Interview with J. Rhodes
8DIO Artist Spotlight. Answers by Justin Rhodes / Questions by Tawnia Knox. 2016.
J.Rhodes is a Billboard, Stellar & Dove Award winning music producer from Dallas, Texas. Lecrae, The Game, Talib Kweli, Black-Thought of the Roots, Ab-Soul, Slim Thug, Rhymefest, Royce the 5’9 & many more talented artist have been backed by his ideas. The Vintage Rhodes brand is made up of much more than simply music though. He is journeying into the world of Film Production with his work on the indie Film “Carter High”. To round out his stellar resume, he is a public speaker and author. His book “These Beats Ain’t Free” has sold thousands of copies in less than 6 months and is inspiring creators around the world.
So… what’s your story? How’d you get into Music
I was the youngest of four kids so a lot of my initial musical experiences were passed down from them. This kept me in the know with music of the late 80’s and early 90’s. I also remember on long road trips to Texas from Louisiana my father and uncle would play classic Soul Artist like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, the O-Jays etc. This gave me perspective on the sounds that came before me. Of course I grew up in the era where hip-hop rocketed into the main stream so it’s embedded in my DNA. What really inspired me though were movie scores. The cinematic feel and the ability to control your emotions without saying a word made me enamored with the art form. I started out as an artist, and once my producer left the college we both attended I was an artist without beats. So, I took all of my musical influences and started my experimental journey into the world of production. I’ve now been on this “journey” for the better part of a decade. lol.
We know that you’ve been using 8Dio sounds for some time & they are the center piece of your production arsenal. Can you tell us what initially attracted you?
Around 2011 or 2012 I was an up and coming producer building my catalog. I was getting a lot of looks and attention from blogs like Allhiphop.com as one of the “Producers on the Rise”. With that attention came pressure to expand my sound and deliver. I was really looking for an edge in my production. Something that separated me from my counterparts. One day a mentor of mine directed me to the 8dio site and my mind was BLOWN! All of the sounds were so Epic and Film like. It’s almost like I instantly started taking Musical steroids! Luckily for me this brand of steroids was completely legal and came without controversy. lol.
Lol. Okay, so what was the first 8Dio instrument you purchased?
The first instrument that I purchased was Forgotten Voices Terrie. I was looking for vocals and instruments that “sounded” like samples, but that didn’t need to be cleared. A lot of hip-hop and rap production is based in the art of sampling but it has become TOO difficult to do at times because of clearance issues. Often with major artist, if they hear something that sounds like a sample but it isn’t, it instantly makes the production more attractive. Lets just say the $99 dollars I spent on Terrie changed my LIFE. This one vocal library inspired the ideas for:
Blood Diamonds by -The Game”(part of a Hip-Hop & Rap Billboard #1 album), Blood Diamonds - The Game
“Baby Moma’s & Broken Hearts -This’l” (Billboard Charting album), and Baby Momma's and Broken Hearts
Welcome to America by Lecrae (part of Billboard #1 album Anomaly which has gone on to win a Billboard, Stellar & Dove award!). Welcome to America - Lecrae (official video).
The realism and depth in the vocal library connected and inspired thought provoking work from each artist.
How did you got into working with The Game, and did that open up for any new gates?
The Game came through my relationship with my big bro S1. The funny thing is... the song we did almost didn't make the album. The story goes, the A&R leaves the room & Game goes on his computer to listen to some tracks. Completely random! One of the tracks that he hears is "Blood Diamonds", which was a beat named "Warrior's Way". Game hears it... cuts it RIGHT THEN and loves it so much that it was a last minute addition to the album. That's why it's always great to start a track with the right "energy" because even if you're not in the room, that energy will speak to the artist for you. That Blood Diamond's placement opened up a lot of gates for me. We would have had a Billboard #1 album if it wasn't for that damn Bruno Mars! lol
What would you say your signature sound is?
This is always a difficult question to answer. I never really strive to have a particular “sound”. I don’t want someone to listen to my productions and say, hey that sounds like Rhodes. What I do strive for is a signature “feel”. In all my music I want a story to be told. Once an artist hears it, it instantly takes them to a place. In that place is where they find their inspiration to paint their picture. I’m proud that ALL of my major placements have inspired the artists to talk about something Deeper or tell a personal story.
What’s your creative process?
It usually all starts with a “Sound” for me. A lot of producers in my genre start with the drums… but I rarely do that. I usually have to find a certain sound, vocal, chant, or chord progression that provides my “theme” and feeling. From that point I start building around it. That way no matter what you take away or add, the core that holds together the entire composition is that initial feeling. Staying true to that initial “special” feeling that you get is a “major key”
Can you play a musical instrument?
I played saxophone from 4th to 7th grade. I still could grab it and play a g major scale if need be… but that’s about it. I can play the keys good enough to bang out any idea in my studio. Production is a cool thing because it really is more about the ideas than it is about being classically trained on any instrument. In some cases the most talented musicians aren’t great producers because they can’t fathom going outside of musical theory and rules to create. The best producers usually combine creativity with solid musical expertise and theory.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
Outkast (my favorite group of all time), Just Blaze, Dr.Dre, Michael Jackson, Timbaland, Pharrell, and Kanye just to name just a few. Oh yes… and of course the great Quincy Jones!!!!!!
