working on is for?
It depends. If you're taking your own initiative and bringing your own ideas and finding your own beats and bringing them to him, then it's an up-in-the-air thing. But if he comes in and says, “Hey, we're working on this,” then that's all him.
So when you're writing stuff even for yourself, you're doing it in his studio?
Every day. His studio is open for me. If you look, there's a chart. There's Studio A and Studio B. Studio A, every single day, it says, “[King] Mez, JT and Dre.” So, every day, I can go in there. If Dre's not there, I get the whole space to myself. Or me and Mez take the space.
And there are regular engineers in place?
Yeah. And they're great guys. A lot of them have been around Dre for 10-plus years.
How's your old crew back here in Dallas reacting to all this?
They're great. I call them every day. I tell them what's going on. They're always curious, like, “Dude, what did you do today?” And I always have a story to tell. It's great. Like, especially my camera guy Thomas [Biggars], I've known him since daycare. When we were 15 and my mom bought me a microphone, he used to come over and just watch me record on my mom's little Circuit City mic. It plugged in right into the headphone jack — my beat would come out of one speaker and my voice would come out of another. We did it like that for a couple of years! Then, when we about 16 or 17, he bought a camera and started filming me. So we started making these little stupid videos. And I still have them on YouTube. They're on private, though.
Have you shown those to Dre?
No! I mean, I would. I wouldn't feel any apprehension. A lot of them did OK, though! They're on private now, but some of them got 10,000 or 15,000 views. I think I had, like, 180,000 total views from when I was 16 to 19. But, like I said, they're all on private now. See, this isn't the first time I've cleaned my slate. I've done it before!
It's just a natural thing for you, I guess.
Yeah. It's like, every now and then, it's just like, “This is who I am now, and fuck all that other shit.”
I guess that's pretty healthy.
It is. Hopefully I can do that musically where I can have a steadfast name, but, every time, continue to innovate. Like, “Fuck that old shit, let me create something entirely new.” That's like what Kanye does. That's what he's great at.
Now, you're still figuring that out, right? The name stuff?
Yeah. Well, some names have bounced around. And there's some that Dre likes a whole lot and some that I'm not that into, like I don't love them. But there's a couple where, like, if it were a Venn diagram, there's be a few in the middle that everyone's kinda OK on. But that might end up changing and I don't want to send people in the wrong direction. [Update: The whole rap world now knows Mohrle as Justus.]
Back here in town, you were working a lot with Blue, The Misfit and the whole Brain Gang crew. Are you still in touch with those guys? Are you guys still passing beats back and forth?
Yeah! Those are my guys. I will always forever appreciate those guys, like Blue — and even Slim [Gravy from A.Dd+]. Like, a lot of people don't know this backstory, but I met Slim first. I went to this Big K.R.I.T. meet-and-greet in 2010 or 2011 in Gilley's and I met him there. We had a mutual friend who had been showing each other the other's music. So when I met him, he was like, “Oh, you're that little white boy that thinks you can fuck me up!” And I'm like, “Yeah!” I didn't back down. I was like, “Yeah, that's me!” And he was like, “Let me hear some shit.” So I played him some shit for Slim and he's like, “Yo, this is really dope! I need to link you up with this producer. He just got out of this situation with this other guy.”
Blue, The Misfit and Sore Losers.
Yeah, exactly. So Blue comes over to my house and is like, “I like this stuff. Let's move. I want to do this new thing.” And that ended up being Brain Gang. At the time, I was rapping with Bobby Sessions and Cashmir. And we just molded together. So I love all those guys. To your point, I still talk to them to this day. I'm supposed to be meeting Blue while I'm home to go over what he's got going on lately.
Now, one thing about you that I know, if only based on your social media is that you might be out in L.A. — and hobnobbing with Gwen Stefani and Xzibit according to your Instagram — but you're still paying close attention to what's happening out here. Like, I saw you tweeting about Live From The Underground's year-end round table that we posted. I imagine you have some opinions about the local hip-hop scene these days.
For sure. Like, one of the main thing I've noticed from being out in L.A. is that I don't think the correct personnel is in order here in Dallas to get the artists off the ground to a star level. There's no infrastructure for it. Like, in Atlanta, you can go quick because Waka Flocka's mom is managing people and your friends are all making it. So there's just a network there to help you go as high as you need to go. Here, to me, there appears to be a ceiling. Like, the other day, I got mad at these other awards in town — I really can't remember who it was, but it was small. I saw people like, “If I can win this award and I can win the [Dallas Observer Music Award] and I can play at the Granada…” I mean, some people are fine with that. But if you went on and won several Grammys, that DOMA may or may not make it in your trophy case.
