J.R. Rotem: Expanding Horizons…From The Game and 50 Cent, to Sean Kingston

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What

do you do when you’re a multi-platinum producer that’s worked with

the ‘Who’s Who’ of not only the Hip-Hop world, but  Pop and

R&B realms as well? Start your own label and sign a 16-year-old

kid, who you flip into the biggest teen music star of the year. And of course,

date one of said Pop stars that you worked with.

South-African-born,

Canadian raised, and California schooled J.R. Rotem is that man. After

scoring numerous tracks for 50 Cent, The Game, Destiny’s Child, and

perhaps most notably for Rihanna’s “S.O.S.,” Rotem put together his

own Beluga Heights label through Epic Records, and signed a then unknown Sean

Kingston as his first artist. With another number one song in the U.S.,

and a new television show in the works, he’s a guy that knows how

to pick his ventures wisely.

While J.R.’s musical endeavors have been nothing less than stellar, his

words have attracted a different type of attention.  Not long ago, J.R. made the mistake of

joking with a journalist about certain sexual positions he may have

helped former friend Britney Spears get into. And based on his publicist’s

eagerness to interrupt his recent conversation with AllHipHop.com, it’s

obvious the wounds that interview left are still fresh. So it was with

that guarded nature J.R. cleared up the context of those comments, justified

working with K-Fed, and explained why other

keyboard playing Jewish producers will never define what he does. 

AllHipHop.com: Are you getting

sick of the Hip-Hop production game yet?  The way I see

it the money has always been in Pop, but it seems lately that the artistic

freedom is stronger in the mainstream, if that’s possible. 

J.R. Rotem: I wouldn’t say

I’m necessarily sick of Hip-Hop production. Truthfully, I love to

produce music period, in all genres. I’m a fan of rap and Hip-Hop,

but I have been doing a lot of Pop and a lot of R&B. Some people

say the phrase “Hip-Hop is dead.” To me, I don’t think it’s

dead, but maybe pure Hip-Hop is not really thriving like it was. Hip-Hop

itself has totally infiltrated and influenced all other forms of music,

so when I’m producing in Pop and R&B, there’s a lot of Hip-Hop

influence. As far as straight Hip-Hop and rap, I still love it. I did

three tracks on Plies that just came out, I’ve got Chamillionaires

single “Hip-Hop Police,” I’m in with everyone from Baby Bash,

to talking with Game about the next album. I definitely love Hip-Hop,

always have and always will, it’s just a question of what artists

are exciting? You can have stale and not inspiring artists in every

genre, there’s rappers that are like “Ok, this dude is really not

talking about much,” but you also have the same thing in Pop and R&B.

So for me, I just get inspired by artists, in whatever genre they are.

I just like to produce artists that are saying something different. 

AllHipHop.com: Now for you,

being a wealthy Jewish producer in LA, do you feel like Scott Storch

might be giving that profile a bad image? Cause I don’t see you running

around claiming to be the hottest producer out, and running your mouth

about fellow producers in the game. 

J.R. Rotem: For me, not at

all to judge Scott or anything like that, but to be honest with you

when I was coming up, at that time he was playing keys for Dr. Dre and

I was like “Whoa, that would be the coolest thing ever.” And then

when he stopped doing that and did his own producing I was like “Whoa,

that would be the coolest thing ever.” So in a lot of ways, I looked

at that and thought that would be a possibility for me too, so I don’t

judge him at all. At the end of the day, people are different. Yes,

we happen to be Jewish, but I may have more in common in personality

with somebody who isn’t Jewish. You know, it doesn’t matter. People

might have made a lot of comparisons between me and him because of the

obvious surface comparisons. We’re both Jewish, we both come from

a keyboard playing background. But at this point in my career where

I’m establishing myself in my own identity, I think the differences

are becoming more and more apparent. We’re just not the same people,

and that’s nothing against him. He’s got his path of doing things,

he’s got his personality that works for him. For me, being successful

was about being positive, having faith, working hard, being humble,

being open to other people’s ideas. That’s just my path. I don’t

look at what he does and what he says as any reflection on what I do.   

AllHipHop.com: You must have

a good sense of humor, because that previous comment you made about ‘wheelbarrowing’

Britney Spears was classic. I guess they took that out of context… 

Publicist: (Interrupts) It

was taken out of context. 

AllHipHop.com: It was taken

out of context? 

J.R. Rotem: Yeah that interview,

some people found it funny. I was actually kind of offended by it, because… 

Publicist: (Interrupts again)

He works with her…Sorry, go ahead. 

J.R. Rotem: Anyhow, so it was

the type of thing where it was like, it was definitely a misquote that

took the meaning out of it. They were just asking me about girls that

I was seen with, and I probably made an off-ended joke, but then afterwards

I made it very clear I didn’t sleep with her, I would never do that.

And they kind of took that and made it the headline of the article.

So while to some people it was definitely funny, what I didn’t like

about it was that she could have read it and just been offended like

“Wow, why is this person talking like that?” When in reality, that

was never my intention. My thing was never to talk about somebody in

a negative way, or offend somebody or anything like that. AllHipHop.com:   Now on the same note, how do you feel about the way

the media is portraying your former female interest?  It seems

like you got out of there right in the nick of time before it all started

going downhill. 

J.R. Rotem: You know, it’s

really hard for me to pass judgment on that, because I got a small taste

of it, going out and having cameras follow you, and anything you say

or do is taken out of context. She lives her life that way, where literally

everything she does and anywhere she goes is constantly being looked

at under a microscope. If anything I just have sympathy for her. It’s

just like wow, she can’t do anything without it being filmed, and

whenever anything is filmed and put in the media it’s always going

to be taken out of context. So I can’t pass judgment between what

she’s actually doing, and the way the people are making it look.AllHipHop.com: Dude, you know

I’ve gotta ask about producing those Kevin Federline joints. Like

basically, what were you thinking with that? I mean after building your

resume up, what made you work with him?  

