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Starpoynt Magazine

Star Maker

L Roc is an African-born musician whose production prowess has scored with many of today's hottest acts.

LRoc-in' To The Top!

What do Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Amerie and Da Brat have in common? Besides the obvious... how about the fact they all have benefited from the beats and production prowess of LRoc. Who, you ask, is LRoc?

LRoc (taken as a nickname from his real name James Elbert Phillips) was born in Liberia, West Africa. He was taking classical piano lessons by the time he was five, but as he got older, his interest spread to other instruments. Sometimes, he would "borrow" his brother's guitar and play the bass line to tunes he heard on the radio. As a teenager, he spent many hours in the school music room. It's about this time his family discovered how much he loved music.

At the school Christmas program, LRoc performed in every segment, playing a different instrument every time he popped up on stage.

"A few days later, my mother brought me to the United States to buy a whole band set - drums, bass and guitar," he remembers. "My father could not believe I played all those instruments."

Leaving West Africa at 16, the aspiring musician moved to the Bay Area of California, where he continued honing his skills as much as he could by spending time in the music rooms of his school. He performed in local bands, wrote music and won several talent shows. However, as the end of high school approached, he could not decide what he wanted to do with his life. Unable to make a career choice he was advised by a family friend to join the United States Army. Taking his keyboard with him, he went on to write and produce artists while stationed in Germany.

"I was able to see the business side of the industry while I was stationed there, everything from publishing to product sales; it was a real education," he recalls. "I knew that when I got out of the Army,

LRoc.jpg

I was going to start producing full time."

After leaving the Army, he moved to Atlanta to pursue his dream of producing for a living. The move to Atlanta gave him the opportunity to work with various producers and artists. Eventually, through a mutual friend, he was contacted by platinum producer, artist and entrepreneur Jermaine Dupri. At the time, Dupri was looking for a keyboard player to write with him. LRoc got the job. Dupri was also restructuring his label So So Def. A musical relationship ensued and LRoc was asked to join the label's production roster.

That was just three years ago. Today, LRoc is a Grammy ® winning songwriter (for his contribution to Usher's super hit, "Yeah"). His track record as a producer, writer, programmer and multi-instrumentalist is growing by leaps and bounds. He's writer and production credits include tracks with Murphy Lee, Bonecrusher, Bow Wow, Too $hort, Mariah Carey, Lil Jon and the Eastside Boys and Amerie. Most recently, he's been producing with Da Brat, Janet Jackson and Nelly (on his spanking new single, "Grillz").

LRoc counts George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic, Chic, Prince, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Herbie Hancock and Chaka Khan as his musical influences. But, he adds, "My current influences come from living in Atlanta and enjoying its southern culture."

Indeed, the African-born LRoc has found no trouble embracing American culture, and cuisine. One sunny Atlanta afternoon, as he sat across from me at Café Dupri (his

BoneCrusherLRoc.jpg
BoneCrusher and LRoc

boss's restaurant) eating steak and eggs, he shared some of the keys to his success.

Star - What are the key elements to a good song?
LRoc - Arrangement. Melody. And the fit... how the lyrics fit with the music.

Star - Now, if I asked you what are the key elements to a commercially successful song today, would the answer be different?
LRoc - Everything would be same, plus add casting, and that means the right artist.

Star - Fair enough. So what do you look for in an artist?
LRoc - That they can sing, they're humble. They can have an ego, or confidence, but I want to hear that in the product, not in their work attitude. I like people that are really confident, like Usher. I like artists that work hard at what they do. Usher is an example, and it shows.

Star - What about in hip hop or with rappers?
LRoc - It depends on what kind of artists they are. There's the lyricist who can talk about something people can relate to, and then there are rappers who can deliver the hooks. I like rappers that can make people feel good, or that can get people to dance. If I have a serious lyricist, I make music to fit that ... a lot of times the artist inspires me to inspire them. It's a two-way thing.

Star - Second career choice?
LRoc - When I was a kid, it was soccer. But to be honest, I've never felt the desire to do anything else. I've always wanted to be a musician.

Star - Before you connected to JD, how did you keep fresh musically?
LRoc - I played with a band called the Chronicle. We were like the Roots without records. And to this day, if I weren't producing, I'd be in a band.

Star - What's it like working with JD?
LRoc - It's actually a lot of fun. He's a hard worker. He's focused. We get it done. It's like... it's easy. We're doing what we love doing. Yea, Dude knows what he's doing!

Star - What inspires you?
LRoc - A lot of it comes culture, where you live. I am from Liberia, so my music reflects that. Being in Atlanta also has a lot of impact. After years of doing this, you can just flow. But working for artists to create for them, you have to make a record that's good for the clubs or radio. The focus can determine the vibe. 808 Drums, for example, might specifically be asked for. The artist often knows what to ask for. No matter what, though, I try to keep it fresh.

Star - Do you write the song and then pick the artist, or do you write for the artist?
LRoc - That's how we do it most of the time. We're working on stuff for Black Eyed Peas. But in the process, we might end up with a track that may sound better for Janet Jackson. Sometimes it works like casting, like you're casting for a movie or TV show. You cast for an artist to fit a song.

Star - So what's in your CD player right now?
LRoc - Young Jeezy and a bunch of beats I've been working on.

Thanks LRoc! We look forward to more hot tracks from you!

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LRoc produces for JD and Janet

Feedback, submissions, ideas? E-mail Carol Ozemhoya at Starpoynt@AOL.com Or... write Carol Ozemhoya, 1030 Calibre Springs Way, Atlanta, GA 30342. 404.843.3208 phone.