If you were alive in 2003, then there is a very, very good chance that you’ve heard the Heatmakerz’ trademark sped-up soul samples coupled with frenetic drums that threatened to blast through your speakers on the Diplomats’ debut album Diplomatic Immunity. Rsonist and partner Thrilla’s meteoric rise to fame after producing club-ready, street-inspired anthems “I’m Ready” and “Dipset Anthem” was both a gift and a curse. The Heatmakerz quickly became a household name amongst diehard fans looking to get an adrenaline boost.
The quick rise to fame also led to more work than the duo was prepared for. As the Diplomats established themselves as a more swagger-friendly NYC group than G-Unit and D-Block, more and more artists were calling the Heatmakerz for their next anthem. For a duo that had struggled for years knowing they had quality beats but no industry connections, these requests for work should have been a welcome call, and for awhile they were. Crafting hits for talented artists like AZ and M.O.P should have been cause for celebration, but for Rsonist, he found himself growing more and more distant.
Despite the high demand for his unique production style that was often imitated but never duplicated, Rsonist fell back from production. Letting opportunities to produce for other acts pass him by, he focused instead on The Heatmakerz’ compilation album The Rush, which was released to positive reviews and slow sales in 2007. The Rush featured the Heatmakerz doing what they do best while shining the light on a little known but immensely talented MC by the name of Dox.
Around the time of The Rush being released, Rsonist announced that he would be not only be working more on Dox’s project, he would also be stepping up to the mic, joining a growing legion of producers-turned-rappers. After releasing a few songs, Rsonist then fell back from rapping. Not only were the Heatmakerz now absent from the production credits of major albums, now they were absent from the scene altogether, as small tracks produced by Rsonist would sporadically appear in the next few years. Rsonist would also form a small crew known as the Crash Project, which featured Dox, Karty and Ameer. After releasing a mixtape, the crew mysteriously dissolved.
Today, Rsonist is back where he started, only this time he’s armed with knowledge of the ins and outs of the game along with a resume that most producers would trade their drum kit for. HipHopGame caught up with the talented producer to talk about where he’s been, how he’s helping new artists and his new outlook on music.
You’ve been doing a lot of work in-house, like with the Crash Project, over the past few years. How’s that been going?
Everything’s been good. But I’m no longer doing the Crash Project. I kind of deaded that whole situation. I’m still working with Dox and plus I’m working on my own solo situation that I might have a deal for in another two or three weeks. But the Crash Project is a done deal.
What happened with the Crash Project?
What happened was anytime you got more than one ego involved in something, especially when it’s not your ego, it’s hard to control. You have people that were expecting me to do certain things and they didn’t understand the makeup of the business. Sometimes the CEO or the head of the company has to step away to make money and keep the company afloat. They kind of took it a certain way. My thing is, when you put somebody in a situation to make money and they don’t appreciate it, I can’t really help people like that. It’s not in my nature to help people like that. I had to step away before it got really out of hand. Dox was the one person who understood what was going on and we worked together before the Crash Project so it was a no-brainer for me to keep fucking with Dox.
You’ve put a lot of work in with Dox. How has he grown as an artist over the years?
I think with Dox, when I first met him, lyrically he was always a problem but over the years, what it is is that Dox understands the music industry a little better now where he knows he can’t just get on a record and spit 100 bars and expect the DJ to play it. Dox understands that to fit into the bigger picture, he has to make the right records. When it comes to rap, he can out-rap I think pretty much 90% of the people in the game in my opinion, but when it comes time to make records, he’s learning how to put a record together that can compete with the records out on the radio now but still keep the essence of Dox.
What’s your timeline for Dox and his projects?
I think with an artist like Dox, you kind of have to do it the grassroots way, meaning that you can’t just expect to make one hot record and have it take off and then Dox is out of here. It can happen and it’s possible but I don’t think it’s probable at this moment. With an artist like Dox, you have to break him in the grassroots way on the internet and doing shows. You have to let people know what type of artist he is before he puts out a single. Certain people might not understand what kind of artist Dox is if they haven’t heard his freestyles online. You have to understand what kind of artist he is before you can appreciate a full-length project.
Do you feel like you have to tailor your production to Dox or does he adapt to anything?
Right now, with the stage we’re at, I think anything will work. When we put the full-length LP together with Dox, we have to be really choosy with what we do because there’s no room for error for the official release. If something’s dropping on the internet, it can be a hit or miss. Certain people online now, they love everything Dox does and you can’t do anything wrong with them. But I’m talking about the consumer who doesn’t know Dox and for those people, we have to make sure that we over-think the process so that they’re not disappointed because the true fans are going to love him regardless.
How much time have you spent making your own music?
