Interview: The Life & Times of Legendary Producer Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis, from the Booga Basement to Platinum Sound
Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis has accomplished more than the average producer during his time in the music industry. We were first introduced to his sound through The Fugee’s classic album “The Score”. The hits continued to come, as him and Wyclef co-produced some of the most memorable songs in the 2000’s including the huge hit “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira and “Maria Maria” by Carlos Santana and The Product G&B. After a brief hiatus, Jerry returned to music by building his studio Platinum Sound and has created hits for the likes of Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige and Keri Hilson.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You started out with The Fugees back in the 90’s. You were sort of like that fourth member. Talk to me about the creative process that you guys back in the day.
Jerry Wonda: Well it’s funny you say that. I was just in the room right now listening to “The Score”. Around The Fugees in 1995, I was more of a musician. I’ve been playing Bass Guitar since I was 11 years old. Bass was the thing for me and I loved playing drums. When I got introduced to the studio, that’s when my Dad actually gave his basement, to me, Wyclef and my brother. The three of us built a studio called Booga Basement. I put a bunch of equipment and I was the only one that went to Engineering School to be an engineer. I did the studio and that’s where Lauryn Hill was coming, Pras, Wyclef, my brother and me. We were just really creating music and that’s when we decided to work on “The Score”. At the time, The Fugees already had an album out. We were like “Yo we’re going in to create a classic!” At the time, we didn’t know it was going to be a classic, but there was something about the basement. There was no studio time paying. Nobody had to worry about anything. It was just really creating music. I was glad to be a part of it. People call me like the fourth member because I was the guy behind the scenes, quietly with the SP 1200 sound, MPC-60 sound and 3000, and the bass sonic. A lot of “The Score” was bass-driven and drums. It was a great team. I remember those days, it was such a lovely time.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve co-produced a lot of songs with Wyclef throughout the years. With Wyclef being who he is, did it ever bother you at all when a song you did with Wyclef would come out and people would automatically assume that it was a Wyclef production rather than a Wyclef and Jerry Wonda production?
Jerry Wonda: This is what it’s like when you’re in a camp. When you’re in a camp, it’s all about winning. If Wyclef wins, I win. A lot of times, I would go places and that’s the difference between being an artist and being a face. The magic about me, I was more powerful just being in the studio and being the first one in, the last one to leave. Me and Wyclef were so connected. It’s like when you’re a team, you’re just a team. I didn’t matter if they said Wyclef and Jerry. As long as Wyclef and Jerry knew we did the records. That was more important because I would go to places sometimes. One time I went to a spot where they were playing “Maria Maria” by Carlos Santana, and I couldn’t get in. They were playing my song, but nobody knew who I was! You know what? I fucking like it! It was really funny. A lot of those records, Wyclef would always be like “Wyclef and Jerry Wonda”. If you listen to all of them, it’ll say “Wyclef and Jerry Wonda”. But you know, the public only picks whoever they want.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I was going through your discography and I noticed you’ve had a lot of hits throughout the years from the mid 90’s to the early 2000’s, but I’m going to say around 2008-2009 is when you really started to get on a lot of projects. Was this done by design or did it just happen?
Jerry Wonda: I was doing a lot of traveling. I was on the road doing shows. Me and Wyclef were doing that stuff. The little time I would have, I would go to Haiti a lot, trying to put infrastructure and help out and work with kids. Then going out and working on Yele. Just helping my country because there are so many little Jerry Wonda’s out there, but around 2008 I felt like I did a lot of that. I had to get back into really doing my music and focus more on it. It started with the Justin Bieber, doing the Mary, working with everybody like Musiq Soulchild. I just got back into the studio. That’s the thing about me. This is why I take time a lot if you check me every Thursday where I take time out to still do a Q&A. People globally, I got people from Germany asking me questions, from China asking me questions, from Africa, Haiti, Jamaica, New York and everyone. I put a little energy into the world to answer and help the young musician, singers and producers. People that want get into A&R and management. Just take the time to answer questions and since I’ve been there and done that, and I’m still here. The other day they played five songs of my records between 2008 and today, in one day they played five songs on the radio and I’m like “This is such a blessing! So to me, it’s all it is, man. I just put the energy in and my team, I just have a great team that’s working and everybody at Platinum Sound and Wonda Music. That’s what I’m doing, just focused man.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You built that studio Platinum Sound. Talk to me about the name.
