Though he began his career making bass—the electro-inspired party music synonymous with Miami and Luke Campbell—Jim Jonsin has left his biggest mark on hip-hop via the numerous smash singles he's produced, tracks like Lil Wayne's "Lollipop," Kelly Rowland's "Motivation," and Wiz Khalifa's "On My Level."
Jonsin spent his formative years spinning at parties all over Florida. From the age of 14 on, he was a fixture of the scene, DJing under the name Jealous Jay. Jonsin spoke with Complex about his early days in the scene, his transition to hip-hop, and his new found passion for car racing. Along the way he found time to discuss Miami strip clubs and steakhouses, as well as a couple of Italian joints anyone traveling through Florida should make a detour for.
Complex: So you grew up in Florida?
Born in Brooklyn but I’ve lived in Florida since I was 3 years old. I’ve worked in Miami for the past 15 years, traveling back and forth, doing different music with different artists. Working at Slip-n-Slide records. I had my own record label, but I grew up in Palm Beach and Broward County. Mostly Broward. That’s where I live now. But Miami seems to get the credit for most people that come out of Florida, regardless.
Why do you think that is? Because it’s the most recognizable city?
It’s like when you’re from L.A., you’re from L.A., you know? You could say, Snoop made Long Beach popular and Dre made Compton popular. Now, [because of those two] you can say that you’re from Compton. But you know, you hear Pitbull’s from Miami, but do you know where he’s from in Miami? Is he from Liberty City? Is he from Palatka? But even when you say you’re from Broward, there’s Fort Lauderdale. There’s Pompano. There’s Parkland, which is where I live now. Miami always gets that thing because it’s the big city.
And people associate it with bass music too, I think.
Most people that grew up in Miami end up moving out of Miami into places like Broward anyway, to get to calmer areas.
Just to get away from the energy of the city?
Yeah, you know they can get into it anytime they want. It’s only 20-30 minutes away. Same thing in the city [NY], if you want to live out in the city, you can do that or you can go out and live out in Jersey, jump right on and you’re there in 30-40 minutes.
So when you were in Florida, how did you get into hip-hop?
I just had this talk with LL last night, because a lot of people don’t know how long I’ve been in music or in hip-hop. I used to break dance and we had this DJ friend, Scratch D, Dave Noller, who DJ’d for our crew. And I used to watch him DJ and I thought it was the most amazing thing. So I started DJing and learning from him, and then from that I wanted to make beats and make mixtapes and things. So I brought a drum machine and from the drum machine I brought another drum machine, then you know, a keyboard, then a mixing board. I just started getting into it. The same way most DJs do. And that’s how I got into music. I put my first record out in 1988, many, many years ago.
That’s a seminal year for hip-hop.
Yeah, big year. So from that, and it was bass music. You know about the Miami sound. Luke Campbell, 2 Live Crew. We had Shy-D, though he was from Georgia. Tons of artists.
So you were making bass initially? Because that was the music around you?
Yeah, but I mostly listened to New York hip-hop. I know me and my friends used to come to New York to listen to DJ Red Alert. We’d try to get samples of their radio shows, record them on tape, and bring them home to flip the tapes to all my friends. It could have been from Kool Moe Dee, Whodini, Planet Patrol, all that stuff.
Do you see bass as apart of hip-hop or do you see it as something outside of it?
I think it came from that electronic stuff. Like Man Parrish to Planet Patrol, Soul Sonic Force, Cybertron, Kraftwerk. And we took it and we just turned the decay up on the 808 and added the bass to it. That’s where [bass] came from. It’s up-tempo and some slow tempo, but electronic sounding drums.
As opposed to?
As opposed to more “Funky Drummer,” hip-hop stuff.
Is there still a big bass scene in Miami?
No, but there’s some guy that’s actually doing, who worked with me back in the day named Chris, he’s putting together a documentary about the beginning and end of that [sound]. [The music is] still moving in Europe; we sell a lot of bass records over there, some of my older records sell. So they’re doing this documentary about the scene. Some artists sold a lot of music and had a lot of hit records.
