Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem Interview


Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem
Artist:Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem
Label:Beluga Heights/Epic
Next Project:Chamillionaire's "Ultimate Victory," Dr. Dre's "Detox" & Fabolous "From Nothing to Something"
Website:Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem's Website
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Producer on the rise Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem is quickly becoming an A-List must for any platinum-aspiring Hip-Hip, R&B or Pop album.  Having already charted many hit singles with the likes of Rihanna, 50 Cent, Lil’ Kim and Britney Spears, J.R. has the table set for a gigantic 2007.  When he isn’t in the studio producing new material for Chamillionaire, Fabolous or Dr. Dre’s long awaited and highly-anticipated Detox album, J.R. and manager Zach Katz are working hard on their newly formed production company, Beluga Heights.  During an interview with DJBooth.net’s DJZ,’ J.R. talks about his transition from classical and jazz piano to Hip-Hop beats, the studio atmosphere when he engaged in recording sessions with The Game, and why their has been a lack of top dollar opportunities in the industry since 1999.

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Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem Interview Transcription


DJ Booth:  What’s goin’ on ya’ll, it’s your Boy Z, doin’ it real big on DJBooth.net and on the phone with me is an A-List producer who supplies nothing but the best bangers for artists like 50 Cent, Game, Snoop Dog, and Rihanna,  It’s my man Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem.  How ya doin’?

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  I’m good Z, and thanks a lot for the opportunity.

DJ Booth:  The pleasure is all on my side of the phone.  Explain how you didn’t simply go into the studio one day—knocked out some big beats, and walla, you made it big.  Give me and everybody else a brief run down on your rise to stardom.

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  Well you know, it actually took more work than I would have even thought.  My roots are in classical piano and jazz piano, and then at a certain point I decided to stop playing and become a producer. I made a couple of beats and they fell into the hands of DeWayne Higgins, who produced Toni Toni Toni.  He took the beats to Beyonce of Destiny’s Child, while they were working on their Survivor album.  They ended up recording two songs of mine and I was placed on their album.  From there I thought I should move down to L.A., at the time I was in the Bay Area.  And I felt like—hey it’s gonna happen real quick and real fast, since I have all this placement.  But I ended up moving here [L.A.], and it really took awhile—to first of all find my place and sound, to make sure it was commercial and consistent, and also to meet the right people, and get my name out there.  So it actually took a lot of trial and error .  But finally, I ended up with my manager Zach Katz and things started to happen.  He helped make it happen.  He’s the one who gave me feedback on my beats and made them stronger.  He put me with his producers (which he was managing at the time) like Denaun and Hi-Tek.  Then before I knew it we were producing a lot of records.  We were grinding non-stop, and then I started getting placements on artists like Snoop Dog and Fabulous, Lil Kim’s single “Whoa”, and then you know 50 Cent really-really took a liking to me—so I got a song deal on G-Unit, started working with that whole camp and things just started to happen.

DJ Booth:  ‘JR’, you’ve just basically covered everything my man, including like six of my questions…

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  Cool I’m glad I could do that…

DJ Booth:  A lot of people may not know what actual work you go through in the creative process.  Walk me through the steps, start-to-finish.  So an artist approaches you to mold a sound for them, and their labels.  How does the beat come to fruition when you’re in the studio?

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  It can happen a lot of different ways.  Lately people have been sending their artists to me, now that there’s a kind of reputation.  I’ll sit with them, and vibe with them.  If it’s an R&B or a Pop song, I’ll usually have my writer in the room.  We just inked a joint deal with Epic (Records) and my production company, Beluga Heights.  So we have a lot of stuff going on.  A lot of times we start from the ground up.  Sometimes I have a lot of tracks ready, like a playlist that’s already been done.  But lately it’s been more enjoyable when we start a beat from the ground up.  There’s a certain kind of energy that comes with that.  It’s been enjoyable to create on demand.

DJ Booth:  As I mentioned earlier, you’ve done a lot of work with The Game.  There are two records on his latest album, including “California Vacation”,and the title track “Doctor’s Advocate.”  At what point did you work with The Game on the album, because as you said you signed on with 50 Cent and inked a deal with G-Unit, and as we all know he has since left G-Unit in favor of a deal with Interscope imprint, Geffen.

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  Right, that actually wasn’t an issue, with G-Unit, because the song deal I signed was not exclusive.  It was basically 50 saying—“Hey you really have a finger on this sound.  I really like your songs.  Let me buy a group of them, instead of buying a beat one at a time.  Let me pay for like maybe 5 or 10 tracks, and then we’ll choose them as we go.”  That’s really the nature of a song deal.  As far as being in the studio with Game, that’s all that it was.  I’m a big fan of both.  Being in the studio with The Game was just it’s own thing.  I had tracks ready, specifically for The Game.  I went to see him at his house, wee went through the tracks.  We went to the studio and then after the vocals were done, I went back and added a lot to the cuts to really make it feel organic.  Sometimes you create the beat, with the artist in the studio, like I did with The Game.  Then other times, I might have the beat ready, but it is still something written just for them.  I make sure to finish producing, even after the vocals [are added.] It’s really important to marry the vocals to the song. 

DJ Booth:  JR, there were rumors going around that during his studio sessions, The Game was always drunk.  Did you partake in this alcoholic binge or no?

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  I actually don’t drink or do any drugs, so I did not take part in that.  At the time that I was working with The Game, he was not completely belligerent.

DJ Booth:  For a lot of listeners, lets match up a beat with a name.  A few of your biggest hits were Rihana’s “S.O.S. Rescue Me” and 50 Cent’s “Best Friend.”  Is there a beat that at this particular moment you thought was going to be big and it never really amounted to much after you gave it to the artist?

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  Yeah sometimes that happens.  There are times when I would put out a beat, and didn’t think too much about it, and then it’s a hit.  You never really know what’s gonna happen.  That’s why I put 110% into every beat.

DJ Booth:  I spoke with Chris Styles of Dangerous LLC (who has also worked with 50 Cent quite a bit) and he told me the money is damn good.  When I spoke with producer Needlz, he said that the market is fluctuating.  Both Akon and DJ Toomp told me that the more popular they get, it has actually come back to hurt them, because after their success people have said they charge too much.  Where do you stand amongst all these producers in terms of profit?  Do you think the direction you’re going in right now is good?

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  You mean financially?

DJ Booth:  Yes, getting too big too fast?

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  I don’t really look at it like that.  I just see where the music takes me.  You can’t really plan on something like that.  Your market value is dictated by a lot of different factors: your reputation, success on the radio, and your relationship with the labels.  It’s a crazy time in the industry.  I’m just happy with where I am.  At the same time, the industry has a lot less money.  Back before ’99, there were no iPods, no Internet downloads and the top urban producers like Swizz Beats were making 200K per single.  Now the top guys are getting somewhere between 60 to 80 thousand.  In the area of producers, I feel good with where I’m at, compared to a lot of the competition—without divulging a lot of specific numbers.

DJ Booth:  Sounds good.  I want to thank you for joining me and You have a lot goin’ on.  Do you have a website where people can reach you?

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  Yeah people can check me out at www.jonathanrotem.com and that has a direct link to My Space page and be looking for the Beluga Heights website that is coming soon.  You know you can always Google me under Jonathan ‘JR’ Rotem, and find out what’s comin’ up

DJ Booth:  Good luck to you this year I’m sure you’re gonna do big things!

Jonathan ‘J.R.’ Rotem:  Thank you very much.  I appreciate your time.


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