Producer Dem Jointz opens up about working in Dr. Dre's inner creative circle, the Compton sound, and the hilarious struggle of leaving the nine-to-five life behind.
And to think, in another life, Dem Jointz might have been working behind a desk at AT&T Wireless. As fate would have it, the Compton producer realized his true calling and proceeded to alter his trajectory accordingly. An inspiration to anybody looking to pursue a creative field, Dem Jointz can't help but laugh when he reflects on what might have been. Considering the body of work he has since assembled, be it working as an integral part of Dr. Dre's inner circle to shaping the rising artists on his label U Made Us What We Are, it's safe to say that he's already made a notable mark on the game.
His resume speaks for itself. Production for 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Anderson .Paak, Cordae, J. Cole, Rihanna, Xzibit, K.A.A.N, Kanye West, ScHoolboy Q, and many more are but a few of his accomplishments. Yet even as his network expands, Dem Jointz has found a way to stay grounded and prioritize creativity -- even while surrounded by some of the game's legendary figures. "I try not to spend too much time, even to this day, being in awe," he explains, reflecting on his partnership with Dr. Dre. "I have to remember why I'm here and what’s it going to take to get this monumental work done."
Amidst being locked in on an album that may or may not be the mythical Detox, Dem Jointz took a moment to speak with us about his career, his influences, and his experiences along the way. Check out our full interview below, edited for length and clarity.
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HNHH: Dem Jointz! How are you doing? Thanks so much for taking the time.
I’m doing great man, I’m doing great. Appreciate you.
Is this your home studio? I see you got the piano in the background.
This is the home studio. I got the Peloton in the back. Listen to some mixes, get my little treadmill on, you know what I mean?
Do you do a lot of engineering yourself, on the mixing end?
Sometimes. Especially if I’m working on something and I have a full idea as to what I want it to sound like. It’s always easier to just be hands-on with that.
I guess you're pretty involved in the production process then.
Sometimes you've got to be hands-on for the whole entire song. Everything. Sometimes. [Laughs]
Is it hard to let a song go be on its own?
Oh yeah, for sure. It's always like, you want to change it, but you know what, let's not even overthink it. Let it go. I'ma close my eyes and turn around and I want it gone.
When I hear some of your beats, there's a lot of clarity to them. I really like the mixes.
Appreciate that. I hold that dear man. That’s one of the reasons you'll stay around for a long time. Especially when we're in an era where it's just plug and go, and no one really cares about the sonics of it or mixing. Your song is the thing that your consumer listens to and sometimes they can’t put their finger on why they like it so much more than everything else. And they're not even thinking that maybe it’s the mix, maybe it's the vibe.
For sure. You're from Compton, right?
I’m from Compton!
Something I noticed is that two of the cleanest mixers are Dre and DJ Quik, also from Compton. So I’m wondering if there’s some kind of Compton sound that comes into the mixes that people aren't really catching.
Either that or it’s the fact that I studied those two individuals coming up. That's pretty much where I got my information from. So it could be that.
It must be crazy for you, having studied Dr. Dre’s mixing to now being in his production circle.
It’s a blessing man, but I try not to spend too much time, even to this day, being in awe. I have to remember why I'm here and what’s it going to take to get this monumental work done.
I can imagine. I can remember first hearing about Detox in like 2002, and it's become this whole mythical thing. So when you guys posted that Detox reunion picture, part of me was like are you guys just having fun with us at this point?
Being creative is just having fun. Dre's back and feeling better than ever. That post was me just being happy and excited. It is a mythical creature, but we're having fun and being creative and that's what it’s about.
"Being creative is just having fun. Dre's back and feeling better than ever. That post was me just being happy and excited. It is a mythical creature, but we're having fun and being creative and that's what it’s about."
Absolutely. I’m glad to hear that Dre is feeling good.
He’s a pioneer. We don’t have anything to worry about, man! He’s in great health.
The day you took that picture, what was the vibe like? What were you guys working on -- if you can say?
Nothing in particular, man. Just being creative. It’s dope because that whole room is full of so many talented people. To collaborate with so many different people and for it to connect perfectly...It happens like that every time. It’s because Dre knows how to pick the people that are going to connect, and that in itself is genius. So when we get together it’s just a family reunion. So what does that sound like? Whatever we're working on is super dope and super inspiring. So when we take that picture everyone it’s like everyone’s happy like “Yeah we in here!” It’s nothing specific though, like I said we're just having fun and being creative.
So I guess you’re there pretty often working on new music. Do any of you guys play live instruments? Are there any jam sessions going on in there?
