Q&A With The Justice League
Comprised of three members- Rook, Kenny, and Colione- the Justice League are a production team out of Tampa, Florida, who’ve produced records for Mary J. Blige (“No One Will Do”), Young Jeezy (“Bury Me A G”), and Juelz Santana (Rumble Young Man Rumble”), among others. But they’ve recently seen their stock rise after producing fellow Tampa-native 2 Pistols breakout hit, “She Got It,” featuring T-Pain, which eventually lead to a deal for Pistols with Universal Republic through their production company. If that isn’t enough, Justice League laced Rick Ross with four joints on his new LP, Trilla (including “Maybach Music” and “Luxury Tax”, which dropped this week. I caught up with them via phone to chop it up about their ascent in the business.
Scratch: Talk to me a little bit about how you guys came together to form the Justice League
Colione: We all started out as producers in Tampa. We produced on our own individually. Whenever we had some artists that were working around Tampa, Florida, they would go to the hottest people in Florida to get their beats. A bunch of the artists chose Rook or Kenny or myself. We mutually met through these artists. We liked what everybody else was doing so we was like, why don’t we form a team?
Scratch: Describe what sets you apart from one another.
Kenny: We each had our own specialties and what we did musically. When we first got together, we noticed Colione was able to do more up-tempo club tracks, really down South type stuff.
Rook: He was like a keyboard dude, a synthy cat.
Kenny: Rook of course had his East Coast influence. Myself, I had a musical background in theory and was doing a lot of R&B stuff. Nowadays, we all pretty much can cover every angle. Any one of us can approach a beat, no matter what kind of beat it is.
Scratch: Where are you guys now?
Rook: We live in Atlanta, just outside of Atlanta.
Colione: We relocated because we got a studio out here that we work at. We had to be closer to some of the artists that we were working with. We would constantly travel to Atlanta, so we decided to get us a place out here so we could go where we need to go.
Rook: Hot Beats is the studio. And our management owns it.
Colione: They co-own with it with another guy named Russ. We’re able to go in there and work whenever we want to work.
Scratch: And that’s a management situation you guys have always had?
Rook: We’ve had the managers since the beginning, we’ll have them to the end of our careers. Basically till we die. We’re not looking for any new management.
Scratch: You guys got a publishing deal a few years ago before you’d actually placed any songs, talk to me about that.
Colione: We were in Atlanta, we was working with Young Jeezy on his first album. We was in there, working and grinding out tracks. We did like five songs and a representative for Warner Chappell came through, Chris Hicks. He come through, he heard our sound and he just heard so much potential in us. He talked to us, took us out, and offered us a publishing deal. Our management worked out a deal, we went through some offers and situations and finally we went with Warner Chappell and Chris Hicks
Scratch: Did you play him a whole bunch of records?
It was the Jeezy stuff, and we played him records too that we had. And plus we did other stuff with Shareefa, 112. This was before any stuff came out. We had some stuff in the pipeline, but nothing was out yet. He heard the stuff and fell in love with it.
Scratch: These early records, were they written already, or did you give them to a songwriter and they were laying it before the artist?
Rook: Back then it was just strickly beats. We was still learning. So we was sending out beats to artists. Right now we have full songs and we have writers ourselves, people who do hooks, people who do whole songs.
Colione: Excluding the Jeezy situation because we worked with him. We did the tracks on the spot with Jeezy back then.
Scratch: So you made the beats in front of him?
Rook: We was just in the studio with Jeezy, and he still talks about that. He’s like, “Ya’ll motherfuckers had trombones and trumpets and shakers and tambourines. Niggas out there ain’t really used to that.” Back then, ’04, people were MPC, Triton, and Motif’d out. We came with the records, the instruments. They was just astounded by the whole aura of musicianship.
Scratch: So you were still living in Tampa at the time?
Rook: We was still living in Tampa, working on beats. We traveled up to Atlanta. We was some roadies. We put instruments in [a van] and all that.
Scratch: Did you have day jobs in Tampa?
Kenny: We basically dropped everything we were doing and at the point we decided we were going to do this as a team, just decided to do this full time.
Colione: Not telling everybody else to do that though. Our situation just happened to work.
Rook: We did beats back then just to pay a couple bills, get a little food. Of course our management helped us out financially a lot too if we needed it. Because they seen the vision.
Scratch: What’s their history in the game, what is their background?
Rook: They just regular dudes. They just had the integrity. They were go getters. They had the right connections and if they didn’t have the right connections, they had the will to go get the right connections. Very intelligent. I think all of us, all three of us, we’re always skeptical about signing paperwork with people. But they was cool, and we just felt like they was the one.
Colione: We all came up together. Ivan and Chuck weren’t managing anyone before they was managing us.
Rook: We weren’t producers, they weren’t managers.
Scratch: You had the Mary J. Blige joint, “No One Will Do,” how did that situation come about?
Rook: That was one of the beats that we played for Chris Hicks for our publishing deal. He went crazy over it. Dave Young wrote the song and a few people wanted it, but as soon as Mary heard it, it was over.
Scratch: One of the things I notice about that joint and others is that you have these samples, but they’re arranged in a very musical way. Was that track originally produced that way?