What separates 8Dio from other VST companies
Depth, Realism, creativity and ATTENTION TO DETAIL. At this level of the game the separation between you and another producer is microscopic. Everyone is talented. A big separation point is the sounds that you are using that spark your ideas. 8dio doesn’t short you on inspiration. They inspire you with the sound design, with the VST cover art, all the way down to the GUI that you interact with when using the instruments. You are invited into a creative world that subconsciously enhances your level of creativity.
Do you see any tendencies in the urban RnB/Hiphop market to use orchestral libraries, and mix it up?
I think a lot of the RnB and Hiphop production of today is gearing towards being "minimalistic". For some it may be hard to find the proper place and frequency to mix highly detailed sounds in with a genre so dominated by the low end frequencies. The trick is to find that balance. What I love about 8dio libraries is that even though they are deep sampled ... they sit in the mix so well you don't have to do a lot of back end tweaking for them to stand out.
Do you have any more work coming where you’ve used 8Dio products?
Of course I do! I won’t reveal what artist that it is publicly just yet… But I used Cage Brass heavily on a record with one of everyone’s favorite hip-hop artist. :-) … Stay tuned!
What inspired the 8Dio and Vintage Rhodes partnership?
Our creative energies matched. I am big on vibes, energy and authenticity. Not just Musically, but as a way of life. 8dio as a company really stands for all of these things. They were aware that I was purchasing these products and using them for years. This relationship was forged over half a decade. I’d always let them know how great they were doing and how the VST’s were enhancing my music and career. Now we are working together and I am excited for all of the things to come.
Congratulations! On becoming an author. Tell us a few things about your critically acclaimed book “These Beats Ain’t Free”?
Thank you. This book has really been a blessing to myself and to others. I wrote the book to give up and coming music creators “Information” and “Inspiration” on how to make their “Passion” their “Paycheck”. It also is heavily anchored in the fact that creators should be compensated just like people in any other profession. The response has been nothing short of amazing. Every seminar we sell out of books and merchandise. MOST importantly we see the inspiration in the eyes of all of the up and coming creators that we inspire. To date the book has been sold all over the world including Alaska, Canada, Portugal and Afghanistan.
8dio’s involvement in the tour is also very symbolic. They wrote a blog highlighting some of the exact points I did on how to guard against the “give it to me for free” mentality of this industry. Our thoughts and ideas were eerily similar. Now anyone that attends an event on the Book Tour will receive discount vouchers for 8dio products. This is even more reason for you to be in attendance!
What motivates you to act, both in the studio, both also as a public speaker when you are on tour with your new book?
My motivation in the studio always starts with a feeling of inspiration. I HAVE to be inspired before I create. Sometimes when I'm not feeling the inspiration I watch inspirational sports highlights, shows or movies. That way all of my music has a real energy and "feel" embedded in it. On my book tour, my main motivation is adding fuel to the dreams of everyone in attendance. You never know where someone is at. Someone may be on "E" as it relates to their dream and the inspiration you share may give them that extra boost to keep going. Some people may have needed that little boost to take them over the top. Just to know that my words positively effect a room full of people always motivates me to be my best at a seminar the same way I want to be my best in the studio.
Where do you see the Vintage Rhodes brand going in the future?
I really see it going to the next level. I’ve been in the game a while and I’ve been blessed to accomplish some cool things, but lately I’ve been feeling in the zone musically and creatively. We have this year mapped out pretty well and it consists of a lot of major placements, cool business ventures and implementation of outside the box ideas.
Could you tell us a little more about your "Anomaly project" from 2015, what is the story behind?
The Lecrae Anomaly project was the gift that kept on giving! When it came out it was a Billboard #1 album. That was huge for me. Lecrae won a Grammy for the LP he dropped before Anomaly so EVERYONE was telling me that a nomination was all but in the bag. Well, nomination day comes... and the album doesn't get nominated! It was a shock to everyone. I still to this day have no idea what happened. It was disappointing but we moved on. Lecrae ended up performing our song Welcome to America on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and it was amazing. He went on to shoot a phenomenal visual with Director Isaac Deitz for Welcome to America as well. The album also won a Billboard Award, a Stellar Award & a Dove Award! There was so much extended life in the song and the album. Even though we didn't win the Grammy, I can't be upset. I was so blessed to be a part of Anomaly. Hopefully I can get on his next project!
What would you tell any upcoming artist, composer or musician?
Invest in yourself! All of the money I’ve poured into my craft… I’ve made that money back 10 fold. There’s this funny little energy you create that helps separate you from your counterparts when you show your belief in yourself through your dollars. Things start really falling into place
Where can you be reached?
You can go to my website vintagerhodes.com to keep up with my musical endeavors, purchase the book and check my event calendar for tour dates. My social media outlets are as follows
⁃ Twitter - @J_Rhodes
⁃ Instagram @J_Rhodes
⁃ Periscope @J_Rhodes
⁃ Snap Chat VintageRhodes
⁃ Facebook Justin Rhodes
⁃ Facebook fan page - J.Rhodes