Robert Reives can tell you all about how humble Pac is. He can also give you a very clear picture about how things were back in the mid-90s when some of today’s most notorious artists were all housed in New York and New Jersey under the (un)watchful eye of Jodeci’s backbone, Devonte.
But Reeves has never been one for the spotlight. He has always been in the wings meticulously working on his projects. With a distinct understanding and ear for what is hot and what isn’t, he is working on a sound which embodies hip-hop and rock in a way the world hasn’t heard before.
To get to the pivotal point he has reached now with his own artist Marc Mays, he throws light on his past; a story which is packed full of drama and names you don’t need an introduction too.
Ballerstatus.com: How did you get into producing?
Robert Reives: In school, I actually played drums all throughout school and then at a certain point, sports took over. I played basketball, football a lot and there were conflicts between the schedules and I had to let one go for a little while. But I was always into music and into different genres; The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Prince, all that kind of stuff from a young age. As me and Devonte (Jodeci) were friends, he was always trying to start up bands and get me into groups with him, but I was more the athletic type and he was never really like that. He ended up doing Jodeci and they blew up. He would come back home and holla at me periodically, letting me know what was going on. I was working for an architecture firm at one point and he was telling me about this group, and I felt like I wanted to try something different. Because when you are doing architecture, it kind of goes with how the economy is and if there is no money around, it is done and it can fluctuate out of your control. Devonte said I could work with him, move to New York and help with the groups. So I started working with him.
Ballerstatus.com: Did you know much about the music industry at this point?
Robert Reives: I didn’t know much at all about the music industry. I didn’t know what an A&R was, so when Devonte called me from the road, I would pick his brain, asking questions about who Puffy was and what he did. I would ask about the remix Puffy did and he said, “Puffy came in the room and told Tony Maserati who had this record on, he told him to loop that and walked out of the room.” I was like “That’s it?” I knew I could do better. I knew a little about marketing. I was set on blowing them up bigger than what Puffy was. Finally he flew me out there and the first thing I worked on was Diary of a Mad Band.
Ballerstatus.com: What was the first song you worked on then?
Robert Reives: The first song we worked on was “Cry For You.” I came up with the concept and the title for Diary of a Mad Band. I came up with the cover and Uptown wasn’t really digging that too much. That was how it all started on. The same with The Show, The After Party, The Hotel, that was all me again. I did Diary of a Mad Band to show that I had a talent for this and that is why you don’t see my name on that album, but then on the second you see my name. I started to get A&R credit, Art Direction, but I was really writing the songs with him. You know I was doing it for my boy, he was going to look out and I didn’t want the attention anyway.
Ballerstatus.com: How did you get to work with Aaliyah and Pac? Was it through hard work or being around the right people at the right time?
Robert Reives: A little bit of both I would say. I like to think I am a deep thinker and I like to plan things out and you can put yourself in a position when lightning will strike. If you stand outdoors with a piece of metal in your hand or a cell phone in a rain storm, you have a good chance of lightning hitting you in the head. That is how it kind of works. With Pac, that came through Suge wanting to manage Devonte as a producer. I always liked Tupac. I didn’t really like his first album, but I would see his interviews and I liked his interviews, and I liked what he said as a person. I would skip school to listen to what he had to say when he was on BET. He would talk about intelligent stuff.
Ballerstatus.com: So why did Suge come into the picture?
Robert Reives: Well Jodeci were selling more records that they weren’t getting credit for as Andre Harrell was moving records out the back door. Then when Tupac came out of jail, he had a list of people he wanted to work with and on the list was Jodeci. So Suge called us up and told us he wanted to work with us.
Ballerstatus.com: Suge is infamous for his way of handling people though. Was there ever any issues between you guys?
Robert Reives: I know a lot of people have got problems with Suge, but all I can say is how the guy dealt with me and you know the people I know. He never did anything crazy in front of me. I saw him check people. I remember one dude who handles the MPC when we were doing a show down in New Orleans, he came in at the wrong time and we cut the show short. When Suge came backstage, he fronted on him and told him he couldn’t do that. You know, people have a misconception about him, but he is a business man first, so he is going to talk to you first of all. If it doesn’t make sense and it is hurting his money, you might get rolled up. But he isn’t just beating up on people. I hear the stories, but all I can talk about is what I saw and he was like a father to us.
