YouKnowIGotSoul Interview With Producer Stevie J.
In a very forthcoming interview, YouKnowIGotSoul in conjunction with StaticMajorIsMusic caught up with former Bad Boy “Hitman” Stevie J. and discussed his whole career from his beginnings with Jodeci and Da Bassment, to signing with Puff, to his current projects and life after Bad Boy. I followed this up by choosing some of favorite songs from his discography that he produced and asking him to go into detail about his memories of making each of those with the artist. He even asked me for MY opinion on the state of r&b and r&b groups today. Very cool interview, enjoy!
Stevie J: I began in music early on in my life. Picking up different instruments, toying around with the drums in church, and that led to the keyboards, and that led to the guitars and the strings. A little bit after that, I graudated from high school and started working with Jodeci early on.
YKIGS: I was reading that you were eventually signed by Dalvin and you were working with him as his artist. How did you get that opportunity?
SJ: Actually I wasn’t signed with him as an artist. Pretty much it was a handshake situation, as a producer and I could write some songs, facilitate any way I could musically, vocally or whatever. It was just a cool friendship. I had that opportunity by I had a fashion show that I had to sing at in Rochester, NY where I was raised for most of my life, although I am from Buffalo. Being from Rochester, I was living in Buffalo at the time, but I had the opportunity to go back and sing at this fashion show. So when I first got to the fashion show, I got there earlier with my partner Sonny Boy, there wasn’t anybody there so we went to the bar and we got some food, got a few drinks, and we came back in and it was packed. Before we got up to sing, they was like “Hey we have some people from Jodeci in the house,” you know Dalvin and K-Ci was there. So they listened to the tracks, listened to me sing or whatever. And they were like “Yo you’re nice, who did the tracks,” and I was like “Me,” and they were like “Get outta here!” So I was like “There’s a piano in the back, let’s go!” So I go to the piano in the back, started a playing a few of the jams and they were sold on it, they were like “Oh you with us!” So that’s when I began.
YKIGS: Oh wow, very cool!
SJ: Yea very cool. From there, we went to the studio and that’s how I meant DeVante and Jo Jo and I got on the piano at the studio, and DeVante and I were trading chords, it was pretty cool!
YKIGS: You mentioned singing, I know you were supposed to have an album of your own in the mid 90’s, because a lot of people know you as a producer, so tell us a little about that album you were going to have.
SJ: I definitely wanted to produce an album for myself, but at the time I had so much going on with my personal ground. But back in the years of producing for everbody, I always produced their vocals and even sang their background for them, maybe even sang a few leads as an individual *Laughs* So I always utilized the gift that I was given.
YKIGS: Tell me about your first interactions in DeVante’s Bassment, with his whole Bassment clique there. When did you meet all of the members?
SJ: After a few days of just making tracks and producing in the studio, different cats began to come up like “Yea I heard about you!” And then I just began to meet individuals, everybody individually. From Playa, from everybody in Playa, to Sugah, to Sista, to all the different producers like Darryl Pearson and Timbaland. I just began to meet everybody individually after spending some time in the studio warming up to everybody. You know how it is, you go into a new situation and everybody hears a lot about you, but you just want it to be a warm welcome, you don’t want it to be an uncomfortable situation. So after a few days, I just warmed up and everybody began to meet each other and it was just a cool vibe.
YKIGS: Did you eventually get to work on songs with those members?
SJ: Yes absolutely. Actually after I had decided to stay for awhile, I was only an hour away in Buffalo, they had these different condo style apartments or loft apartments. Me and Ginuwine were bunking up, so I recorded his first record with him. Then after I recorded the first record with him, I started working with Playa and then I began to work with Sista and Sugah and Jodeci. So it was like as soon as I got there I began like fraternizing with everyone and working with everybody. I would like to say I played an intricate role in that too, the whole leaving, of everybody leaving, a lot of cats leaving. From Timbaland, to Missy, to Playa, to Ginuwine to everybody.
YKIGS: Once everyone left, did you get a chance to work with everyone again at one point?
