A Day in the Life: Jim Jonsin
By Bill Kearney
Jim Jonsin went from being a skateboarding kid hanging out on the streets and beaches of South Florida, to being one of the most sought-after R&B and hip-hop producers in the nation. Today he works with the likes of J-Lo and Prince behind the scenes at American Idol, collaborates with Rihanna and Ne-Yo, and has produced hits for Usher, Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, Kelly Rowland and Pitbull, among others. He even runs his own car racing team.
10 AM: Circle House Studios, North Miami Beach
Jonsin pulls into the parking lot of Circle House Studios in one of his most cherished possessions, a mint-condition 1967 Shelby Mustang GT 500. He’s a little sweaty (there’s no AC in the car) but, it seems, riding in style is worth it. He’s got a slightly pigeon-toed athleticism to his gait and looks as if he’d be at home on a skateboard, with long shorts, Vans sneakers and an oversize tee. We’re here to meet with Kelly Rowland as she determines the direction of her next album. Jonsin produced and cowrote Rowland’s current hit, “Motivation,” an almost minimalist, but unabashedly sexy, slow jam that went to number one on the Billboard R&B charts. “I’m gonna go through some new tracks, play some stuff I think she might like,” he says. Rowland shows up and it’s big hugs and kisses, talk of Jonsin’s newborn baby girl, Scarlett, and his mom. “She makes the best brownies ever. Oh, my gosh,” says Kelly.
As a South Florida teen, Jonsin bounced between his disco-loving mom and his rock ’n’ roll dad. “I lived in a black neighborhood in Riviera Beach and a white neighborhood in Boca. I was a surfer-slash-skateboarder who did hip-hop and hung around Mexican and black kids and 2 Live Crew.” As a teenager, his rapper name was Jealous J. “I used to wear glittery Hammer pants,” he chuckles. Rowland begs to see a photo, all of which have mysteriously gone missing. Jonsin runs through some hooks, and Rowland launches into variations with a startling vocal athleticism that fills the room. “Why do artists come to you?” I ask. “For a hit,” he answers with a smirk. Kelly gives him a high-five. But then he refines the answer. “It’s really to take great people and put them in one room, even if they hate each other, and make magic. I’m just good with people. I might play the right line. Someone else might. It’s finding the right team.” After a few more samples, they hug good-bye. Kelly’s off to pack for London and another stint of judging The X Factor in the UK, and Jim and I head to Homestead.
photograph by tyler clinton/donotresist.com (jonsin portrait)
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