From 'Compton' to 'Unbreakable': Producer Dem Jointz on Working With Dr. Dre & Janet Jackson
Talk about your one-two punch. Songwriter/producer Dem Jointz counts multiple credits on two of this year’s headline-making albums: Dr. Dre's Compton and Janet Jackson's Unbreakable. Pretty cool for a former AT&T wireless call center rep who reviewed consumers' credit ratings. In fact, that stint almost derailed the Compton, Calif., native's dream of a music career.
Born Dwayne Abernathy, Dem Jointz remembers taking a test in hopes of securing a promotion. During the test, he received a call he'd been anticipating from a Sony label executive. "The AT&T supervisor said, 'Don’t even think about answering the phone,'" said Dem Jointz. "I ended up choosing AT&T over music. It was about paying the bills. But that was a horrible feeling."
He also didn’t get the promotion. In fact, AT&T eventually fired Dem Jointz after two years. But no more 9-5 fired up the former rapper's creative hustle. He began writing with and producing local artists, including singer/songwriter Candice Pillay. Her music later caught the ears of A&R reps for Grammy-winning producer Bangladesh (Ludacris, Lil Wayne).
Pillay's meeting with Bangladesh led to Dem Jointz also signing with the Atlanta-based producer in 2010. A year later, Dem Jointz picked up his first major credit -- collaborating on the track "Cockiness (Love It)" from Rihanna's 2011 album Talk That Talk. Determined to "move on up like the Jeffersons," as he said, Dem Jointz has since racked up production credits on projects by Brandy, Christina Aguilera, Marsha Ambrosius, Sevyn Streeter and Jordin Sparks.
Itching to do more hip-hop, Dem Jointz began creating his own beats and loops again in his Van Nuys, Calif., studio with Ambrosius free-styling hooks. She ended up taking one of the tracks to Aftermath. "Marsha called and said, 'A&R at Aftermath wants to know when you can come down to the studio and talk,'" he recalls. "That was my first meeting with Dr. Dre."
The track in question later became "Genocide" and is one of four Compton selections (including "Satisfaction," "Medicine Man" and "Deep Water") that carry Dem Jointz’s production stamp. He’s also featured as an artist with Ice Cube and Anderson .Paak on another album track, "Issues."
"Even though Dr. Dre had an overall idea of what he wanted to do on the project, the coolest thing was that he let us all come through with our own ideas," said Dem Joints. "He just said, 'Do you.'"
BMG, to whom Dem Jointz is signed, set up a meeting with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. That resulted in credits on seven tracks for Janet Jackson's No. 1 album Unbreakable as a producer ("Burnitup!" featuring Missy Elliott, "Damn Baby," "Shoulda Known Better" and "2 B Loved") and musician (the title track, "No Sleeep" featuring J. Cole and "Dream Maker Euphoria").
"They showed me a lot of love on that album," said Dem Jointz of Jackson, Jam and Lewis. "I reached a whole other level of inspiration."
Co-managed by Danny Carter and Denzil Foster (whose own songwriting and production credits include En Vogue), Dem Jointz is currently bringing his self-described "quirky, high-energy" style to collaborations with ScHoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar.