Producer's Corner: LRoc
They say behind every great man is a great woman, well behind every great producer there is a person standing in the wings possessing just as much talent and enthusiasm as the name he assists. In the case of So So Def label boss Jermaine Dupri, his wingman is LRoc, a Liberian born musician.
Born James Phillips, LRoc was created to make music. With a brief spell in the US Army, it was during this time that LRoc knew that his passion for music was unbridled. Locating to the southern music haven of Atlanta, LRoc took to establishing himself as a vital asset to any recording studio.
Having developed a strong relationship with Lil Jon who was at the height of his Crunk reign, LRoc was positioned appropriately within the confines of Atlantas Hip Hop royalty. Now with his own company established and an ever expanding resume, it looks like it wont be long before his name has a regal ring to it either.
HipHopDX: How did you get involved in music to the extent that you have?
LRoc: It was definitely a passion as I started playing at the age of five, and I am 44 right now, so its been all my life. I served in the US Army in Germany, and I was there for a couple of years and I was always in bands and had writing partners. We performed the songs we wrote on stage, but it was my fourth year in the service [when] I decided to get out and do music full-time and I juts went for it. I moved to Atlanta for that purpose which was in around 89 when L.A. [Reid] and Babyface were moving here. I had been to Atlanta a few times and liked it and I just grew with the music scene down here. It was fun and inspiring to see how things progressed.
DX: Yeah, that must be interesting to see how things have actually grown down there.
LRoc: Oh my god, it is just amazing. I was on a panel yesterday for the Grammy's as I am a Grammy member and we were talking about how Atlanta is big in the music scene, but membership is low for the Grammy's and I remember one year when all the urban artists performing at the Grammy Awards were from Atlanta, back in the early nineties. I am fortunate to be a part of it, as I am not sure if I have had a big break or if I am just growing and building.
DX: Well the south has always seems to boast artists and producers etc that grow together.
LRoc: Yes, but you will get those people that will come in with just one hit and then fade away. But I think for me, the growth and growing in a community where it is not just about music but about relationships were a strong foundation. You know you build relationships and are able to work more from growing along with it.
DX: You have worked along side Jermaine Dupri for quite a while, how did you meet up with him?
LRoc: Well Lil Jon used to work for Jermaine and when I started working with Lil Jon, long before I worked with Jermaine. I was doing remixes with Lil Jon for Jermaine and then the Crunk era started to pop off and Jermaine was restructuring his company. A mutual friend knew Jermaine was looking for a keyboard player who could write with him and I was referred. I got a two way from him one morning saying, "This is JD," and he told me what he was looking for. So we met up and I explained to him that all the records of Lil Jons he had been hearing was me on the keys, my remixes over the years. I gave him my managers contact and he handled it from there.
DX: It's interesting as my last two interviews for this column have been with the mentors of Kanye West, Rodney Jerkins and The Neptunes, whereas here I am talking to you, someone who has in a sense been mentored. Has this been instrumental in your music career?
LRoc: Its a great thing but I was doing it a long time before I met Jermaine, but it has boosted my career to get on the major projects that he is already doing. It is almost like riding a train that is already moving and going somewhere. The credit has helped my career so much and I continue my journey as a producer working with Lil Jon and Jermaine and doing the stuff that I do has made it easier. It has been a lot of hard work though.
DX: Well yes you still do what you do, regardless of whom you know.
LRoc: Yes you still have to deliver and go to the studio with this guy who has been making hits for years and I have to come in every day and deliver all the time, as this is his reputation. It is comfortable, easy even as I am glad with what I do, as I have been doing it for so long and the chemistry is good and it has been working.
DX: You are down on your discography as producer on the Nelly track "Stepped on My J's." When you look that track up on the net, it is Jermaine Dupris name you see. How much do you have to contribute to a track before you get your credit?
LRoc: The brand is So So Def, you know so it is Jermaine Dupri [click to read] that gets the credit. When I get a call for a session with Jermaine Dupri, because I am signed to his company, that session is automatically a co-producer credit as that is the way we work. Like he has a sense for the kind of record he is trying to do and we sit down and talk and then I create the music and the melodies, the keyboards and the bass line. Then he will do the drums to what I do. Instead of him sampling a record, I create the loop or we may use a remake, where I re-create the remake, like "Pulling Me Back" [click to read] by Chingy. There I recreated the music. He will set the direction of the record and I will go in and create around it.
DX: Well this touches on the age-old myth of ghost producing and how the people who are involved in producing records alongside the bigger name producers get their shine too.
LRoc: Yeah, I mean I know my role and I understand the structure of the business. It is not about doing just a beat. You know seeing something that I have been involved in being put out there as "produced by Jermaine Dupri" doesnt bother me, I have been in the business for a while and I know what I have to do. This is why I have a publicist doing my PR work. Jermaine encourages me to do that, but at the end of the day it is a production company and Jermaine Dupris brand. Its the same with Lil Jon; you will see his name as a producer and mine as a writer. It is all business. I am signed to Jermaine as a writer and producer, I work with Lil Jon but I am not signed to him, but I get my writing and publishing from him so it works out.
DX: Working with both of these guys, is it easy to flip between the two, as I am sure they both have their own ways of doing things?
LRoc: It is easy. You know for me, because I have lived around the world and have studied music, I get inspired by the artist and what they are trying to do, so I havent had any problems switching from doing hardcore gangster tracks to R&B ballads, because I have been playing for a long time. From big band Jazz to Classical to Funk to Reggae to African music; to me it is like a language, its like you switch it up and you speak French or you switch it up and speak Spanish, that is all it is to me. Or you know it is like speaking in English but with different dialects. That is pretty easy for me to do.
