Eminem & Nelly Producer Jim Jonsin
Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, Soulja Boy, T.I., Beyonce: these are just some of the stars produced by one of the music industry’s most prolific big boss producers, Jim Jonsin. Jonsin’s the man behind Nelly’s powerful Billboard comeback with ”Just A Dream,” he’s also the man who guided B.o.B to fame, and he’s the only man in history to see the release of a Weird Al parody of his song (T.I.’s “Whatever You Like”) while it was still at #1.
While Jonsin’s chart performance is admirable by any standard, perhaps equally impressive is his ability to identify a #1 hit long before it realizes success. As Jonsin told Hit Talk, back when Nelly’s “Just a Dream,” was just becoming popular, he predicted the song would hit #1 (notwithstanding another powerful hit vying for the same spot) as soon as he started working on it. Coincidentally, Hit Talk’s previous interviewees, the Far East Movement, are proving to be Nelly’s biggest competition. But there he is, Nelly, at the top of the charts, battling it out for #1, just like Jonsin predicted. So when Jonsin says of Eminem’s song “Space Bound,” “If they put that out as a single, that’s a number one hit,” record execs best take heed. Hit Talk chatted with this master producer/songwriter about approaching the music industry, about getting your music heard, and about writing and producing “Space Bound” with Eminem and Steve McEwen. Don’t miss it.
Hit Talk: First of all, congratulations to Rebel Rock on B.o.B.’s nomination for best hip hop video, and congratulations on your new song with Nelly.
Jim Jonsin: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Hit Talk: Have you seen the other videos? Do you think he stands a chance at winning?
|Jim Jonsin: Ah yes, I think Bob’s gonna win it, he’s gonna win it all… he’d better win it. He’s up against Gaga, though.
HT: And Eminem too, right, so he’s got some competition.
JJ: He’s my man and I’m a huge fan, but yeah the other artists are also great, so it’s gonna be a tough one, you know.
HT: Think they’ll favor the popular ones, or do you think it’s judged strictly on the merits of the video?
JJ: I’d love to say it’s just gonna be about the video, but you and I both know that’s not the way things go.
HT: Do you think he needs to win, or do you think the nomination alone is enough?
JJ: Nah, the nomination is good, I don’t think he needs to win, he’s gonna continue to make great music and videos as well, so his time will come. If it doesn’t come now it’ll come later. Lady Gaga just came off a great year, so she’s pretty popular especially with MTV, and so is Eminem, so like I say, he’s got it tough.
HT: Maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you first ended up signing B.o.B.
JJ: About three years ago a gentleman named T.J. Chapman, I’ve been friends with him for a while, he came down and told us about this artist he had named B.o.B., and this other guy that worked with me at the time named Rocko Valdez, he heard [B.o.B.’s song] and ran to the studio and told me “hey you’ve gotta hear this artist – he’s really dope, his name is B.o.B” So he brought me to his Myspace page, I checked him out on Myspace, I loved it, and flew him down, immediately…
We spent a couple of days with him, he actually had a couple of deals on the table from various people including Eminem, T.I., I think Brian Leach from J Records was trying to sign him, and I had just did my label deal with Atlantic, so he decided to deal with me.
I promised him that he would be my first and only artist; until he blew, I wouldn’t sign anyone else. And I stayed with that, I haven’t signed anybody, and he blew up, and now I’m looking at a new artist to sign.
I then did a joint venture with T.I. about a year and a half later. T.I. had shown interest early on in B.o.B. early on, and we had a meeting. And ironically at this meeting, I gave him a CD and the track “Whatever you Like” was on that CD. But in that meeting, we discussed doing a joint venture. I thought he was a great guy. I thought T.I. was awesome as a businessman, and the way he treated his artists, so I thought it would be a good look for B.o.B. Plus he’s from Atlanta, and it was something that B.o.B. wanted to do, so we made that happen straightaway, so now it’s Rebel Rock/Grand Hustle/Atlantic.
HT: So how much room is there for Rebel Rock to expand? Are you bringing in many new artists?
JJ: I want to be able to pay attention to the artists that I sign. We’re probably going to do one artist a year. B.o.B.’s getting ready to do his new album. Any artist that I sign is going to be an artist that can be self-contained. I’m going to help develop the artist, but they’re going to have to be a musician, a writer, a producer; they’re going to have to be able to do their own music the way traditional artists have. You’ve gotta play a big part in recording your own album. I’m not going to sign artists who are puppets, I’m not into that. I’m not gonna do all the work for you.
From that, I want to build. So I want B.o.B. to produce some music on my new artists, and I want it to kind of bounce around and become a family where we all work together. That’s what I’d like Rebel Rock to be: a unit of people working together.
HT: So it’d be kind of like Shady/Aftermath
JJ: Right, exactly… and the artist that I’m signing now is completely different than B.o.B. They’re a totally different artist musically… I’d probably allow B.o.B. to find the next B.o.B. and possibly come to me and have me help him with it. But I’m not looking for any artists that are [similar to] my artists, competing for airwaves.
HT: I wanted to ask a question on the topic of getting your music career started. I’m going back to when you were still known as Jealous J, and you produced “Cut it up Def: Miami Bass Jams” and I think you said that it sold, what, 300,000 copies?
