Grammy Award Winning Producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins talks Sam Smith, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and more.
Whitney: I am talking with Grammy award winning songwriter and producer, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, and the really cool thing is you’re nominated this year for a record album and “Song of the Year” for Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me.” …You're no stranger to this, so talk to us about the feeling of being nominated and what you think the outcome is going to be.
Rodney: You know what? It’s amazing ‘cause I’m celebrating my twentieth year in this business. So, this is kinda like-- it feels like-- this for some reason it feels like the beginning. It feels like-- I’ve been to the Grammy’s several times, but it just feels different for some reason. I don’t know why but it just feels like a rebirth or a resurge. To be able to be part of this and also to just-- I think in the beginning how I was sittin’ with Nick Raphael and tellin’ him from the first time I heard this song that this song is gonna go to the Grammy’s and he was like, “We gotta get it on American radio, first.” And, like a year and a year-couple-months later and here we are.
Whitney: Isn’t that crazy?
Rodney: It’s just exciting and I’m happy to be nominated, and I think Sam deserves to be nominated. He had a fantastic year, and, I was just saying earlier, he’s in my top ten list of artists that I’ve worked with now. His voice is that great. He just has an amazing writing style; amazing-- to be so young; to make classic records like that. “Stay With Me” is-- I’ve always-- since the beginning I’ve always wanted to be part of records that will be heard for years to come. So, every time I listen to-- when I hear “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay” by Whitney; or “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child; or hear “Rock My World” by Michael; or “The Boy’s Mine” by Brandy & Monica, knowing that I was part of those, and twenty years later, I’m hearing these records, I’m like “That’s what my goal was.” My goal was to make records that didn’t just come and go, and to have longevity. And, I feel like, now, I have another record under my belt that, twenty years from now, that will sill be one of those records that we remember.
Whitney: Yeah, I mean you really do have a great track record for that, and this is one of those songs. And, to be part of something so big that you could really say you’re a part of is a great feeling, I can only imagine. Now, you took your expertise, and you added Mary J. Blige and kinda put a little more soul into it. What made you wanna to do that?
Rodney: Well, Mary J. Blige is a completely different version. So, just so you’re clear, the Darkchild version is the version that everyone hears on the radio. Then, there’s another version where I put Mary on.
Whitney: Interesting. Okay. So it--
Rodney: Yeah! So that’s a completely different version and I did that because I felt that Sam Smith was good enough to get respect from the Urban Community. But we would have to reach out to someone who is a legend, a living legend that can appear in a song, and Mary-- actually, I was working on a song with Mary and I brought it up to her and she goes, “I love that song. Yeah, I would love to get in on it.” So I gave that to her.
Whitney: And that was apparently one of his favorite artists, as well.
Rodney: Oh, yeah. Yeah. His favorite-- when I first met Sam, it was Whitney-- it was Whitney ‘n Mary that he mentioned, that he actually adored, so--
Whitney: Yeah, but, now, going back to the song. It’s in the news about the whole issue with Tom Petty. How do you feel about that?
Rodney: I feel that if they wanted to do that they could probably do that with every song.
Rodney: I feel like every song is birthed from, you know, the Bible says there’s nothing new under the sun. I think that when Sam was writin’ his song I don’t think he was trying to do anything to mimic Tom Petty, I think it just naturally-- it felt like that and it happens all the time in music. You know, “The Boy is Mine” came from “The Girl is Mine.” You know what I mean? You know, “Rock My World” was inspired by me listening to the “Off the Wall” album. So it’s just-- I think, in music, everyday, there’ll be songs that have similarities that you will find the similarities because there’s only but so many melodies; there’s only but so many chord progressions on a piano.
Whitney: That’s true.
Rodney: I remember Quincy Jones told me, “There’s only twelve chords on the piano. It’s just how you cook it and cut it.” And I was like, “Wow, that’s so true.” So, I think I can understand the issue but I think that’s just the way it is; I think we create; we try to be innovative and be creative when we work, but I think we’re all inspired by greats before us and because when you study music so much and listen to so much great music it’s always gonna be in you; whether it be a sound or whether it be a melody; or whether it be a title. It’s like me sayin’, “Hey I got this amazing title today; it’s called ‘I Will Never Leave You’ , and I guarantee you if I go to Google and I type “I will never leave you song titles” I’ll probably find fifty of ‘em.
