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J.R. Rotem Blender magazine feature

J.R. Rotem Blender magazine feature

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Published by: Victoria De Silverio on Jan 26, 2011
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"l

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cked B ritn ey wh ee I barrow styl e." Jonathan "J.R" Rotem holding court athis Beluga Heights studio inWest Holiywood, California. The music producer is wearing enormous silver Elvis sunglasses and a diamondfu encrustedkeyboardaroundhisneck;hishairglistenslikeabirdinanoilspill.To

the audience clustered around his couch-his managet Zach Katz, two calneramen filming a reality-showpilo! Denaun Porter ofhip-hop group D12-Rotem offers aseries ofimpromptu nonsequiturs: "Ihaveafearofgerms"; "I dontinvest inrealestate,Iinvestinjewelry"; "I'maleo, it's true. It also says that he's from Beverly alion";"I'veseenZoolnndsrlOotimes";and, Hills, which is not exactly true. He's an finally, I fucked Britneywheelbarrow style. Israeli born in South Africa, raised first in Just kidding." He waits a beat. "It was trac- Toronto and then in an aftluent Bay Area suburb. He lives in an apartmentbuilding torstylel' voo *uy recall Rotem's name and/ in the neighborhood known as wilshire or hair from the gossip blogs. Back in Corridor-but Beverly Hills, the leafr enDecember, five weeks after Spears sent claveoftherichandfamous,isrt'tfaraway. Kevin Federline packing from Malibu to Hisstudioa"ndrecordlabelarebothnamed the Valley, sandwiched somewhere in the BelugaHeights, afictitiousplacethatconand her nude noggin-grainy footage

midstofhercataclysmicmentalmudslide- jures up champagne wishes and caviar betweenpaparazzisho*ofherbaldbeaver dreams. His look-which recalls that of

Rotem's services. "I call him the white Dr. Dre because when it seemed like I couldn't finish the record unless I had Dre beats, J.R stepped up to the plate and gave me the dopest tracks." After spending five years quietly earning credibilityinthe hip-hop arenabymaking beats for, among others, The Game, 5O Cent, Fabolous, Snoop Dogg, G-Unit, Destiny's Child, Rick Ross, Lil'Kim and Dr. Dre, the 3l-yerir-old Rotem is this moment's go-to guy for hit-hungry pop stars. His career turning point was "S.O.S.," the "Tainted Love"-sampling track he'd been trying to sell for three years, before it was eventually recorded by Rihanna in 20O6and became a worldwide hit that reached the top of six Bf llb oard charls. Today, urban music and ToP 4o PoP are as inseparable as ever, and Rotem's beats

ap-

ScottStorch,theotherJewishhip-hoppro-

strike a precise, gaudy compromise behveen the two. He offers R&B singers like Rihanna a chance to cross over to main-

pearedofthepos@artumpopstarclimbing duction macher-belies his aceomplished

onto Rotem's lap, cigarette in hand, lean- background as a classical and jazz pianist. ing in for akiss. Theyhad been working together on her next record and capped the night with the Cameron Diaz ch ickflick Th e Back at Beluga Heights, Rotem's old friend Porterpresses himfor salacious details about that night. 'ilozi did you do that?" the rapper asks, slapping his thigh in disbelief. "I heard she's on the wild side. Is that true?" The camergmen exchange excited glances. Whether out of respectfor Spea.rs or concern forhis career, Rotem clams up. His rightfoot twitches; his knucldes whiten on the arm of ttreleathercouch. An awl<rvard silence creeps in.'TVe were workingin the studio together," Rotem replies flatly, hyingto bring the conversation to a halt. He ventures something about asamplingmachine. But Porterjust ignores him:'Youare ahound dog!"heshouts.