SJ: Actually, the funny thing about it is, I did. After I left them I got with Puff, and I was doing…you know Puff was my manager, and I was still seeing Sista, I was still seeing the girls. And I was like “What’s going on with Missy, what’s Missy doing? Ask her to come to the studio.” I was working with an artist by the name of Gina Thompson, I don’t know if you remember Gina Thompson, she had the song *Sings* “The things you do, make me keep runnin to you.” So Missy was in there, and I was sayin “Yo Puff, you know Missy right?” And he’s like “Yea, yea what’s up, I need a girl to rap on this joint.” And I said “Yo let Missy rap on it!” So there it is, go figure!
YKIGS: I was reading more in your bio that you discovered basically by Puffy after working with the group Total. How did you link up with Total originally?
SJ: A good friend of mine by the name of Chad Elliot…I was in New York after I had started working with Jodeci, and I was looking for the next step in my career as a writer and a producer at the time, not even as an artist. So I was working with Chad, and he was like “I wanna take you to the studio so you could meet this group named Total, this guy named Puff has this group called Total.” So I went to the studio and they were working on their album and I sat there with my guitar and I began to play and sing in the vocal booth just messing around with them and Puff walked by and was like “Yo Stevie J? I got a contract for you in my car!” But I used to see him all the time, because Jodeci had tours with B.I.G. and Puff, so I guess he noticed me on the tour. So cut to it, we began to talk that night and we just meshed, it was a great thing. I cut an interlude on Total’s album, it was *Sings* “You don’t have to worry, you’re going to have a good time, I came to get down for mine” or something like that. And he was like “Yo you sing, you play, what!” The relationship just began to blossom, and now it’s all history!
YKIGS: Yep, definitely is history! Give us some point of view on Puffy in the studio because you’ve worked with the whole Bad Boy roster. I’m just trying to get some perspective, behind the scenes, what is Puffy like in the studio while the artists are working on their songs, in terms of control.
SJ: Well when I first came in, I was just pretty much a fly on the wall and check out different perspectives and just watch. So it would be like ten writers writing one song, coming up the best melody, and then once everything gets to where it is and the song being written, then he would sit there with the artist right there in the booth and produce the vocals with the artist. From the producer side of things, he had the ear, so he knows exactly what he wants to hear, even before it’s done, it’s like a perspective where he already has a picture painted. So it’s like putting a song together and choosing the right sounds and the right tempos and the right breaks to go here, the right break beat records to use here, he’s excellent at that. So he’s really intense in the studio.
YKIGS: I went through your whole your whole discography of all of your production credits, and I found some of my favorite songs. If I could just name a few of them, I’d love to hear you take me back to the whole making of that song and the recording of it, anything you can remember about it.
SJ: I’ll do my best! *Laughs*
YKIGS: *Laughs* Ok, I know some of these are from the mid 90’s, but anything you can remember would be great. The first one I got for you is 112’s song “I Will Be There.”
SJ: *Laughs* Yes, I remember it like yesterday! I was in studio A and Daron from 112, Daron was in there playing the piano and the strings. So Puff was like “Yo why don’t you sit with him, why don’t you sit with him and show him how to put a song together, yall put this joint together.” *Hums* All of those melodies and all of that, that’s when I began to show Daron how to be a producer. That song came out to be one the favorites on the album for myself as well. All of their different vocal abilities, different styles, four different styles, that song came out to be very well put together if I may say so myself.
YKIGS: Yes, I love that one. So you would say you had a hand in teaching Daron how to produce?
SJ: Oh no question. From then, after doing the 112 album, the Hitmen, myself, D-Dot, Nashiem, Ron Lawrence, Carlos Brody at the time. We took a trip, Puff, B.I.G. was there, Aaliyah came down, Faith came down, Horace Brown came down, Andre Harrell, a lot of different cats came down. And during that trip to Trinidad, that’s when I really taught Daron how to fully produce songs and that’s when he also came up with the Biggie song “I’m F*cking You Tonight,” excuse my French. That’s like one of the first major records that I helped Daron put together. Yea, that’s my guy man. Good guys, 112, they need a reunion ASAP. I mean I say that because I look at the lane of music that we’re in right now, and where is the male groups at right now? What does that fall in right now? I propose that to you, what male groups do we have right now?