Whitney: That’s so true.
Rodney: It’s just nothing new under the sun. So, it’s not like-- as much as we’re innovative, we still have to understand that we all have been touched by music in the past. “Happy” from Pharrell came from something, probably in the 50’s. It’s just the way it is.
Whitney: Just from reading a lot about Sam Smith, he seems to be very down to Earth.
Rodney: He’s great.
Whitney: He was quoted as saying “I don’t even think I should win album of the year.” He’s like, “It should go to Beyoncé, and if I win I’m giving it to her.” He just seems like this down to earth person. How do you feel about that, though? Do you think that the artist should feel a little bit more pride, and say, “You know what? I should win this” or is it good to be humble?
Rodney: I think it’s best to be humble because I think the humble will be exalted, and the exalted will be humbled. So I’m all for him taking the humble road. I do think that he’s young so he’s a fan of people like Beyoncé, he’s a fan of those type A artists. You know, he’s still twenty-one years old? But I think he also still recognized the greatness that he made. For his first album, he made incredible music. And, I think people like Beyoncé, and other artists that are in that category are looking at him and sayin’ “Hey, you did a great album as well. Don’t count yourself out there buddy.”
Rodney: You know what I’m sayin’ so--
Whitney: Yeah, they’re all rooting for him. It’s nice that he’s young, too. So, he has a lot of years to come in the industry.
Rodney: I don’t know-- even as humble as he is, I don’t know if he’s gonna give that Grammy up if he wins it. I don’t know if he’s gonna do that.
Whitney: Yeah, he’ll win and be like, “Did I say that…’cause…”
Rodney: Yeah, right.
Whitney: Yeah, I guess he wins either way right; if he doesn’t win, he sounds like a winner.
Whitney: So, now you’ve recently partnered with Capitol Music, are you still operating as “Darkchild” or is it Evolve Music Group?
Rodney: No. No. No. No, I have a company; it’s called “Evolve Music Group.” I have a couple artists on Capitol through my label. I’m a stand-alone company, now, so I can do deals wherever I want. But I have a couple artists that we felt Capitol was the best partner for those artists.
Whitney: Ok, and I did see that. So, you’re working with Evan Ross, who’s Diana Ross’s--
Rodney: Evan Ross, correct.
Whitney: And then, there is Sara Forsberg--
Rodney: Well, yeah, her artist’s name is “S-M-O” so it’s ‘S’-dot ‘M’-dot ‘O’.
Whitney: Okay! Interesting. How did you find her? I mean, nowadays with technology you could find people online. You could sit on Youtube all night and find people.
Rodney: Well, that’s what Evolve is. Evolve is-- we want people to see us as the traditional label disrupter, and so, what does that mean for us? It means not playing by the traditional rules. Like, whether it’s find artists via the internet; whether it’s making mobile deals and releasing music directly through mobile; whether it’s using technology companies to fund other-- our visual videos and code-branding partnerships with technology companies, and that’s what we’re doin’. So, we kinda want a little bit to be out-the-box. What Evolve is to us is the future where the record industry should be. We are thinking with a completely different mindset. I got a team of very innovative young individuals that are on my team, and they think so out-the-box that it’s amazin’.
Whitney: So, how can an aspiring artist promote their music to you? How can they find you so you can see what they can offer?
Rodney: It’s funny because we find them. That’s the way-- I look at it this way; take S.M.O for example, we signed her. She had put stuff online, and she wasn’t even singing, actually, she was doing, like comedy stuff. We found her, and then we found out she could sing. Artists nowadays have to be proactive. They have to take steps and know, like, “Okay, I could do a song tonight, and I could put it up on Youtube, SoundCloud, any of these; any of these sites. And, we have staff that is lookin’ at this stuff everyday. And things that stand out, we sign. And that’s really-- it’s not like back when I was fifteen and you had to get on the bus and wait outside a record company for hours for someone to shake your hand.
Whitney: I know.
Rodney: No, these days now you could be proactive; you could get the music up yourself, and then, we’ll find you. If it’s great, and we listen to everything, we’ll get to you. Hopefully, before someone else does.
Whitney: Yeah, exactly. Are you looking for certain genres, or are you open to Country?