Jerry Wonda: We were just really vibing and coming up with the best name. I remember they used to have studio called “Platinum Island” in Manhattan. I went there when I wanted to build a studio. It was trash. I was like “Oh my God, it’s such a great name.” I started thinking and I was like “It’s all good. I’m not going to call it Platinum Island. It’s going to be Platinum Sound.” To me, it’s the sonic and I’ve got a few platinum plaques. The little story about Platinum Sound is that when I was building the studio, at the front desk when you walk in, if you go on the West Side you’re going to see the front desk, and when the elevator opened and I went in and the designer tried to surprise me and put some gold. I was like “What are you doing?” He was like “We’re building a studio! It’s platinum” and I was like “You got gold!” It was just a great name.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve been working on a lot of projects, but the one I’m most excited about is the one you’re doing with Ashanti. You have the first single out “The Woman You Love”. Talk to me about how that song came about.
Jerry Wonda: Ashanti came to see me and actually come to play me some records. She played me a few songs that she’s been working on and I’ve been thinking about what sonic to go out and create for her. The right songs for her where she could be her. A lot of the times, people will come in and say, “Oh my God! I have Ashanti’s record. She sounds vocally. She sounds great musically, melodically, lyrically”. That’s exactly it. I wanted to make sure I give her something that makes a difference and actually to showcase her vocals. To me, real talk she’s a good singer. She’s wonderful and so talented. She did a lot of things and songs before and she wrote and I feel like, “Man, I want to give her something where she could showcase her vocals and people could hear her singing the passion from her heart and the kind of person she is”. To me, that’s why I went in with my team, we went in and actually one of my best friends, we were vibing and Sham “Sak Pase” Joseph, we went in and got the record. Shout out to Sham “Sak Pase” Joseph. That’s one of my best friends.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you’re also working on other songs with Ashanti. Talk to me about the overall sound that you’re planning on giving her for this album.
Jerry Wonda: To me, we actually got the first record and we’re just vibing. But whatever we’re dropping out there, it’s always going to be something very special. That’s why we’re not in a hurry and we’re just dropping this and we’re going to keep dropping things. Her and I started a relationship like a close friendship, like I call her anytime. The key is that when you say somebody is your friend, can you call them anytime? To me, I really love working with people that’s my friend. I can talk and talk, and then she can come to studio and chill and work. She’s like a friend to me. I’m after for her to win. So the sonic we’re doing, trust me it’s just one sonic, we have so many more coming.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Another project I know you’re involved with is the Estelle album. You have the single out “Thank You”. Talk to me about the creation of that song.
Jerry Wonda: I did that track and I was working with Akon. By the way, new Akon about to come out really soon. When you hear the Akon, you could call me and I can tell you about that too. *Laughs* I was working on Akon. While we were almost finished the session and Akon was about to leave, I just did the track and the session was done. I was like “Oh man!” Akon was saying goodbye to me and I just hit play and he dropped his bags. He was like “Hold on! What’s that?” Then he was like “Give me one second Jerry. Play that again!” He went on the microphone one pass and wrote the song just like that. We did that song. I didn’t know it was going to be for Estelle. I didn’t know who it was going to be for. The next day, I had a writing session with Estelle. I was on the first album and this album, I’ve been working very close. My team has been working very close with her and Atlantic Records. Craig Kallman is a great friend and the whole team. Estelle came by the studio because we had a writing session and I played her the record. She was like “Hold up! Jerry, I’m not saying I want this record, but let me just try it.” She went in and I gotta tell you once she started singing the record, water started out of her eyes. Real talk, the way she sounded, it’s just a certain song for made for certain people. The way she sounds, when you know the intern, there was an intern in the room, the intern started crying too. I was like “My God! I have a crying house!” Believe it or not, it was so touching. I knew it was her record and I knew that record was going to touch people. It’s just a special one for her.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You worked with Estelle on her last album and now you’re working with her on her upcoming one. Talk about the chemistry you guys have.