Speaking about hip-hop, is this evidence that the scene is less regional then it was? That the sound has become more…
Oh, yeah. Popular. You know, now you have artists like Drake, B.o.B. You’ve even got [Lil] Wayne singing love songs. And that’s just evidence that the youth requires some heartfelt shit. They need to be able to grow up and listen to songs that make them feel emotional. Every tough guy has love in him. They need love songs; that’s why Wayne is doing it. Because he knows it. He needs it. I’d rather my kids grow up listening to hip-hop and more melodic based hip-hop then just the boom bap. We hear more music, more singers are coming out and so rappers are like, “Oh shit, we better put some more melody in our music.”
It seems like hip-hop has become far more tuneful.
Which I think is great.
Do you feel like something has been lost, though, now that the regional scenes are disappearing?
I think some character in some areas might get lost. For example, with Wayne and Baby and all of them, they have their thing going, but when they were in New Orleans, they had their own unique style and stuff. And right now I think Wayne sounds a little more like Drake. I think the Internet helps with that. You know, you get so many influences from all over the world.
I think before you had to get your hometown behind you first, but right now all you need to do is upload, right to the internet. Then all of a sudden your records are bigger in Houston than they are in your hometown. Or maybe in Australia. So you lose to gain. Something is lost but there’s something gained. I still think that kids grow up in certain areas and they apply certain things that they learn, but if they’re not and they’re sitting in their rooms on the Internet all day, then yeah, they’ll lose that.
I wonder if you would talk a little bit about where you live now and how it factors into your music—what your day-to-day life is like.
Well, where I live now is, well, it's where I’m building my studio, actually. It’s where I’m raising my family. It’s not the most happening place. It’s quiet, about 40 minutes from Miami but 15 minutes from downtown Delray or Fort Lauderdale, so we can go out and party if we want, and I can go down and hit all the music business seminars if I want. My hometown’s a small place called Parkland. But I’ve lived everywhere from Riviera Beach in West Palm to Lake Park to Boca Raton. For a long while, I lived out in West Palatka to Broad View in Broward, which is like Tamarac, and those areas are what influenced me musically. It’s the people I met there that got me into music. You know, a lot of Fort Lauderdale and West Palm people were doing bass music. Miami just got the notoriety because of Luke. That shit was popping everywhere. You know, Jacksonville, you know “Whoomp! (There It Is)” and all those big records coming out of Tallahassee and up that way. T-Pain and all that. T-Pain was doing bass music. “I’m Sprung” is bass. “I’m in Love with a Stripper,” that’s bass music. “Lollipop” is bass music; “Whatever You Like” is bass music.
What were the early days of the scene like?
It was fun, man. It was a big difference, though. I explain this to some of the artists and producers that I work with now, you know, me and my buddies we would work hard during the week, save the money so we could get in the studio on the weekend, and then the following weekend or week plan to get our record mixed and mastered and then the following week go to print, 12”. Once we got our thousand 12”, we would hit the road and every other weekend we would head out from Tallahassee to Fort Myers to Fort Pierce to Miami and hit radio DJs to play our records in hopes that we would get it popping. Now its like, mix, mp3, upload, YouTube, all that. Back in the day, when The Beatles were making 45s, you know what type of work it took to get them shits popping? These kids are spoiled rotten; they’ve got it made. But if you can’t make it, then you don’t have it. You don’t have hits. I always say a hit will holler. If you have a hit, believe me, you’ll know it. Because the Internet will tell you. And they’ll tell you if it sucks, too. The blogs will kill you.
So you were DJing at a lot of parties?
I DJ’d a lot of house parties. I DJ’d at skating rinks, night clubs, some of the bigger clubs from Boca to Palm Beach. You know, college nights, I did a lot of that just to get by.
What were some of your favorite clubs to play?
I played at Club Boca [7000 West Palmetto Park Road # 102, Boca Raton] for years, a club called Weekends.
What made a club stand out to you then?