YKIGS: Hmmm. That’s a good question. It’s just not the same. You had the 112, you had the Jagged Edge that was doing that real singing back then, and now it’s going more towards pop more than anything. That’s how I feel, it’s not that real singing.
SJ: I look at it two ways. I’ll just cut and dry give you the one way I look at it. If they had the production that warranted the singers to really sing, not knocking anything, not for nothing everybody produces in their own type of way. But things are less musical right now due to the fact that there’s a lot of cats out here, like I said not for nothing, they got they Fruity Loops, and they got their programs that they’re using, but it’s like, it’s already made out. It’s like pretty much “I’m going to give you a puzzle that’s broken down, here, you just put the pieces together if you follow me.” So I’m looking for the next talent so that I can…I wanna display that still can be done, that music, that r&b with the hip hop is of course still necessarily, you have to feel a certain way about music, warm. Certain music makes you feel warm, and I can listen to all of this music right now, but I can’t honestly say there aint nothing making me feel like yo I wanna go home, well maybe Trey make me feel like that a little bit, make me wanna go lay up with something, a nice shoobie with my shoobie. But other than that, it’s hard for me.
YKIGS: If I could give my opinion, I would say there are still artists who love r&b and they are still staying true to it, like for example Donell Jones just came out with an album, Faith just came out with an album, and they’re still staying true to their r&b roots, and I appreciate that. But I feel like we’ve got some singers now who are not really embracing the singing, they’re just trying to get the quick single on the radio and just make the money, to me that’s how it looks.
SJ: Yea, well you know it’s all about longevity and sustainability. You got your microwave society of music, and then you’ve got the slow cookers, the good hearty meal. I prefer the slow cooked, hearty meal over the microwave; I don’t even eat out of the microwave! You feel me?
YKIGS: *Laughs* Yep! Even the music you had a hand in creating back in the 90’s, that’s timeless. Now the music that’s coming out is not going to have lasting power.
SJ: Right, and I’m not just going to jump on anything, I’m not just going to produce for anybody, because I want to get it right for the project, and I want to know that it’s something…you know I’m real serious about the music. That’s why I’m liable to just move along and keep doing these commercials, and scoring movies, and working with new ones that understand that the microwave society that’s right now. Because if you microwave a meal and you leave it out and try to put it back in that microwave, how’s that meal going to be man?
YKIGS: Exactly! I want to ask you about a couple of more songs that you worked on. The next one I got is Mariah Carey’s “Breakdown,” the song she did with Bone Thugs.
SJ: Yea, one of my favorites. Actually I was in the studio with a friend of mine named Eric Williams out of Buffalo, and we were sitting down in the studio with Mariah, and she was like “I want to do something like Bone Thugs type of, you know simple but effective.” So I sat down and played her some melodies, and put different drum patterns down, and she wrote the song, we actually wrote the song together, and she was actually like she wanted to get Bone on the record. So after she finished doing what she did, she called up Bone, got them on the record, and that was history. That became one of my favorite records too, another one of my favorites, I have a few favorites man *Laughs*
YKIGS: Yea, I love that one too, that one is crazy. The next one I’m going to ask you about is B.I.G.’s song “My Downfall.”
SJ: Hmmm, yea “My Downfall.” Woo, *Sings* did I do that with Nashiem or did I do that with Havoc? I’m trying to remember, hold on I want to get this right, let me just flip the laptop open so I can give you the full spumonti! No question, I want to make sure I’m accurate *Checks Laptop* Ok here we go, oh yea Nashiem and Carlos, exactly, I remember that because it was actually like we are all…when we were producing that album it was like Team U.S.A. basketball squad! It was like the best of the best, the crème de la crème, and that particular day, the beat was pretty much done, the loop was there, the beat was there. My job for the team was to facilitate…to build a bigger house on everything that was put there. They had the frame of the house there, my job was to put the marble on it, put the diamond encrusted chandelier. So it was pretty much the beat was done, and I came in and colored it with the strings and I didn’t color it until BIG laid his verse down. After BIG laid his verse down, that’s when I began to color it with the strings, and the pianos, and the guitars, and the baseline and all of that. Yea, that amongst all of the songs on “Life After Death,” I believe “Life After Death” was my favorite album out of all, because I believe that kinda changed the sound of the industry.
