INTERVIEW: Ronny J talks to HNHH about his upcoming mixtape, his love of raves, and being more than a producer.
She sounds a little surprised. Amused. Mostly intrigued. “Oh my god, Ronny!” It’s the kind of thing you hear, said in exactly that tone too, when someone pulls a trick you should have seen coming. A trick you’ve seen enough times to know it’s not really a trick. It’s more an attitude, a magnetic swagger that she’ll stick around to see more of. And then the bass hits.
That line is one of Ronny J’s production tags, and it’s easy to imagine him returning the girl’s amusement with a quiet smirk before throwing his headphones on and doing it all over again. The kind of blithe indifference that says, “You can be here or not, Imma still do my thing.”
Don’t mistake him for someone who doesn’t give a shit, though. Or for some quiet DJ immersed in his beats. Ronny J is aiming for something bigger, for a whole takeover that includes music, art, fashion. He’s an artist who doesn’t accept barriers on his creative energies. But before we go there, let's dial it back.
Right now Ronny J is reigning producer of South Florida’s rowdy hip-hop scene. He's contributed blasted-out, angry beats to songs by Ski Mask the Slump God, Smokepurpp, XXXTentacion, Lil Pump, and Denzel Curry. It was with Curry that he broke into the scene, producing the meme-generating banger, “Ultimate” and most of the songs on Curry’s mixtape Imperial.
He came to regional supremacy by chance and tenacity. And even now that he’s established his hold, the image is perplexing. At twenty-five, Ronny J seems old compared to the teenagers he’s making beats for, and they in turn behave in a way that reflects not five years difference, but a whole generational gap. On top of that, the New Jersey-native wasn’t even living in Florida until he headed there for college. But Ronny J tapped into something when he linked up with Denzel Curry, maybe the vibes, maybe just the nice weather. In a lot of ways, his networking and Soundcloud’s platform make his story a parable about the ubiquity promised by relentless social media sharing in music’s streaming age.
Ronny J has built a regime in rap’s underground. And has shown signs of going beyond it, recently collaborating with Skrillex on an EDM track, and rocking out with Travis Barker. There’s more though. Ronny J has promised to drop a mixtape very soon, titled OMG Ronny, that will include some of the biggest rappers from South Florida. He got his fans excited for the project when he dropped the single, “Thriller,” and not just because it rattled your head with bass in classic Ronny J fashion. It featured Ronny J doing some of his own rapping (although he doesn’t quite call it that). It’s something we’ve seen in releases like “Emoji” and “Dripset,” and, as he discusses in this interview, something we can expect more of.
We got Ronny J on the phone this week to talk about his upcoming project, his pivot toward rapping, and his interests and influences outside of hip-hop.
HNHH: You got a lot of people excited with “Thriller,” your song featuring Ski Mask the Slump God, because it had you rapping on it. How long have you been interested in filling that role in the music, like what’s your background, and what directions do you see yourself moving in beyond production?
Ronny J: I’ve kind of always been going to like the whole percussion side of music, more than the rapping and stuff like that, but, I do remember some time in middle school and throughout high school just like me and my boys, you know, wanted to be rappers. You know... like coming up with raps. And then coming up with different flows. I remember at one point I was in like a church choir too. I feel like I was always talented at coming up with melodies and stuff like that, so basically once I started producing, once I started getting some type of looks— I was getting looks but I felt like I still wasn’t getting publicity like I deserved— so I was like, 'Yo fuck it.' You know? I want to be on stage too. I don’t want to just be behind the scenes. Like I’m so much more than just like the beatmaker on a computer. I could touch like a lot of different areas, so then I started making my own shit and dropping it.
You mentioned melody just now, which you’ve talked about before. We’ve written— like in our Smokepurpp review— that your music is not just the bass that so many critics focus on. With you being from this diverse background how do you see yourself fitting into this idea of cross genre that defines South Florida rap?
I consider myself being someone that can definitely touch almost any genre that I really want to put my mind to. I don’t want to just be rap, you know what I’m saying? I kind of want to just… like whatever comes out of me, that’s what I want to present in the best way possible.
Like when you did "Thriller"?
On “Thriller” there wasn’t really any melody, it was kind of just like I’m going to do whatever… whether that’s melodies to me, or just, more or less, kind of trying it in a cooler way. And that to me isn’t like really rapping-rapping. Like Ski’s part, Ski’s a real rapper. Like they’re saying he spent four hours editing the shit… all thats cool, you know what I'm saying, but you won’t always get that from me. I’m more or less just an artist, overall. You know what I mean, I just like creating. For the most part, I got a lot of disrespect. I definitely— [got] bashed— like you know what I’m saying? [Because of the] people that even tried to compare me to like Lil Uzi for that song and stuff like that. I don’t get mad at it. Lil Uzi’s good, he’s real big and popular. So like that’s cool. But I definitely didn’t have Uzi in mind when I made that. I be in a vibe. I try not to even be like anybody ever. Be myself at all times.
