If you ever watch a road race, it’s usually the inexperienced runners who take off like a jackrabbit, putting real distance between themselves and their competition. Of course, no one expects them to be able to maintain their breakneck pace and predict they’ll be overtaken by the vets before the first mile. Usually that happens. Usually.
When J-Ronin first decided to make a go at this hip-hop thing, he was serious. Seriously annoying, if you listen to some rappers tell it. But what some saw as obnoxious others saw as hunger and quickly aligned themselves with the Flatbush DJ. Whether it was DJing, hosting mixtapes, managing artists or promoting, J-Ronin was doing it all and gaining a steady following. Now the creator of All Elements is managing a slew of talented artists, DJing big gigs and dropping quality mixtapes.
J-Ronin’s not looking back. Oh, and he’s still going strong.
You do a lot with your company All Elements, from mixtapes to management to radio and video. It would almost be easier to talk about what you don’t do.
Yeah. I mean, it’s hectic, man. There’s only 24 hours in a day and it’s hard to get everything in, between recording sessions and promotions and marketing and doing radio shows and going to events. You know, just setting stuff up. It’s hard, man. I wish I had some good interns. It’s hard to find, though! (laughs)
One thing I don’t do is suck dick! I don’t kiss ass. I’m always very critical. I’ll break it down and I’m all about constructive criticism, whether we’re in the studio working on a record or whether I’m breaking an artist down asking them why they’re not where they should be at, like breaking down their hustle and their grind. I’ll tell them they need to be out there networking more or grinding more or doing more interviews or meet and greets. Being an artist in the music industry, it’s kind of like being a politician. You gotta be willing to shake the hands and kiss the babies and some artists aren’t willing to do that. But I never was one to swing from another man’s nuts and follow another movement around. I always wanted to have my own movement and I’m cool with a lot of different movements in hip-hop, but I never wanted to be anyone’s underlings. I always wanted to do my own thing. You would be surprised what people have done in this industry to get in, literally sucking dick and getting fucked in the ass, especially at the bigger labels. I’m not going to say any names though! But shit is crazy! I’m not homophobic at all, but I think certain people in power, they like to break another man down and take his manhood and set them up so if they do anything wrong, they can blackmail them and destroy their careers.
I take it you’ve heard some crazy stories.
You’re not gonna share any?
Nah, nah, nah. I ain’t finna get killed, man! (laughs) You’d be surprised though. The most soft-looking execs in this industry are sometimes the most gangster on the low.
No doubt. You really built yourself from the ground up. Why do you think you’ve had the success that you’ve had so far?
I would say I’ve been unrelenting. Nobody really wanted to put me on in the game and I just kind of kicked in the door myself. I wasn’t going anywhere and maybe you might find me annoying, but you know what, I ain’t going nowhere! You’re going to have to deal with me homie!
Wasn’t it Killah Priest who called you annoying?
Maybe. (laughs) That’s my dude. No. It was Shabaam Sahdeeq who said I was annoying. Shabaam Sahdeeq, on HipHopGame, said I was annoying.
From someone who’s been called that plenty of times myself, sometimes it’s the only way you get somewhere.
Right. You got a lot of artists who don’t have their shit together and you gotta stay on top of them. A lot of times, managing an artist and promoting an artist, you gotta be like a babysitter and stay on top of them. Nobody likes an authority figure and nobody likes someone who has to remind them to finish their work or we have to check into the hotel and get to the next city or not to have sex with a chick we’re getting money with. People don’t necessarily like the voice of reason.
And I’ve never been a quiet dude! (laughs) You know, I definitely say what I gotta say and speak my mind. That’s one thing I’ve always chose to do, is speak my mind and be myself. Being a White dude in hip-hop, I think when I was first getting into the game, a lot of people wanted me to be the quiet White boy in the corner. And that was never me! I’m born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I’m not a gangster but I was definitely a street kid, running around, getting caught up and doing dirt and whatever. I was always myself. And that’s just not me. I’m not going to be the quiet little worker bee in the corner. I’ve always been on my own shit. I’m my own boss. “Ronin” is Japanese for “masterless samurai.” One who has no master. I don’t work for anybody and I’m not bowing down to anybody. That’s just not my style.