Ballerstatus.com: Going back to working with Pac, how was that?
Robert Reives: I remember we got out there after K-Ci and JoJo, and when we walked in the studio, they had already laid down “How Do U Want It” and I think I have a great ear for knowing a hit from hearing the first 10-15 seconds of a song. Like with the “Dangerous Minds” soundtrack featuring Coolio, I knew that was going to be a hit, and I had to fight with Kathy Nelson and Hank Shackley to get it on the soundtrack. I placed all the songs on that soundtrack and put them in the movie. So I had been developing my ears all the time. So when I walked in the studio and heard what they were working on, I just knew I had to do something on that joint. You had Snoop and Kurupt and all these dudes, you come to the studio and dudes are wearing bullet proof vests. You gotta get frisked to come inside. It was like walking into a military compound.
Devonte wanted K-Ci and JoJo do ten takes for ten different tracks, singing like different people. So literally Devonte did all this and sent me in to fix it, like he would do, so on that joint all the ad libs and stuff that was where I came in, I pieced the track together.
Ballerstatus.com: Do you work better under pressure?
Robert Reives: Yeah for some reason it appears I do.
Ballerstatus.com: Sounds like you had to [laughing].
Robert Reives: Well when I came into the game, Devonte had taken two million from Sylvia Rhone to record with certain artists, but when I got to New York, he had literally spent all the money and now he was looking to record all these albums. So I came into the middle of a situation and I had to organize this situation.
Ballerstatus.com: When you were working with Pac, it must have been hard as that was about the same time as the East Coast/West Coast war, two East coast dudes there in smack back in the middle of LA?
Robert Reives: Yeah, that was right at that time and to be honest, I didn’t think that sh– was real. It was just being hyped up. You know we were a New York group. Devonte was worried about Puffy and them, but they weren’t calling us up to do things and we had bills to pay. Yeah, they loved Jodeci in New York, but they hated on them too because they were from the South. It was like when we were working with him in the studio, here we are guys that have always written love songs giving Pac tracks that made him say, “Make a n—- want to go out and do something” right in the middle of this so called East Coast, West Coast thing.
Ballerstatus.com: As a songwriter do you ever regret putting personal stuff into your songs?
Robert Reives: I never felt like I was doing something personal as it was someone else singing it and that was what it was with Devonte. It was a beautiful thing. But sometimes when you look back, I am like “Damn.” The way the word “feening” came into play was because I was “feening” for this one chick. When you saw straight jackets in the video that was my idea, because I couldn’t be with this one chick.
Ballerstatus.com: You obviously listen to rock. Do you think opening your ears to all genres of music makes you a better producer?
Robert Reives: Well I listen to rock more. I mean obviously I listen to hip-hop. It is just about being a well rounded person I believe. You are experiencing different stuff from all over the world and I think with hip-hop, I can figure out what they did right away. You know, what they did with the vocals, how they did the beat, what drum machine they had. Rocks guys, it is a little more complicated. You can’t just listen to it three times and figure out how they put that together. You have to do some homework to know what they are doing. I am who turned Timbaland on to a lot of that stuff he listens to — Tricky, Massive Attack, Portishead, and Bjork. I was literally playing Bjork in the house, and Tim and all them were yelling at me to turn it off. I couldn’t play that stuff in the house. You know, I developed their ears over time. I would sit them down and say “Missy, I know you don’t like Bjork, but if you can take her melody, that sh– is going to take you to a different level.”
Ballerstatus.com: Do you feel that people fail to market products like they should today?
Robert Reives: Oh man, yeah. I used to work for Finish Line shoe store, which sold sneakers, but this is not like a Footlocker. They make you take a test where you have to know what type of sole the shoe has, you know what type of rubber etc. You have to know about selling, take the product of the walls and put it in the person’s hand. I know a little bit about that. My friend’s father had a marketing company in Greensboro and I would pick his brain. If you get a person to touch whatever it is you are trying to sell, nine times out of ten they will buy it. I feel like I out a lot of thought into whatever product or whatever artist I am working with and I think that energy comes back to people. I don’t think enough people put thought into what they are doing. 50 is a great marketing person, great conceptual guy. 50 has the last word and he sees how it can work when it comes to his projects.
