This is the spot where you’ll see upcoming producers and Industry veterans in the game. A lot of people don’t know what goes into production. This will be the section where we feature the hottest producers in hip hop. Each month we’ll bring to you a new producer along with their background.
THIS MONTH’S FEATURE IS: JONATHAN “J.R.”ROTEM
With two tracks on the new 50 Cent album, song deals with various major labels, and about 30 placements just in the past six months (including Snoop, Fabulous, Obie Trice, and Lil Kim), Jonathan “J.R.” Rotem is quickly earning a name for himself as the hottest new producer of 2004-2005. “Being in the studio with people like Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent at one point in my life was a distant dream, but as of late, this dream is actually starting to become a reality. A reality that I feel overwhelmingly blessed to have.” With a musical background in classical and jazz piano including a degree from Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA) , Jonathan “J.R.” Rotem unique style is distinguishing him from the other producers in the industry.
Born in South Africa to Israeli parents, Jonathan Rotem began formal classical piano training in Canada. Naturally drawn to music of all kinds, Jonathan’s parents quickly recognized and supported his talent and love for music. Around the time of junior high school, Jonathan and his family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he continued his classical training with some of the most acclaimed teachers in the area. He participated in countless recitals, competitions, and music events earning a name for himself in the music community of Northern California. “Classical music was when I first learned about the importance of discipline, and how daily focus and commitment are key to reaching one’s goals. Learning the works of historic classical composers was also pivotal to the shaping of my musical development, and I am still reaching to achieve similar textures, harmonies, and melodies in my own music”.
During high school, Jonathan supplemented his classical training with playing piano in the school bands and choir, and also began taking music composition seriously. In addition to writing instrumental music and sequencing on MIDI keyboards, he played in rock bands with fellow classmates. This was also when Jonathan began to discover his fascination with hip hop music. “Where I grew up, people were not into hip hop as much as in cities like LA or NY. They were amused by the few hits songs that got onto mainstream radio, but it was not recognized as the legitimate art form that it is, and I did not have access or knowledge to a lot of the historic groups and songs that made it what it is today”.
Immediately after high school, Jonathan flew across the country where he enrolled in the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Originally intending on studying film scoring, Jonathan quickly became engulfed in the world of jazz music. Embracing it fully, he began to study jazz piano and participate in many jazz ensembles and classes, all while putting himself on a rigorous practice schedule of 4-8 hours a day. He quickly became one of the most sought after pianists in the school. “When I was at Berklee, my goal was to catch up to the other jazz pianists I looked up to who had been playing and listening to jazz music since childhood. As a student of classical piano, my conservative teachers never encouraged me to branch out into jazz. I had to start fresh, and even though there are similarities between all styles of music, the feel, technique, history, and sound of jazz is very different from classical”.
After graduating Berklee College of Music, Jonathan moved back to the Bay Area and began playing with the top jazz groups and musicians in the area. By this time, he had developed an aggressive personal sound and style to his jazz piano, and was composing a lot of original material for his groups. He was playing gigs almost every night, sometimes 2 a night, practicing piano in the day, and teaching piano lessons when he had time. Around this time, Jonathan began to listen and enjoy hip hop more. He began incorporating contemporary hip hop songs into his jazz sets in San Francisco clubs. People started to really respond to this, and as he began to gain popularity, musicians and rappers alike began to attend the jazz shows to freestyle with his group. Wanting to take things to the next level, and reinvent himself, Jonathan decided to take an entire summer off performing, and devote 12 hours a day to intense practicing with the intention of emerging with a dramatically new sound. “This was the point where I felt like I could either continue being a big fish in a small pond, or strive to take it to the next level and reach for a truly individual sound like no one else”.
Jonathan did indeed cease his performing, and began his mission. Ironically, at the end of the summer, though he did achieve a new and personal sound that people were impressed by, he did not carry out the plan in full, as he found that he no longer wanted to be a jazz pianist. Instead, after this summer of solitude, he found that he was more inspired by process of composing rather than performing. Still playing a few gigs, Jonathan began to compose on piano and keyboards . Listening to a lot of hip hop at this point, Jonathan realized that the producers making beats were the modern day composers. Excited by this concept, he began to take making beats more seriously.
Shortly after making the transition, Jonathan’s beats got into the hands of Dwayne Wiggins, of Toni Tony Tone, who took them to Beyonce of Destiny’s Child. They ended up recording 2 songs, one of which was placed on the “Survivor” album. Seeing the potential in this new career, Jonathan decided to move to Los Angeles in order to pursue a career as producer full time. Working hard as always, after a couple of years, he met music manager/lawyer Zach Katz who took him on as a client. “When I first met Zach, my beats had a lot of music in them but the grimy and edgy sound and sprit of hip hop was not quite there. Zach helped me put the grittiness into the music, and helped me listen to my music with hip hop ears instead of like a classical or jazz pianist” Learning tricks from producer Denaun Porter (D12) along the way, Jonathan committed himself to the art form of making beats. In a short time, Jonathan “J.R.” Rotem was working with everyone in the industry including Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Fabolous, Obie Trice, D12, Lil Kim, Fat Joe.
Recently, Jonathan and Zach have formed a production company together, Net Worth Entertainment, where they are developing new talent. “I feel like I began in this industry 2 years a go as keyboard player/musician. After hard work, I became a legitimate beat maker. Now, I want to make the transition to a producer in the true sense of the word. Somebody like a Dr. Dre, or Quincy Jones, somebody who is in control of every step of the process of making a hit song.”