Rsonist on Diamond District Studios & The Diplomats Rap Dynasty
Rsonist knows a thing or two about the hustle: after launching his DJ career out of his mom’s basement (yes, you heard that right), the stars aligned when he met famed house producer Todd Terry, who subsequently gifted him over $20,000 worth of production equipment. The rest, as they say, is history (kind of), and we’re here to pick up the missing pieces of the puzzle: like the story of how Gucci Mane recorded in said basement, how he’s worked with the likes of Queen Bey and Nicki Minaj, and has even bigger plans for the rest of 2017 (though he’s not much of a planner, per se—this producer prefers to go with the flow).
We sat down with Rsonist of The Heatmakerz to talk Diamond District Studios (his dope AF space near Times Square), working with The Diplomats during their NYC reign, and the future of music (spoiler alert: the future is now). Peep the full interview below.
So let’s go way back—how did you get your start as a producer?
Yeah, I’ll give you the cliff notes. I used to DJ; my junior year of high school I started DJing as kind of a challenge, because one of my home boys said I couldn’t do it so I tried it and I did it and I actually fell in love with it. Then, transitioning into college, I’m still DJing in college, things came up, I ended up getting kicked out of college. I came back to New York with no plan and a friend of mine had bought an MPC, which at the time a lot of producers were using. He went out of town and asked if I could hold it, he lent it to me and the story takes off from there.
So you made a couple of beats that got picked up, right?
Right, I made a couple of beats that got picked up by a guy who people know now as a famous house producer, Todd Terry. He picked up a couple, he actually paid me for them at the time, which I know I probably didn’t deserve but he paid me. And that led into him asking me for more music, but I told him I didn’t have more music. So that turned into him basically sending me $20,000 worth of equipment out of nowhere, after our first meeting. So I’ll always be indebted to him, even to this day. Like I said, his son still records at my studio, which is crazy, because when I met him his son was like 7 years old or 8, now he’s like 20 something.
Did he ever explain to you why he did it, or what he saw in you?
Nah, because if anybody knows Todd, he’s a really laid back dude. He’s not one of those dudes who will do something for you and throw it in your face. I’ve personally seen him do a lot for a lot of people. He lets me know now, when we see each other now and I play music, how he gets when he hears the music. It kind of blows his mind now to see where I came from and where I’m at. That’s his way of saying he saw something in me, he never said that but I assume he saw something if he spent that kind of money on someone unknown.
And from there, when did you start Diamond District Studios?
I started Diamond District Studios in April of 2012. That was the first day that we picked up the keys to the building. It took us 4-6 months to build it out and we’ve been rockin’ ever since.
Where were you before that?
We had a couple of other spots. I was first in my mother’s basement. My first real studio was on 57th and Broadway, years ago, there used to be a Hard Rock Café, and we used to be right above the Hard Rock Café, we had a room up there. Then after that, we went to 27th street, a spot just around the block from where Baseline is at. Then I left there, went to New Rochelle, was in New Rochelle for like a year, a year and a half. All of these places, they were just rooms. Diamond District is the first studio that I personally had that was huge—two rooms, a lounge, multiple offices, you know what I mean? This was the first time that I had something of this size, it was a real studio studio.
Does it change the way that you go about your craft now because you know it’s your own space?
If anything, it’s more stressful. Because now you gotta pay a huge overhead and before, all the studios I had before, with the exception of what I had on 57th years and years ago, all the others I was paying what I would consider regular rent $1,500, $2,500 a month, nothing crazy. But you know, where I’m at now, it’s a whole different ball game, so now, not only do I have to worry about making music and distributing music to artists, but I have to worry about paying my overhead because that spot is insane as far as rent goes. I think of things differently now, ’cause I know what the square footage in Manhattan goes for renting-wise.
So I know that you started in your mom’s basement, and now you’ve got this dope studio near Times Square. Do you feel like your style has evolved or improved over time, because of how long has it been?
Yeah, it’s been like 18 and a half years. I think I understand production more. Before I didn’t understand the difference between just making beats or tracks and being a producer. When I was at my mom’s basement early, I was just a beat maker, I made beats. As I got older, I’ve learned how to produce with artists and work with certain artists and get the best out of this artist and it doesn’t have to be the greatest track in the world because this artist might not call for that, they may just need something simple and plain and stripped down and that may make them sound better. I didn’t have that knowledge years ago, it was just run and shoot.
When it comes to music, you put a certain amount of time and you don’t even realize you’ve hit a certain level. When I make music now, I don’t even think about making music. I think thinking is the direct opposite of creativity. Right? Because in the end of the day, when something is creative and free of any limitations, you’re not supposed to think because you don’t have to think. If you’re playing a game without rules, you don’t have to think because you can do whatever you want. The minute you start to think, somebody else is not thinking and going right by you. That’s how I tackle music and I think that’s how you know you’ve mastered music, when you can just turn your brain off and just go.
Can you tell us about your work with The Diplomats?
Yeah, that was the first big thing I worked on as far as movements go, yes. I think that was one of the biggest movements in New York history as far as rap goes. We’ve had a few, we had G-Unit, we had Roc-A-Fella, we had Cash Money. As far as the Tri-State went, or even the East Coast went, what The Diplomats had, what they put on the city hasn’t been done since, I personally think. Because I remember when they came on and what the movement was like, and they came on having everybody wear pink. It was a phenomenon at one point.
