Jonathan Jr Rotem Delivering Chart Success
Posted on April 14, 2006 by Jamie Slaughter
With music genres crossing over each other in today's market, Jonathan "J.R." Rotem is one of the few producers skilled in creating sounds universal enough to keep the pace. With three current hits in regular radio and club rotation across the country - Lil Kim's "Whoa", Rihanna's "SOS (Rescue Me)" and 50 Cent with Olivia "Best Friend" - J.R. is proving that his magic touch is beyond compare.
In just the past two years, J.R. has worked with the likes of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Fabolous, Young Buck, Tony Yayo, Trey Songz, Jae Millz and Talib Kweli. He is currently in the studio with a multitude of artists, including pop princess Britney Spears, The Game, JoJo, Mya, Foxy Brown, Trick Daddy and Freeway.
The son of an Israeli immigrants, South African-born and Bay Area-raised J.R. attended Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music. His amazing talent on the piano and aspiration to score films were the perfect foundation for his music production. Early work with local artists, including members of E-40's camp, led him to his first official album placement with the song "Fancy" for the Destiny's Child album, Survivor.
Currently, Rihanna's "SOS" is #4 on Billboard Pop 100 airplay, is at #11 on the Top 100 and going on nine weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. The video is also in heavy rotation on both MTV and BET. Meanwhile, Lil Kim's "Whoa" is riding high on the R&B/Hip Hop chart, and is the theme song for Lil Kim’s BET reality TV show Countdown To Lockdown. Additionally, 50 Cent and Olivia's "Best Friend", the track that J.R. co-produced with Hi Tek for the Get Rich Or Die Tryin movie and soundtrack, is enjoying success on Billboard's Hot 100, Top 100 and R&B/Hip Hop charts.
Whether you know him as Jonathan Rotem or J.R., there is no denying that his name holds weight. His ability to satisfy music fans across the board is a unique talent, and he is aware of the impact. "I'm happy to be commercially viable," he explains. "Having hits is society's way of telling you that they are feeling your music."
In 2005, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Game, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna and most of the other top names in the music industry found a new collaborator in producer songwriter Jonathan "J.R." Rotem. His ability to work simultaneously with an A list group of hip hop, pop and r&b artists is testament to the fresh and innovative perspective J.R. brings to the game.
Unlike many of his hip hop counterparts, J.R. is the son of Israeli immigrants who moved to South Africa where he was born. At the age of twelve, J.R.'s family relocated to the SF Bay area by way of Toronto where he lived from the age of two. His world was unlike the street kids who spenta lifetime dreaming and angling about how to get into the rap game, but his passion for music was no less intense.
As a youngster, J.R.'s parents insisted that his musical interest be honed in a strict, disciplined way. This meant hours of private piano sessions daily where he developed a passion for classical music. On the contemporary front, he found artists like The Beatles, Sting and Queen inspiring, but at a very young age, when he first heard Run DMC's "Raising Hell" album, he became mesmerized by hip hop. But while he loved what he heard musically, he never thought hip hop would become a way of life for him.
After high school, J.R. entered the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston where he majored in piano performance with aspirations of scoring films professionally. While enrolled at Berklee, J.R. also immersed himself in the world of Jazz. However, it was only the release of two seminal CD's - Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" and Snoop Dogg's "Doggystyle" - that unleashed J.R.'s inspiration to undertake music production.
Now an accomplished and well-versed jazz pianist, J.R. recognized the jazz influences of the samples used in these two hip hop masterpieces, but did not instantly recognize the samples themselves because he was never exposed to the music of Funkadelic, Parliament, James Brown and other 70's Rock/Soul pioneers whose music was now weaving the evolving soundtrack of hip hop.
However, he did recognize how the music made people feel and react. In fact, J.R. analogizes the cross over of hip hop to the mainstream in the same way jazz must have felt to the earlier generation of mainstream youths: "I started using the hot hip hop beats of the day in my jazz sets and bought some studio equipment to make beats with." With his passion for hip hop and a new home studio, J.R. combined the discipline honed from years of formal study into making beats. Local rappers took note and quickly snatched up these tracks for $100-$500 a pop - including the likes of Suga-T and D-Shot from the E-40 camp.
J.R.'s first big break came when a CD of his beats landed in the hands of veteran Bay Area producers who planned on using J.R.'s talents for an upcoming En Vogue album. Eventually though, this CD ended up with producer Dwayne Wiggins of Tony, Toni, Tone' fame who thought the beats better suited Beyonce and Destiny's Child. When the song "Fancy" made it on to the "Survivor" CD and a second song "My Song" ended up on a special issue Destiny's Child CD entitled "Love Destiny", J.R. still acknowledges that there will never be a professional highlight quite like placing these first two songs. "The personal high I received from placing these two records on the biggest group in music was all the validation I needed to take the risk of moving to L.A. and really jump starting my career."
In Los Angeles , J.R. found acceptance in the music industry much harder than he had expected. He made ends meet by teaching piano lessons with the hope of meeting Dr. Dre and giving him a CD of his keyboard-heavy beats. J.R. began to understand that talent alone would not guarantee his success - but that getting to know the right people would. What J.R. thought would be a big break came when a couple of friends he met ended up recording in a studio next door to Dre. He rushed over and was able to hand Dre a copy of his producer demo. For months, every time his phone rang he hoped it was Dr. Dre on the other line calling to hire him, but this dream eluded him for a while longer.
However, J.R.'s second break came when a white Detroit rapper named Vishiss invited him to produce his debut CD on Dreamworks. While recording the CD, Dr. Dre heard one of the songs J.R. had produced for Vishiss through J.R.'s manager Zach Katz, and demanded the song. Vishiss understood the significance of such an offering and let J.R. sell the song.
As is often the case in the industry, the Vishiss project was shelved after Vishiss' record company was absorbed into Interscope. It was during this time that Katz transformed J.R.'s career into what it is today. "Zach was the person who really helped me shape my sound. He made a lot of musical suggestions to me and even put me with more experienced producers like Denaun Porter who helped me with more of the technical aspects of producing." Once J.R. hooked up with Katz and began to refine his sound, his career took off like never before.
In the year that followed, J.R. produced over 60 records for A-listers like Snoop Dogg, Fabolous, Lil' Kim, Game, Dr. Dre, Rihanna, Mya, Young Buck, Obie Trice, Foxxy Brown, Busta Rhymes, Trick Daddy, Tre Songz, Talib Kweli, and Lil' Flip, to name a few.
J.R. says he wants to become a musical innovator and earn hit after hit. "I'm not afraid of being commercially viable because having hits is society's way of telling you that you resonate." Judging by his remarkable accomplishments in the span of only a couple of years, J.R. will be resonating for a long time to come.
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