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For music engineer Justin Watson, music has always been a part of him.
Growing up in Detroit was tough. He lived near the stretch of highway known as the 8 Mile Road, in a neighborhood where everyone and everything was about work. Watson, who goes by Jay Wat, had to grow up fast. Music kept his family tight.
Wat’s parents would put on basement parties that got the whole neighborhood dancing to Roy Ayers and Sly and the Family Stone. In the sixth grade, Wat’s mom bought him his first boombox, and he’d play his cassette tapes on repeat.
In high school, Wat got a hip-hop education in Detroit’s “school of hard knocks,” where DJs spun records, b-boys breakdanced to the beat, and emcees battled with freestyle rhymes.
“It just became a point to where I wanted to really do this full on,” Wat said. “I didn’t make a conscious decision yet that I wanted to be a producer, a music producer. But I just felt like I wanted to be involved in music some way. Somehow, destiny guided me.”
Today, Wat is busy with more than 100 clients at his La Mesa studio, Jay Wat Production Studio. A lot of the artists he works with are young and come from inner-city communities like southeastern San Diego. Many of them mirror his own experience growing up in Detroit: Getting in trouble with friends, struggling in the classroom, and feeding a voracious appetite for music.
Wat views music as a way to offer the guidance and mentorship that was often missing during his childhood.
“I feel like I am a part of these kids lives,” he said. “And I just want to see them do so much better and succeed.”