JJ: Yeah, by this time, I think it went gold, but I think it was about 300,000 units sold as an album…
1988 was when “Cut it up Def” came out. That was my first official record that came out. And that process was also a team effort. I was a producer on that, there was a guy Jock D that was a producer, we had a dude named Aaron G, John Skee, Willie Andrews (Gemini), and then Coolie Cee also, so it was quite a few of us, even DJ Laz played a part in some of that stuff back then.
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HT: So you’re all benefiting from that success… were you making your money off of music by that point?
JJ: You know, we were barely making any money. We were makin a little money at work doing random jobs and DJing, and we would use that money to go in the studio, and the guy who was putting the records out with us only financed the manufacturing and distribution of the product, we weren’t really makin’ much money, we were just selling 12 inches at the time.
And then, when that album came out, we ended up in a lawsuit because the distributor, Pandisc Music Corp, they never paid us. We ended up in this case against them, and trying to get our money. Still to this day none of it’s gotten paid.
HT: That’s ugly man. Still it’s a lot of exposure. I know it’s a different game now than it was in ‘88, music sales are down, but what would you say to somebody who asked you “how can I get something out like ‘Cut it up Def’ and how can I make it a big thing?”
JJ: Back then, we’d get in the car, we’d fuel the car up, and we’d have to drive from city to city, just to build a fan base. Right now, if you’ve got something hot, all you’ve got to do is upload that shit to Youtube, and you’ve got millions and millions of people. It’s so much easier, it’s like microwave music now.
And … a hit dog will holler. Believe me, if you’ve got a hit, it will holler. So right now it’s much easier. With Bob, a year or two … ago, we would just take records and put ‘em on the internet. Just puttin’ em out. One of them’s gonna go, somethin’s gonna happen, and you’ll start creating a buzz, and you can start touring off that, ’cause we make music. It’s what we do for a living. I’ve got studios, I’ve got time, and it’s free for us to make it. So we make it and we put it out, and the fans like it, then they can go out and do some shows here and there.
I think what people should do is take their music and start plugging it away on the internet. Don’t worry about it getting leaked … because if your fans like it, they’ll go see your shows - you can make money through your shows.
HT: I wanted to ask you about that, a song getting leaked, we recently interviewed Wayne Wilkins.
JJ: That’s my mate, man, he’s a great dude!
HT: Yeah, he is a great dude, we had a great interview with him. So you worked on “Sweet Dreams” with him, and that one leaked before the planned release date, and you thought you had lost the record at that point.
JJ: Yeah, exactly [laughs].
HT: Maybe it’s different for you now, but how crucial is timing for the release of a song?
JJ: Remember I just said “A hit dog will holler”? That record was obviously a hit, so it got leaked and then it eventually found its way to the charts. They had no radio promotion on that song. Now it had Beyonce on it which made a big difference and gave it a huge edge. I always thought the song was great, I was so pissed when it was leaked; I thought man, here we are we got a record that could be a single on Beyonce, huge break for us, and it just leaked, and it might not even make the album, so what the hell do we do now? But it worked out.
I think I learned a lot from that. There’s plenty of records that get leaked. And the ones that are good they go, they do something, the ones that suck they don’t do nothing. You have to learn from that.
HT: On the other side of that coin, if a song does suck, do you think a well-timed release can give it a good boost [laughs]?
JJ: I don’t know man. I’d hate to put a bunch of money behind a record that wasn’t good. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree about what labels do with what records, and which are singles, but you know, it’s really hard to pick a hit record. It’s hard to say “that’s a guaranteed hit,” I can tell you what feels like a hit. I can tell you, from my personal preference: “I love that, that’s a hit record - to me.” Now I’ve been pretty on point about what records are hits, to be honest. The ones that I’ve picked have been the ones that go … but that’s all hearsay, you know.
HT: Alright, well maybe I can get a projection from you, you did Space Bound with Steve McEwen and Eminem. Do you think that one’s gonna be a hit?
JJ: If they put that out as a single, that’s a number one record. Nelly’s record “Just a Dream,” I knew from the day we did it, that was a hit record. That’s gonna be a hit. That could be a number one hit if it’s the right timing, ’cause you know, if you’re fighting another great song, it’s hard to get to that slot.
HT: Space Bound you co-wrote with Steve McEwen who does a lot of country stuff… and Eminem, How does that all come together… what kind of roles do each of you take when you’re co-writing a song like that?
JJ: Me and Steve have written together numerous times, probably ten different times we’ve been in the studio workin’.
HT: Right, so you’ve got chemistry.
JJ: We have a good relationship, a friendship, you know. We were actually out to dinner with my wife, his wife, and my newborn son. This was almost a year and a half ago. So we were in NY, working at Platinum studios which is Wyclef’s studio, and Jerry Wonder. So we’re downstairs eating dinner, we decided to go upstairs and start messing around with this idea we had (it was just a guitar melody idea). We go upstairs, and we write the chorus to Space Bound; “I’m a space bound rocket ship and your heart’s the moon, and I’m aimin right ‘atcha,” the whole thing, right? We then take that, I produce the record, I write verses to it, we strip the verses out, keep the chorus, my manager sends the hook and beat to Eminem, or Eminem’s manager, Paul. I believe from there Eminem heard it. He loved it, he wrote his own verses and then flew us out there, me and my engineers, and then we finished producing the record and mixing the record together. That was the process on that.