J.R. Rotem: Well I’d rather

not comment specifically about working with him, but I’d rather address

it in the form of just working with people in general who might not

be known to be platinum artists or credible artists. For me in producing

there’s different types of challenges. Like if I get in the studio

with a Mariah Carey or somebody like that, she’s got an incredible

voice and it’s not going to be very hard to make her sound amazing.

But not everybody has that kind of voice. So to me, as a producer, I

look at it like “Let me see what’s in the room.” In other words, whatever

the artist is, whatever the writer is, whatever the musicians are, let

me see what’s the best song I can create with the tools I’m given.

So at that time, that’s what I’m thinking. I’m trying to make

the best possible song with whatever is thrown at me in the room, regardless

of whether this person is signed to this label, or whether they’re

platinum or whether they’re credible or anything like that. 

AllHipHop.com: So at the end

of the day, do you think working with artists like that might have ruined

your credibility with some of the other artists you work with in any

way? Has it changed any relationships? 

J.R. Rotem: To be honest with

you, I haven’t found that it has in any way. I think at the end of

the day, if somebody wants to get in with me, either they’ve heard

a song that I’ve done, they’ve heard from an artist about a positive experience,

and they feel confident that when they get in the studio with me, they’re

going to get what they want. I’m known as that kind of producer, versatile.

I’m not just going to say “You’re going to have the J.R. sound,”

it’s not a matter of me playing certain chords or a certain drum sound.

It’s a matter of me understanding the artist, and me giving them what

they want in a creative new way with my twist. So these people, if they

feel like I went in the studio with somebody they don’t respect for

whatever reason, I don’t think that makes them go, “Oh I don’t

want to get in with that dude cause he got in with them.”  It doesn’t negate the good song that they heard that I produced, or

the good, credible artist. So people at the end of the day, they want

hot music. They don’t feel like if I went in with somebody that they

don’t happen to respect, that’s going to mean that I’m going to

give them any less of a song, you see what I’m saying? At least for

myself, I haven’t found it difficult to get in the studio with people.

Maybe back in the day, even a Hip-Hop producer going Pop, forget whether

the artist was credible or not in Pop, just the fact that he does that

genre makes people go “Oh, he’s not hard,” or anything like that.

But I haven’t found that in my career at all. For me, I’ll work

with everyone from 50 Cent and Game, to Britney Spears and even Disney

Stars, like Ashley Tisdale and Jessie McCartney. They might not be

known in the hardcore Hip-Hop circles, but none of that affects it.

I’m the type of producer who wants to give people the hottest possible

song, and I think people respect that. And Hip-Hop is in a completely

different place now. Back in the day, could you have seen 50 Cent with

a hook from Justin Tiberlake, the guy known from N’Sync? No. I happen

to think the new record “Ayo Technology” produced by Timbaland is

dope, and it’s looking to me like it’s going to be a big record.

So I think the game is a little bit different. 

AllHipHop.com:  Let’s talk about Sean Kingston. I’ll

be honest, when I interviewed him a few months ago I didn’t really

know who he was, and now it’s like “McDonald’s? What?” What

did you see in the kid that made you want to sign him and produce the

entire album? 

J.R. Rotem: Truthfully, I could

just feel the talent, and his amazing energy. It wasn’t like when

you heard him he had this incredible song, it wasn’t “Oh s**t, you

could put that song on the radio,” he didn’t have that. What he

did have was just a raw talent. When I was sitting in the room with

him and he was just rapping, and he wasn’t even really singing that

much he was rapping, I could just feel his energy, and there’s something

about him that just made me want to get in the studio and work with

him. I can’t explain, it was just a feeling, an energy. And while

we made the album, it just kind of became an evolution of it, because

he started out just mostly rapping, singing a couple hooks, to singing

a little more, and we were like he’s got this Jamaican accent, and

we started developing it, and it’s been going in a different direction.

And it seems like “Whoa, he really shines when he sings like that.”

You can feel how genuine he is. So we made “Beautiful Girls,” and

now it’s crazy. We’ve got the number one song in the country, number

one on iTunes, his second single which we just started servicing is

number five on iTunes today. The thing about him was, I could just feel

his talent and his positive energy, and he really is a natural. He’s

just a genius in the studio, you put him in there, you put a beat on,

and immediately he’s got the hooks, he’s got the concepts. He’s

really one of the most talented people I’ve had the pleasure of working

with. And now he’s like family to me, so it’s incredible, I couldn’t

be happier.

AllHipHop.com: Last question,

along the lines of Beluga Heights, I’ve heard you’re making a reality

show based around the label. It seems like there’s a lot of shows

out there are highlighting how ridiculous the entertainment industry

is, what’s going to different about this one? 

J.R. Rotem: Well the concept

of this one is actually going to be the anti-theme of that. You see

a lot of shows where you see the typical producers, and you see yachts

and mansions, and girls and all that kind of stuff. And that’s cool,

it might be kind of visually stimulating, but I think the average person

can’t really relate to that. You don’t have characters that you

care about. And for us, the way that we’ve been able to stay successful

in this industry, it’s not been based on anything fake or superficial.

It’s been based on discipline and hard work, and sacrifice, and the

ups and downs, and the rejections, and all that other kind of stuff.

And I believe that that’s just human element, that struggle is something

anyone can relate to in this industry, or in any part of life.

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