JR Rotem – Back to the Future

14 years ago view-show 643,005

By: The HipHop Journalist


      Music is not just a love to future super producer, JR Rotem, it is his life, literally. Having worked with some of the staples of both the R&B and Hip-Hop scenes, he has definitely made sure the world is familiar with his name.

Linking up with producer manager, Zach Katz, JR gives crackspace.com some insight on what an aspiring producer should be taking into consideration when it comes to getting those beats heard by the right ears.

      Talking education of the college variety and of the street variety, JR Rotem gives us a little insight to just the way he sees things. He gives it up on what decade he favours when it comes to sampling and inspiration and if strategic planning was part of his plan to ensure his name was linked to the biggest names in the game.


Now there seems to be an over abundance of artists and producers, would you agree that it’s hard to find good management…you know we have all these artists and producers but not all of them are being represented correctly?


Yes and no I think that quality management is definitely hard to find, I think very, very good quality is hard to find in any field. Top quality consistent producers are hard to find as well as artist management so I would agree with you. Management is more lacking than any other part of the industry.


You are represented by Zach Katz. I mean he is the most infamous manager there is out there for producers, how did you hook up with him and how did you get his attention?


I hooked up with Zach through ironically a mutual friend Evan Bogart, who is the writer that is signed now to mine and Zach’s publishing company. He introduced me to Zach when I first got to LA or shortly after and I just started loosely artificially working with him he was helping me with tracks you know telling me you should do this you should do that and sending the stuff out and things like that. I started to see that what he was telling me was helping out, like we were actually starting to sell tracks to people by the combination of his musical input and also his connections. So we really started proving to each other what we could do for each other, he was showing me what he could do and I was at the same time working really hard showing him what I could do. So we impressed each other and then we started working with each other on a more exclusive basis and the business relationship grew to what it is which is completely exclusive management, I’m pretty much the sole producer on his plate


Did you feel as you were coming up as a producer in the early days that you needed a manager?


Yes, I always thought that I needed a manager, especially because some people start out in this game with a lot of connections and know how and stuff like that they just kinda need somebody to manage their business a little bit. I moved here with literally zero connections so when I started in this industry I knew no-one and didn’t really know the way things worked. I had the musical talent and stuff but still needed input to make commercially viable beats, so for me it was completely necessary. More so than for others to really to have someone to guide me, who had been in the industry and help me get to where I needed to get to with a lot of hard work and stuff like that. For me it was a definite I always knew that I wanted a manager I just wanted a good one that could really make stuff happen for me


If you were to give advice to someone on the come up trying to get beats heard it would be better to get a manager than trying to do it themselves?


I think definitely if you’re trying to get to a higher level I think it is necessary, there are some people who don’t need a manager, but to me it’s like those people are on a high high level that already have a company and everybody knows about them. But you know me personally, I definitely rely on my manager


As you’ve said before you have a mutual understanding a mutual respect with Zach, you actually have a business together correct?


Yes, correct


How is the company coming along as I know when we have spoken before you were adamant that you were going to search for the people that fir right, rather than wasting time?


We are still looking but I think we’ve found a few that we’re looking at more seriously than we were before. I cannot say that we’ve moved full speed ahead like we haven’t signed an artist we’re being very selective, we are closer to it I would say


When you look back to 10 years ago there were nowhere near as many producers as there are now, do you think that’s why you have to be more selective because you have so much choice now?


I think it’s a personal thing for us, I’m not looking for… there are some producers who are more interested in signing a bunch of artists, you know that kind of company rather than doing tracks and producing for other artists. For me personally I’m most focused on making hot music for established artists at this point in my career. So for us to take on an artist it really has to be the right one; where as for other producers who might want to balance the two you know like they want to divide their time and make tracks for other people but also have a bunch of artists signed to them and that kind of thing that might be what they want to do. But for us I think our selectiveness is a function and a result of the way I look at my own career


Strategic planning is making a come back it would appear. Do you believe that good things come to those who wait?


I don’t know if it’s to those who wait, you definitely need patience, but I think that for me what I feel is really the thing that I can do what has worked is to stay positive and have faith and work hard. Beyond that the rest is really out of your control, so yes it definitely takes a while. If you really want to be in this game for a long time and have longevity and do things then yes you need patience, sometimes you can have something that happens really, really quickly but to me to be consistent and to have lasting success it’s not something that happens over night. You know I’ve been playing piano since I was 5 years old and I’ve been doing music in one form or another since that time. When I was younger it was playing classical and composing and then as a jazz pianist and composing like that and performing and I was always doing this type of thing in one form or another so it’s all of a sudden doing it for a living.


There was never any doubt in your mind that this wasn’t what you wanted to do, you’ve always been dead set on doing what you’re doing now?


Basically yes, it was. I thought it was going to be different things at different times but it was always music.  There was a point where I thought I wanted to be a film scorer you know compose music for movies and that still something I could see myself doing down the road and that’s why I went to Berkley College of Music originally. But instead I ended up studying jazz and became a jazz pianist and for a while I thought that’s what I wanted to do so I went full force into that. Then I wanted to move into production, so I moved into production and now I feel like that’s really really what I wanted to do. But yes ever since a young age I knew I was going to be doing music in one form or another, you know I knew I was going to go to Berkley College of Music since I was in high school (junior high) and I basically always knew I was going to do music.


On to music, I’m just going to pull out one track, because I’m English, and because I was around to experience the 80’s …. Rhianna’s SOS features that Soft Cell sample. How impressionable were the 80’s on you?


