wells1By default, the very first name that comes to mind when the topic of West Coast production is brought up is that of Dr. Dre (as it should).

The Godfather of “Gangsta Rap” changed the game sonically, and while doing so, spawned a whole new generation left coast producers to follow in his footsteps—and one of them happens to be California native by way of Chicago, J. Wells.

To date, the producer/rapper’s production credits include some of the most prominent names The Golden State has to offer, not to mention other regions as well.

Crossing paths with Tha Liks’ J Ro back in high school, the man born as Jon Wells was soon rubbing elbows with the likes of Snoop Dogg as well as Tha Dogg Pound.

Releasing his Digital Smoke project back in 2007, with Kurupt he now returns with his follow-up effort Digital Master 2.1 [Click to read review] and some insight to how the mind of a producer really works.

The only thing left to do now is to sit back, and find out exactly what’s inside…

iHipHop.com: When did you first get into making beats?

J. Wells: I got a drum machine when I was 15-years-old, and I had got an MPC-62. Before that, I had a 909 Drum machine, but that was when I was a little younger, like around 14-years-old…

I used to do the drum beats for my homeboy who played in church, and he would play the instruments all the way down to the end…

We didn’t have a loop or anything, so all I had was a 4-track and a drum machine, so I made the beats and he played everything down from beginning to end… Then when I was around 17-years-old, I got an MPC 3000, and I loved it…

iHipHop.com: Is that around the same time you started rapping too?

J. Wells: I started rapping first, but I started making beats because nobody was giving me beats… So I was like, “I’m going to make my own beats.”

Everyone wanted to charge for beats, and so I started making my own beats… Then when I started making beats, I liked that more than the rapping…

iHipHop.com: At one point did you start making a name for yourself?

J. Wells: I’m still really trying to make a name for myself now, humbly speaking… But it was around the time I started producing for Kurupt and Tha Dogg Pound, and working with the Tha Alkaholics

I met J Ro when I was in high school, and he really took me under his wing and started having me around…

When they were going on tour with Snoop [Dogg], he asked me to roll, and Tha Dogg Pound and The Likwit Crew always f*cked with each other… So Tha Dogg Pound was on the same bus as Tha Alkaholiks, and that’s when I started producing for Kurupt and Roscoe; and that got me a little notoriety…

But I was always pressing up records, and selling out of the trunk of my car, and that’s how I really got my name known in LA because I had a little following… I would go to the radio station with some vinyl back when it was a lot EASIER to get a record on the radio, and when it was more about the art, and they would play it.

So I always had a record on the radio… Then when I did The Wolfpac Mixtape and Digital Smoke with Kurupt, which kept my name out there…

iHipHop.com: When you were first starting off, was it difficult for you to find your own sound?

J. Wells: I kind of learned the real way of being a producer, and a Hip-Hop “beat maker” from Tha Alkaholiks… They taught me to ALWAYS be you, and they were very innovative… So I kind of had that training from J Ro, because he made beats as well…

We’d spend a lot of time in the Wolfpac’s studio, and just go through records, and that’s where I learned how to be a crate digger, come up with ideas, and sample stuff that people weren’t sampling… So being that I had those types of people around me, I learned how to develop my own style…

But you’re always going to be influenced by people as well, and I think my influences, which became mentors to me were people like Battlecat and DJ Quik… So you take from different people, and you create your own sound… They were all kind of like big brothers to me in the game…

iHipHop.com: Talk about Digital Master 2.1. [Click to read review] Was it difficult rallying all the people you wanted for the project?

J. Wells: I have good relationships with the people that I have on the record, and they just showed me love… Whether it was a case where we did some songs, and one was left over, and some of the collaborations I set up… Like for instance: The record with Estelle, we did that when I used to go out to London a few years back…

I used to go out to London all the time, and I was working on her stuff before she really got with Kanye [West]… That was a record that was always jamming, and I decided to include it with this project so the world could hear it… But it just kind of came together really naturally over time…

_mg_4172iHipHop.com: Was there anyone in particular you wanted to get but couldn’t?

J. Wells: Nah, not really because I don’t think of it like that… I just think like whatever feels right, and whomever I’m working with at the time, and that will make the record, you know what I’m saying?

I’m not out there trying to fish for people just because they have a name, so they can be on the record… It’s more so a concoction of people that are down with me, and that are f*cking with me…

So that’s how it comes together, it’s more of a relationship thing, and doing music that I really like versus just trying to following what everybody else is doing, or what’s on the radio…

iHipHop.com: How did you go about the beat selections for each artist? Did you let them pick and choose?

J. Wells: It was pretty much whatever they picked… With the Kurupt record, he had already heard the record, and he loved it so he jumped on it without me even asking him… A lot of the time, that how it’s works… An artist will just hear something, and they just want to get on it…

iHipHop.com: What would you say are some of the characteristics that separate what you’re doing from what other producers are doing in their labs?

J. Wells: My main thing is to always have versatility… I have a wide spectrum of sound that I do, and that’s always been my thing… I did ‘Work It Out’ on Keyshia Cole’s Just Like You album, and that’s a ballad…

We did that with a live orchestra, but then I can turn around and do a Digital Smoke album where the Digital Smoke album is straight gangsta West Coast music…

If you listen to Digital Master 2.1, [Click to read review] it’s very versatile… There’s some soulful stuff on there, Hip-Hop stuff, and some South stuff… So that’s my thing: Just being versatile, and showing different sides…

Because when I sit down, there’s a lot of stuff going on in my head, and I want to be able to get it all out… I don’t want to be labeled in one box where people think this is all I can do…

iHipHop.com: Speaking of that, was the transition hard going from Hip-Hop beats to ballads?

J. Wells: What I do and what I’m always open for are collaborations… I worked with a cat out of Atlanta who is a great producer, musician, and keyboardist… We collaborated on that together, and he came up under Organized Noize

It gave the record a different feel, because it was my sound and his sound together, and that helped me broaden my horizons… Dr. Dre is another one of those cats who always has different creative people around him, and that allows his sound to always remain current…

iHipHop.com: What’s the one piece of production equipment you can’t live without?

J. Wells: You know what? I got to have an MPC… [Laughs] I just can’t seem to put that down… The MPC 3000—I got to have that… I’ve been using some of these computer programs, and when I’m traveling I need to have Logic… I got to have that because I can whip that out, and get down right on the spot…

It’s right there on my laptop with a small little keyboard, and I can get down… That’s a must have too… I need to have my Mac computer and my portable keyboard… So it’s those three things: The MPC, my Mac, and I my small keyboard…