Ballerstatus.com: So you spend a lot of time on your artists now then?
Robert Reives: Yeah. I mean, my artist, Marc Mays, I have five albums done with him and each album has a separate concept. I am in the middle of doing the art work for them right now. The first album is called Grind House, which is a compilation of his best albums. I just think that when you hear songs you should see pictures automatically.
Ballerstatus.com: You don’t see concept albums that much anymore. Do you think it is down to the fact that there is no creativity anymore, people want the quick dollar as opposed to the thought out dollar?
Robert Reives: I can’t speak for what other people are doing. But all I can say is that is the only way I know how to do it. Some people don’t have that creative control. You know, they can write the songs, but they don’t come up with the video. I can’t speculate for other people, but yes I wish people would put more thought into it at the end of the day. I wasn’t getting paid when I started, but to me, the product was more important than what I was supposed to get. To be able to get my stuff out of me, you know, get it out onto a CD, that is like a touch down for me.
Ballerstatus.com: Can you pinpoint a highlight of your career?
Robert Reives: Yeah, I would have to say, it is a three way tie. Obviously working with Tupac, getting on the Aaliyah project, being able to put that Timbaland and Jodeci together, and I got Ginuwine signed to Sony. I got Timbaland on the Aaliyah project as I approached Atlantic with the idea as we were working with Brandy at the same time. Aaliyah was already half way through with her album, which had been produced by Jermaine Dupri and Puffy. But I knew to put Tim and us with her was going to work better than us with Brandy, as I knew Brandy wasn’t really ready for that street sound. I felt I knew Aaliyah’s spirit and we were told “no” at first. We did some demos and the second or third demo was “One In A Million” and boom there it is.
Ballerstatus.com: Do you think that even today the women/girls involved in R&B are trying to emulate what she was?
Robert Reives: Not saying all of them. But Tim really gave that Aaliyah thing to Nelly Furtado, giving her a beat with a melody on top. But the thing is that is hamburger helper: you can’t replace it with chicken. It was a valiant effort with Nelly Furtado.
Ballerstatus.com: People just don’t take chances anymore though, do they? We are just getting the same stuff over and over again.
Robert Reives: Yeah and that’s what I tell people. You know, if I am the first out of the gate, everyone else will follow. You know it just takes someone to be up front and that is the way the world is. Someone has to come in first and then someone has to come in second.
Ballerstatus.com: I just wish I knew what people were afraid of though.
Robert Reives: Its funny you should say that as when I was doing the Ginuwine album. I mean, I eventually had to step away from Devonte, as he wasn’t treating me right; he wasn’t treating the artists right. Ginuwine was my roommate and we were tight. You know, he wasn’t as devoted as Devonte. I always thought he would be the one that would blow. When I left Devonte, I asked him [Ginuwine] if he would sign a management contract with me and if I hadn’t got him a deal within seven days, he could stay with Devonte. So me and Tim went to New York, meetings at Def Jam, Atlantic and Sony, and I got Ginuwine signed to Sony. I got Aaliyah’s project changed to Tim and something else for Tim. We did the Ginuwine album in Ithaca, New York.
Ballerstatus.com: Strange place to record.
Robert Reives: Well Devonte wasn’t too happy about me leaving, and it turned into my getting death threats and he supposed to have a 20 G hit on me. He really turned on me.
Ballerstatus.com: This is your boy though. I mean, how is your situation today with him?
Robert Reives: The last time I talked to him was back then. He paged me when I was in New York with Tim, so I called him back and he was asking about what we were doing and how he was in LA with Suge, telling me Suge was ready to “roll me up.” But I knew Suge would have flipped on him as Suge has ways of dealing his artists and what Devonte did with us was not how Suge did business. I mean, I had got Ginuwine his deal at Sony without him even being there. He was in LA with Devonte and was worried because when we spoke, he couldn’t get away. Devonte had had bodyguards jump on the artists before. I mean, getting Ginuwine to sign his deal was like espionage; he had to fake a meeting with a lawyer to get away from Devonte who had come back with him from LA and was staying in a hotel around the corner from Tim and me. So that was why we ended up recording his album in Ithaca, as you know, anyone in New York, anyone can run up on you in the studio, you know people may pay attention to that now, but they didn’t back then. Look at what happened to Tupac.