Jim Jonsin Is on Top of Hip-Hop
It's a recent Saturday night, and producer Jim Jonsin is installed at the console of his midtown Miami studio, as he is for about 15 hours on an average day. It's been a banner year for the Coral Springs native, born James Scheffer, and he's wearing a multimillion-dollar smile. "Winning a Grammy?" he asks, smiling. "It fucking sucks!" It's clear it's a joke. The Grammy in question was for his songwriting on Lil Wayne's "Lollipop," named Best Rap Song in 2009, but it's just one of the many airwave-dominating tracks in which Jonsin has had a hand.
"That's really yesterday's news," he says of the accolades for that track. "I did Soulja Boy's 'Kiss Me Through the Phone,' T.I.'s 'Whatever You Like.' I did three songs on Beyoncé's new album, I did a song on Flo Rida's new album, a few for Slim Thug. There are quite a few songs coming out that I've done."
Those aren't his only hits, though — he has also produced chart-toppers like Danity Kane's "Show Stopper" and Pretty Rick's "Grind With Me" as well as a number of tracks for Pitbull, Trina, Baby Bash, and pretty much everyone else to come through town. The latest feather in his cap, in fact, is the Beyoncé vehicle "Sweet Dreams," the latest single off her album I Am... Sasha Fierce.
Meanwhile, the studio itself is humming with activity. Its glass walls are festooned with computer screens, drum machines, large speakers, keyboards, and, of course, Jonsin's gigantic console covered with seemingly thousands of buttons and knobs. There is an air-traffic-control-booth vibe to the place, as rappers, interns, managers, sound engineers, execs, and family members scurry in and out, hoping they will be added to the list of collaborators on his number-one hits.
Jonsin, however, remains unfazed, cutting an imposing figure with a skull shaved clean, a long goatee, and arms covered in tattoos. The 38-year-old even sports shoes with skulls on them, and the overall effect is not unlike one of his heros: "Maybe I can be the next Rick Rubin," he says.
Still, though, there's that inescapable "Lollipop." Jonsin touches a black Gibson Les Paul sitting on a guitar stand and recalls its birth. "I was in Circle House Studios doing stuff for Diddy, trying to come up with something for Danity Kane. I start playing with this little idea." He begins playing the Weezy song's brain-sticking melody on a keyboard.
"Diddy didn't really like it. So I dipped and went to my other studio on South Beach," he says. The late Louisville, Kentucky-based songwriter Static Major was there, and Jonsin played him the track. And then came the song's most memorable lyrical hooks. "He started writing that 'Call me so I can make it juicy for you' part and the chorus, 'She licked me like a lollipop,'" Jonsin recalls. "We finished the song and agreed that we should give it to Lil Wayne."
He pauses. "It's funny. I was taking my old lady to a bar mitzvah and she knew that that song was going to be a hit before Wayne was even on it," he says. "'Lollipop' is a great song, but I want to make songs that my grandchildren will know about."
To that end, Jonsin envisions himself as a sort of Berry Gordy of the digital age, heading his own label, Rebel Rock. In a way, his business plan for that is retro, based on artist development instead of a quick buck. "This year, we're gonna work on building you as an artist. Next year, we're gonna work on building your fan base. That is what my label is about."
But Jonsin is hardly a Luddite, an iPhone addict who is developing a new website and related application called Beatbakery.com, designed to discover songwriters. "Right now, it's a networking site. We have an eight-track recorder that is going to be on the website, which can also be on your iPhone," he says, pointing to his phone's screen. "So if you are a songwriter and I'm in the studio with Lil Wayne, you can send me the tracks. You sing into the iPhone, then you hit 'share' and it goes up on our website. That's what Beatbakery.com is about. It's the real deal. We are going to have some real success stories."
What's surprising, then, is Jonsin's proclamation, a few minutes later, that he dislikes the current state of hip-hop. And although he creates the backing tracks for some of the genre's biggest stars, he refuses to elaborate on this seeming contradiction. "I just don't like it," he repeats. Perhaps that explains his recent return to pop — Jonsin's also currently working on a comeback for, of all artists, the Backstreet Boys.
And despite his clients' high media profiles, Jonsin himself remains private, bordering on camera-shy, preferring not to be videotaped or even, he says, to talk much to the press. When he does, though, it's because he's remembered his mom's advice.
"My mother told me that I have a responsibility. There are people out there that are trying to do what I do. So if I can find a way to give a good message and explain to people how I made it, that's cool," Jonsin says. "But I like to walk around alone and shit. I don't want to have security guards and all that. I carry my own tool. If I get in any problems, I'm gonna shoot a motherfucker. I have a .45 and a shotgun. I do produce rap music, you know."
Regardless of all that, though, things are cool in the studio. Tonight, he's on to a new track for Alabama rappers Yela Wolf and Rich Boy. Jonsin presses a button on an Akai MPC-2500 production station, and a deafening beat fills the room. Someone screams "Sick!" Rich Boy scrawls lyrics on a piece of paper while nodding his head to the beat. "Alabama's gonna go crazy over this shit!" Yela Wolf declares. Jonsin just smiles and hits another button.
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