We recently caught up with producer J-Dub for an interview on Instagram Live. During our conversation, we discussed joining Puff Daddy’s Hitmen production team, his first placement, creating hits with 112, Kelly Price, Faith Evans, and Total, memories of working with Aaliyah and Static Major, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about how you originally became a part of Puff Daddy’s Hitmen team of producers.
J-Dub: It’s kind of a funny story. Back then we did demos. For a group to get signed, you had to have a great demo. I was with a company called Noontime, and they had this group called Absolute. I did the demo and we had our own unique sound and we shopped it to Def Jam, Sony, and Puff heard it. He asked who did the music. He flew down to Atlanta, and I played him all my DATs of my beats, I just blew him away. Monday I was in New York, and Wednesday I had paperwork to be in the Hitmen, it went quick.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What was it like becoming a part of the Hitmen? They already were having a lot of success.
J-Dub: I had just signed and it’s the world famous Midi room. It’s where the Hitmen came up with a lot of hits. We would all hang out in the Midi Room. Stevie J had this crazy setup, with guitars and keyboards, and I knew it was where I was supposed to be. The rest is history.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How quickly did you go from signing with Puffy to getting your first placement? I remember you having an SWV single early on.
J-Dub: Yea, the SWV record was my first single and my first hit, it went Gold. “Someone” featuring Puff Daddy. Right after I signed, that weekend we were in the studio, and Puff told me we had SWV’s next single and needed the heat. He brought me that “I Got 5 on It” sample and told me to go crazy. I looped it up in the MPC, it was one of those loops that you know once you loop it up, I hit play and it hit. After that, Kelly Price actually wrote the song and demoed the song. I think it was in a movie or something, so it was a whirlwind. The turnaround time for that was 2 or 3 weeks, mix, cut, single, shooting video, it was quick. I’ve always lived in Atlanta, but I’d have to go back and forth to New York to do records back then. Literally I’d work on a record on a Thursday and when I was done I’d come back to the crib. I’d be in the mall back home on a Saturday and that record I worked on that Thursday would be on the radio! It was a machine. That’s why we were so successful, we kept constantly putting stuff out, we didn’t care.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about working with Diddy early on. What was the experience like?
J-Dub: With Puff it’s his ear and how he hears a song. He can hear a string line, that only a few producers can get and translate it. I’m one of those few producers. He knows how to put a record together and that’s what the definition of a producer is. I learned a lot from him, watching him put a record together. Just working with him and being around him, you can learn a lot.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about producing the Kelly Price record “Friend of Mine”.
J-Dub: We actually did that track in L.A.. Biggie was still alive. I forget which studio we were in. I had just got signed to Bad Boy. All I remember is Biggie walking into the studio with his whole crew. So I knew I had to make some heat. Our session was right next door to his, so we were vibing. We made that track out in L.A., and then we were doing so many records with Kelly, so we’d give her beats, and she’d write to them. Then she came out and said it would be her first single. It was unexpected. It was a big hit for her. Her songwriting is amazing. All of that Bad Boy stuff when we were running radio, she wrote all of that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Fast forward to 1998. You produced on 112’s “Room 112” album, Faith Evans’ “Keep the Faith” album, and Total’s “Kima, Keisha & Pam” album. Those albums came out one week after another! And you were on each of those albums, take us back to that.
J-Dub: It was a factory. I was blessed to get signed when all of those acts had albums slated for release. I was a sure deal to work on all of those acts since I just got signed. Back then I was a music making machine. I had DATs and DATS full of work, 24/7, that’s all we did. It wasn’t really too much partying and all of that, like people might think, we were in there banging out. That’s why we were so consistent. It was a busy time. I would have a session at Daddy’s House with Total in the morning, and then that evening, would be at Sony with 112 for that album. Later that night I would go do vocal dubs for Puffy for his “No Way Out” album. That album was so crazy. The energy level, we had a lot of fun. 8 million records later.
YouKnowIGotSoul: With those 112, Faith Evans and Total albums, your production on each of those sounds totally different. How did you differentiate what sound to give to each?
J-Dub: I was a fan of 112 and Faith and Total when I got signed. So I kinda already knew their sound. When I was doing beats, I would know what to take for each.
YouKnowIGotSoul: The work you did with Faith Evans on her album was amazing. What type of zone were you in?
J-Dub: That was actually a dream come true to work with her. The first time I heard her, I was interning back in Detroit, going to the studio. I heard “I Remember”. I knew I had to work with her someday and I didn’t even know who she was yet. I think why I’m all over that album is that I studied her sound and I studied Chucky Thompson’s sound. When she heard my stuff, it was a hybrid of Chucky’s sound with my own.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You also had the Puff Daddy single “Satisfy You”. That was a big song too.
J-Dub: I did that in the Bahamas. It was one of those trips where Puff Daddy flew us all out to the Bahamas for a couple of weeks to work on his album. It was one of those records, that trip, I couldn’t catch a vibe! We had the ocean, the rum, the workers! I couldn’t catch a vibe. The last night I was there, I finally caught a vibe, and that’s where “Satisfy You” came from. They went crazy when they heard it. That one happened pretty quick too. When I got back, it was done and mixed, and R. Kelly was on it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: While you were at Bad Boy, you were also still working at Noontime. Other producers and writers were Jazze Pha, Bryan-Michael Cox, Johnta Austin, Teddy Bishop. What was it like working at Noontime?