Jerry Wonda: That’s one of my best friends. It’s good to have a good relationship with people you work with. It’s not because you work and the person has to stop by. It’s more like “Oh let me say Hi to Jerry.” That’s what I love with my friends. They just come and say “Whatsup Jerry? Who are you working on?” Whoever I’m working on, I could be working on Keri Hilson and Akon could be like “Yo Jerry, I just finished BET. I’m in town. I’m coming to say hi”. Those are the kind of relationships I got with certain artists. They just stop by and that’s the thing with Estelle. We’re friends. Like she calls me all the time and I call her all the time. She comes to Platinum. The other day she came to see me to say hi. Next thing you know, she’s jumping on a record with Luke James. It was me, her, Luke James and my team. Shout out to the Wonda Music crew. We’re not playing, we’re here! The next thing you know, we created a crazy duet. I keep listening to that song. I play it almost every time that I can. It’s such a great duet with Estelle and Luke James. He is such a great artist and musician. I don’t know if you know him, but he’s really good. Me and Estelle, it’s family.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Is that Luke James song going to be on Estelle or Luke James’ album?
Jerry Wonda: Actually, it’s for Luke James’ album because that Estelle album is already done. Man, I have a few records on Estelle. I don’t want to say how many, but I got a few joints with Estelle. Great records. I can’t wait for everyone to listen to those songs. Great album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve mentioned that you’ve worked with Ashanti and Estelle. Along with that you’ve worked with people like Mary J. Blige and Keri Hilson. They’re all female R&B artists, but how do you separate the sound between them?
Jerry Wonda: If you listen to the Keri Hilson and you listen to the Mary record, I always actually start by listening to an artist and actually going back, lay back and relax and be like “Let me listen to give them something special.” To me, you want to make sure that you give each of them their content. It’s all about giving them their own content. Some parts, give them the popular. When I say popular, I don’t mean Pop Music. A lot of times people will say “That’s Pop music, that’s Soul music, that’s Hip-Hop”. No, I say it’s a popular song. That could be popular with a great hook and a great thing for that person. There’s a couple records that I have out that I’m not playing for Estelle. There’s a couple a records I won’t play for Mary because I gotta play for Estelle. There’s a couple I’m not playing for Ashanti or Keri Hilson. I really just take my time and try to give the artist I’m working with something that’s special for them and nobody else. Here and there people will say “That one could have been Mary!” I always make sure I get with my team where I give the right song to the right artist I’m working with.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I have a couple of songs here that you’ve done throughout the years. If you could, give me any background information about these songs. First is “Caramel” by City High. Talk to me about that one.
Jerry Wonda: It’s funny you say that. My first label Jimmy Iovine gave me was…remember when I told you about Booga Basement the studio? I called the label Booga Basement. The first and only artist/group that I put out on that label was City High. You had Robbie, Claudette and Ryan. What I liked about them was they were such great writers and musicians. Even when I was on the road, I would go to the Booga Basement and they would be playing me ideas. At the time, Wyclef and I would just be going in. I was really close to them, the friendship like I said. We did the first record. I had them on a record called “What Would You Do?” They did the track and I worked with them on the track. I was very close. The second record was “Caramel” which was such a great record. Man, I gotta tell you I loved that group. I’m looking for a whole new City High right now. I love them. I love artists that could do things. If I’m busy, you can go in the studio and create and I come in and do my thing or like “We’re here, that’s the record I’ll be back. Do what you got to do. I have nothing to worry about.”That was City High. They were so talented. I’m looking for my new 2012 City High right now. I miss those guys.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Another one is “All The Boys” by Keri Hilson.
