Jonathan “JR” Rotem: So Amazing

I t’s often the strongest that move the quietest. So while ultimate hustler wannabees and your favorite superstar’s weed carriers party their lives away, the cats who actually create this music we diddy-bop to are pulling long hours in the studio, away from all the hooplah, doling out the hits that keep this machine going. […]

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t’s often the strongest that move the quietest. So while ultimate hustler wannabees and your favorite superstar’s weed carriers party their lives away, the cats who actually create this music we diddy-bop to are pulling long hours in the studio, away from all the hooplah, doling out the hits that keep this machine going.

Jonathan “JR” Rotem, who you may or may not have heard of, definitely knows a thing or two about pumping out hits. With three songs- 50 Cent’s “Best Friend,” Rhianna’s “SOS,” and Lil’ Kim’s “Whoa,” JR has been behind three simultaneous hits that people all know.

What most don’t know is that over the past two years, the classically-trained pianist, who attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, has produced a record for damn near every chart-topping rapper you can think of. From crafting thematic street operas for 50 Cent and Dr. Dre, to creating sinewy pop backdrops for JoJo and even Britney Spears, the industry’s elite are all clamoring to get a session in with the cat who’s got the multiplatinum fingertips right now. managed to get JR to break free from his feverish recording schedule to discuss everything from Brit to Detox. I know that you’re kind of transitioning into doing work with people like Britney Spears. How did that come about and how do you feel about working with her?

JR: I was always just trying to work with talented dope artists in any genre. We just really made an effort to really get out there and work with all these people; I’m working with Mya, Jojo, Britney Spears, all that kind of stuff. Working with Britney specifically is great, I mean, she’s very talented and she’s just like a veteran, even though she’s young, she’s been performing and doing things for like 20 years. When you get in the studio with her, she’s focused; she knows how her voice is. Even writing, we wrote a song and I was really impressed by her creativity and how well she knows herself. She’s just dope, she’s a veteran. The stuff that you’ve done for her is it more Hip-Hop flavored, or is it really going in the pop direction?

JR: To be honest with you, it’s kind of a combination. I love Hip-Hop, and people tell me even when I’m doing Pop and R&B, I think they come to me because I have a certain edge in the music and the Hip-Hop is there. Definitely that feeling is in there, that groove is in there. But you know, it’s still Pop music, it’s still very her, it’s just next level Britney. We’re working on a few different songs, some are just, it’s hard to explain, like dark and dramatic, others are more dance and still others are just straight club, Hip-Hop people can feel it, and Pop. You’ve done a lot of work with artists on Interscope; you’ve done a lot of work period, but a lot of G-Unit, a lot of Aftermath stuff. What do you think it is about your stuff in particular that makes them really gravitate towards your sound?

JR: I have a song deal with G-Unit, so I definitely do a lot of stuff with that whole camp. It’s musical, when I’m doing stuff thinking of them, there’s a musicality but there’s also a griminess to it, the way the drums hit, there’s a deepness, and a sadness, almost a struggle to it that I think that they like in my music. They’re a very musical crew. 50, he’s obviously a rapper, but he’s really melodic, you can hear that in his hooks, he really understands melodies. He’s not a singer, but he’s a true musician that understands music and melodies and that’s a good part of my music since my roots are Classical and Jazz music. With Hip-Hop production, being that its kind of loop based, like a four-bar, eight-bar loop, do you ever feel a little limited and just want to throw down a three minute piano solo or something?

JR: When I started, I probably had too much music in my tracks. But to be honest with you, right now, I’m really trying to study and get better at the art of making mainstream music. You can’t do that. You have a certain framework you have to work within, but I think I like the challenge of trying to make it as creative as possible within that framework. Obviously, there’s certain things- most songs are going to be between three and four minutes, you’ve got your verses, and the chorus, and the bridge, so there’s a certain structure that people come to expect in a song. I like the challenge of trying to find the holes in the song where you can try to put that musicality in there; it might not be in a three minute full on solo but it might be a little section, or a little sound or a melody that people will remember. Have you found yourself in the studio with a lot of people or is it a lot of beat CD type of stuff?

JR: To be honest with you, it’s a lot of both. I’m definitely getting in with artists one on one, with Britney it’s one on one, with Mya, and Jojo and all these people one on one. A lot of rappers too, but a lot of times rappers are on tour or moving around, they’re recording and it’s very hard to get in the studio with them. They prefer just getting beats and then rapping on it. But what I try to do in the cases where I send out beats, if they rap on it, I try to get the session back and then go and redo the track or customize it or add things to it to match what they did so it feels organic, so it doesn’t just feel like verses thrown on top of a beat. With two tracks in particular- Rihanna’s “SOS,” and Lil’ Kim’s “Whoa”- were those songs that you tailor-made for those people?

JR: It’s kind of in between. With Lil’ Kim, I had the track and I had the hook and I brought it to her. I thought that she would like it, I made it with her in mind, I didn’t know for sure if she would want it or not, but she just went crazy for it so I was happy about that. With “SOS,” that was actually a song that we did and again, we shopped it around. Rhianna was one of the people that we took it to- we took it to Def Jam- but it wasn’t made in the studio with her. That song is playing on a lot of Top 40 stations.

JR: Yeah, and it’s still rising. Did you envision it as being more of a pop record for her? You’re kind of reintroducing her.

JR: That track obviously I sampled [Softcell’s] “T###########.” I did that track a while ago. I just thought it was real catchy. I gave it to my writer, and he just wrote a crazy song to it. I just thought, “Man, this is just catchy,” I didn’t know who would get on it, but there was something just catchy about it and I was hoping it would do well. You did a track for Dre’s Detox album. How did that come about and how did you feel coming from your background to be working with him?

JR: Dre was the producer that really influenced me musically to even want to produce, for that it was just amazing. It was so unbelievable, I was so excited. I have a copy of the check framed, because I was actually so excited about it. He heard the track and he was like, “Dude, I need this track.” We didn’t know. I think it was going to somebody else or something like that and they were like, “Dude, we’re going to pay for it like right now, we need this track.” It was an honor for me to get it to him, for him to like that track that much. Obviously, Detox has been started and stopped a couple of times since then, so I don’t know what the status is, but just the fact that he bought it and he wanted it that bad for Detox was just amazing to me. I really respect him musically. What can we expect from the track you did for Game on his new album?

JR: That’s the title track on the CD. It’s just a deep, crazy song, and Game is obviously an unbelievable rapper, he’s really got a distinct style and voice. I’m just happy to be a part of the project. Does it bother you that some of the producers on the East Coast that don’t nearly have the same volume of work as you, get more of attention?

JR: No. To be honest with you, I don’t. I’m happy for everybody’s success. Everybody has a different path. I’m trying to do the best that I can do and want to get out there as much as possible but no, I wouldn’t say that I’m bothered by what’s going on with other people. Do you feel like you have any real competition right now? Obviously, the person everybody would associate you with is Scott Storch.

JR: Right, because we have a similar background. No. I’m a big fan of his. He’s just been doing it longer. He’s been in the game earlier. To me, I look up to him as if he can do it then hopefully, I can too. But I don’t really look at it as a competition, there’s a lot of talent everywhere. You just have to do the best that you can do and see what happens.