J-Dub: It was right before the Puff Daddy era, that was the production company I started with. They were like headhunters, they’d get you placements everywhere. I started out and watch it grow as others came. Johnta was at my house all of the time! Even Jack Knight was there. It was Bad Boy before Bad Boy. They were just doing placements everywhere. When they would try to get Absolute placed, that’s when Puff heard me. My situation was kinda crazy because I had a situation with Noontime and I had a situation with Bad Boy. At the end of the day that didn’t work, but that’s a whole nother book! *Laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: Everyone who came out of Noontime managed to make it, even artists like Nivea and Ashanti came out of there. What was so special?
J-Dub: I think it was just we all came together at the right time. It was like the sun and stars and moon, and the energy down in Atlanta, it was great for R&B. If you were trying to pursue R&B, it was a really good energy for that. If you had a team that hit the streets and go after those placements back then, you were going to win. That’s what I came from, a whole group of talent. We all went our own way.
YouKnowIGotSoul: At what point did you move from Bad Boy to Blackground?
J-Dub: After the crazy times with Noontime and Bad Boy and I got out of that, I moved to the West Coast. I signed with Barry Hankerson and Blackgrond, and they had just did a deal with Virgin for Aaliyah. She was shooting her Queen of the Damned movie. The record company wanted the album and movie to come out at the same time. She was shooting the movie in Melbourne, Australia. So Virgin flew all of the producers working on the album out to Australia to work on the album. That’s how we all got to Australia for almost a month to work on that album. It was just a great time.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your production on that album is crazy, “I Refuse” and “Steady Ground”.
J-Dub: Those records are so big to because I did those records all over the world. I started some of them in New York, I started some in L.A. and then finished them in Australia. All of that is a combination of me being in different places and hearing different things and it came together. All of the producers on that album, our game was totally elevated.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about creating “Steady Ground” with Static Major for Aaliyah.
J-Dub: Static wrote that at the studio called The Music Grinder in Hollywood. We had that studio as our studio for that time. I was in the A room and I had did the beat, I knew it was special. As soon as I did the beat, Static came in the room, and he had this thing he did. If he hears something, he’d start doing it, and just start writing. 5 minutes later he was in the booth cutting the hook. Aaliyah cut it and it was incredible. The label loved it, and my engineer lost the vocals! The vocals that we wanted to use, we didn’t have them, so they went another way.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell us about your memories of Aaliyah and Static in the studio.
J-Dub: Static was a cool cat. He was real smooth and laid back. Once he got to know you and opened up, he was a jokester. He was a brilliant songwriter. To watch him write and his approach and how he did it, it was witnessing a genius. He would write the songs and then he’d go in the booth and it was crazy. I learned a lot, just to be around that it makes you elevate your game.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Aaliyah recorded fast in those studio sessions right?
J-Dub: She’d go in the booth and it was done! We were laughing and joking about how it would sound on the radio, we’d do records like that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You produced Tank’s “Slowly” as well. Talk about that one.
J-Dub: I started that record in New York at Chung King Studios. They had a drum set, a piano and an organ set up in the live room. I thought about just playing all live instruments on a track to see how it came out. That’s how the “Slowly” beat came up. I’d play a drum track and then play a piano and then play the bass and keep building. I knew it was perfect for Tank. Me and Tank listened to it for a few weeks before he finally knew he had something. He went in there and cut that all live, all straight down with no auto tune. All those vocals are him. He’s a vocal savage.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How about the Tank record “Freaky”? That doesn’t even sound like a Tank song!
J-Dub: *Laughs* That was one of those records where you tried something and it didn’t work! *Laughs* It was a lot of fun tough, making the video. I think the record label didn’t know what to do with that record. Blackground had a different vision than Virgin for that record. It just didn’t do what it thought it would do. It was fun and different. I was on some Lenny Kravitz type stuff on that track!
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your work on the Romeo Must Die soundtrack. You did the Joe song “Rose in a Concrete World” remix.
J-Dub: Wow. I had a ball doing that record. Back then I had the reel. I could chop up the record how I wanted to. It was fun. When it came out, everybody loved it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How disappointing is it that all of the great work you did on Blackground isn’t available for streaming?
J-Dub: I know why Aaliyah’s music isn’t be played and it’s wack. A lot of my friends who are producers on Aaliyah’s album deserve to have their music heard. That’s a disservice to her legacy to have her music not heard. Her fans love the Aaliyah album. They hit me up everyday about it. They did not put out her music. I think in time he catalog will come out. It’s just unfortunate right now that none of the stuff is out. None of the Tank stuff either. Romeo Must Die isn’t out either. C’mon man. That’s the shady part of the music business you always hear about. It is what it is. Everybody loves Aaliyah, she’s one of those timeless artists.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What have you been working on lately?
J-Dub: After the Blackground stuff with Aaliyah and Tank, I took a break. When I came back into the game from 2005 to 2008, instead of making records, I got a call to score the sitcoms for Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. When I came back, I was in the TV side of it. I was scoring both of Tyler Perry’s sitcoms and his plays, and then I got into film scoring. I scored a few movies, a faith based film called “God’s Country”. Then after that I started developing young upcoming talent and producers. I’ve really been doing the music and TV and movie stuff