Mark Ronson: Vinyl Visionary

Slick Rick, Monie Love, and Maybach’s aren’t the only dope English exports to Hip-Hop. Mark Ronson’s audio vision has been running its course on Hip-Hop the last five years. From the soulful Gap ads, to providing the sweeter sounds behind Beanie Sigel and Dirt McGirt, to his criminally slept-on Here Comes the Fuzz album last year, Ronson has made massive, but quiet moves.

The quiet segment is soon to be over. With the help of powerful manager, Rich Kleiman [producer for Fade to Black], Ronson has set up shop with Allido Records, which will unveil “Jesus Walks” co-writer Rhymefest. Get ready, Mark Ronson’s modestly restrained his name from so much of what does. After this, there will be no more. Mark Ronson is fusing Hip-Hop with Rock and Soul with unique sensibility. The music is about to be fun again, for real for real. You dropped the mixtape companion to Fade to Black. Having worked with Jay in recent years, from a DJ’s perspective, what track in your mix best embodies who Jay really is?

Ronson: There’s two different sides of Jay that I love. As a DJ, I love the s**t with his best beats, on a record like, ‘Public Service Announcement’ it’s amazing – the synthesis, how he comes in. But then, as far as Jay – the lyricist, I would never play ‘Cashmere Thoughts’ in a club. But listening to the flow on that is just amazing, how ahead of his time he was on that, but it still so sounds so relevant. Rich, as an integral part of Fade to Black, do you sense a stronger reaction to the film had the media not accused his retirement vow as a hoax?

Rich: I don’t think so. When you’re at the stage that he’s at in his career, you’re able to decipher the difference between being completely done, and somebody with Jay-Z’s presence is never gonna be forgotten or gone the way Larry Bird walked off the basketball court and was back after seven years. He’s more the Michael Jordan. It’s in his blood. Jay-Z as we knew him, was done. The ultimate night was that night at the Garden. The proof of that happened [more recently] with R. Kelly. The film isn’t as much about seeing him at the end, than seeing him at the ultimate height. Your own album got really overlooked. It took some bold risks and fused some different things. This year, those same experiments were rewarded. How does time’s cruel fate sit with you?

Ronson: It’s nothing I really lost sleep over, honestly. I never put all my eggs in one basket. I had a lot things working against me. A – it’s a DJ record. B – I was on Elektra. But every DJ I’ve ever met has at least one joint [they love] off of that. In other countries, the Ghostface record, ‘Oweeee’ was a huge hit. It was cool. It gave me an opportunity to work with most of my favorite artists in Hip-Hop. Plus, it put on a lot of artists like Saigon and Rhymefest and Daniel Merriweather. Let’s talk about Rhymefest. A coworker passed me his Blue Collar mix this past year. I adored it. Why do you think he is the future for you?

Ronson: He’s great man. We just did a new record with Old Dirty right before – his unfortunate passing. Rhymefest was in the studio when I did that “Lift Up Your Skirt” song that Funkmaster Flex is banging all summer by Dirty that unfortunately from the Roc-A-Fella situation, never came out. We also did a collaboration with Old Dirty for Rhymefest’s album. He’s a great lyricist. He beat Eminem in a battle. But his favorite MC’s are the Biz Markie’s and ODB’s and larger-than-life characters. He loves that s**t.

Rich: That Blue Collar is just a hundredth of what you’ll see from him. He was just down in Nashville with Gatemouth Brown, an 80 year old Blues singer [and slide-guitar player]. He’ll bring that Biz Markie fun flavor into it, but at the same time, he wrote ‘Jesus Walks’. You can never question his ability. How’s the record progressing?

Ronson: Right now it’s exciting. Even though we applied a sound, there’s other producers. Kanye did a few joints. Just Blaze, Premier… Damn, Premier cosigned it?

Ronson: We sat with Premier in the studio and told him what we’re trying to do with the record. He’s just finishing his record right now. I’m not gonna turn in an album though til’ I rap him to death, ‘cause he’s my favorite. Your stepfather was in Foreigner. What’s your musical relationship like with his body of work?

Ronson: It’s great, man. He’s a big influence on what I want to do. There was some great Rock that came out in the late 70’s, AM era, and it really has an influence on my guitar playing. Take a record like Nikka Costa’s “Like a Feather”, that was what I thought was – making a Premo beat and playing Foreigner style guitars over it. When it all came together, Premier didn’t think it sounded like anything he’d do, and nobody cited Foreigner. When M.O.P. sampled ‘Cold As Ice’, we all went down to the video shoot. He and them were getting on like a house on fire. What are some records you love, but could never play at a party?

Ronson: That’s a good question because I play so much across the board. Maybe Fiona Apple ‘Love Ridden’. That’s just the most beautiful break-up ballad ever. Maybe ‘Paranoid Android’ by Radiohead. I have played that at a party, but only once. For me to play something once, may as well not have played it. Do you foresee a future working relationship with the Roc?

Ronson: Absolutely. Freeway is somebody that whenever I think I have something he’d like, I call him up. Beanie, I did a remix to the track, ‘Wanted’ that they have. Unfortunately, Roc-A-Fella is in such a weird state right now, they’re not really putting out records – but I’ve done so much [unreleased] s**t for them. I think they still have a great roster. The Gap campaign was fun. But don’t you think it’s dangerous to popularize our favorite records to the trendy crowds, the hip crowds. I just don’t want to see Paris Hilton’s Ipod with good records on there. I don’t want to see real Hip-Hop attached to anything only accessible to the rich. What do you think?

Ronson: I think it’s sort of a joke. Six or seven years ago, I started DJ’ing a places that were sorta model-y and stuff. They would only play House music or Club music at that time. Every Tuesday, the hottest club in New York at the time, Life, would say, ‘Mark Ronson and his random music is ruining our VIP room. Now Damon Dash and Jay-Z and Puffy and Mariah Carey wanna come and bring their people with them.’ So, now it’s come completely full circle. The people that are going out now don’t really have the history of the music, and they don’t even care. These guys just want to hear Ja Rule and Ashanti and that’s about it. It’s all good with Hip-Hop being played in these Paris Hilton clubs like you said, but I don’t have any time for anybody without the education. That’s why me and Q-Tip started ‘Authentic S**t’ every Thursday. You might hear everything from De La to old Pete Rock to the new Snoop track. I’ve been doing it too long to play records that I don’t care about. I play s**t that I love. Going from a manager-artist relationship, to label partners, why and how can this work?

Rich: It’s kind of an understanding of what both of our roles are. Mark is such an underrated and unknown producer. As people get to know him, and as he’s around, like with this mixtape for Jay-Z, these people are able to see that he’s on that level with the Kanye’s, the Pharell’s. This guy plays seven instruments. The first song he ever played on the piano was ‘All I Do’ by Stevie Wonder, which is why we named the company AllIDo. He’s able to sit in the studio with Nikka Costa and he’s able to see in there with Freeway. There’s few people who can do that. Tell me what ‘All-I-Do’ means to you?

Ronson: Stevie Wonder is my favorite artist of pretty much, all-time. That narrowed that down. ‘All I Do’ was one of my favorite songs. It was something I always said or did, whether it was an email address or something. So when I started the label, I thought, ‘Allido’, It means something special on its own, but it also sandwiches the vowels like Arista or Elektra, it had a classic edge to it. To me, it means something really good and you hope it brings something good with it.