H ok day - andsome curbside canoodling.

stream audiences, invoking and updating'Bos dance-floor jams for the Pro Tools age; and he offers pop blondes like Ashley Tisdale and Paris Hilton sinewy, pulsating tracks steeped in shiny synthesizer sounds and spiked with hip-hop swagger. There's something Bruckheimerian about his production: It'sbig,busy and-ina Itr/here haoe I heard this before? sense-generic. His date book shows that Britney isn t the only one hoping for a Rotem-produced
smash : TheVeronicas and ChristinaMilian are coming by for sessions. A meeting with Jessica Simpson has been postponed (ac-

"He's a musical genius and one of the biggest music producers in Hollyrood," says Heroes culie Hayden Panettiere, whose de-

but CD, coming in August will feature a handftl of Rotem-produced tracks. "He's
veryfun, verysmartand agenuine, nice guy.

"I rememberwhenhe getno

pussy.

Nowhe

getting all kind of pussy. I was watching E! and I saw this nigga walk ir1 and I was likeThat'sJ.R.l"

Notahorribleidioti'
"He is the best up-and-coming producer in the music industry," says The Game,

J.R ROTEM IS a multiplatinum music producer. It says so on his MySpace page, and

who, when faced with making his second record, Doctor's Adoocate, without his trusted father figure Dr. Dre, sought

cording to Rotem, his lothario reputation abit nervous). No matter, he has some finishing touches to put ontracksfor Sean Kingston, the l7-year-old Jamaican rapper who is Rotem's first signing to Beluga Heights; he needs to tighten up a track for J. Lo; and Busta Rhymes has been asking to stop by. He describes the TV pilot het filming as a brand-building tool. "People all know the women, the jewelry the cars, all of which I have," he tells the cameras at one point.
has made newbeau John Mayer

q 6
tr

=

d I

I

Play That Funky Music, White Boy!
I

J.R. Rotem isn't the only hip-hop honky to leave his (pale) mark on the genre ."

lg77
SAL ABBATIELLO To get his new

t984
RICK RUBIN

t987
BEASTIE BOYS NYC brats tour the

a rggz
JERRY HELLER

Bronx nightspot Disco Fever off the ground, this hip-hop early adopter books up-and-coming DJ Grandmaster Flash, officially bringing hip-hop in from the schoolyards,

Punk fan Rubin cofounds Def Jam in his NYU dorm. He later helps create rap rock by pairing Aerosmith and RunD.M.C. for "Walk This Way."

world in support of their debut, Licensed fo ,ll, with an inflatable penis onstage.

This former agent cofounds Ruthless Records wilh Eazy-E.
Goes on to manage-

and acrimoniously

Rap'sfirst worthwhile white MCs.

split from-gangsta
progenitors N.W.A.

"But I want to shor,'r'the blood, sweat and the tears, the stress and the rejection. I want people to knowthe different sides to me. I've always been a dick, but I've had to be nice to getwhere I am; now I wantto be me.Therealme." In the pursuit ofthe "real" J.R. Rotem, it's easyto gettripped up in the look-which he calls "half Guido, half wigger"-andthe painfully unfunny bada-bing one-liners. Drivinghome from the studio one nightin his Maserati Quattroporte, he erplains that this is all mereh a persona, one he created in an attempt to assimilate into the hiphop demimonde. He compares himself to a method actor or a Donnie Brasco-an undercover cop who goes native. "When I first got in, I was like, I'll let my music do the talki.ng. But it became apparent that it's important how I sell myself. My family brought me up to think that bragging was classless and repugnant. But ifyou dont talkbig, you don'twin." It's this persona that has made some people initially wonder who, exactly, this clown thinks he is. Thatwas the reaction of newcomer LucyWalsh (daughter of Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh) when her Island
=i
=E
dg d9 =L f> 2= >6

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Records A&R rep Rob Stevenson introduced her to Rotem. 'ltrrhen she first met him, she was like,'Who are you having me work with?"' remembers Stevenson. "But after 2O minutes ofexplainingto himwhat we wanted, he started writing a song that separates her from the pack. In this businessyou

