Four years ago, J.R. Rotem made a pivot from straightforward, trunk-rattling gangsta rap productions to helming saucy mainstream pop tracks. The switch worked. His hit tracks for Britney Spears and Rihanna vaulted him from rap’s A-list into the clouds of frothy club-pop, with the attendant tabloid attention – including a quick-burning relationship with Britney that he vividly (he says jokingly) detailed in a notorious 2007 Blender Magazine article.
His extracurricular exploits threatened to derail Rotem the musician. So, in 2007, he re-calibrated his production goals and established Beluga Heights, a label imprint where he could cultivate new vocal talent. Sean Kingston, the teenage Jamaica-via-Miami singer, hit first with “Beautiful Girls,” one of the defining songs of that summer.
That tune set a template of Caribbean-inflected, beat-driven synth-pop for Rotem that, three years later, has sneakily become one of the dominant sounds of pop radio. His latest project, the debut from young singer-songwriter Jason Derulo out today, sports two sleek and absolutely inescapable singles in “Whatcha Say” and “In My Head,” while he simultaneously led Iyaz’s breakout track “Replay” to No. 2 on the Billboard's pop chart.
It seems like Rotem’s finally made a second major move in his music career, having become one of a select group of producers who spin singular chart gold out of completely unknown artists.
“That’s what’s becoming our forte, identifying raw talent,” Rotem said from the minimalist, workmanlike lounge inside his Mid-City recording studio. “My brother Tommy does our A&R and he spends an awful lot of time on MySpace.”