Jim Jonsin: Rebel With A Cause

South Florida has long been known for its sandy beaches, beautiful women, eccentric nightlife and the indelible sounds of Miami Bass music. In 2006, the area is conquering new grounds. With several powerhouse Hip-Hop artists repping Miami such as Trick Daddy, Rick Ross and Pitbull, and production stars like duo Cool and Dre, South Florida is giving a new meaning to the phrase “dirty south.” What’s missing from the common references to the scene is the musical genius of a Brooklyn-bred, South Florida-raised Jim Jonsin, a true veteran in the Miami sound.

Once a scratch DJ, Jim Jonsin – formerly known as DJ Jealous J of Cut It Up Def Records – reinvented himself and began bringing back the thump of Miami Bass mixed with modern day Hip-Hop, R&B and a touch of Rock n Roll. The mastermind behind the sounds of Trick Daddy and Slip-n-Slide Records, Jonsin has scored over seven top ten hits, including the Jamie Foxx’s Grammy nominated hit “Unpredictable.” He’s even crossed over into urban pop music with Danity Kane’s first single “Show Stopper.”

Since recently becoming Atlantic Records’ sole in-house producer and Head A&R for South Beat records, Jonsin is steadily proving that he’s worth his weight, and the wait. The personable producer and family man, who has upcoming projects with Pitbull, Christina Milian, Mario, J-Shin and Christina Aguilera, spent time with AllHipHop.com Alternatives discussing race and rap, being a father, breaking barriers and crossing genres.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Miami is doing really well right now, with Rick Ross and Pitbull stepping up, as well as producers like you and Cool and Dre. Do you think Miami could be the next big area to blow up, like Atlanta recently, and previously Chicago?

Jim Jonsin: I think it’s happening already. A lot of talented artists are coming out of [Miami]. It could be the next Mecca of music, you know. There’s a little more unity down here now, which has always been hard to get.

AHHA: Your single, “Unpredictable,” which you produced for Jamie Foxx, turned out to be a top ten hit. Were you surprised at the success of the record?

Jim: Not too surprised. Once we cut the record we knew it would be a hit. But since it was Jamie Foxx, we knew it was going to do great. But I was still surprised at the success of the song itself.

AHHA: Now did you produce it for Jamie, or was it something you had in the stash and Jamie just got his hands on it?

Jim: We did it thinking of him, actually.

AHHA: Do you think it would have reached such success had another artist performed it?

Jim: I would hope so, but Jamie did such a great job. You would think a song is a song, but sometimes that artist makes the song what it is. I don’t know though. I couldn’t imagine anyone else on that record besides Jamie.

AHHA: You’ve worked with other artists on Atlantic Records, like Trey Songz and Twista. Is it different with each artist or each song, or is the formula the same?

Jim: I approach each artist differently when I’m doing something for them. But when I do catalogue stuff, I just do whatever I’m feeling. We just did a record with Trey Songz and I think it’s a smash. It’s different from anything he’s ever done. I think that’s important and something we try to bring to each artists, taking them out of their element, doing something different.

AHHA: And what exactly is the formula for making a hit record?

Jim: Music starts with the music…an idea. If the track is a sample, I flip it to get the same feel but with new elements. And the same with an original track, but I just bring in writers and musicians together. The artists play a big part in that. R&B requires finding the right writer. If it’s Hip-Hop, I get a feel for the person and their vibe. I don’t do it all alone though. I’m a part of a team. I feel like a lot of credit should go to the writers and arrangers, and sometimes producers forget how important that is- appreciating those people that come in and help you bring it home.

AHHA: Being the sole in-house producer at Atlantic Records is big, congrats!

Jim: Thank you.

AHHA: How did that deal come about?

Jim: I think it derived from the relationship I had with Atlantic already. I had been doing records for Atlantic and Slip-n-Slide records. I produced seven hit records for them, including singles from my group Pretty Ricky. I had been working with Craig Calman, he helped. I think they just realized I wasn’t just a producer. I had a vision and was well-rounded. Really, we’re all business men.

AHHA: Many producers are starting their own labels and becoming the head honcho of them, like Jazze Pha, Pharrell, and Jermaine Dupri. Why do you think this idea has become so popular?

Jim: Well for the most part, you can develop your acts. What we do as producers, we take the songs and give them to a label and they assign them to artists. But those aren’t our artists. It would be better if we could develop those artists and have more control, like Jermaine Dupri with his acts, and Jazze Pha with Ciara. It’s guaranteed hits, guaranteed money. I’ve always been that guy that wanted to have a label too, but now I’m being a little more careful about it. I think all executives at labels were those dudes making records back in the day…like Russell Simmons.