When did you feel like people in the industry started taking you seriously?
I was doing stuff part-time when I was in high school. I did a show with dead prez and the A-Alikes in ’98 when I was still in high school. I would say probably in 2005, when I started dropping the mixtapes heavy and I started setting up college shows. When people started making thousands of dollars from working with me, I think that’s when they realized. When I started bringing different artists together who were popping and had them doing songs together and hooked people up with different production…Basically when they realized that I had a lot of different resources compiled. That’s when it all meshed. I created all of these relationships with all these different artists and I brought them together for mixtapes and events and all that. I think that’s when it worked.
The first big mixtape I remember from you was Killah Priest’s Prelude to the Offering. What did that mixtape do for you?
At the time, we were putting some bread into it. We sold a lot online and we sold a lot at shows. Killah Priest was selling that for years. One good thing we were able to do, which I think helped get Killah Priest more popular and get his name out there, was he was willing to send out boxes of different promotional items to different street teams across the country and to other markets that he hadn’t hit in awhile, like Chicago and Atlanta. It definitely helped me get my name out there and I got a lot of calls from that because I had my phone number on the CD. I still get calls about that CD. I was getting calls for at least three or four years about that CD. Certain people call me from different parts of the world. Some of them I still keep in touch with.
It’s funny. One brother from Albany, Georgia, Selah, I got cool with him through that mixtape and he ended up doing some real nice paintings for me that I got in my studio. He did a really beautiful painting of all these Brooklyn rappers. It’s like a mural over the Brooklyn Bridge. He actually did a painting of me that I got up in the crib. It’s funny because people come in the crib and they think I’m vein, but my homie did it. I didn’t ask him to do it but he did it out of respect. He respects what I do and some people have photographs of themselves and I got a painting.
That’s how you know you’ve made it.
(laughs) Like Tony Soprano with the horse!
You’ve been managing Sav Killz for a few years now. Why do you think you’ve had success together so far?
We came up together. We both were doing our own thing separately, but when we linked together, we both work very hard. Sav has a very strong work ethic. He’s humble. His grind is stronger than most people’s. You know, I think people are finally catching up to how dope he really is. All the stuff he’s working on now is real ill. He’s been killing a lot of collabos lately with a lot of different artists. With me and him, it just comes down to chemistry and working together. He’s humble and he takes constructive criticism and he does what he has to do to make things better, whether it be with his music or with some of his business strategies. Some people, you can’t tell them anything. You can’t tell them shit. They’re not willing to listen. Some people are very stubborn. Some people just move like snails and turtles. They’re so slow and by the time they get one thing done, I could have got so much more done with Sav or another artist I work with that’s on point.
What do you guys have planned for 2011?
With Sav Killz, he’s working on an EP with Beat Butcha, from All Elements London. You might be familiar with him with some of the stuff he’s done with Sean Price. Beat Butcha has four or five joints on Sean Price’s Mic Tyson album and then the rest of it is mostly Alchemist. He’s also doing a lot of collabs and I’m trying to get Sav on some other people’s projects. He’s on Planet Asia’s new project that Rakaa’s also on. He’s on another record with Jadakiss, Billy Danze and La the Darkman. That record is crazy! Besides that, we’re working in his debut album, Determination Through Time. The album is still coming. We got a song with Khrysis with DV Alias Khryst on the hook. We got Bronze Nazareth and Beat Butcha, DJ Snips, Cozmo from All Elements Boston, Keeley and Zaire from Cali…We’re still working on that. A lot of big producers are down to work with Sav. I’m trying to make a classic, man. I’m taking my time with that and meanwhile, we got the EP and we’ll probably have another mixtape drop before the album. I’m really trying to drop something that will withstand the test of time. A lot of people’s albums today are dropping like it’s fast food. Whatever I’m a part of, I want it to withstand the test of time. I’m trying to eat steaks while everybody else has a Hungryman TV Dinner.
When you look at management, radio, TV, mixtapes and everything you do, what do you enjoy the most?
