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J.R. - conducted by Bill "Low Key" Heinzelman  


May 2005

You may not be familiar with the name, but you are certain to have heard Jonathan "J.R." Rotem's work. J.R. is the producer behind hits like, Snoop Dogg's "Bang Out", 50 Cent's "Position Of Power" & "So Amazing", and Talib Kweli's "Work It Out", among others. For those that have heard J.R.'s work, the comparison to a young Dr. Dre fits like a glove. In fact, Dre was so impressed with J.R. that he scooped up one of his tracks for Detox, which J.R. discusses at length with MVRemix. J.R. is not just another flash in the pan producer; he just may be the future of West Coast Hip Hop.

MVRemix: I read that you were born in South Africa. How long did you live there and what was that experience like?

JR: To be honest, I only lived there for a year or two, so I really don't remember much about it. I happened to be born there, but I'm not South African by race, or anything like that. But shortly after, I moved to Canada, and grew up there during my early years. It was during that time when I started to take piano lessons. From there I eventually moved to the San Francisco/Bay area, and now I live in L.A.

MVRemix: I see you have a big background in classic music, is that how you got started?

JR: Yeah, I was doing pretty intense classical music growing up as a kid. I did a lot of recitals, competitions, and things like that. Then right out of high school, I went to Berkeley College of Music in Boston, and I studied jazz piano. Right after that, I moved back to the Bay area, and I was working as a jazz pianist. I was leading a lot of bands in the city, playing various gigs, and doing my own thing as well. Eventually, I started playing live Hip Hop songs in jazz settings. Which was cool for a while, but I wanted to get into doing beats full time. So I started doing that, and right off the bat I sold a couple. Dwayne Wiggins of Tony, Tone, Toni, he signed Destiny's Child to Sony/Columbia, and he ended up giving a couple of my beats to Beyonce. She wrote to a few of them, and one ended up on the Survivor album, which was the song called "Fancy". As soon as that happened, I decided to move to L.A. to parlay it, because there was not a lot more I could have done in the Bay area. So I moved to L.A. to pursue it full time, and I eventually hooked up with my current manager and partner Zack Katz. He helped me get to the level I am at now.

MVRemix: How do you think your background in classical music has helped you produce Hip Hop?

JR: I would say it helps me because, it gives me a particular sound, because that's where I come from, its my roots. That's the stuff I want to hear, all of those classical textures and harmonies. The other thing is, since I'm a musician, I have the ability to obviously play anything I can hear. So I don't have to rely on sampling, or other musicians. Any ideas that I can think of, I can execute, so that is a big advantage. But everybody has their own strengths and weakness. A weakness I had to overcome was that my stuff was too musical, and it didn't have the gritty sounds of Hip Hop. I had to learn that, and learn how to do my drums, and get those right. But there are producers who come from a DJ background, and there strength is they understand the sound and the history. They know what the records should sound like. But maybe, they need to figure out how to get more musicality into it? So different people have to learn to do different things.

MVRemix: Concerning that gritty edge you had to learn, what did you specifically do to figure it out? Did anybody help you with that?

JR: My manager Zach Katz definitely helped me out, he has been in the business a long time. He manages producers such as Hi-Tek and Denaun Porter. So he definitely helped me develop the sound, and would tell me what worked and what didn't. And Denaun Porter, I played keyboards for him, and he showed me a lot of tricks. He gave me drum sounds, and showed me which keyboards to use. But I was able to do it through hard work, and listening to people's criticisms. It didn't happen overnight, and its still a process to this day.

MVRemix: For fans who may have not heard your work, how would you describe your production sound?

JR: I'm trying to hit all different things, because I don't want to be known for just one kind of style. So I hope my style is eclectic and varied, but what I think unifies it all, is definitely a certain kind of classical musicality to it. I like music that has darkness, tension, and dramatic kinds of stuff. But I try to make different kinds of records using that. I'm trying not to limit myself to one type of sound, but you do have a certain kind of individuality, and mine comes from my background in classical music.

MVRemix: You have worked with so many artists, 50, Snoop, Fabolous, Fat Joe, and the list goes on. So how do you go about shopping your beats?

JR: That is my manager's job. I get the stuff to him, we decided what goes to each artist, and we go from there. Usually we try and organize meetings to meet up with the individual one on one and find out what type of records they are looking for.

MVRemix: One of my favorite tracks you recently did was that Snoop track "Bang Out". That track is crazy, you brought it back to the old Snoop with that one.

JR: Thank you. That was actually one of the biggest things that influenced me to do it, his style from back in'93, when he was with Dre.

MVRemix: For those that may not be up on your discography, can you run through some of the more famous beats you have done?

JR: Recently, I did the two joints on 50 Cent's album, "Position Of Power" and "So Amazing". I did two joints on Fabolous album's, I did that song on Snoop's R&G and on Kweli's album, which I co-produced with Hi-Tek. I'll be all over Lil Kim's new album, she picked six tracks. Also, new album's from Foxy Brown, Obie Trice, Tony Yayo, Oliva, Jin, Latoya, and a few others.

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"I hope my style is eclectic and varied, but what I think unifies it all, is definitely a certain kind of classical musicality to it. I like music that has darkness, tension, and dramatic kinds of stuff."