AHHA: You’ve done something like that with your label, Rebel Rock Entertainment, right?

Jim: Right. We just signed one artist out of Palm Beach, Twenty One Reef. That boy is nasty. We have Lauren Green out of Texas. She’s kinda like a Kelly Clarkson meets Sarah McLaughlin.

AHHA: That’s what’s up. What’s more fun, being a producer or a label executive?

Jim: Definitely being a producer. Labels are a pain in the ass. That whole executive thing isn’t much fun. Being in the studio is so much fun. That’s why I’ve been doing it for so long,

AHHA: And we can expect versatility from this new label venture, since you’ve clearly crossed genres by producing for everyone from Trina to Christina Aguilera?

Jim: Yeah exactly. If the artist is talented, we will show interest. It can be rock, Hip-Hop, whatever. As long as they have talent, we’re in.

AHHA: Now what ethnicity are you?

Jim: I’m a white dude. I’m Irish.

AHHA: Working in an industry that’s widely considered “urban,” do you find it difficult to stay relevant and ahead of the curve?

Jim: Nah. It comes with a couple of little bumps and bruises, but I’ve been involved since 1985. I’ve been a part of the movement from the Sugar Hill Gang to Trick Daddy, so it’s never been an issue for me. I’m confident in what I do. And I don’t worry about that. I just realized I pretty much just gave away my age.

AHHA: [laughs] it’s alright. Now, you have a family back home. Is managing family life harder since you are becoming increasingly busier?

Jim: My family is great! It’s funny you ask that actually. I’m going to bring [my girlfriend] to the BMI Awards. I miss my daughter so much. But they’re strong. They’re good. There’s a movie out with Adam Sandler, Click, it reminds of me of my life. I’m trying to balance my life and not miss out on those moments, and sometimes you wish you had a remote to control that aspect. So all you single ladies out there, I’m taken. You missed out. [laughs]

AHHA: Speaking of daddies [laughs], you got your start working with Trick Daddy, right?

Jim: Yeah, he gave me a big opportunity for sure, Trick and Slip-n-Slide [Records]. That was one of those bumps I was talking about earlier. At first when I played them some of that rock-orientated stuff they looked at me like I was crazy, but after I flipped it, they were feeling it.

AHHA: Was that a learning experience for you?

Jim: Oh yeah, definitely. My personality has changed somewhat [with regard to] dealing with certain people. You have to know that every artist is different in every aspect. Dealing with Trick, he’s so different from me as a person, but we can still kick it. A record produced for Trick wouldn’t sell for someone like T.I., because they’re different people. That’s what I took from that experience. You have to know the people you work with.

AHHA: I always wonder if it’s hard for up-and-coming producers to decide to put their energy into an artist that has yet to be established, as opposed to fishing for a record with a more established artist?

Jim: Nah. Pretty Ricky would be a great example of that. The payoff was so much better. When you help develop a group and support them from the beginning, when no one else does, and they blow up, you look like superman.

AHHA: Understandable. Now you started out as a DJ, scratching and spinning. Do you miss it?

Jim: A little bit. I don’t miss carrying the records though. But I miss beating up the clubs. That alcohol got to me though. Too many late nights. That’s where I learned my A&R skills, dealing with so many different artists, being out all the time.

AHHA: What new records do you have in the works?

Jim: We have two smashes on Ruben Studdard’s upcoming album; two smashes on Mario’s upcoming album; J-Shin’s album is getting ready to drop; A Trey Songz banger. Trick Daddy; and Pitbull’s in the studio now. You wanna talk to him?

AHHA: No, but I want him to stop talking to you while I’m trying to conduct this interview. [laughs]

Jim: [laughs] Nah, that’s not him. There’s like eight people in here right now.

AHHA: Oh, okay. I’m kidding. So, of the multiple albums you’re working on right now, which ones are you really feeling?

Jim: I can’t answer that question. [laughs] But I love the record “Happy” I did with Ruben, and this record for Pretty Ricky called “Peer Pressure.”

AHHA: Alright, fair enough. Well I’ll let you go get back to the studio. Thanks for taking out the time to chat with me for a while. Make sure you keep us updated on what new moves you’re making.

Jim: No problem. Hit me up when you’re in Florida next time. This would probably be a lot easier if we can sit down and talk. [laughs]

AHHA: Sure thing.

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