What does it mean for you, having that piece of history and being a part of it?
I don’t feel it, man. It means a lot to me, but it doesn’t mean much in the sense that I don’t live and die by that. It’s beautiful when someone comes up and recognizes what I did, or whatever the case is, but I don’t… Either way, I just love making music. The accolades to me, it’s a blessing if somebody comes along and knows what I’ve done, but I just love making music. I could just sit in my studio and make music. That’s what really brings me joy. That’s how I express myself and you can hear it through my music.
What about a piece of music do you think makes it memorable? How do you know when it has your stamp on it and it’s ready to go?
My thing is this, any good record or any good song is going to force you to feel some way that you weren’t feeling when you first started listening to it. That’s a good record for me, if a record can change your emotion just by you listening to it, whether you become angry or happy, whatever it is. If it can change your state of mind just by listening to it, that’s a great record. Think about it, even if you don’t think it’s a good record, if you hate a record that much that it makes you get angry, that record is doing something. That’s all music has to do, is evoke an emotion, and it won. That’s how I look at it. When I make music, I just want you to feel, whether it’s excited, jumping around, working out, whatever it is. I try to make that music, I want you to feel something. If you don’t feel anything, for me, that’s the biggest insult to my music. If you leave and you don’t feel anything, then I didn’t do my job.
Do you have anything that you’ve made that stands out to you as really impactful? What’s some of the most memorable stuff?
Well, I could tell you a story that happened to me one time that kind of let me realize that music was really that impactful. There was a girl I knew at the time, me and her sitting in my car, this was years ago, and I was playing a bunch of stuff and on this CD it was a compilation of stuff that I did, because she wanted to hear the music that I did, so I’m running through records. I got to one particular record, I forgot what record it was, I think it was Juelz Santana’s “Who Am I” off the Diplomatic Immunity album and she just broke out crying. The whole mood changed, I was like, “What happened?” She said, “No you don’t understand, when my mother was passing away, I listened to this song every day all day.” And to me she was like, “I didn’t know you made this, but this record holds a special place to me because it just struck a chord in me and I kept listening to it. I stopped listening to it after she passed away because it reminded me of her.” So I just know how powerful music is as far as, like, it can help get you through. All of us, we all have a record that brings back some sort of memory, I don’t care who you are. Like when I hear New Edition, it brings me back to when I was 5 or 6 years old. I just remember certain things through music, and I know everybody does, unless you just have no soul. If no song can make you remember something, you have no soul, it’s impossible. You have to have that song, I don’t know what that song is but everybody has that song. That’s what music does, there’s nothing more powerful than that.
Where do you see music going in the future?
I think we’re here already. Because the objective, I think, was this, music is not physical, we don’t need to put it on something physical. Now, if we can give it to you in digital form, we save all types of music, now we don’t have to pay for any sort of distribution. We’re pretty much selling air. With that being said, how much more, unless you’re going to send it straight to our brain, there’s not much faster you can get from there. What I said years ago, when they were trying to figure out how to monetize iTunes, those years was when I said the labels need to figure out how to turn the music into the money on all levels, but now they’re there with streaming, Spotify, YouTube. Everybody has a hold on how to make money off of music now. The future isn’t going to really affect us that much more. There’s not much faster we’re going to deliver the product to the people. Now, you hit a button and it’s in your phones, how much faster could you want it? It can’t get any faster than that, it’s impossible that you could have it before the artist makes it. But that’s the society we live in, it’s a microwavable society.
What are you working on right now that you can share with us?
I’m fresh off a record I just did on Joe and Remy’s album that came out a month back, I did a record on this artist Casanova’s project, he just dropped his project on March 17. I’m working on my own personal project, called Audio Basquiat, a 7 song EP. I’m going to name all the records after Basquiat paintings, and kind of have themes for every record, do something real nice. I’m in the studio, I’m working with a lot of different artists, like right now for my project I’m working with Jim Jones, Jadakiss, Fab. There’s a bunch of different things, there are so many I really forget what I’m doing at the time.
So you’re coming out with an EP, are you rapping or singing on it?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no [Laughs]. It’s just a compilation project, I’m just doing all the music on it, no rapping this time. I used to. I had a pretty good project, people can judge for themselves, but I had a project called “Sunday”, because the concept was a day in my life, but it was going to be a Sunday, so the music was really laid back and I separated each song with voicemails that people left me on a Sunday. It’s dope, you can find it online. “The Crash Project” was in like 2009, my solo stuff came after that. “The Crash Project” was a compilation of a few artists I had relationships with at the time. I was just trying to be new and innovative. That’s when trap music was really taking over and being heavy, so I was trying to find a lane for myself. Music is crazy, it’s always changing. People switch you out like belts in a car engine. You have to find a way to stay creative.
So as far as goals for the year, or more long term, do you have a vision for what you want to do that informs your work as a whole?
Before I used to say “Yes,” just because I feel like it’s the right thing to say, to be honest with you. But the reality is no. I have plans, but the plans don’t consist of three or four moves to get it right within the next year. I take it day by day, and try to get the most out of each day. The way I work now is kind of like, everything I do doesn’t take effect for a couple of months regardless, so when I work on something now, I don’t see the effects of it for like two or three months. So it’s just staying ahead of your work.
Featured image courtesy of Rsonist
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