Rodney: Yeah, I’m lookin’ for all-- Evolve is genre-less. You know what I mean? So, if it’s Pop; if it’s Hip-hop; if it’s R&B, whatever, if it’s Christian; if it’s Gospel; we want it all. But what we do is, we’re lookin’ for artists that represent Evolve and what that means is to be proactive and be innovative and thinking. So, it’s not just about, “Hey we’re signing this artist, let’s go to radio tomorrow.” No, we’re signing-- we sign Evan Ross; we’re shooting a short film with him. And, it’s gonna be all music. It’s gonna be like watching a short musical. So, we signed a girl, S.M.O. She just put out her video on Youtube where she speaks in twenty languages, so we did a song lyrics in the video in like five different countries. And then, there’ll be subtitles in different languages that she’s in. So, whether she’s in Japan, it’d be Japanese; it’s that proactive mindset that we’re tryin’ to establish.
Whitney: And then, once you establish the artist, how do you choose where-- is it just specifically for radio and online content or do you help set up concerts and help promote the artist through live shows?
Rodney: Yeah, all of that. Everything. Everything to move them forward and to brand-- to create a brand is what we’re doin’.
Whitney: Okay, so are you gonna bring some of them to Atlantic city?
Rodney: Of course! Yeah, of course.
Whitney: Getting your artists down here is a big deal to Atlantic City. This is where you’re from; this is where you got your start. Do you feel that you bring that with you where you go, now, you have these kind of humble beginnings from South Jersey?
Rodney: Yeah, I do. I also feel like-- it’s funny ‘cause my wife was just sayin’, my daughter is-- she’s five years old and she was just sayin’ she just had this concept where she wants to go and do these four songs and shoot a video with my daughter but she wants to do it at our church back in Jersey. And, I was like “Oh, that’d be cool” and so, we’re talkin’ ‘bout trying to do that this summer. For me, I mean, what’s really inspiring to me is when I see other people that I know came up under me in Jersey or that stopped passed by my studio or that I mentored for a summer and I see them now makin’ records or mixin’ records. That’s the joy I get because I know when I was there, there was no real outlet. There was no real way to get outta there unless you got on the bus, and I’ll get on that bus to go to New York, and so, I feel like I set the tone for other people to be inspired and, now, when I see other producers getting-- you got Darhyl Camper from there, who’s nominated for Grammy's. You see Michael Donaldson, who’s an engineer of mine, and at one time was working with Britney Spears, Rihanna and all these different people. It inspires me, and lets me know that you can inspire people to succeed. You know what I mean? You can inspire people no matter where they’re from. You can get out; you can succeed so it’s very humbling.
Whitney: That is so true, and it’s good that you still have that especially with all your success now. And then, you were working on that reality show, “House of Joy.” Is that still in production?
Rodney: Yeah. You know, we stopped-- my wife got pregnant after that show, so we stopped, and they wanted to shoot again. And we’re like, we just had a baby, four months now and we just wanna-- we kinda didn’t want cameras in our face with the newborn and just take a little break. Maybe we’ll come back to it, but right now we just wanna focus on our family; focus on these different things that we’re doing.
Whitney: Okay. Going back to your history, you’ve worked with great artists like Whitney Houston, Brandy & Monica. But Michael Jackson was one that really stuck out. When I went on Facebook and said I was interviewing you, the Michael Jackson-thing really came up a lot, and I was just curious from you, what were some of the fun stories you remember from Michael especially since you worked with him on his last album.
Rodney: Man! I mean, so many-- it’s-- I don’t think I have enough time to tell you all of ‘em. I mean, really-- just fun stuff like him callin’ me at like eleven-thirty at night and sayin’ “What’re you doin,’” and I’m like, “I’m ‘bout to go to sleep” and he’s like, “No, wake up, we’re gonna go to Universal CityWalk and ride rides”, and I’m like, “Michael, Universal CityWalk closes at ten” and he’s like, “No, they’re gonna open it up for us.” And, it’s just me, him, and a couple other people and we’re out at CityWalk, or other times when I was in New Jersey and he called my house. Mike really had no concept of time, right?