Right now what I’m doing is I’m gearing up. I’ve been doing a lot of writing and a lot of recording. I’ve been trying to get placements again but as far as getting behind the mic, I’m really going harder now because I’m looking at a lot of the nonsense going on in the industry. I look at the websites like HipHopGame and not to sound anyway, but there’s few people that really impress me. I look at it from the angle that if you’ve been rapping your whole life and they still sound subpar. I’m not saying I’m the best rapper out there but I don’t feel the content in the game and that’s what the game is missing – somebody that can actually bring their message about and still make popular music. I think that’s what I bring to the table and I got a team behind me that does everything. Everybody knows that as far as beats go, that’s a no-brainer and we got that. I got an artist that can out-spit 90% of the rappers in the game today. I just actually got onboard with a new producer so now we’re going to take the R&B side of the game over. We got everything the game needs right now. It’s just a matter of getting both feet in the door so that people can understand what the movement is about. Every few years a new team comes in and it’s time for the Heatmakerz to make noise again.
I fell out of touch in ’05 because I wasn’t feeling the music game. It’s time to make something happen.
Do you regret falling back for five years?
Yeah. You know what it was? I wouldn’t say I regret it because it was a learning experience. It’s kind of one of those things where you have to step back and see what’s going on. Someone from the sidelines can see a fight clearer than the fighter himself. I was in the middle of the music game and I couldn’t really see what was going on and after a minute I stepped back and saw that I was making money and records but I wasn’t progressing as an individual and as a producer. I was making money but I wasn’t setting up a future for myself, where if I couldn’t make a beat the next day would I still be able to make money? You don’t think about those things when you’re making money. You just work. I shouldn’t have taken five years and throughout those five years I was still working and making money, I just wasn’t in the music game like I should be. I had to see where the music game was headed and where I fit in in the grand scheme. I don’t really regret it because I understand the music game a lot better now.
You produced some Dipset classics. How come your work with the Diplomats stopped?
I can’t give you a definite answer. I can only give you my opinion on it. When we made certain music for Dipset, it became their sound and you would hear a certain beat and it would sound like them. A lot of up-and-coming producers realized this is what Dipset rhymed to and when they brought it to them, they were charging next to nothing for them. I don’t knock anyone’s hustle for what they do, but I think that’s what happened. I would say that’s what happened but a lot of people think I’m mad about it and I don’t have any malice towards anybody for whatever. I just honestly feel like only we can do what we do. Other people try to do it, but it will never sound the same. It’s just like Timbaland. He does what he does and I can’t do what he does. It’s just like with Heatmakerz. I don’t care what you try and how many years you’ve studied us. You just can’t do it. And from an artist’s perspective, if you got $300,000 in your pocket and new dudes are charging $1,000 a beat, of course you’re going to jump on it because you’re saving a ton of money. That’s what I feel happened.
How do you feel about your Dipset music today?
I feel like we created something that we didn’t even know we created at the time. We was in the middle of the music industry and we was caught in the mix. Sometimes you hear your music and you’re so concerned with making the next hit that you don’t study your last hit. Looking back, I realized that we made something special. Regardless of what people say, Diplomatic Immunity Volume 1 was a classic album and that’s something that a lot of producers can’t say – that they produeced a classic album by themselves. You could name all the top producers today and nine out of 10 of them have a classic album under their belt, like Dre has The Chronic and the Neptunes have the Clipse and Timbaland has Ginuwine and Missy. A lot of these new producers that come in the game and think they have one up on us, they really don’t because to me, in order to fit into that category, you would have had to produce an album that can stand the test of time and I think Diplomatic Immunity can withstand the test of time. It’s a sonically solid album.
Did the comparisons to Just Blaze ever bother you?
Nah, because it’s not like they’re comparing me to somebody who’s not a dope producer. Just is dope. But people, before they speak, they gotta know their history. All those beats you heard on Diplomatic Immunity, all of them was made damn-near two years prior to us meeting up with Dipset. If you was around, nobody heard of Just Blaze until The Blueprint. It came out 9/11/2001 and Diplomatic Immunity came out in 2002. When Just Blaze made the beats for The Blueprint, my beats were already made. I just couldn’t sell them because I didn’t have the contacts. Magazines and whatever it , they have the right to say whatever they’re going to say but they don’t know me or Just Blaze and they’re speaking out of context. I’ve heard worse. Just Blaze is a dope producer so I’m not mad.
How has your production style changed since Diplomatic Immunity Volume 1?
I would just say that I put more time into the beats and try to make them more musical than before. Back then the beat just had to hit hard and have a dope melody and have the drums knocking. That was really my thing. I didn’t put a lot of time into adding extra strings and choruses to them. Now I’m trying to make music. Before I made beats. Now I make music. There’s a difference. The double-edged sword about it is that people still expect that Diplomat sound to be there and I don’t know if they’re disappointed because they don’t hear that but our new music is more musical and it’s better. And people will understand that in the months to come. Guaranteed.
You’re also involved in WeBuildHits.com. What are you doing with the site?
I was approached to be a part of the site and it was a way to try to get people that didn’t have a shot at being heard and give them a shot at being heard. Anytime somebody does that I’m all for it because that’s definitely a problem in the music industry nowadays. Certain cliques try to monopolize everything in the music industry and any way we can avoid the industry doing that, I’m with it. And if there’s also a way for me to make money, okay, let’s do it. Whatever they need from me, I’m with it. I’m all for it.