How many chicks were there. How many people that would come out. We’d do everything from the Cameo Theater [1445 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach] to Club Boca college night, and I even did Dirty Moe’s, a pub, playing classic rock through half the night then the other half of the night back there bartending, you know. I was into whatever. Wherever the vibe was good.
Do you still see much live music now? Do you go out a lot?
My wife and I try to go out as much as possible. We’ll go down to Miami and do Cameo. We’ll go to Liv [4441 Collins Ave, Miami Beach] for the nightclub thing, but I’m not really into nightclubs; I’m into bars. But we’ll do that to entertain our friends, you know. We’ll do Hard Rock [401 Biscayne Blvd # R200 Miami] and just hit up whatever clubs are in there. Passions [5701 Seminole Way, Fort Lauderdale]. I’ll go to Blue Martini [6000 Glades Road, Suite C-1380, Boca Raton] in Boca and kick back and have some drinks or the local Irish pubs or whatever. And I’m also into going to the occasional strip club and listening to the music, watching chicks dance and shit. So I’m into that too, as long as my wife doesn’t trip. She let’s me get out there.
We actually just put together a list of the 50 best strip clubs in America and our number 2 is King of Diamonds in Miami. Have you ever been there?
Yup. My number one is Tootsie’s [150 Northwest 183rd St.] in Miami. Kills King of Diamonds.
What’s Tootsie’s like?
Tootsie’s is way better. Tootsie’s is like every type of flavor of women: white, Spanish, black, every type of women in there is beautiful. King of Diamonds is more one type of woman. So I like to mix it up. I go to both, too. I used to go to Diamonds when it was Diamonds. Trick Daddy’s father used to run it. I think he runs King of Diamonds if I’m not mistaken. Me and Big D used to go out there and he would take me to all of the black strip clubs with Rolex’s and all that shit and I would take him to the white diver bars. So we’d kind of mix it up.
I’ve talked to some artists, producers who have said the strip club is a good place to go find out what records are really hot and what people are really into it. Would you say that that’s true?
“Motivation” is popular because it has sex appeal and the chicks in the strip club love to dance to it. But I’m not as into going as I used to. You know, I’m married now and have kids. If my wife was going out to the strip club every week I’d think I’d start bugging. You know, I invite her out whenever we go. But you know, friends of mine like Yelawolf stop by every once in awhile and we’ll hit the club. When certain people come into town we’ll do King of Diamond or Tootsie’s, Cheetah 3 [497 NW 31 Ave.]. That’s in Pompano, they have one in Atlanta, too. It’s like a mix club, you know.
King of Diamonds is massive, right?
Massive. It’s like a damn Costco or something. So is Tootsie’s. I think it literally was like a BJ’s or Costco. It looks like Vegas. 300 chicks or something. Wait, let’s make this story less about strip clubs because you’re going to get me fired. [Laughs.]
You mentioned some dive joints. What’ a good one?
Take One [333 NE 79th St., Miami]. Trick Daddy took me there one time. It’s fun; they have a good time in there.
They tend to be smaller, less…
They’re just a little more aggressive, a little more vulgar. They’re strippers, straight up. Them girls get it done.
What’s the music like in those places usually?
Well, it depends on the place. If you go to Cheetah’s, you’re going to hear AC/DC and Lady Gaga. Same in Tootsie’s—you’re going to hear Lil Wayne and Lady Gaga. It’s like a rhythmic radio station. In King of Diamonds, it's soul music and just good, ghetto anthems. Those type of things. And that’s what I love. That influences me when I’m making records. If I’m making an R&B record, I’m making a ghetto R&B record.
You would make something that you would hear in the strip club.
Yeah, something that’s hard.
So that was the idea behind “Motivation”?
So we’re doing “Motivation,” and Fat Joe is a friend of ours and he mentions that Kelly needs one of them bangers, something hard. And they need help with some of the direction and we went there. Rico and I are good at getting there.
Yeah, Rico actually wrote the song and I wrote the music. He’s amazing.