So given that stance, what kind of musicians do you listen to that aren’t rappers, people that aren’t the typical rap influences that you listen to? You worked with Skrillex, and I saw you had Travis Barker out with you at ComplexCon…
Honestly I love going to raves. So that’s kind of how I got into the whole electronic, EDM, dubstep type shit. I just love the way it vibes because there’s no fights... stuff like that. So when it comes to Travis Barker, I just kind of like grew up playing like Tony Hawk games and shit like that and Blink-182 was always like… you know had some songs on the game and shit like that. And I grew up playing drums like I said, so, I always knew about Travis Barker and [was] into like being a rockstar, having all the tattoos and him even having like his own brand, called Famous, that clothing line. I was always inspired by that. At one point, I was 15, I even made my own clothing line called Rockstar Bandcamp and the logo was drumsticks.
That’s sick, you’ve been creative from a young age.
Yeah, bro I was 15 and I sold shit like at my high school. And then I upgraded it to “Sono una stella,” which is, "I’m a star" in Italian, because I’m half-Italian. I still want to bring these ideas back. Right now I’m focusing on my music bro, like the actual music. So yeah, bro growing up Travis Barker was always like inspiration. Hopefully thinking about doing a demo. So yeah, that was legendary, to have the opportunity to bring him out. That was crazy. Really surreal, it really didn’t really hit me ‘til like probably the next day. I’ve been cool with Travis Barker for like a while.
Going back to your upcoming mixtape, OMG Ronny, you’ve said on Twitter that it will host Florida rappers. Are you also making space for yourself as a rapper? Now that we’ve seen some of what you can do, can we look forward to seeing you featured on some of your own songs or is that something you want to save for a later project?
Honestly bro, at first the idea was to have nothing but my production on there. I didn’t want to collaborate too. And I kind of just wanted to showcase that, with all the artists because we all got [seen] kind of at the same time. But then again, the first deal that I signed was with Atlantic as an artist, and it only made sense to just put my vocals on some of the songs and collab and shit like that so then like. I already had plans to do that but just not with this project. Also I planned on dropping this project like way sooner then when I am dropping it.
Yeah, it was announced months back. The time has probably influenced the arrangement.
So you know a lot of things do change. It still does feature most of the South Florida artists, that have come up. Right now, I’m dealing with different clearancing issues which is something I wasn’t really aware of before signing. There’s a lot shit that goes into this not just at the music. But everything’s good though. There’s no issues… the clearance thing, but that kind of stuff takes time.
So you’re just dealing with logistics. The music is done?
That’s what people don’t understand. [They’re like,] "Drop it now." You don’t understand, I’m done with the music. All that shit’s done. It's literally just like, my people hitting up their people and waiting for their people to respond. It’s like waiting game. That’s what it is right now. It’s definitely on the way, like sooner than people think. For sure. To answer your question, again, my vocals are on there a couple times. I just plan on putting my vocals on there even more...
Looking at the bigger narrative, you’ve been talking about Florida, and putting on those rappers— that specific area, a lot of them are from [Carol City], it has a long legacy, from Raider Klan to Rick Ross— and do you think your music is inspired by that legacy or did you just come into it and vibe?
Honestly bro, I’m from Jersey. I’m not from there so I don’t really know what they had going on down there before I got down there. But South Florida, bro, it’s great vibes. It’s sunny and beautiful all day every single day. What really attracted me down there was the beach and the lifestyle, the beautiful weather. That’s what really attracted me down there and I just kind of brought my talents down with me. And you know fate, you know what I mean? I got a link with Denzel Curry, with his crazy fast flows and aggressive flows, with my hard ass beats because I played dreams, that’s kind of where I get it from. With me being an aggressive person as well, it just kind of clicked and then with me loving everything about Miami, I just kind of stayed down there. It only made sense because I didn’t really have anything to go back home to in Jersey. Just like my mom struggling, everything. Everybody was struggling, so I just made it happen. I did whatever I had to do. Which was that I kept enrolling in different colleges so I could stay in dorm rooms and shit like that. And I would go there for like a semester, stop, stay with different people— I been through that whole thing. So until like I started getting checks in the mail and things started going crazy.
You’ve really made it in a lot of ways. And, so going back to that mixtape again, which it’s all been building to, can you let us know some of the artists that are slated to be on there?
You can expect Ski obviously, Smokepurpp, Lil Pump, Denzel Curry, Fat Nick, Danny Towers. Danny Towers is actually from Orlando but he’s super affiliated with the whole South Florida thing. And like I said I'm going to definitely add in a couple more of my own songs to the tracklist as well. Like I said I have my artist deal with Atlantic, so it only makes sense, I do want to get my stuff more out there.
Cool. Any closing thoughts for the readers or about the mixtape?
Yea, definitely. OMG Ronny on the way! “Ronny J Listen Up” is the brand. RJ, RJ, RJ, RJ, RJ forever. I’m here to stay, I’m here to take over, and I’m going to keep winning. That’s it. And on top of that, big shout out to all my fans.