You’ll be building beats around other artists’ accapellas. Has that ever been a challenge for you?
No. When you have a style or a sound of your own, it’s never really a challenge because I’m not going to try to do anything that I can’t do. I’m going to make music that will enhance the accapella and as long as I do that then I’m not losing. If Timbaland makes a track for the accapella and I do too, it’s not going to matter because they’ll be different. If you’re a Heatmakerz fan you’ll love my work and if you love Timbaland’s work you’ll love his work. There’s people like me, D/R Period and Buckwild involved in the site. At the end of the day you’re not going to hear the same thing from any of us.
Are you looking for new artists on the site?
See, I don’t look at it from the perspective of me trying to find artists. I look at it like I’m trying to work with artists and you never know who you’re going to run into. I might work with the next Jay-Z and this outlet gives them an outlet that they might never have. We provide that outlet. If we work with over 10,000 artists over the next two years, one of those artists is going to be the next dude. Guaranteed.
I’m honestly not looking for a new artist for myself because it’s more than finding an artist that can rap or sing. I have to personally be able to be cool with you. Before music, we have to have some sort of bond on a personal level as far as I have to be able to hang out with you and chill with you and know that you’re a decent person. To me, music is only 1/10 of the situation and the other 9/10 of the situation is what kind of person you are and that’s not easy to find. That’s why the Crash Project tumbled because people weren’t who I thought they were. I’m trying to put people in a better position and right now, I’m not looking for a new artist but if somebody does come along, I’m not opposed to making something happen.
What’s your beatmaking process like today?
Me, really, first off nowadays is different from eight or nine years ago when I started making beats. I just started making beats because I was hungry and wanted to get into the game but when I got into the game, I needed more motivation to work because you get kind of tainted by the music industry and you start to figure out all of the bullshit. First off, I have to be motivated to even make a track. Something has to motivate me to want to make something better than that or I’ll hear something on the radio and want to make something better than that.
Once I get motivated I just have to turn on the MPC 4000 and just run through a bunch of samples if I am going to sample. I started playing too. I’ll see if there’s anything that catches my ear and then I’ll just get busy. The process is simple. It’s just a matter of me being motivated to work. Not to sound arrogant or conceited but half of the music I hear on the radio is not good music to me and I can make it in my sleep.
What music do you like today?
I like a lot of the stuff that Drake is doing. I’m a fan of Nipsey Hussle. I like Curren$y. I heard some new stuff from him and since Dame has been fucking with him I like some stuff that he’s been putting out. There’s a handful of artists that I like now but that’s who I like.
I’m a fan of Justice League as far as producers. I think they have some real dope music. It’s hard to say what producers I like. It’s still the ones from back then like Just Blaze and the older Kanye stuff from the Beanie album. I like the older producers but as far as the new producers I’m a fan of Justice League’s music.
Where do you see hip-hop production moving in the next couple of years?
Everything works 360, man. Right now, where we’re at with music, it’s kind of like, I think after this almost electro-house phase that we’re going through now, it will be building right back to sampling and party music, kind of like when Puff first took over with “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and “Juicy.” I think the phase that we’re going through now is just hip-hop trying to experiment and crack the top 10 in Billboard right now. What’s the difference between hip-hop and pop right now? If you look at Kanye’s last album and compare it to Usher and Will.I.Am, it’s the same thing but one is a hip-hop artist and one is an R&B artist. It’s like hip-hop and R&B are fused with each other. I see it splitting again. Drake’s “Over” is a heavy sample record just chopped up but I think that more mainstream samples are going to come back into play in the next two to three years and that will take over again once this phase of techno/house passes.
But I’m in my element now. Good music is good music. I think the radio has us fooled to think that just because they might not play your music that you’re not making the right music but there’s a whole ‘nother society that exists. The internet society exists and loves J. Cole and people like Currency where they can survive and get shows without having songs on the radio. The radio might not gravitate towards what I’m doing because I’m not making radio-friendly records but I’m making songs that artists can still pack out arenas and rock out to. To me, the years that I took off kind of helped me to realize that the radio doesn’t dictate what kind of music is successful. It just dictates what is popular and those are two different things. Being successful is not the same thing as being popular. I would rather be successful because I know plenty of people that are successful that don’t have a dollar in their pocket.
What should we expect from you next?
I’m working and there’s a deal in the works. I don’t want to shout anything out until the ink is dry. Hopefully the deal will be signed and in place by July. We’re trying to figure things out but production-wise, hopefully I’ll end up on the new T.I. album and the new Lupe album and the new Jada album. I’m going hard on all of these albums and you’re going to hear me on something. Once I put my mind on something I’m good to go. I just didn’t feel like working the last few years and I didn’t like the way the music industry was going. Once I figured things out it left a bad feeling with me and now I’m trying to do it the right way and not step out again.