Actually, I talked to him a couple of weeks ago and he was one of the guys that were telling me that those are the places to go to find out which records are getting played.
Yeah, he does that. He’s good with that. He listens to rock, too. He gets influenced by a lot of stuff, but I was really happy to do that record for Kelly. I thought it was going to be dope for her and it did turn out to be great. Its #1 six weeks now.
I hear it all the time in my neighborhood. I always hear it coming out of people’s cars.
Oh, that’s great. It’s got that thing, huh? Every once in a while you do one of those records, like a “Lollipop” like that, starts as urban and then it crosses over.
Yeah, “Lollipop” once it really broke you heard it everywhere. People that had never listened to Lil Wayne before we're listening “Lollipop.” It was accesible. Do you do much digging? Do you have record stores that you go to?
No, I just use the Internet for that, but I do get influenced by old records all of the time. But I don’t dig deep into the crates, I look for the hits. I just want to make big popular records. I think my favorite records have always been the hits. Some of the records you dig for in the crates can be really interesting but I tend to just…Let’s say its Kansas—I want to find their biggest record. I want to find what was it about that record that made it so huge and infectious. So I try to do that rather than digging deep in crates, you know. Whereas somebody like Timbaland collects records and goes in; I respect that. I did that for many, many years as a DJ and as a sample-based producer. My big first record was an Ozzy Osbourne sample.
What was the sample?
Trick Daddy “Let’s Go.” That was that “Crazy Train,” Sabbath, you know.
That’s a pretty recognizable sample.
But still it’s a big…why not take that one?
Are you still into sampling these days?
You know, I still get it in sometimes.
If something catches your ear?
Me and LL might be doing something that we just flipped. I actually did it in ’06. Reached back into my catalog and he heard it and we’re flipping it today. Yeah, so it’s going to be great.
Who else are you working with these days?
I’m working with Yelawolf, Eminem. Me and Eminem are collaborating on Yelawolf’s project. I’m working with Justin Beiber in July. B.o.B’s new album. I’m working with Gwen Stefani. I think we’re going to work with Kanye. Who else? Just a few other people I’m scheduled to work with that I’m psyched about. I just actually just had a session with Mark Anthony and J. Lo and this artist we just signed from Spain, Leroy, got to sing a song for them. Prince came by and he sang for Prince. And I was fucking shocked, I was like, “Wow.” Like, who sees Prince? And who gets to sing for him? It was really incredible. And he played guitar for one of the records I did for Idol, which was crazy.
When you’re not doing something music related, what are you up to in Florida? Where do you eat?
Yeah, you know, that’s been a standing problem for me, because I love food, and I’m sorry but I’m going to keep it real—where I live is no New York, it’s no L.A. There’s a place called Café Martorano [3343 E. Oakland Park Blvd, Fort Lauderdale] that’s incredible. It’s Italian food but mob-style. The dude’s cooking, he’s playing movies. He makes the craziest cheesesteak and pasta. It’s really great. That’s all in Broward off of Oakland Park Boulevard, East, by the beach and he has another one at the Hard Rock but I like the one by Oakland Park.
Because its smaller?
Because it’s the one. It’s the one he’s at. He’s cooking. He’s at the other one, too. Also there’s another Italian spot in my hometown called Mario [6370 North State Road 7, Coconut Creek] that has incredible food.
What would you order there?
I like…you know what, they have this almond crusted sea bass. That’s my favorite dish there. That’s incredible. Then they have this cowboy steak—you’ll fight over it.
How do they dress it up?
They have this peppered crust on top of the steak. It’s really good, and the place has great atmosphere. In Miami, there’s a couple of places I like to go. There’s a place called Gratzi [701 Washington Ave., Miami Beach], which is another Italian spot. But you know I’m not big into Italian food really, it's just that many of the people that live in Florida come from up North, places like New York. It’s all Italian food and delis, Jewish delis, or Chinese food. But you know, I’m into soul food. I’m into the Griddle [7916 West Sunset Blvd.] in L.A. Yesterday we went to Katz’s Deli [205 E Houston St.]. Sick!