DX: Is there one project that you have enjoyed working on more than any other?
LRoc: I am not going to lie; working in the studio with Jermaine is fun, but working with Lil Jon. [Laughs] We travel a lot down to Miami and it is a big party. We go to the studio from say 3 pm to midnight where we do our music and we are focused and then we leave and go to the club. I think that is the most fun.
DX: Is it still important for an artist to be in touch with what is being played in the clubs in your opinion?
LRoc: Not really, it obviously depends on if that is where your music is catered to. Some people are on the serious tip but as far as the party music, yes definitely and it works for everybody that I have worked with. Jermaine stays in the club, Lil Jon stays in the club and I like to go and feel the energy and watch people dance, and then you get in the studio it is all about making people dance and manipulating them to move. That definitely helps. It is a pulse you know what I mean. If I come over to Europe and I want to work with artists over there I am going to go out to the clubs to see what people are playing and how people are moving and incorporate that into who I am.
DX: What else do you do then to prepare yourself for working with a new artist?
LRoc: I just hang around with them; learn from talking to them and the direction they are trying to go in and what they are trying to do. A lot of times artists have a lot of personality like Nelly [click to read], you feed off their energy, then there are the ones that dont and it is more methodical where they know exactly what type of record they are looking for. I go from having a discussion and that right there is the inspiration to going in and doing the record. You know it might take a few records to get that one, but my basic approach is doing the melody of what I think will fit what they are looking for, the chords, the melody, as different melodies create different moods. I approach it like that.
DX: Working on "Stepped on My Js" was obviously quite a big track as it is was the lead off single from Nellys new album; did that track come easy to you or was it something that had to be thought out?
LRoc: I think we did that in about five minutes. [Laughs] We did that so fast, just like "Grillz" . You know he had "Air Force Ones," "Grillz," another product or accessory so we decided to go with "Stepped on My J's" and you kind of know what you are doing. I came up with the bass line and played a couple of melodies and of course Jermaine had an idea of what direction he wanted to go it. So we just went from there, Jermaine would lay down the drums and everyone would start dancing and then the hook starts. It is a fun process.
DX: You and Jermaine have your method figured out then.
LRoc: Yes we have and it has been like that since the first session.
DX: How easy is that or how difficult is it to find that someone who you can work with so cohesively?
LRoc: Its tricky. It doesnt work for everybody as personality too comes into it and chemistry. I knew from other people and other producers that work with Jermaine, as he has different producers he works with. I am used for more on the rap side and then there are the ones for the R&B side of things, so it is pretty easy. I have worked with some people and it can be harder, but I am an easy person to get a long with and I separate the business from the personal and it is a great fun atmosphere with no drama. You know we all get in there with the engineers and it all just flows. Everyone knows their role. When your role is defined and consistent so that every time I go in I know what my role is, that makes it better.
DX: That has to help your business structure?
LRoc: Well yes as that makes it more definite. There are no disputes over who produces the tracks and things like that. There is a reason why the producers that stay in the game and have hits for so long, it is about more than the music. It is to do with how their businesses are set up and its about being consistent. That I knew already about Jermaine as I have friends that have worked with him for years.
DX: With such an extensive history, what are your plans for your own projects?
LRoc: I started a new company called I Speak Music, like we just talked about music being a language. I want to work more internationally and I am planning a trip to Europe to work with artists over there, Africa, as I want to expand my company to be a bit broader in a sense. I got a lot of my influences from artists and producers over the years and that is combined with my influences from culture as I like to travel. I get a lot of inspiration from travel and indulging in other cultures and feeling what people grasp from music and other cultures. There are young artists that I am working with also and I plan on moving into video games and commercials on the corporate side and of course movies. I am like to work with new producers too.
DX: How easy is it to find talent these days as everywhere you look there are people who are trying to get their start in the music industry?
LRoc: It is like I want to say smoke and mirrors. In Atlanta with it being a Mecca of music everyone here produces and when people ask me what I do and I tell them I am a producer you can see them thinking, "Oh another producer." [Laughs] There are some talent out there, it is just a case of finding the ones that are talented, gifted and have a good head on their shoulders. I have been meeting quite a few and putting them together. I mean I dont look for them, they normally come to me and that is pretty much how my career has been. Instead of looking I just prepare so when the opportunity comes along it means I can execute when the project shows up. I have some good potential writers I am working with who are writing to a lot of my tracks. You know having a solid team is what I am trying to build right now. Having been on Jermaines team and being part of that, my business is building that team and traveling the world and making music.
DX: Would your company be coming under the So So Def umbrella?
LRoc: No that would be something totally separate. What I do with Jermaine is something that doesnt compromise anything I do with my company. I took a different route creatively with my company so it doesnt interfere with Jermaine. When you have great management you can structure a company to do that and I think that is one of the problems people have, they didnt set up their business right; but when you do set it up and do it right it proves it can be done.
DX: Would you say that being the type of person that can flip from being an employee to an employer in their every day life encourages longevity?
LRoc: Absolutely and I kid around sometimes that I have the best day job and it is a privilege for anyone to do something that they love doing as opposed to someone who is doing a nine-to-five and they have what they enjoy as a side job. Doing what I do, it humbles you and I am able to work with Jermaine and still be able to do what I do without it restricting me. I just take advantage of it in a good way. To me, it is about creating jobs and giving opportunities.