That’s pretty much what we're doing. We’ve got Bluetooth, Focus, and Trevor and Fredwreck, and it’s like they all do different things. My boy Bluetooth pretty much plays like 80 million instruments by himself. He was like “You got the horn? I got that'' and you're like, “What?! Did you even bring that?” It's super dope man.
When you were growing up, did you have any musicians in your family? When did you start making music?
I started off rapping. The production side of it came because we couldn't find producers to make beats for us. So I was like “Let me just start making beats and see what it is." I’ve always been musically inclined. I was born and raised in the church. My pops was a preacher, my mom was in the choir. So I played drums when I was younger for the Church, so I’ve always been musically inclined. When I first picked up that ASRX, that beat machine, and I fell more in love with that, I was like “I don't know if I wanna rap anymore.” [Laughs]
Do you ever spit any bars just for fun these days?
Give me some 1942 with some ice, and I might go ahead and freestyle a little bit.
It’s cool that you mentioned the church upbringing too, because I feel like there's so much music that comes from that environment. So I can see how that went on to inspire the sound.
It was for sure influencing.
Even some of those Aftermath productions. There are definitely some church organs used on some of those beats. I always felt that the Aftermath sound always had this darker quality to it.
You've got the organs in there you've got the creepy synths. It’s crazy because these different things give you different ideas. You can do stuff with your voice, all kinds of creative ways to create whatever this vibe is. I try to incorporate that into whatever I’m doing when I’m working outside of the Aftermath camp.
Something I really love about your beats is the presence of the bass. I’m increasingly confident that the bass is pretty much the most important instrument. How do you approach coming up with those bass parts that really pop?
It's just like any instrument. It’s like whatever it makes you feel. I don’t have a specific thing that I do, in terms of creating. It could be actually the bass that might inspire the rest of the song. It could be a vocal, it could be a sample. It could be anything. And then everything else is just inspired by whatever that first thing is. I try not to think about how the bass is going to be, I try to just figure out how this feels. What do I want to play based off however it's layered is making me feel.
So when you're working on some beats. Do you approach it as if you're making projects? Are you someone who makes albums in your own head while you're working on it?
It all depends on what I envision in my head. For example, let’s say there's an album I want to get on and I’ve heard what the album sounds like, I try to add on my own level of my story to that album. So then, what does that sound like? Close your eyes and envision whatever you think that is, and whatever comes out, comes out. Sometimes it just happens to come out dope! [Laughs] If it’s just one specific thing, I might think about a place or some weird creative shit. And then I try to create a soundtrack for whatever's in my head.
So do you find that your instincts tend to take you to a specific place more often than not, stylistically?
I don't have a specific style. I guess it just depends on how I’m feeling at the time or who I’m working with. Sometimes there are things I can't help and are just going to come out. For example the whole California, West Coast style. Even if I’m doing some south shit, or Chicago bounce, or something that would be super dope to the east coast and still. It still has that level of You from Compton I can tell! I don't know if I can shake that.
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I think it's that crispness! I remember I saw an interview with The Game and he was emphasizing that the mixing of DJ Quik and Dre was mind-blowing to him.
I feel the same way. I remember listening to all of Dr. Dre's stuff and even DJ Quik, hearing how there are instruments all the way to your left. Those pans, what? It’s just crazy. And then I follow that model with my own mixes.
"I remember listening to all of Dr. Dre's stuff and even DJ Quik, hearing how there are instruments all the way to your left. Those pans, what? It’s just crazy. And then I follow that model with my own mixes."
Another similarity -- DJ Quik and yourself know how to use those woodwind instruments, the flutes, the clarinets, all of that.
I was definitely influenced by DJ Quik, I was definitely a fan. Especially when the beats go on at the end of the song and it just goes into this whole musical thing, and I’m like “What the fuck am I listening to, this is Awesome!"
That’s something I noticed too! Songs these days don’t ride out the beat at the end. I keep waiting for the beats to ride out and it just doesn't seem to happen anymore. Maybe they're trying to keep certain lengths I guess, but that’s something I miss.
Right, me too. Leave it up to me, I’ll try to bring that back for you, you know what I’m saying!
I appreciate that. But it goes to show too-- If you're having a jam session with a bunch of creative people, there are going to be a lot of dynamics that come into play. You're going to have someone that maybe does something on the drums, does something on the bass, does something on the keyboards. Those all bring their own kind of musical moments. I think that knowing when to capture those is the sign of a really good producer.
Exactly, exactly. Those moments that hit you in the gut. You know what I’m saying? That’s what it’s about, for sure.
