Interviews in the Industry: Phonix Beats, the man behind J.Coleʼs “No Role Modelz”

Just before Grammy week, I was very fortunate to speak with Los Angeles based producer, Phonix Beats. With ten years in the industry, working alongside the likes of TDE, Fashawn, 50 Cent, Ty Dolla $ign, Fabolous, and most notably with J.Cole on "No Role Modelz," the man is a force to be reckoned with. We touch on his upbringing in the music industry, how it's like working with huge artists, and what to expect from him in the future. Check out the interview below, complete with audio for you to listen to as you read along. 

SG: So youʼve done work with such huge artists including Rick Ross, Schoolboy Q, Fashawn, Fabolous and more. Could you explain how exactly these projects come about and how the process usually goes when collaborating with these artists?

PB: To start off, I’ve been in the music industry for a long time. Not too many people may remember when I first came out. I made my first appearance in the industry around 2006. Iʼm celebrating my 10th year as a professional producer in the music industry.

SG: Ah, Congrats!!

PHONIX IN THE STUDIO WITH FABOLOUS 

PB: Thank you! I started 2007-2008, I met Jadakiss, I made a record with him called “Kiss My Ass” and that was supposed to be on a huge album he was releasing. That album actually was entitled “Kiss My Ass.” He was going through a lot of stuff with the label at the time and he was just kinda venting. Due to unfortunate losses within the company, it never happened. But I still maintained my relationship. That’s how, fast forward to 2009, ended up working with Sheek Louch and Styles P, they heard a lot of my stuff. I ended up doing both of their singles. Through working with Sheek Louch, I ended up meeting Jeremih and I’m still working with Jeremih to this day. Me and Styles hit it off immediately, he came to LA, we worked on music endlessly...ultimately making the record, “Harsh” that was featuring Busta Rhymes and Rick Ross...

Thereʼs different avenues to place records and put stuff out. Yʼknow, you have the people who rely on their management and let them do all the work. I’m a lot more hands on; I kind of build my own contacts, my own relationship with these artists. So I give management a lot easier life. I’m very pro-active and aggressive they way I carry myself so that’s how a lot of these records happen. Meeting people and keep going…

SG: So really just connecting with all these artists, and meeting other artists through them, doing it yourself a lot…

PB: Yeah, taking advantage of the opportunity thatʼs been put in front of you. Youʼre a fool if youʼre sitting in a room with Jeremih and Puffy and youʼre not playing Puffy your music. You donʼt wanna just be another body in the room, and if youʼre trying to do music yknow whatʼs the point? Iʼve learned not to be overly aggressive, but I’ve definitely put my foot down and let it be known that I’m one of the high guys out here.

SG: Can you talk about your childhood and growing up already so immersed into the music industry? I know both your parents have already had a long list of people they have worked with.

PB: Yeah. I’m pretty much born and raised in Los Angeles, California. My dad’s from LA and my mom’s from Michigan—Flint. Both of my parents on both sides…music runs deep in my gene pool. I’m 5th generation musician on my mom’s side and 2nd generation on my dads. He’s worked with everybody from Jermaine Jackson to Michael Jackson primarily…Bad, Off The Wall…My mom sang with Prince and Stevie Wonders for over 15 years… I grew up around these people, y’know, and to me they were regular people. I never really realized who all these people were until I got older. I grew up around Lionel Richie, the Jackson family, all kinds of people…I’ve just seen so much growing up.

I’ve seen so many different avenues of this music, from growing up to now. My brother’s an incredible producer. He’s worked with The Pharcyde, Willie Nelson, all kind of huge big names as well.

That was pretty much my childhood…growing up in the studio, leaving school, going to the studio, getting in the house, waking up, back to school, back to the studio. This was like 6th or 7th grade, but as I got older you really start seeing what’s up and I’m very thankful for the life that I’ve had because I’ve had front row tickets.

SG: It seems like you still learned how to work hard to get to where you’re at right now.

PB: The only thing that was handed to me was just knowledge. My parents come from a different generation of music. My father loves hip-hop, he’s very passionate about it and understands it to a certain extent. But he has a different generation of hearing, so he comes from when there was no beat machine or a lot of things that are out right now. So you had to be especially talented to even call yourself a musician in this industry…

So I really had to figure out how I can make my mark and how to put my foot in this game. And once I started doing it, I wasn’t trying to hear what anyone was trying to tell me at that point. I had to be very aggressive and repetitious with my approach of making and creating my music.

I’m no different than anybody else out there that came from nothing and started from the beginning. I started grassroots with my team and I’m still with the same guys. I stay true to the passion that we all put in and the time and effort we’ve all put it. It took about a good 8 years for everything to kind of go where it’s going now. This is still the beginning of my career; it’s only just begun. Every level has a new bottom and top.