In 1993, he movedto Bostonto attend the Berklee College of Music. That same
year, Rotem tookhis firstjazz-piano lesson.

ing from Berklee, Rotem moved back to Moraga and started makingbeats, putting
them on CDs and handing them out to anyone who would take them. Eventually, someone who knew someone gave one to D'Wayne Wiggins of the R&B group Tony, Toni, Ton6, who 'lr'anted it for an En Vogue record. Luckily for Rotem, it eventually landed on Destiny's Child's Z OOl Suraiaor,
as"Fancyl'

Enthusiastically sloughing off the rigidity of classical music, Rotem fell in love with the free-form improv ofboth the music and
thejazzbo lifestyle and spent 12 hours
a

dav

practicing and getting high. "I didn't ever

getflash,butoftennothingunder-

EJ

o->

f;E

neath. J.R. has substance." Born in Johannesburg, SouthAfrica, to Israeli parents, Rotem moved to Toronto at the age of 2, where he was recognized as having a special talent for playing the piano. Before he turned 1<!, the Rotems

wanttobe arockstar-Iwantedtobe ajazz star," he says. "I thought it would be cooi to
die young and on drugs, iike Coltrane and Davis. People wouldn't believe how much coke andheroin I would do when I played."

Suraiuorwent on to sell

8.7

mil-

€>

EE*
65 tril dt-

moved once more, this time to Moraga, California, outside San Francisco. His precocious dedication to studying the master composers attracted prestigious teachers who encouraged him to perform in classical-piano recitals and competitions,
some

ofwhichhewon.

Four years ago, Rotem went cold turkey and nowshuns even caffeinated drinks. Nineteen ninety-three was also the year Snoop Dogg released his debut CD, Doggystyle, produced by Dr. Dre. "When Snoop came out, I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet," Rotem says. "I started to dress like him, and I learned all his songs on pianol'After graduat-

lion copies, turninghis humble initial fee of $z,soo into awindfall. Within a year, Rotem was living in L.A. After meeting up with Zach Katz, who had become well-known in hip-hop circles for managing Rakim, among others, Rotem got an audition to play piano for Dr. Dre, who ended up buying a couple ofhis beats. Since then, Rotem has produced more than 1OO tracks, generally at $40,OOO to $so,ooo apop; he's boughtthe Maseratia car he describes as a "panty soaker"; ))

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.FlF'

r994
sRD EASS
Oueens Jew MC

r9g9
EMINEM Dr. Dre hears an unknown MC freestyling on the radio in L.A. and signs the biggest and best white rapper ever. VANILLA ICE Rob Van Winkle appears on MTV to destroy the network's "lce lce Baby" videotape. Still can't destroy his "walking punch line" status.

i zooo
SCOTT STORCH

20,07
SHAMROCK The Atlanta-born,

Serch and pal Pete Nice release the notat-all embarrassing The Cactus Album (despite embarrassing hair).

LIMP BIZKIT Four friends in Jacksonville, Florida, bond over a love of Rakim and Suicidal Tendencies, and form a band. The resi is red-capped. girlhating history.

The biggesr white beatsmith of the 'aughts shows a reporter his
new

lrish-repping MC
wins VHI's lhe (wnite) Rapper Show, Surprisingly, an illustrious career has yet to lollow (but he does have 2 million MySpace plays!).

yacht-named

Storchavelli.

elender.com

IO8

(

t.*.norrnr

)
"Whoops,

and he's succeeded in being ex-

pelled from Kevin Federline's
group of MySpace friends.

this is not fte roiletl"

Rotem, his writing partner
Evan Bogart*son of Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogartand Katz are waiting at Beluga