I mean, the “trophies” at the DOMAs this year were bottles of liquor, so I don't know about that.
See, I don't know! I've never won one! I just don't want people to get complacent with the things that they can accomplish here. And that's something I've noticed about L.A., that there seems to be no ceiling. People want everything.
Is it just a ceiling thing? In your eyes: How is the Dallas rap scene that sprung you compared to the one you've seen out there?
I think it's strong! It's real strong. To me, it really is stronger than L.A. Far as I can see, there really is no underground scene out there. I've tried to go find it. I've sought it out. I couldn't find it. So I feel like there's a lot of cities out there that aren't doing what we're doing in Dallas. Now, on the one hand, that's really great. But, on the other, we need to bridge the gap so that some of these people can get to the next level.
How does that perspective help you in L.A.?
You know what's definitely helped me? Doing all the shows. Doing some of the media stuff you've done here. You definitely get some training. You definitely get ready. It's like Triple A in a sense. You get ready for the next step and you gain your confidence. If I had never done any of this, I probably wouldn't have been able to go in and record with Dre on the day that I met him. I would've been overwhelmed by it. But, due the fact that I was able to do what I did here, I was ready.
I think the frustrating thing for people out here is that they're excited about all you have going on — but there's no time frame for any of it. Or is there?
Yeah, I feel that. You'll hear me soon. I'll be on Dre's project in some capacity.
Vocally. And shortly after that, we'll start fully focusing on my first release.
But definitely not anything before then?
Not even an EP? Not even a mixtape?
No. He's just got this big roll-out planned. He's got the album. He's got the movie. He's got a lot of stuff going on. And I get that. And I want his full attention. So I'm willing to put it off. I'm young. The longer I can go behind the scenes before they put the light on me and develop, I'm fine with it. Dre and I have spoken about that several times. He's told me: “Don't worry. Don't try to make small advances. Just do your thing. Continue to make music and keep your head on straight and you'll be fine.”
Man! Sounds like a long wait!
Like, an album from me is probably 2016. I don't know, though. Maybe we could do an EP this year. I'm gonna try to do what I can. I already have people hitting me up. Like, “Hey, can you send me some stuff? Just show me something, bro!” And I'm just like, “No.” Listen, unless you want to put your phone on the table and I'll play it for you in person, there's no other way I can do it.
Is that the hardest part of this?
Secrecy is hard. It's really hard — because it's really exciting. There's just a lot of things I'm proud of and I want to tell them about.
OK, but about those songs: I know you mentioned the soulful direction you hope to go in earlier. But can you give us any insight into the kinds of aesthetics that you're aiming for with those eventual releases?
What I'm working on — on all aspects, for me and Dre — is just super musical. Like, he'll bring in a 30-piece orchestra to lay down parts. And I love that. He's trying to bring music back to the root of it and the soul of it.
So no simple 808 lines.
No. Definitely not. You might hear me rap and then, like, a three-minute guitar solo, though! It's super musical. It's big. It's epic. It's all of the things you would expect from him.
And you're collaborating with Dre's collaborators, too.
Yeah. One person I'm really close with out there is B.J. the Chicago Kid. He's done a lot of stuff with Kendrick. He has a single out on the radio right now. He's great. Super soulful. Can sing his ass off. But I'm around everybody. Xzibit, Snoop. I'm around them. Xzibit's a great guy. And they want to help you out and bring you into the family. There's an extreme aspect of that out there in that camp. They really care about each other and look out for one another. And I'm like the little guy, the new guy, the nephew. I mean, the first time I met Dre, he gave me a hug! Then, like, I remember this one time, I was leaving the studio and he just grabs me and says, “I love you, bro.” I'm like, “What? He loves me?” So I'm just like, “Man, I love you too!” It's crazy. Like I said, you have to keep your composure in the moment, but then you go home and call your friend and are just like, “Dude, here's what just happened!”
Could you have ever imagined all of this six months ago?
If I had told you…
No. I would've said, “Whatever. Like, I hope so!”
Is it safe to say that that these are your dreams coming to reality?
For sure. Just to go in there and work with arguably the best to ever do it in the genre that I'm in is amazing. I get to go in there and learn.