HT: And that was all over the course of a year and a half, and it started from a dinner you had in New York, that’s a great story.
JJ: And that’s what you get out of a Steve McEwen/Jim Jonsin meeting, with Eminem coming in and making it such a smash, you know? Steve comes from writing country music, and pop music, and I come from writing hip hop, but I’m getting into pop music now, and I’m hoping he’ll bring me out to Nashville to work with some of those artists out there, which will be great. But that song being the song that made us able to work with an artist like Eminem, I’m so happy that it happened, because Eminem’s a superstar, and it’s just a blessing you know?
HT: Now you’re working a little bit with Yelawolf, who you introduced to Eminem, do you see anything coming of that relationship, are you going to be working more with him?
JJ: Yelawolf and I are also close friends, we talk once or twice a week.
HT: Yeah, he’s got a neat style man, he’s got somethin’ quite unique.
JJ: You know, I’ve believed in him since the first day I met him a few years ago, and I’ve been producing a lot of records with him. We’ve got some great songs, we’re going back in [the studio] again. I’m a big part of this album, I hope. I hope that Eminem gets involved because that would be huge for both Yelawolf and Eminem, and I think they’ve met since then, and kicked it together and got along really well. So that could be really huge. You know, I would love to get with Eminem and Yelawolf and do a session.
HT: From what I’ve seen, Jim, it looks like you enjoy helping other artists as much as you enjoy success on its own merits.
JJ: Yes I do, man, I think that that’s the best thing in the world… I hate to say this and come off wrong. But you know, there’s a difference between havin’ a marriage and being a single, right? Being married, you have this solid foundation, you’re good, you go home, it’s really important for the mind and soul. But when you’re single, you’re out there just movin’ around, you’re all over the place.
I think as a producer it’s the same. I work with so many different people, I want to channel that into developing other artists, developing producers and writers, and build an empire… there’s a couple of guys I just signed: Danny Morris, is a producer/writer I just signed, Fanatic and Zack from Australia, they’re producers. [I want to] build them to be guys like me and then we can do albums together and produce projects together. One stop shop so to speak. And as far as artists are concerned, when they come in if they just play guitar and sing, by the time they’re done with me they’re going to be playing guitar, singing, piano, recording vocals, producing songs. I think that I’d like to be the guy to do that, and I don’t know where that comes from or why…
HT: Well with the competition as intense between artists as it is now, maybe that’s the appropriate attitude.
JJ: [Take] someone like Dr. Luke for example. I really respect the guy. It reminds me of how Dr. Dre worked (Dr. Luke/Dr. Dre - that’s funny, right?), how Dre picked a few artists and developed those artists, and created an empire. And Dr. Luke’s got his Katy Perry, Ke$ha and I’m sure he’s got a few more lined up. That’s what I want to do. I want Rebel Rock to develop [a group of artists] and then from that, I’d love for those artists to reach out and develop new acts and do their own thing. Teach others and teach on, you know?
Oh, one more thing. The main reason [I focus on developing artists] is because I want change in music. I want artists to play instruments, I want music to change, man. I don’t like that it’s computers and its easy and everthing’s autotuned. I want some real music. I want my kids to grow up, and cry because a song made them hurt… We had music growing up that when you had pain and you heard a song by Stevie Wonder or by Journey, it gave you some pain, or then when you needed to be inspired and happy, you had records that inspired you. I want that. I love the music that’s out, it’s house music and it’s pop, but there really needs to be more of a variety. Where’s the rock bands at, you know what I mean? Where’s the four or five kids from the boy band, or from new edition or Boyz II Men that my daughter can go and put one of their posters on the wall, and go see their concert. Where’s that?
HT: Yeah, you can find some of that stuff in the underground, but it’s a different story if it’s in pop, I know exactly what you mean.
JJ: Yeah, ’cause the masses don’t know, especially the youth. My daughter is young, she doesn’t shave the means to get to that, to the underground, she’s just going to hear what’s on the radio and what’s on TV.
HT: When do you think the whole Autotune thing is going to disappear, or do you think it’s ever going to disappear?
JJ: I think they should use Autotune as a tool. It’s a cool tool, it works great for writing songs, it’s great for people like T-Pain … it’s kinda like Roger Troutman with his talk box or Peter Frampton. But don’t use it because you can’t sing in friggin’ key. You need to learn how to sing in key. [If you don’t,] you’re defeating the whole purpose, and now when you get on stage you’re going to look like an asshole because you can’t sing. If you can’t sing then don’t sing, or you’re just making hit records and that’s cool, but now you’ve gotta go perform them records. I’m trying to be around artists that are performing records without that all that stuff. I’m not shittin’ on people that use Autotune; my hat’s off to you, that’s great, do you your thing, get your money, whatever, I just wanna make a difference in music.