It’s the last class of the day at St. Patrick’s High School in Ottawa, Ontario and Julian Gramma is supposed to be working on an essay outline. But instead, he’s on his laptop negotiating beat prices and sending files to paying artists.
While the majority of his high school peers spent their days studying for the next math test or going to practice, Julian devoted hours to beat-making, often creating music all night into the crack of dawn. At the age of 14, Julian officially adopted the moniker J Gramm, as he sold beats on the now-antiquated online platform, SoundClick. In addition to monetizing his production, he frequently attended evening studio sessions at Belly’s house. By graduation time, J Gramm had acquired a number of solid production credits and took a bold step by moving to Los Angeles, just one week after his convocation.
Fast forward to present, at 27 years old, J Gramm has worked with some of hip-hop’s biggest names, like Travis Scott, Kid Cudi, Young Thug, Kodak Black, Pusha T, Eminem, Denzel Curry, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Gotit, Lil Keed, and many more. Outside the realm of hip-hop, he’s credit on tracks with Bon Iver and Britney Spears. In 2013, he garnered mainstream buzz after producing two of Travis Scott’s first hit singles “Upper Echelon” and “Shit On You.” In 2016, J Gramm produced the global hit “Broccoli” by Shelley FKA DRAM featuring Lil Yachty, which went on to peak at No. 5 on the Billboard charts and was certified seven-times platinum. Most recently, J Gramm was one of the architects on Kid Cudi’s highly anticipated Man on the Moon III album, aiding in production on “She Know This.”
With the advent of the Internet age and social media being intertwined with the music industry, it’s evident that producers are now branding themselves similar to artists. Many are signing deals and joint ventures with record labels in order to start their own imprints, house artists, or to release their own projects. By contrast, J Gramm, as a Grammy-nominated and Diamond-selling producer, has kept an extremely low profile on social media and the Internet.
We sat down with J Gramm to find out more about the mysterious Canadian producer and his journey in the music industry.
What’s good man? How are you?
I’m doing well, bro. Thank you. Just here working, as the pandemic is now calming down more here in L.A.
Good to hear. I’m high-key jealous. The pandemic is currently crazy over here in Toronto. Anyway, let’s get right into it. When did you transition from solely a listener into a creator of music?
That moment definitely happened when I first saw Soulja Boy’s Fruity Loops YouTube tutorial way back. After watching that video, I went down a production rabbit hole and learned lots from YouTube videos and articles.
[Laughs.] I swear Soulja Boy needs his flowers! That’s awesome. How do you approach working with so many different kinds of artists? Would you say you have a distinct sound?
I wouldn’t say I have a signature sound. I just try to be absorbed into the world of whichever artist I’m working with. When I work with someone, I like to know what they’re listening to, what fashion they’re into, and what they’re going through. I really try my best to get into the mental headspace of the artist. I think that’s when the best work is created.
Dope, man. With Toronto being the epicentre of the Canadian music industry, did you ever spend time living there?
No, I didn’t. Back in 2012, I felt like there were more opportunities for me in the States. After high school, I had enough money saved up from selling beats online to make the move out to L.A.
I hear you. It’s amazing when you really put it into perspective. We’ve now seen multiple waves of Canadian artists and producers who’ve been doing their thing globally. Are you tapped in with the new guard of artists hailing from Canada?
Yeah, it’s dope to see. Honestly, with the world slowing down briefly, I had some time to get more familiar with things happening in Canada. I’m definitely watching now.
What was your first placement when you got to L.A.?
Probably Travis Scott.
How did that transpire?
He reached out to me on Twitter, and we started working.
Word. Twitter was definitely the go-to place to network online in the industry back in the day. With you previously being a product of the digital age, you currently have two posts on IG and all your tweets were deleted a long time ago. We live in a time where social media and the entertainment industry are inextricably tied more than ever. Why are you so removed from the Internet?
I think social media is very important and one of the best tools, especially for someone new in the game who’s trying to build a network. Once you’ve established real relationships in the industry you can start to rely on those more. At this point in my career, I prefer to stay behind the scenes and just pop out when stuff releases.
As we all know, the industry isn’t for the faint of heart—it’s a shark-oriented business. What was it like being alone and young in the music business?
It was definitely hard at times, good people and good mentors are hard to come by. At one point I was living in a small studio lockout and taking the train to 24-hour Fitness to shower. It was super trash. There was a heavy metal band in the next room who would have noise wars with me. For some reason, I had this ‘things could only get better from here’ perspective. I remember hearing cars drive by, playing the music I made in that room. Stuff like that made me feel like I was on the right track.
I saw that you’re credited on the Kid Cudi & Eminem single “The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady” and then again on “She Knows This” off Cudi’s latest album, Man On The Moon III: The Chosen. I asked Dot about you and he said, “J Gramm is a beast. He’s one of the most efficient and hard producers I’ve worked with.” I know Cudi’s camp is particular when it comes to collaboration. How did all of that come to fruition?
That’s dope. Dot’s my guy. A friend of mine connected me to Dot Da Genius, who is Cudi’s longtime friend and producer. Dot introduced me to Cudi and we’ve been working ever since.
So with COVID-19 regulations easing up now in many American states, what’s next for you?
Now that things are settling down, I’ve been going to more sessions again and having artists over to work. I can’t really get into specifics, but there’s a few exciting things I’m working on.