YKIGS: Yea you did an amazing job with that album, I appreciate your work on that.
SJ: It’s a blessing man, I couldn’t do it alone without the help of D-Dot, Nash, Amen-Ra, Carlos Brody, Young World, Havoc was on the album, Rza was on the album, EZ-Mo-Bee, Woooo!
YKIGS: The next one is Faith Evans, the song is “Lately I.”
SJ: Ok that song came about, I believe she was still with Arista at the time and Clive Davis and myself had different conversations about the type of song that I would produce for her. He paired me with Diane Warren, an excellent writer, and I went to L.A. and I sat down with Diane Warren and her birds, she got birds, and she began to teach me her theories and show me how to be more calm as a person, because I was so energetic, so she just took the time. And that song came out because…it really took awhile because we were going back and forth about the melodies and the lyrics, so I think that song took a week and a half to get fully done, because Clive wanted to change this and that, Diane wanted to change this and that. That was one of the first hot, hot records that Faith ever really sang on. If you take a look, it was like that was the song that was a lot different than the rest of the project.
YKIGS: Yea I definitely noticed that, that’s one of my favorites on the album, might be my favorite, and it definitely stands out to me.
SJ: Well I sure appreciate that man.
YKIGS: I just got like three more for you, and I apologize if I’m taking too much of your time, but as a fan this is just amazing hearing this history, so I appreciate your time.
SJ: It’s all good man, you know it’s nothing and it’s all here for you because I’m an open book. I want everybody, all of my fans and all of the producers and song writers and musicians and artists around the world to understand that. All of this history it’s knowledge and each day that we live, we want to teach one, each one, teach one, so I don’t mind at all.
YKIGS: The next one I got is Tamia, “Fallin For You.”
SJ: *Laughs* Oh that’s funny. How did that song come about…ok, my boy J. Brown, he actually works for Roc Nation now, he used to work for Quincy Jones, and if I may just give you a little story about this. I was at the Vibe show, and during a break on the intercom, they were like “Stevie J, come upstairs Quincy Jones wants to see you.” I’m like “they aint talkin about me, they can’t be talkin about me, it’s Quincy Jones!” Anyway, I went upstairs and met Quincy Jones, and thereafter, I stayed at his crib for like two days to get knowledge about the music industry, the television industry, the radio industry. He asked me if I would work on Tamia’s album for him. And he wanted some pop sample, because I used to be really sample heavy. So I went in the studio with my partner Sonny Boy, and Gordon Chambers, and we wrote a pop song called “Fallin For You” for Tamia, which was in the Top 40 for awhile.
YKIGS: Yea I like what you did with that one with the sampling.
SJ: Appreciate it.
YKIGS: The next one I got is R. Kelly’s “Spendin Money.”
SJ: *Laughs* *Sings* “All the money I’ve spent, all the places I’ve been, I can’t forget you baby.” Yea was one of my joints right there! You know who wrote that song? Kelly Price! You remember Kelly Price? Alright we gonna take it back and then I’m gonna get to that question. Kelly Price, my brother Mike Jet used to play at this church in Long Island, played guitar and bass at this church in Long Island along with this organist Alvin West, Al West, excellent producer and musician. They said “Man you gotta hear this girl,” so I was like “Mike bring her to me.” So she came in with her husband and her kids, so I’m like “I heard a lot about you, you wanna sing for me?” She began to sing and that’s when her whole life began to be different. I put her on everything, writing, “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” Everything that we did, I had Kelly writing on. Alright, cut to the R. Kelly “Spendin Money,” I produced that with my friend Ron Lawrence and Derrick Angelette. Once again, the house was built with the sample and the drums, I switched up the kicks and the snares and the high hats, and added my shaker and scratches and keyboards and the strings, and wrote the song with Kelly, and there you have it.
