Interview with ROCKWILDER, producer Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Christina Aguilera - Oct 24, 2002
“I do what I do because A&Rs don’t know what’s going to be hot next year.”
New Yorker Dana Stinson, a.k.a. Rockwilder, rose to the top ranks as an urban producer with the 1999 track “Da Rockwilder”, performed by Method Man and Redman. He further established himself with the 2001 Missy Elliott co-produced cover of “Lady Marmalade”, performed by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink. Additional credits include Jay-Z, Xzibit, Mary J. Blige, Tweet, Busta Rhymes, NAS, Fat Joe and Janet Jackson, to mention but a few.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a songwriter and producer?
Back in 1992, I was a local DJ. I made tapes, mixing club, reggae and hip-hop. A New York rapper called K Solo used to talk to a girl I knew, and one fourth of July he brought Redman with him and we hollered for a minute. Redman took my tape, just as he was going on the Hit Squad tour, and said, “When I come back, I’m going to put you on.” I didn’t believe it, but he kept his word and I did some tracks with him. So it was Redman who introduced me to the business.
What important events have led you forward?
The whole Redman situation, getting on Janet Jackson’s album, the Lady Marmalade thing, and the Christina Aguilera track “Dirrty”, which is on her new album.
You were a producer for many years before you got your big break with “Da Rockwilder”.
Yes, I was working with low budget equipment. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I just worked with whatever I could afford. “Da Rockwilder” was my big break and I love Method Man for putting me on the plug like that and, on top of that, for naming the song after me!
Were those years necessary for you to build your style?
I think everybody has got to take time to find his or her style, but, at a certain point, I realised I had to make a song that was going to break the airwaves. There’s a way to make beats, but you have to make songs and they are hardest to make. My style comes from lots of records; you’ll hear a great deal of inspiration on my records from Kraftwerk, for instance.
Was the market not ready for your style before?
I think that’s what it was. Earlier on, it was a lot to do with sampling records and I didn’t really have that many records. But I knew how to play the keyboard, I knew how to play by ear, and then the game just opened up.
With hindsight, what do you think you are the key lessons you’ve learnt and where do you consider you’ve improved?
Like I said, there’s a difference between making a hot beat and a song. I have also learnt the business a little better and I think I’ve improved my musical ear. I’ve learnt a lot about the horns and the strings. I’m studying a whole bunch of orchestras right now.
I think my strength is my faith in God. I’m constantly praying and I’m thankful for where I’ve come.
Do you have your own studio?
I do all of my work in a New York studio called Mirror Image.
How do things work in the studio?
The artist and I sit down and he or she tells me what they want to do and what type of thing they’re looking for. Then I just go in there and make it. I feel better when it’s that way because the artist is involved in the recording of the song, which makes some artists feel more comfortable.
What kind of equipment did you start out with?
A Casio SK-1, a really cheap thing (8-bit sampler, no midi, no memory – Ed.), and then I went on to use Akai's MPCs (sequencer-samplers – Ed.) and from there it was everything after that.
What do you think about producers' situation in the music business?
The hip-hop game is really cluttered with producers and it’s just a competition. Everyone’s hot and they’re trying to be the best. But there’s a lot of imitation, which I don’t like.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I’m finishing Redman’s album and I’ve submitted some stuff to Janet Jackson and to Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny’s Child.
What makes you take on a production?
It depends on my vibe with the artist. I have to vibe really well with the artist I am going to work with; I don’t really throw a beat for somebody I’m not feeling.
What are the most important things that new artists should consider?
There’s lots of talent out there and that talent has to be respected, just like the talent that’s already out. As far as being a rapper, you have to understand that you have to break the mould and be a new type of MC. There’s only one Redman, only one Method man, etc. You have to recognise that you have to change the game when you come out as a rapper.
As for r&b artists, it’s the same thing but not as bad. Hip-hop is a little stricter. Hip-hop is not going to let just anybody get up there and rap. With r&b you get a chance to come out, get some feedback and then improve your style. Lots of people in hip-hop come out but they don’t prove a thing and most people don’t want to hear them again.
How much input do A&Rs and managers generally have on the productions?
Well, I would say they’re responsible for the business end of it. Many A&Rs do a great job, but then there are others who try to get credit for everything that’s done, and I don’t like that type of A&R.
I try to remain independent from A&Rs because I just don’t feel them. Often they don’t know what they’re talking about; so I don’t even want to hear. I do what I do because A&Rs don’t know what’s going to be hot next year. They’re just representing the people who are actually doing the work.
How much do you charge for a production?
It varies. I work within the budget an artist has. Some people say I’m overpriced but I don’t understand that!
F5 is your production company, but do you sign artists too?
I’m about to sign a few artists to a label I’m starting called Music Park. We’re in the process of talking to a few people right now; we don’t know if we want to go independent or major.
Do you have other producers who work with you in F5?
Yes, there's DJ Twin, my boys Flex 456 and XL, who is really hot, as well as other producers that we're about to sign. We just started the whole label thing; I had to find the talent first and then after that find the producers, so we’re getting everything ready now. Hopefully we’re going to be blasting off in spring 2003.
Do you accept unsolicited material from unsigned artists?
Yes. If I were to receive a good demo, I’d try to work it into the mix of what I already have. But my roster is getting full, so if you want to send in your demo you'd better do it right away!
Do you think contacting and sending demos to producers is a good tool for aspiring artists and songwriters?
Yes, if you send it to producers who are trying to start their own thing, but not to producers who have lots going on, because they can’t use it.
Who do you think is the best artist you've worked with?
It has got to be Redman. It’s a different feeling when we’re working together because we’ve done so for so many years. And he gave me a chance to prove myself.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career so far?
When we won the Grammy for “Lady Marmalade” and were at No.1 in the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart (based on airplay alone – Ed.) for 5 weeks.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
I've got two little nephews and a little man, so hopefully I’ll be managing them! I’ll just put my feet up and let them do all the tracks.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would change the hatred and the competition. Everybody’s music should be respected, no matter what it is.
Interviewed by Jean-François Méan
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