Although “Yeah” is immediately linked to Usher, the real man responsible for the hit song is producer LRoc. This So So Def affiliate has been a household name in the music business for years, having worked with a hot list of artists that includes Mariah Carey, Ice Cube and Janet. He has been gifted with an innovative vision to express his musical ideas, which landed him top charting singles, two Grammy nominations for his work on Usher’s club song “Yeah,” and Mariah Carey’s “Can I Get Your Number” (from her top selling album, The Emancipation of Mimi).
Although his passion for music already developed when he was spending his youth in Liberia, it wasn’t until two decades later that LRoc’s career was being pulled in more serious directions — around the time when he met Jermaine Dupri in the ATL. The creative chemistry clicked and a musical relationship developed that has led to numerous number one hits. BallerStatus caught up with LRoc (real name: James Elbert Phillips) to discuss his musical talent and to learn some tricks from the top producer.
BallerStatus.com: You moved from West Africa to California at the age of 16. What kind of impact did that have on you back then?
LRoc: It had a very positive impact. Coming from a country that just had a military co-op, I lost my father, and basically lost everything we owned. Moving to California was peaceful compared to Liberia. I wanted to attend a school that had a great music program, and found one — Menlo Atherton High School. I played bass and keyboards in the stage band and jazz band. That was a great change for me because I had never done big bands, just top 40 bands. It really opened my musical horizons.
BallerStatus.com: In Africa, you started to play piano at a very young age. So how did you get involved in the American music industry and at what point did you decide to pursue a professional music career?
LRoc: I joined the US Army after high school, served four years. I pretty much did music during most of my off duty hours. While stationed in Germany I was producing and writing with other musicians and artists, performing in NCO clubs and German clubs. My fourth year, which was the end of my term, I decided to get out and go for it full time. Been doing it full time since 1987.
BallerStatus.com: Hard work started to pay off three years ago, when you gained recognition for your work with the likes of Janet Jackson, Usher, Nelly, and Ice Cube, to name a few. When did you first come to realize that you were in this position you always dreamed of? Like, when was the turning point?
LRoc: The first turning point for me was when “Get Low” by Lil Jon & The Eastside Boys. I played keyboards on that track. That whole crunk sound was something we had been doing for years, like about four or five years. We had a formula, so I knew once one caught on we could keep them coming. Using that same formula, we did Crunk & B songs, mostly with Lil Jon’s artist, Oobie. Crunk & B was another turning point because it seemed like songs on those tracks would be more effective because at that time there weren’t too many club R&B records. When I heard “Yeah” for the 1st time with Usher, I was in Miami, South Beach. We hit about five clubs that night and every club played it over and over and over. It was crazy. The rest is history.
BallerStatus.com: Tell me more about your relationship with Jermaine Dupri and So So Def.
LRoc: I have a great working relationship with Jermaine and So So Def. Very comfortable atmosphere. We handle business, but we always have fun. I show up, he tells me what kind of record we’re working on, I create some melodies on the keys, bass lines. I try to create about three to five musical loops. Most rap records are one to four bar loops. In fact, most hit songs are one to four bar loops. Sometimes the first one is the one, sometimes it takes two or three. Once I get at least a couple that I think it is hot, then I let him hear them. He picks the one he thinks is hot and then loads up some drum sounds and does his thing. It’s been pretty much the process we’ve used since I’ve been working with him.
BallerStatus.com: What type of producer are you?
LRoc: Honestly I’m more of a music composer. I’m great at creating tracks that fit the artist’s personality, or fits what the label is looking for. I love to work with artists with whom have a lot of personality. Artists with personality inspire me, in turn I inspire them with the music. It’s reciprocal. I’m not much of a lyricist, so I have a couple of writers signed to my publishing company. At the end of the day when I get called to produce a record, they want me to do me.
BallerStatus.com: What process do you go through when putting together a song? Do you start with a tune, a sample, a drum beat or a concept? What happens next?
LRoc: Most of the time the I’ll create a sketch track — drums and couple of melodies. The track usually inspires the hook. Sometimes we come up with the concept, then I play melodies that I feel fit the concept. I track the beat, then we lay the hook. My writers write the verses to the track and hook, once all the vocals are laid.
BallerStatus.com: One of the press releases said “LRoc delivers that ‘something special’ that makes a great record even better.” Tell me more about that “something special” that you add to a song that make you differ from other producers.
LRoc: What I offer is my sense of melody. If you were to play the game “Name That Tune,” it would be the melody that I played. One thing that probably sets me apart is that I can hang with some of the greatest musicians, but I can still keep it simple and fun. As a producer, I use culture as my biggest influence. Living in Liberia, West Africa first 16 years of my life, living in California, Europe, I’ve adopted a lot from different cultures. Music is my second language and I can speak it very well.
BallerStatus.com: What equipment are you using now and why? Do you play any instruments?
LRoc: I use Logic Pro 8. I have an arsenal of soft synths, but I also still use my custom MPC 3000. I have two old minimoogs. The Access Virus is one of my favorites right now. I really started using Logic around 2006. I would use it only when I travel. Now I always use it. I’m a beast on the MPC, so when I want to work fast, without experimenting, I use it. My drums just comes out banging without adding any “eq” (equalization) or anything. I’m still working on making my drums come out of Logic, but I need to work on it a lot more. I tend to get in a creative groove easier when using the MP. I play keyboards, bass, and guitar.
BallerStatus.com: Tell me more about Nelly’s “Stepped on my J’s” and how that single came about.
LRoc: Well obviously the concept was a continuation from two hit singles from the past — “Air Force One’s” and “Grillz”. Got the concept from a scene in Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.” Simple record with a dance.
BallerStatus.com: How difficult is it to make the transition between hip-hop and R&B, like, producing a slow jam for Mariah Carey and the next day work on a gangsta rap banger for Ice Cube?
LRoc: Easy, It’s all music to me. It’s like speaking the same language, but switching accents, or like speaking different dialects. I speak music. Just have to know the right kind of sounds and melodies to fit different situations. It is like scoring a movie. Listen to the background music in let’s say a horror flick. The melodies are dark and they provoke tension. There are melodies that make you smile, there are melodies that make you sad, there are melodies that just make you feel good.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve won quite some awards, including a prestigious Grammy Award. How important has winning that award been for your career?
LRoc: It’s been more of an honor than anything. “Yeah” was such a big song and the whole process from the making of it and watching it grow was exciting. Then to be recognized by your peers was icing on the cake. It definitely sounds great to say “Grammy Award Winning” before your name, and it does catch people’s attention. I try not to get caught up in it though. Got to keep it moving.
BallerStatus.com: Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which are you most proud of?
LRoc: Project that I’m most proud of would be Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz Kings Of Crunk. The experience of working with Lil Jon on that album really set the pace for me for a long time. I’ve been on the roll since.
BallerStatus.com: Last, any advice you want to give upcoming producers?
LRoc: If you want to do music as a hobby, then just do music. If you want to do it for a living, then learn the business. It takes a team to be successful. No one does it by themselves. Everyone on the team should have a definite role and should be the best at their role. Need great business manager, music attorney and a good accountant. Do you. I’ve seen some producers and artist imitate and get a hit, but they can’t follow it up because it wasn’t really their style. When you do you and it works, you can keep it coming.