Yeah, it’s an institution.
We need that down there. So I’m really just sick of all the restaurants down there. We need some better food. They need to step their game up. I mean we have like P.F Changs and all this…
Right; stuff you could find anywhere that’s not doing anything special.
But in Miami, for steak, Prime [16395 Biscayne Blvd., Aventura] is good but Red [119 Washington Ave., Miami Beach] is better. Prime is just, “I’m going to Prime.” Everybody goes to Prime because it’s so expensive, but it’s a steak, just like at Outback. Tastes just as good to me. I like Red better, but you know, what the fuck? Who can’t make a damn steak? Go get a good piece of meat, put it the fuck on the grill, and cook it. How hard is that? It’s easy. I bet you can make a nasty steak on that grill. Put on some pepper and salt. You don’t do anything else. So when you can do something that’s more significant than a great steak, then we can talk about a great restaurant. Sorry, that’s how I feel.
I appreciate that.
They make the best fish, though.
The ingredients are solid.
Make a dish that’s like signature. Something where people can be like, “My God.” So Miami needs to step it up. Broward and Palm Beach need to step it up.
What are some other things that you do when you are in Miami or in your hometown?
I race cars. Making music has been my passion, but it’s become my job so I’ve found a new passion in racing. Me and Bucky Lasek now are racing cars. We have Rebel Rock Racing and we built a team. We’re racing the American Le Mans series next year.
Do you drive?
Where do you practice?
We’re doing the PCA, PBOC, NASA racing, you know we’re doing the club racing right now. SCCA. Next year we’re racing professionally.
Those are just tracks there?
Yeah, that’s kind of been my new pastime over the last two years.
How’d you get into it?
Just went to the track to do a track event, which is an off the grid event, Palm Beach International, and just drove my car with one of the local dealers. They let you take your car out there with an instructor and stuff and I was like “Wow! You can really do this?” So I started doing that, brought a faster car.
So anybody can do this?
Yeah, I can take you out. Put you up with an instructor and you can learn how to drive on the track. To get my race license, I had to go through a lot of training.
But you can take out your own private vehicle?
Yeah, if you got a BMW, if you’ve got anything—Honda, Corvette, Camaro, whatever you want. Take it out and you can whip it around and learn how to brake and turn. Learn what your car will and won’t do. It’s a good experience. It’s driver’s education and from that I wanted to go faster and I wanted to race. So I graduated from that to racing.
So what do you drive now that you race?
We race a Porsche Cup Car.
You know on a track like Daytona, your top speeds can bring you up to 165-170. You’re mostly cornering and stuff so your average speed is probably 90, you know. You’re not always flying and most of the accidents, and this is wishful thinking, hopeful, God willing, most of your accidents are happening at slower speeds like 60-50 mph. Not at 160. When those happen, it’s bad. So you know, like in the LMS race, the Le Mans 24-hour race where this accident happened at 140 and it was terrible. But no one got hurt. But the car was disintegrated. We’re also doing these events called Rock the Grid where I’m going to be bringing Nelly out, Kelly Rowland, Pitbull, Yelawolf, and B.o.B to do concerts at these track day events and we’re doing it for a benefit.
So it's a race during the day and then …
We’re doing rally for kids with cancer. We’re doing Think Pink with Steve Rifkind. We’re going to do that in East Boca, and follow it with a race to raise money for cancer, breast cancer.
Do you have the first one lined up?
We have November. There’s also going to be the Think Pink thing. It’s a concert in Mazda Park so we’re doing that as well.
How did that come together? Just put together you’re two passions?
Well, my publicist reached out to them and we were trying to just connect with somebody that had a good cause. So we're going to raise money for kids with cancer. I thought it was a good cause. And for breast cancer, there is a gene that you can be checked for, that women can be checked for, and a lot of women don’t know about it. So this is a thing to give them all the information and teach them about that so they can cap it, nip it in the bud, you know. So we’re behind that as well and that’s local as well, a local concert in Boca.