I really enjoy putting together a dope song with artists who haven’t worked together. Of course I enjoy DJing and doing shows and getting that response live. There’s nothing like that, whether you’re rocking in front of 50 people or 10,000. It’s always a beautiful thing to get that live response and get the crowd moving. Besides that it’s about making a dope product and making music that people love. When people drive by playing your CD or telling you how much your CD meant to them…I remember one time when Juju from the Beatnuts called me and thanked me for making the mixtape and keeping real music alive because he felt like there was so much wack shit out there. It feels good when someone who you grew up listening to thanks you for what you do.
That’s what I’m trying to do, keep this real hip-hop shit going and support those who came before me, all those legends in the game, and at the same time bring all the new talent in. I’m working with a ton of new artists in their teenage years or early 20s. They’re on their real hip-hop shit and they grew up listening to Cormega and Boot Camp Clik and M.O.P. They’re not coming out of New York trying to sound like Waka Flocka. They’re on some real New York shit. I think one of the real problems we have with hip-hop in New York is that we’re trying to be elitists and too cool for school. We gotta let young people in. If we don’t let young people in the game and the next generation, there’s not going to be any new people and they’re going to lose interest. After awhile, the music is just not going to appeal to people and I’d like to be able to do this for another 20 years or more. We gotta keep that new blood coming in and as far as hip-hop being fucked up, I think it’s really fragmented. It’s so fragmented. You have all these little crews and cliques and scenes.
In New York alone, you have dozens of little scenes within hip-hop. Every city’s got it. That’s why the All Elements brand is just about dope hip-hop. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what part of the worked. You can be from London or L.A. or Atlanta and it doesn’t matter if you’re a backpacker or a gangster. You just have to be dope. I try to make music that appeals to everybody, from college students to a murderer.
Who do you think’s got next?
There’s a lot of dope people. You have your Jay Electronica’s and your J. Cole’s. I think they’re both really dope and make good records. I’m glad that they’re doing their thing. But you know, I see a lot of potential out there. I’m working with this one artist named Verse. I’m actually managing him. This is the first artist that I’ve been managing since Sav Killz. I’ve been turning down dozens of different artists as far as management because I think the chemistry wasn’t right and things like that. I think this brother Verse has a lot of potential. He’s a great songwriter. He’s ghost-wrote for a lot of artists, a lot of big artists in the game. He used to be signed to Bad Boy. He was part of the Hood Fellas. He wrote a lot of records over there at Bad Boy. Puffy was actually taking a lot of his records from Daddy’s House and giving them to other people without even telling him. A lot of people took his hooks and he’s very talented. I feel like he can be the Ne-Yo of hip-hop, as far as someone who’s really dope at ghostwriting and can come out and do their own thing.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2011?
I’m still going to be doing mixtapes but I’m working on an official All Elements compilation album and the Sav Killz EP and album. I’m working with Verse to take him to the next level and taking the whole crew to the next level. Illa Ghee is down with All Elements now, the former Mobb Deep affiliate. We got Louie Gunz in Massachusetts and Iron Braydz out in London and the production team. The two radio shows are doing well, All Elements Radio and we’re working on taking that and All Elements TV to the next level. We’re going to keep interviewing dope artists and putting out dope product and making All Elements a household name. I look at me and Sav like he’s the Buckshot and I’m the Dru Ha and have All Elements be a very successful label and brand. That would definitely be the goal. We actually have a European tour coming up in March. We got a new booking agent and we’re working on that. We’re hitting the road more and we’re going to do more traveling and dropping those albums and getting the sales. We want to have stuff on the shelves properly.
I also think it’s really important to stay humble in the music industry. A lot of people look up to you when you’re doing your thing and you gotta be humble. A lot of people out there are so funny-style that they actually lose fans when people meet them. It’s important to really deal with your fans and your supporters. Some people call me a “Man of the People.” They said that in an article once and I feel like I don’t try to treat artists any better than a normal person and I think that’s a rare quality in the entertainment industry. You’re still a human being. What makes you better than the next man or woman? A lot of people are too Hollywood. That’s why they can’t come back to the neighborhoods that they’re actually from. They can’t even come back to their city and get that love, not in the ‘hood anyway. Stay grounded and stay humble, man. A lot of people don’t do that and they need to.