There’s no feeling quite like listening to really loud music and vibing out. Especially in the studio.
I had read that you used to work a 9-5, but your passion was always in music.
Yeah man, I had to quit that shit. That shit was not for my life.
I think a lot of people can relate to that. Creative people who may be hesitant to take the plunge or take a dive into something so risky. Can you maybe go back and remember some of your thoughts.
Let me tell you the famous story. I used to work at AT&T Wireless. I did analyst review for credit bureau, it was some corporate shit! I was working in a call center and I was being promoted, so there was a test I had to take. But beforehand I did a little networking so I could see how I could get my feet wet in the music industry. I happen to strike gold with this specific thing and it came back to bite me on the ass on the day of the test. While I was testing for my next position, you're not allowed to have your phones on the desk. But I was anticipating a phone call at some point throughout that day -- the President of Sony at the time.
Unfortunately while I was taking this test is when the President or Vice President of Sony decided to call me. It’s crazy cause I’m on the phone doing this quality control test and I’m looking at my phone, getting in trouble from the supervisor that was testing me anyway cause I’m not supposed to have my phone on me. The President or Vice President called me three times during the test. The funny thing is I didn't say “Fuck this shit” and pick up the phone anyway. I stayed on the phone and completed the test. Which could be the worst thing you do in your entire life. At that moment that was me disregarding my true destination. I was being complacent with where I was at and I made that decision right there.
So it was three times he called. That shit made me feel crazy. I finished the test and I did pass, but as soon as I was done with that shit, I hauled ass to the break room to call him back. By the time I called back, his assistant picked up and said that he had to jump on a plane and that he was calling me on the way to the airport and that he’ll call me back after his flight. By the time he called me back they already found a placement for what he was looking for. It was production for something that he needed. He found someone because I was unavailable at that moment when he was trying to get in contact with me. That moment there I was like “Yo what the fuck, this is crazy.” So at this point I was like I’m never doing that again. The opportunity comes I’m definitely going to say Fuck this shit, we need to take care of this music shit. I spent the rest of my time at AT&T Wireless and I was trying to get fired.
Was that hard to do?
It was crazy hard! The crazy thing about it is -- that was last year where you could get fired for insubordination and get unemployment. So I was on a mission. I was coming to work late, not showing up, doing all kinds of shit, and they wouldn't fire me. I was like what the fuck is this?! When they finally fired me I was like I’m never working for somebody like that ever again in my life. I’m going to follow my dreams. I treated it like it was life or death. Like this is what I’m here for and I’m going to put everything into what I want to do. My ultimate goal is to be successful and to take care of my family and be a testimony to those coming up just like me. Especially young guys from Compton or inner cities. I felt like I have to put my body into this and I've got to make it happen. So here I am.
Definitely. That’s an inspiring story. I’m just picturing consciously trying to get fired. It’s kind of comedic gold, to be honest.
Right, right, right. [Laughs]
It’s almost like a TV show or something.
I was like what is taking so long! Don’t you see me fucking up over here?
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So this was like 2005 you said. At the time can you paint a picture of the musical landscape as you saw it? So maybe your production, the way it was sounding, the artists that were steering your own influence. Can you paint a picture of that specific era when you were first getting that call?
In my head at the time. The successful atmosphere of the music industry was like on the other side of the hill. I was not there. I was on the other side trying to figure out how I can look and be the part. So of course that goes with just sharpening your tools and just making sure when you are able to travel on the other side of the hill you're ready and you'll stand on that hill. As opposed to you going over there and getting rejected and then coming back at starting at the drawing board.
I think that what I did was just concentrate on being the best I could and the cool thing about it is, it’s easy to do that when you have a network full of upcoming producers, artists, and songwriters. So I cliqued up with a whole community of people that were on the same mission that I was on and I worked with those people. We weren't getting placement like that, or making a living off of music, it was a little difficult at first of course. It took a lot of sacrifice and a lot of chipping at the stone before anything happened. But when it did I was ready and I never looked back.
For sure. So what was the first big placement then?
The first big placement. Man. What was my first big placement? That's crazy.
Something maybe back to the Rihanna sessions?
Yeah, there was Rihanna. There was Christina Aguilera, and I got a couple of jams on that album. I started off singing to Bangladesh and I moved to Atlanta for a year or so. So I was working with him and then a lot of placements came through that whole situation, so that was super dope. It just went up from there.
That’s cool. That intersection between the west coast and southern sound. That must've started to seep into your work, even if it was subconscious, you know?
It’s super dope because you're used to working a certain way and then you're learning so many different textures and palettes. Different routes you can go and learn from people doing different things. So that was a super dope experience.