I would say I was very impressionable I think somehow I got that music into my head, you know the sounds, the chords just the type of vibes, it’s just kind a weird, usually I wasn’t into sampling to begin with. Even before, I was open to re-making and sampling a lot of my beats and my musical sensibility besides having a lot of classical and jazz pointers definitely had an 80’s vibe to them. People are really responding to it so with Rhiana’s SOS I actually did decided to sample… not much of it is a sample it’s more of a interpretation I replayed most of the stuff I got some 80’s keyboard at the time and replayed it… I just used some key vocal things from the original to give it a little bit of the original sound but yeah the 80’s sound is definitely is a big influence on me and even when I’m not sampling I have that sensibility in there it’s just kind of mixed in with the jazz and the classical


What other 80’s music left an impression on you?


Well I loved all the British stuff like Sting, Police and Thompson Twins and Eurythmics and all that kind of stuff like Tears for Fears I was very kind of big into that, when other people were listing more to a little bit more like glam rock whether it was like Guns n Roses and Nirvana and I was, I listened to hip hop too at that time but as for music I was never big on hard rock, I never really liked the sound of heavy guitars it never really felt that musical to me, where as the stuff that was coming more like you know the pop stuff was just cleaner sounding to me, the whole synth thing I was just very.. I just loved synthesizers I just love the sound and all that kind of stuff so I was more into that sound, I mean also a big influence on me was the Beatles and stuff like that, I think I always intended to write a things which were more musical, more chords more melodies not so much the heavy stuff. So that’s the part of the 80’s that’s in me that type of sound that’s really like….



Do you always have ideas for tracks in your head?


Yeah I’m always coming across stuff in my head, like my brother will bring me samples or I’ll be on I-Tunes and I will always have quite a few things in my mind. You might listen to something and think wow I really want to flip that, sometimes it doesn’t come out the right way or you have to think about it in a different genre or you might have to flip it in a different way. When I hear something, ‘I think wow people are really going to respond to that.’ I think people, when they sample, people like to do it in different ways you have like a Kanye West who I think, when he samples, I think he probably likes to pick something that’s like very not so recognisable and kind of flip it in an even less recognisable way so that you don’t exactly know where it came from. You know other people do it like that too, for me my concept of sampling has been more… I like to take something that’s very, very familiar… I like to almost toy it up and be more obvious about and I like to sample because I feel like it’s the recognisable the familiarity factor that’s going to make it more of a hit for me…. ‘cause I can play classical jazz, so if I want to do something that’s original I can do that but for me sampling is more about taking a recognisable sound or vibe and era and kind of like updating it in an obvious way so people are like “oh shit I know that song”


How was working with Paris Hilton as I know you worked with her?


Paris was really cool to work with.


Do you find some time to relax and chill out?


Not too much to be honest with you; but I’m really passionate about my work so for the most part it doesn’t feel like work I like to do it non-stop. You know when things get a little chaotic and non-stop but for the most part I like to stay working


You were born overseas weren’t you?


I was actually born in South Africa, I lived in Canada but for the most part I grew up in the Bay Area, yeah the San Francisco Bay area that’s pretty much where I grew up. I went to school in Boston as I told you, The Berkley College of Music and then you know went back to the Bay Area and then shortly after that moved down to Los Angeles.


Being that you are college educated how important do you think getting a degree or even some college education is in the music business?


I think it kinda depends, I’ll be honest with you, yes I’m college educated but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that somebody go to music college. If you wanted to be a rapper, a producer, an engineer you know anything in the music industry and they just wholeheartedly wanted to do it I wouldn’t recommend that they go to college. I think that most of what you learn in music is more about being and seeing and trial and error and working with people and that kind of stuff so I can’t say that I would recommend to people go to college, especially not music college. I mean if you’re going to be a lawyer or a doctor you need to go to college you need a degree but you don’t need to for music and I don’t think that it is necessarily the best use of somebody’s time.


Some people, some rappers just really frown upon education if it is of the college variety.


The thing about rapping it’s kind of a weird thing, musicians, it’s a different thing than being an actor, there’s a certain credibility factor. On the one hand music is entertainment as a lot of people will tell you and it should not be a reflection, you shouldn’t say something in a rap and then go and do it, but at the same point there is a certain weird kind of reality thing especially with urban artists. Their credibility and where the come from and their story and how real they are it has a lot to do with how their fans perceive them and how they buy into them. so it’s kind of like a confusing thing, a 17 year old blonde white girl doesn’t necessarily need to have the same kind of credibility as a rapper but you know for one reason or another rap music is of the streets. Even people who are not from the streets, you know suburban people, they connect with it I think because it plays into a certain kind of primal thing, there’s a certain kind of energy and a survival to it and being bad and illegal type stuff and even the violence to it, and that’s part of the entertainment factor within the music. Unfortunately for the music to come off credible and real and feel believable the people who are making it and rapping about these things for the listener I think they really need to feel like this person actually went through this story and they’re not just saying it for no reason. So I think that’s where a lot of it ties in, I’m sure if rappers say a college degree’s good, they will be looked at differently. 50 Cent he’s a great example really, 50 cent is a genius musically period so he deserves all of his success and plus he’s a workaholic and he’s one of these people that I probably look up to most but one of the stories that was big when he got into the mainstream was the fact that he got shot 9 times; that was huge. I mean think about it if you ask someone “what to do you know about 50 Cent’s story” I guarantee you a chief factor in most people’s minds is that. So it’s kind of a weird thing you know, it’s just part of the music somehow. The street music that people are connecting to comes from the streets; it comes from living on the streets and having those kind of stories with that kind of music.