Jawsh 685 — born Joshua Nanai — is the third oldest of four children born to a father from Samoa and a mother from the Cook Islands, who met in New Zealand. (685 is the country code for Samoa, though Jawsh has never been there.) Manurewa, in South Auckland, has been a magnet for Pasifika communities for decades. “A lot of people like to talk down on where I’m from,” Jawsh said. “It’s not as bad as what people say.”
His parents listened to “old island music,” Elvis Presley, and also Britney Spears and Mariah Carey. But he listened primarily to siren jams on YouTube, where a few channels specialize in posting the latest ones, all produced and released independently.
When he decided he wanted to make them himself, he reached out to the one producer he was acquainted with, who wouldn’t give up all the secrets. So Jawsh set out to teach himself. As with many production styles, there are sample packs passed around that contain loads of foundational sounds to build songs around.
Working on a broken laptop and using the ubiquitous production program FL Studio, Jawsh said he made the original “Laxed” beat in around four hours. Unlike many traditional pop or hip-hop producers who might primarily focus on the beat and leave the songwriting to others, Jawsh included melodic top lines in his production.
In essence, he’d laid out a blueprint for a singer to pick up on and add to, which is exactly what Derulo did. Over the course of this year, Derulo, an early 2010s pop-R&B star, had become something of a TikTok phenomenon, micro-attuned to the app’s trends. In May, after Jawsh’s song had become a TikTok staple, Derulo put lyrics to it — calling his version “Savage Love” — even though he and Jawsh hadn’t yet come to a formal arrangement. Eventually, though, representatives for the two artists ironed out a deal to properly release the song with Jawsh as the primary artist and Derulo the featured guest. (Representatives for Derulo did not reply to requests for comment.)
Despite the friction, Jawsh was excited to see that a star of Derulo’s stature had glommed on to his composition. “It’s exciting to know that you made the melody, and then now you’re hearing someone sing words instead of the melody itself,” he said.