So you were working in Atlanta in the mid-2000s?
From 2006-2010. Four years of it being real.
In terms of current-day production, there's definitely a lot of influence coming from the South right now. So it almost comes full circle -- I see you're working with 2 Chainz again, collaborating with artists from the South.
I met 2 Chainz through Bangladesh a few years ago, so that was super crazy.
Was he still Tity Boi at the time?
I think he was transitioning from Tity Boi to 2 Chainz.
Cool. He was testing it out.
Yeah to see if it worked for him -- and it did. [Laughs]
Definitely. So when did you move back to L.A?
I moved back in 2012. Maybe the end of 2012 going into 2013. I was on a mission from there. I signed my first publishing deal. I got to meet so many different interesting people. In terms of writers and artists. I was in the studio with pretty much everybody. Shoutout to BMG who introduced me to Marsha [Ambrosius], who connected me with Focus and Ty, who mentioned me to Dr. Dre. It was always just a community of people connecting me based on them being interested in my sound.
I guess at that point, things started to lead up to Compton which I imagine was a significant project for you -- considering you contributed to several highlights on that album. One of my favorite tracks -- "Deep Water" -- I know you contributed to that. I might even go so far as to say that's Kendrick Lamar’s best feature.
Ohhh! That was fun, man! I think it was me, Focus, Cardiac, and Dahi. And maybe some other producers and musicians on the record. It was fun. It was a dope collab.
I have to say Anderson Paak really went hard with the drowning at the end.
Right, that was crazy, I remember that.
That's something I expect from the Dre camp. With all you guys there -- You listen to that shit with headphones and it’s very immersive.
It pushes me to be that creative. How do you sound like you're drowning? Like what?
It's cool too cause what you guys did with that track is like the lyrical concept of deep water and drowning. But it’s really brought out with the beat. In order to capture that you have to pick the right synth. So I imagine there's going to be some wet reverb, some reverse delay.
Crazy. Under those circumstances, I’m sitting there learning, probably asking some annoying, stupid-ass questions while this is going on. I’m like “How are you guys doing this? What plug-in is that?" [Laughs]
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So was the creation of Compton one continuous thing where people were just going in and out every day? How'd it all come together?
It was a big creative space that was pretty much-happening every day. Of course, Dre has a few studios going on at the same time. It’s like two major events going on at the same time. It’s incredible man. I don’t know how Dre was present in both rooms -- it sure enough seemed like it. He'll give a little direction and everybody becomes creative and figures out how to create this atmosphere that we're all talking about.
Was there a clear vision of what was set out to be made? Was there a briefing or anything?
Nah. You just trust the process. You don't know where you're going, but wherever you're going, you're going to love where your destination is. That’s the fun thing about it. You don't want to know what it looks like because it can be bigger than what you imagined. Based on how we would connect things, not knowing what it was, it was bigger than what we thought and what we imagined. That's exciting because you can look at it and be like wow this is crazy. What else can we do? What else is going on?
So when you're working on a project -- for example, the album you did with K.A.A.N, where you're working very substantially on all the production, how do you approach doing something like that?
The same way. So everything that I’ve learned and inspired me and motivated me to do what I do, I take all that with me and I create that whole different type of environment, like with U Made Us Who We Are, which is my label. The cool thing about it is K.A.A.N understands where I’m trying to go and why, because he’s been exposed to the same situations. I introduced him to Dre, and Dre took a big liking to him as well. We were working and creating with him, and he knows the function and what we do and how we get down. It’s just dope, he’s so dope, he’s out in Maryland and he knows how to come in and just camouflage right into what we’re doing and fit right in. It sounds super crazy dope every time. I’m a fan of his music and his artistry. We’re both learning from each other and whatever the story is, it’s like we don't know where it’s going to go, we just having fun creating the story.
I think that’s one of the most important things -- enjoying the process. Having fun doing it. Finding some new surprises in the story that's being told. Maybe a musical element that you didn't realize was happening. Like certain chords-
It happens every time, man.
So do you have a beat that you made that you look back on as being your magnum opus?
Not yet. I feel like I have yet to create that. That’s what makes it exciting because I haven't created my “OOOOOHHH.” Like when I listen back to it I’m like “This is crazy.” I like everything I do. But you have to create that and I’m looking forward to just continuing to strive to that extent.
Yeah for sure. I think you had a pretty solid one with "RNP."
With Cordae and AP?
Yeah, like that track was-
That track actually- J. Cole created that loop. I just helped out with the arrangement and add-on stuff. Just a sprinkle, like a little salt and cinnamon. If that makes any sense.