Jerry Wonda: Well like I told you, I got a few friends and I do writing sessions with them. We go in. I had a writing session with John Legend and I played John that track and he was like “Man I love it. Let me take that!” He went in a little studio at Platinum called “The Penthouse”. He went in there and wrote that record. Three days later, I had this session with Keri. I played the record and she was like, “I’m doing this right now. This is it!” She went in and sung the record. It’s such a special record.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Lastly, one of your biggest placements which is “Ghetto Superstar” by Pras. What do you remember about that one?
Jerry Wonda: Yeah “Ghetto Superstar” was a great record, but “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira was like the biggest one. You know that right?
YouKnowIGotSoul: Yep. *Laughs*
Jerry Wonda: “Ghetto Superstar” was such a great record. That was around the time when I had the label Booga Basement. It was for Interscope for the movie. It was such a great record. In that record, it was Pras. Me and Wyclef put Pras, Mya and Ol’ Dirty Bastard in that record. Rest in peace to him. It was such a great time. I remember those days. Actually, we did that record in L.A. It was a lot fun creating that song.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Do you remember how Mya ended up on that song?
Jerry Wonda: Well at the time, it was more like Jimmy Iovine saying “Yo, we gotta have this chick.” It was me, Wyclef, Pras and at the time, there was a new chick like Mya that had just came out. People in the Hip-Hop world didn’t really know Mya. If you get a sponsor from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, you know you’re Hip-Hip. *Laughs* That’s how they brought Mya in to sing the hook. She’s so talented. I love her too.
YouKnowIGotSoul: And if we could, talk to me about “Anything” by Musiq Soulchild.
Jerry Wonda: Once again, we’re going to go to the relationship thing again. I was working and Swizz was actually working with Kanye next door. I was in the other room on this record for Musiq Soulchild. The writer that wrote that record was August from Canada. We were playing the record and next thing you know, Swizz was popping up and was like “Jerry, what’s that?!”He started going in and I put him with a microphone. He was like “Man, I’m attacking the record”. Swizz is a great friend of mine. We did a bunch of records. We did a record with Swizz and with Alicia and we did a record with Swizz one for Akon. Me and him are close friends, one of my best friends. That’s how we ended up on that record for Musiq Soulchild. It’s such a lovely album. I really like that album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve been in the industry for almost 15 years now, what is the key to the longevity as a producer when the sound of the radio is constantly changing?
Jerry Wonda: I tell everyone that the longevity is just staying with your integrity and move with the time. The equipment and sonic are changing. You’re changing with the sonic, but don’t ever forget your sound because that’s why your sound was so big and great. Also with the new technology, you blend both worlds and you keep moving with the time. Leave the egos out the door. It’s all about creating music. Create it first, not for money. Always know, the money could destroy it, but do it for the love of it and guess what? If somebody uses your content, they will pay you for your content. Don’t put the money in the front first. Get the content and move with the time.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Who are you currently working with right now?
Jerry Wonda: I’m doing Ashanti, Mavado, Mary J. Blige, Akon, Keri Hilson. I’m doing Keyshia Cole, Busta Rhymes, Luke James, Anthony Hamilton, Kevin McCall, John Legend, Cris Cab, Priscilla, Tank. I’m doing a lot of things. Of course, I got one artist that I’m focusing on right now. I just started working with him and his name is YFame. You should check him out. He’s a genius kid. He plays every instrument. To me, I’m doing different things and I’ve just been doing between artists. Of course, there’s the Love and Hip-Hop thing. I’m doing a lot of things right now.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Jerry Wonda: I just want everyone to follow Wonda Music and what we’re doing. If there’s talent, please go on Twitter and follow me and send me. If you’re talented, I’m ready. I’m looking for my next City High, my new artist that I could help out. Then I’m doing people with names, but I’m looking for the right artist with the right thing. Just hit me up. I don’t care where you are. Wherever you are in Canada, I’ll come find you and come to your spot and listen to you. Come and find me. See me at Platinum sounds.