SG: Well with that said, congrats on “No Role Modelz”!!! Did you have any idea how big that track was going to be? How did you feel when you found out it was going to be released as a single?

2014 FOREST HILLS DRIVE WAS GRAMMY NOMINATED FOR BEST RAP ALBUM (2016)

PB: In the beginning, when I made the beat, I had the beat in mind for somebody completely different. I was working with him for a few years and we were trying to create something completely new. When I made this record, I had no idea it was going to get to J.Cole, but this artist was taking his time with the song. So I took it over to a producer friend of mine named DJ Dahi. I guess because I played him the right beat at the right time, he wanted a copy, so I gave him a copy. I just had a kid at this time, so I go home and I’m at the house at 3 in the morning and I get a call from DJ Dahi saying that I might need you to go to the studio. And I’m like, “You know bro, I just had a kid…” So I hear this guy yelling in the background, I’m like, “Yo you at a party or something?” This guy took the phone and said, “Where you at? I’m sending you the address come to the studio right now.” I’m like, who is this guy, right? He got a lot of nerve. He’s like, “Oh this is J.Cole!!”

I’m like, “Yeah, let me know when you’re ready to do the record.” He looks at me like, “What do you mean do the record? The record’s done.” I’m like, “Wait, you just got this beat no more than a day or two ago. How is this possible?” The hook wasn’t where it is now yet, but everything else, I promise you, from beginning to end—you can tell he’s such a genius, he had this whole thing planned out, you can tell. The verses were there, the concepts were there, all the same lyrics.

I got a call saying, “Come back to the house,” about a week and a half later. That’s when I heard, “Don’t save her, she don’t wanna be saved.” And I knew, I knew it was over from that moment. I just knew that the moment I heard it, I was like yo—this is about to be one of the biggest records I’ve ever done in my career.

He was very humble, I’ve never seen him slope in the studio, drink in the studio…he walks in with some basketball sandals, basketball shorts, a sweater, ready to work. So I really appreciated that experience.

For me, it’s really about the chart positioning. I’ve never been on top 100, let alone, I’ve never been on top 40 before. That’s motivating!

I got a call saying, “Come back to the house,” about a week and a half later. That’s when I heard, “Don’t save her, she don’t wanna be saved.” And I knew, I knew it was over from that moment. I just knew that the moment I heard it, I was like yo—this is about to be one of the biggest records I’ve ever done in my career.

SG: What’s cool that I’ve noticed is that you weren’t going in, making this beat, thinking of top 40; without you having to compromise to anything is a beautiful thing! 

PB: I think back to what my dad used to tell me. He used to say, “You have such a dynamically different sound because of the way you grew up, I can’t wait ‘till you start meeting artists that are lyrically like you.” This [J.Cole collaboration] was the first experience I’ve ever had that I’ve felt like that. It took 30 years for to understand what that meant.

So for all the producers out there man, just go with what you know. Don’t force that music. Do what’s in your heart, listen to the most high. He’ll put that strength and creativity in you, just stick with it. Don’t let this industry change nothing.

SG: Can you speak on any current projects you are working on and artists that we should probably keep an eye out for?

PB: Oh yeah! I’m working on this new artist that the world definitely needs to look out for. He’s from the bay area, his name is Simba. We should actually be wrapping his album up. Then I’ll be on Jeremih’s next album. I’m working on a whole lotta other new artists. We’re just taking it to the next level. I got a lot of stuff coming out this year…J. Cole again. It’s about to get real good! Just be expecting good quality music and new artists that are coming out! I got a record with Nipsey Hussle and Rich Homie Quan out there!

SG: Artists you would love to work with in the near future?

PB: Oh, yeah man!! Rihanna where you at?! It’s overdue. Chris Brown where you at?! It’s overdue. Y’know, everybody else, I’ll see ya’ll when I see y’all. But those two are the top of my list.

FOR THE RECORD: 

Phonix has had an amazing track record thus far, and I'm just excited to see what will be next up in his career. The man had a lot, and I mean A LOT to say, (there's some parts that didn't even make it to the audio and the article), and I am very humbled to have heard it all. One of the biggest things I took from this was that the track wouldn't have landed onto J.Cole's lap had he not of networked his ass off--meeting different artists, producers, and DJs. Luckily, he played the beat to the right person at the right time, and things popped off. It is a great reminder of how things will go the way you want them to as long as you stay focused and stay grinding.

PS. Shout out to my boo DJ Flesh for plugging me up with Phonix. I wouldn't have been able to give this interview if it wasn't for him. You da real MVP. xoxo