That’s an important part though. It’s like a collaborative process, right? That’s a good duo right there. How did that come to be, like you working with Cole on a beat?
AP introduced me to Cordae and when Cole gave him the beat they actually already were going back and forth in terms of what the topline idea was going to be. That’s when I came in and when they first put the vocals to the track, he gave it to me and was like "What else do you hear?" So I went down to the studio, and I was like let me plug up, give me the mic and I was just adding on all kinds of different things that I hear on top. Like, “We should drop the beat right here," "Let me add this.” Just little sprinkles here and there. Just my idea of boosting it just a little.
That was a good track. It kind of reminded me of -- not really sonically, but structurally and vibe-wise-- “How We Do” with 50 and The Game from back in the day.
Oh yeah. The interaction between the artists.
Not only that, but just like the fact that it could be a successful song commercially, while still being unique and original, still having a lot of character. There's a lot to like about that type of beat.
That was super dope and shout out to Cordae for taking that chance and actually being right, that was dope. I feel like he’s going to continue to raise the bar in that way. He going to continue to give you different shit. We’re so used to everything sounding a certain way, so it's always going to cut through when you do something different and it’s super dope at the same time.
"Shout out to Cordae for taking that chance and actually being right, ["RNP"] was dope. I feel like he’s going to continue to raise the bar in that way. He going to continue to give you different shit. We’re so used to everything sounding a certain way, so it's always going to cut through when you do something different and it’s super dope at the same time."
On that note, are there any younger artists you might be interested in working with? Or even any older artists who you still haven't worked with?
Too many to name, but at this point, I feel like there’s a whole lot of people that I would like to see with more limelight. I’m excited about working with my artists at U Made Us What We Are. We got K.A.A.N, we got Undecided Future, we got the young Keedron Bryan, we got Stalone. I’m actually working on an album called DemiGod -- it's got a lot of new and upcoming artists that I would love to see in the forefront. I feel like that’s my way of giving back to people that are trying to figure out how to make it. I want to be an instrument and a testimony to these people and get them started working hard on their dreams. It’s way too many to name. I’ll be hearing stuff and be like “Damn, he’s dope, that’s dope.” It’s super dope to hear, without me even working with these people. You can kind of hear your production under their craft, just in your head.
I get that.
There's a lot of talent out there, so I’m just going to do the best I can and cover as much as I can. And like I said just be a testimony and bring it back.
So you must be busy as hell right now then.
Yes. Hell yes. I got 8 million things to do as soon as I finish with this interview.
Before we wrap -- I see your name in the credits for Eminem’s latest album. I was curious about what those sessions were like? What was your approach to working with Eminem?
It was super dope. We were collaborating in the studio and Eminem came down to LA to be creative with us. They shut it down to where he had his studio in the back and we were working up front. It was super dope because he would hear us bumping something and he would come up behind us like “What was that? Play it again.” He’ll be in his head and then be like “Can you send me that?” and then go back to the room. It’s crazy that he can create something that can make someone double-take like that. It was dope. It was like when we did "Medicine Man" you hear Eminem on your track and it’s like WOW this is crazy! Let me try making this the best thing ever.
LISTEN: Dr. Dre ft Anderson .Paak & Eminem - Medicine Man
No pressure. That’s dope, man. I can’t even imagine. I love the idea of the studio. Songs getting built, songs getting made. Even shit like just micing drums. I like that.
Me too. Trust and believe I’m the last person you want to mic the drums, but...[Laughs]
But Dre has a whole team that really knows how to get that going and make it sound like a drum machine. Everything is isolated and strong and I’m like dude, I hate would to go in there and run into some shit that and knock down the mics, then you have to start all over.
When you're working with your artists and on your own albums are you bringing that kind of mentality, like the overseer? Making sure everything gets done meticulously?
I have a team as well, but I’m definitely hands-on. I try to bring as much of what I am inspired by to my atmosphere as well. I don’t necessarily have a big ol' set of drums. I got the whole Roland set that you plug in -- it sounds like real drums though! I can mix it to make it sound like that. It still serves the same purpose. I still try to implement the same kind of musicality and the soundscape and everything that I've learned. I put that into the atmosphere of everything that I create and with U Made Us What We Are as well.
So what’s your next move? What are you going to work on right now?
I got a couple of mixes to work on. I’m excited about finishing my project coming out. There's different things that I want to do, so I’ll be at you soon.
Please do. I’m happy to support anything that you're dropping so just hit me up or have your team hit me up!
Thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it. Keep making great music!
Thank you so much, I appreciate you.