YKIGS: I gotta ask you, because I heard another song with the same beat around the same time, it’s a Naughty By Nature song “Holiday,” do you know how that happened?
SJ: I don’t know how that happened but that happened a few times, you know great minds think alike.
YKIGS: I was just wondering because I never knew, I like both songs.
SJ: Yea, great minds think alike man.
YKIGS: The last song I want to ask you about is Carl Thomas’ “Work It Out.”
SJ: *Laughs* I wrote that song with a good friend of mine named Pooh Bear. At the time we were in Miami at the Circle House Studios, and we had the whole studio booked out. Carl came, and he was like “I want some of that, I want to feel like a new kinda like Jodeci feel on a song.” So I kinda took the approach of “Freek’n You,” Jodeci, and brought it a little up to date, and there you have it, that’s how “Work It Out” came about. And what happened was, it’s a little moog sound in there if you listen to the whole song from beginning to end, there was a little moog sound, but it was a little different because I had laid it down when I was bouncing the song onto cd, but I was just freestyling. But everybody loved it so much I had to listen to it over and over and do the same thing exactly the same way. So that was kinda cool. I appreciate a challenge, I like working with Carl Thomas, he’s the best.
YKIGS: Yea I’m going to listen to that one again and listen closely!
SJ: You gotta listen to that moog sound. Now mind you, it’s not the same moog sound, but I had played that as I bounced it down, I was just freestyling and it sounded so good to me. But when Puff heard it, he was like “I need that same joint on there!” I’m like “Alright how I’m supposed to do this!” Long story short, it came to work out just fine.
YKIGS: Just catch me up a little bit about what you’ve been up to lately. I read that you founded the production team “Danger Zone,” so tell me about that.
SJ: Yea “Danger Zone” music, that’s been up and running for awhile. Right now I have a few new artists that I’m working with, one is Tarryn, she’s 19, she’s from L.A. That’s what I’m working on right now, along with my own project right now, I’m doing some different types of things. Also scoring a movie right now. My good friend Danny Way, who jumped over the Great Wall of China on a skateboard, he’s one of the founders of D.C. shoes, extreme sport company, do your research and check that out, he’s a serious guy. D.C. in conjunction with a big movie company is doing a movie on him and his career and I’m scoring that, I’m doing a soundtrack with him, and I’m also doing the first official D.C. shoes mixtape. I’m working on…I’ve got a few songs on this new Puff album that I just touched up. I didn’t really produce anything, I just did a lot of musicality stuff on it. I’m working on the Rihanna project right now. Just a couple of different projects. I’m really pretty much just focusing on my electronic company, go to beatkangz.com, right now we have the hardware ready for you and drum machines for them. I’ll have mine, my black chrome drum machine in a week, but you can get them after January. We have our software in the stores right now, $99.99. So I’m doing a little bit of this and that, stepping outside and stepping into the electronic world.
YKIGS: Is there any advice you could offer to up and coming producers or those who have aspirations to make it big?
SJ: But of course. You have to believe in yourself and understand that, as a creator, as someone that’s creative, everything that we create, everybody’s not going to love it, that’s just how it goes. Everybody’s not gonna like everything that we create. But as an up and coming producer or writer or singer, they have to fall into a lane that’s right now. You fall into a lane, then you are able to do whatever you need to. You have to push, keep pushing, push everyday like it’s your first day and just give 100%. It’s all about the passion. Anybody could throw something together and say “Here, take this.” So take every song and every song you write and produce and look at it like you cooking up a meal for the world. If you wanna just give some fast food, some McDonald’s, and just let it run through their system, then do that. But if you want them to have something that’s going to stick to their ribs, you take your time, be passionate, and give it all you’ve got.