On a

Saturday a.fternoon,

HQfor

Jessi Malay. A 2O-year-old

R&B singer, she is due at the stu-

dio to recut some vocals. While
theywait, Rotem andthegang are yucking it up; as it goes, 'tegetarian" becomes " o agltaiani' "egotistical" is pronounced "egoteshcal" and "flow chart" is repeated back, fr ont-loaded with "menstrual." When Malay arrives, Rotem's reality-show pilot gets a dose of sex appeal. She's half Filipino, half

McPhee's debut are analTzed, dinner is ordered, Katz auditions a mariachi band nexl door-until finally, at 1o r.rvr., Rotem's mood

suddenly sours. He has decided that the
vibe in the room is negative, that Bogart and Malay are mad at him, that the magazines scattered across the floor of the darkened

Jewish, sexy but not intimidating, pretty but also cute. She has salon hair, tightjeans
and high heels, and her breasts, side-peek-

ingfromher hoodie, zipped down low, splay suspiciously. After small talk about having
seen each other at the club, he tells her to "One, get in the booth and, two-take your pants offand sing." Malayrollsher eyes and obediently enters the vocal booth. As she

warbles her chorus, Rotem implores her to reach deeper, offeringcomments into atrwo-

studio are too distracting. He rubs more Purell on his hands and identifies another vibe-killing annoyance: the tangle ofcords on the floor. Compulsively tidying them up, Rotem exhales deeply, sits down at the piano and pounds out an efortless version of the somberiazz standard'Autumn Leavesi' Ten minutes later, he lingers on the last note
and calmly announces, "OK, nowwe can
cus. Let's

fo-

getbackto workl'

The following night, at a music-biz party at the Roosevelt Hotel-where Paris Hilton is seenwalking in circles yellinginto her phone-Rotem seeks out a quiet place on the steps outside for conversation. Away from the reality-TV crew and the teasing friends, he finally removes his sunglasses. He discusses actresses as singers ("Can'tsay it's a goodthing, but nowyou can make people sing in tune; you can't fight technology"), sampling ("I vehadto adjustmyegoto use samples . It's humbling . . . I have to share credit and money") and being a white boy in hip-hop ('TWrth jazz,I've always been in a multiracial environment, and I've dated intenacially"). He talks about promiscuity ("I don thave one-nightstands") and, finally, what reallyhappenedwith Britney Spears. "Britney and I were in a relationshipi he says quietly. 'We were dating for about two weeks but decidedforboth our careers that itwouldn't be cool to have aromantic relationship. Shewas reallyemotionaland distressed atthe time." Rotem says he doesn t regret what happened, orhis overnight notoriety; he knows itt good for business. Butwhatever anyone thinks of him, he insists he always tries to do the right thing. "There are definitely times when I'm an arrogant, vain asshole. But the bigger part is sensitive, goodhearted. People whoiust see me in front of thepaparazzi acting like ajackass have no clue who I am." And with that, Rotem terts Paris to see where she's gone off16. leuonl

way speaker on the mixing desk: "I'm picturing you with a horsei he says. "Fuck the horse."AndlateS "Tbp intothat Filipinobarrio. Pretend you have mango juice dripping offyou; like you are barefoot, pregnant and you are cooking. Squirt all over the tracki' Onthe couch, Evan Bogartis Googling. When he comes across a pap arazzipholo of Rotem taken on a night out with Britney, he tilts his laptop so the producer can see it. "I

like my eyes," Rotem says, unintentionally sounding like Derek Zoolander, and rubs some Purell Instant Hand Sanitizerintohis palms. Ablog has another photo of Rotem

with captions that read, Ir's
JAcKASs and

DAR-K our, pur MoRE oIL INyouR rralR,

orrc. Bogart and

Rotem laugh hysterical-

ly, each taking turns repeating the lines. In the booth, Malay has finished her chorus; in the background her voice squeaks through the speaker: '.Was that OK?" The distracted work-play process goes

onforanotherfivehours-aphoto ofakitten
is sent to the huge computer screen above

the mlxing board, tracks from Katharine

lO4

Bl"rd"".co*

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