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Music industry mogul J.R. Rotem might be most notorious for his fling with
Britney Spears, but chances are, youíve heard his work blasting through the
airwaves. The production heavyweight behind Rhiannaís hit single "SOS" and 50
Centís "Position of Power" has been making waves in mainstream music and drawing
comparisons to Dr. Dre. With his new Beverly HillsĖbased record label, Beluga
Heights, and upcoming collaborations with a wide range of artists from Jennifer
Lopez to American Idolís Blake Lewis, heís got his sights set on tackling every
aspect of the music industry.
PLAYER: You actually started in classical music. What made you decide to
transition into hip-hop?
JR: I was a classical pianist growing up in junior high and high school, and
then I became a jazz pianist after I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston.
I was playing a bunch of gigs and somewhere along the way I decided to switch to
producing. There are a few reasons why I switched over. One is that I didnít
like to be out at the bars and clubs every night performing. I wanted to be in
the studio environment composing. And also, I was playing jazz, which is an
amazing genre of music, butóand I donít want to say itís outdatedóI felt like it
sort of peaked in its creativity in an earlier era. I wanted my music to reach a
wider mainstream audience. Iím a fan of pop music, hip-hop and R & B, and I felt
that my talents would be best used in those genres.
PLAYER: Was there a specific hip-hop artist that caught your interest first?
JR: I was heavily influenced by the music of Dr. Dre.
PLAYER: Youíve collaborated with a lot of musicians. Who did you have the most
fun working with?
JR: A lot of different artists. I really had a blast with in the studio with
Jesse McCartney, 50 Cent, Britney Spears, Natasha Bedingfield and my artist Sean
Kingstonóheís like a brother.
PLAYER: Are their onstage personas or the way the media portrays them at all
JR: It sort of depends on the person. With most people, you only see a certain
fraction of who they are because the media side is where thereís a camera and
all that. When youíre creating with people in the studio, in general, theyíre
really serious about their craft and theyíre just a real person with whom you
can connect. So Iíd say for the most part, theyíre not like what youíd see in
front of the camera.
PLAYER: Any tracks youíre particularly proud of?
JR: Iím very proud of "SOS" for Rhianna, "Beautiful Girls" for Sean Kingston and
"Push it to the Limit" for Rick Ross. What else? "Position of Power" for 50
Cent. Those are some highlights.
PLAYER: How do you choose what music to sample? What are your influences there?
JR: I look for samples that are recognizable to people, like "Beautiful Girls"
had a sample of "Stand By Me" from the 50s. Itís not necessarily that Iím the
biggest 50s fan, but I recognized it as a song that people could relate to. Itís
familiar and has the potential to be flipped in a new way. Itís whatever
inspires me; I compose a lot of my beats at the piano and some of them are
samples. Iím definitely influenced by the music of the 80s.
PLAYER: How did Beluga Heights come about?
JR: Beluga Heights is a company that was created by me and my partner Zach Katz.
We always had this vision of building our own empire, of building our own
company. Aside from producing for other artists, we wanted our own record
companyóto sign our own artists and writers. It was always something that we had
planned on doing, but we needed our first artist to get the whole thing going.
Meeting Sean Kingston kind of solidified the foundation of the company. And then
there was so much interest in him that instead of just landing a production deal
at major labels, we got a label deal. Thatís how Beluga Heights became a
full-fledged record label with overhead, a budget and all that kind of stuff. It
was really just me and Zach wanting to create a company together.
PLAYER: Howíd you come up with the name Beluga Heights?
JR: We were brainstorming things that were meaningful to us. Beluga is known as
the best caviar. Itís also a color. You know, when you go to a high-end car
dealership like Bentley, they donít call the color "black," they call it
"beluga." To us, Beluga represents the finer things in life. And the "Heights"
comes into play because it represents hard work, sacrifice, positivity and
successócommercial, financial and personal too. So thatís what the name means to
us. And plus, the BH is like Beverly Hills and thatís where weíre based so our
logo is very reminiscent of the Beverly Hills sign.
PLAYER: Do you get many opportunities to take advantage of this high life?
JR: Yeah, definitely, but itís not what weíre all about. Weíre about being in
the studio and staying very focused. But yeah, I enjoy the finer things that
material success brings.
PLAYER: Whatís your biggest indulgence?
JR: I would say cars, clothes and fine dining.
PLAYER: And the craziest thing you ever bought?
JR: My Lamborghini Gallardo.
PLAYER: Whatís your schedule like?
JR: Iím pretty much working 24/7. Iíll wake up around nine, work out, and then
Iím in the studio by noon or one oíclock and stay there all day until the late
night. And I usually do that six or seven days a week.
PLAYER: Do you get to travel much?
JR: I have the opportunity to travel a lot but actually, I hate traveling so I
really donít take advantage of it. Whenever possible, I try to have people come
work with me in LA.
PLAYER: Whatís on repeat on your iPod right now?
JR: I actually donít listen to an iPod. In my car, Iíve been listening to
"Everything I Am" on Kanyeís [Kanye West] new album. One of my favorite songs
recently is "Buy You a Drink" by T-Pain.
PLAYER: How do you feel about the state of hip-hop right now? Itís been getting
a lot of criticism.
JR: I think that hip-hop is big in that itís definitely penetrated pop culture
and all forms of music, but pure hip-hop is dwindling down. I donít think itís
as big or as creative as it once was. As far as just straight rappers, there are
not a lot of them that are very interesting or inspiring to me.
PLAYER: Anyone from the past that really inspired you?
JR: Iím influenced by many musicians and many styles. From classical, Iím
influenced by composers like Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky; in jazz,
people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner; in hip-hop, Dr. Dre,
Snoop Dog, Eminem. As far as general pop music, Iím very influenced by the
production of Quincy Jones and the stuff he did with Michael Jackson. I also
draw from the Beatles and George Martin, their producer. So Iím influenced by a
lot of different stuff.
PLAYER: Any artists that youíre dying to work with?
JR: Iíve been fortunate to work with a great number of artists, but I havenít
had the chance to work with Christina Aguilera, Jay-Z and Eminem. Those are the
names that come to mind for people Iíd like to work with.
PLAYER: What are your criteria for picking artists to work with or sign?
JR: I produce many different genres of music so it doesnít matter to us whether
the artist comes from a more urban background or a more pop background, whether
male or female. We arenít a company thatís looking for a slow cult or regional
following. For us, itís important that the artist have the potential to
crossover and become a big mainstream star, to sell albums worldwide. I would
say thatís our biggest criteria for choosing artists that we sign.
PLAYER: What projects are on your plate now?
JR: Iím about to sign some new artists to Beluga Heights so weíre working very
closely with that. And then in general, just wrapping up songs for Leona Lewis,
Blake Lewis, Jesse McCartney, Baby Bash, Natasha Bedingfield, Chamillionaire and
a few others.
PLAYER: Do you have anything coming out soon that we should look for?
JR: Yeah, a bunch of stuff. From Sean Kingston and the artists I just mentioned.
I have the single out right now, "Hip-Hop Police." There are also projects with
Mike Jones and Jennifer Lopez.
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