Kenny: The track from the get go was arranged like that. A lot of our tracks, especially the ones that have samples in it, we don’t just sample tracks. We’ll go ahead and add live instruments. With that track, there was pianos, organs, and live guitars, live bass. All that stuff. When we’re shopping a track, we like to make it already recordable so you can hear the vision.
Rook: A lot of other producers give skeletons of the beat and finish it when the artist records it. We pretty much do it beforehand to better the vision.
Scratch: What was it like working with Rick Ross and why didn’t you do more than just the four songs you contributed to the album?
Colione: Rick Ross was working on his album for a while. We came in during the end. Rick Ross, he’s our homie and he still wants us to work with him. We’re going to continue doing music with Rick Ross.
Scratch: Were you able to get in the studio with Rick Ross or were you sending the beats out?
Rook: It was both. He came to the crib when we was living in Tallahasee. He picked out a few joints. He heard the Maybach Music beat, he was like I’ma get Jay on it as soon as he heard it. We would send him beats too because he be on the road a lot too. [On Luxury Tax], Wayne and Ross did they verses, I believe they did them together. And then Jeezy and Trick did their vocals the same day, but Jeezy did his vocals in Atlanta and Trick did his in Miami. And we all got the vocals the same day. Right when we was mixing, we got the vocals from everybody.
Colione: When we got the vocals, we went back in and started producing around what they was coming with.
Rook: Leslie Brathwaite mixed it at Patchwerk, in Atlanta.
Scratch: How important would you say it is for the producer to be around for the mixing?
Colione: We’re very critical. Leslie’s got a sound that we really trust. He listens to our vision, we really like to mix with Leslie. Not saying anyone else can’t do it, because we work with some other people that mix, but being that he’s here in Atlanta too, it’s easier. The sound he comes out with, we’re happy with. Plus he really don’t have to do that much to our tracks, because a lot of people say it sounds like we got our stuff mixed and mastered when they hear our music. We go the extra mile on our beats to get the best sound out of it before we even give them out.
Scratch: What type of equipment are you working with, a Pro Tools HD system?
Kenny: We use strictly Logic when it comes to production. And we use a lot of software synths. We record all our instruments into Logic. The only time it ever leaves Logic is for the mixing process. We dump all that into Pro Tools and run it through the board.
Scratch: What are you using externally to control the software?
Colione: We got all the standard keyboards- Fantom, Motif, Triton, Roland keyboards. We got a lot of guitars, bass, trombone. We use a lot of elements. Saxophone.
Scratch: Is there one or two specific things that you find yourself using, an instrument or sound?
Kenny: We tend to try and update our sound library as much as possible. We don’t like to stick to one sound, I guess it’s the monotony of using the same sound over and over. We try to get new plug-ins, new sounds, new keyboards, and experiment as much as possible.
Scratch: Talk me about your new artist 2 Pistols, and why you decided to work with him.
Rook: He had the “She Got It” song already, and we heard it, and we thought it needed something. It was good, nothing wrong with it. It just needed something. We came in, took T-Pain’s vocals and did the beat around the vocals, and had 2 Pistols re-record his lyrics. When we did the beat, we was like, this could work. So we said, fuck it man, let’s do something.
Scratch: Are you producing his whole album?
Rook: We’re doing most of the album. I think eight or nine songs. We got a couple producers from Tampa, we’re all about bringing our city up. Bolo from Tampa, and Tony Tone, he’s from Orlando. C-Note hooked us up with some ill tracks. He’s from Atlanta or something. He did the intro to the album and another song called “Been Throwing Money.” That dude got a crazy future. The other tracks on the album are different sounding from us.
Scratch: Is he writing all the songs on the album?
Colione: When people submit tracks sometimes they might have hooks. It’s all open for everybody in the industry, if you’re a hookwriter or whatever. These days, a lot of artists want tracks with hooks on it or an idea on it. They wanna use it or go somewhere from it. Some people submitted some tracks with some hooks. We actually had some people do some hooks on the album. Pistols did a lot of writing on his album though.
Rook: Carlysle, which is another one of our artists, he’s an R&B artist, he wrote two hooks on the album, one of them is the next single called “You Know Me.”
Scratch: When is the album coming out?
Colione: The album is scheduled for May 20th, to be released.
Scratch: Do you think that date is firm?
Rook: I think it’s firm. We’re about to turn the album in. We’re done.
Colione: We’re actually going through the mixing process for the album now. We’re mixing the album.
Kenny: We’re mixing most of the songs. I believe Leslie Brathwaite is going to do a couple songs on the album as well.
Scratch: What else is on the horizon?
Rook: We’ve been working with Jeezy and TI. On top of our own artists Fame, another kid from Tampa we’re working with. We just did a Bigga Rankin mixtape. You can go to bewarefam.com and download the mixtape for free. We’re also working with another artist Carlysle, who wrote the hooks for 2 Pistols. He’s insanely talented and his songs are crazy. We’re going to start working on his project real soon.
Colione: The whole CTE click. Blood Raw, Slick Pulla. And We’re doing some more stuff with Ross.