Rodney: So, he calls my house at like 7:30 P.M. and he goes, “I’m really cravin’ some peach cobbler, do you think your mom would make some for me?” And I said, “I’m sure she would Mike, but your livin’ in Manhattan; I’m in Pleasantville, New Jersey. It’d take you two-and-a-half hours to get here.” He goes, “Okay, so what time is it?” and I’m like, “It’s like seven-thirty;” he goes, “Okay, so I’ll be there around ten-thirty” and I’m like, “But Mike, people go to sleep,” like, no but, he’s like, “Well, can you please ask her, please?” I called my mom, and my mom, of course, says sure and then I call a big dinner at my house and then he comes to the house for my mom’s peach cobbler at eleven P.M. at night. Stuff like that, you know? And, moments of-- some in the studio-- moments of like-- I remember I was in New York and we were working, and, one day, I just felt like, “You know what? I’ma call and see what he’s doin’” I call him one mornin’ and said, “whatchu doin’?” and he said, “Nothing.” I said, “Get your clothes on, I’ma come pick you up.” And he goes, “Okay, where we goin’?” and I said, “It’s okay. We’re gonna take a ride” and he said, “Okay, let me tell my security.” I said, “No, no security. It’s just goin’ be me and you.” And then, I put the top down on my Bentley, and he gets in and we just ride through Manhattan blastin’ music. And like, you know, just stuff like that. Just the-- us playin’ pool and bettin’ for DVDs and him beatin’ me. And him tellin’ me, like “You gotta pay up now” and I’m like “Mike, it’s Friday night, eleven o’clock. What you talkin’ ‘bout I gotta pay up?” and he said, “Let’s go to the Virgin MegaMusic Store, buy DVDs”. And we would leave literally, right after and go to Virgin MegaMusic Store to buy these DVDs. It was just that spontaneous thing that I remember about Mike that was so cool; he was a child at heart. He liked to be funny; he liked to be silly; he liked to do disguised voices, and all types of stuff. But, he was just a good man, and he really inspired me musically, creatively. We were-- it’s funny because I think our relationship, it really became like-- almost like, even though he was older than me it was like brothers. It really was; it was like if I wanted to play pool, he’d play pool; if I wanna play basketball, he’d play basketball. We would get on motorcycles on four wheels together at his house at Neverland, and ride all through the mountains like-- we were like brothers…I miss him, dearly. I miss him, dearly. I miss Whitney, dearly; these are people that I got close to.
Whitney: Whitney, I mean that was an amazing soul; she had such an amazing voice. What do you miss most about her?
Rodney: Oh man. I mean-- you know what? I still, to this day, still listen to this message. She left a message on my phone like two months before she passed. And she said, “Rodney, you’ve been in my spirit lately.” She was like, “I wanna come see you. We need to be doin’ light-of-the-world music.” That’s what she said to me. I still have it, to this day. And I remember callin’ her back, and she drove, literally, came to my studio that night after I spoke to her. And she came down, and she just hung out with me for like three hours, and she was just sayin’, “We gotta start doin’ light-of-the-world music; that’s what god wants; that’s what-- we gotta do what god wants.” And that was like really the last time I spoke to her. And I just miss her because she was another one that was spontaneous. She’d just call one day and said “I wanna come to church” and she just showed up at my dad’s church on Pleasantville. Insane. It’s on Youtube. She killed it. But, she was just a very sweet individual, had the most incredible force that I have ever witnessed. I remember as a young kid when I used to, it’s funny because I can’t sing that good but I remember, you know those little-- at the boardwalk, they used to have those things that you’d go in and you’d sing. And, I remember singing “I Believe the Children are the Future,” and “Greatest Love of All,” and then sayin’ one day I wanna work with her, and then work with her-- workin’ with her but then becoming friends with her. There’s plenty A’ artists that I work with that I never talk to, again. But, some reason, with Michael and her I stayed in contact with them throughout the years.
Whitney: Yeah, some people you just click with. What about some stories working with total divas? Was there anyone that you just never wanna work with ever, again?
Rodney: It’s funny because sometimes I turn down artists that I worked with in the past.
Rodney: This sounds weird, right? But, I’m supposed to work with Toni Braxton so I’m not gonna turn her down. She asked me to work with her, again. I’m gonna work with her again, but sometimes I get calls from artists and I look at my decider fee and I’m like, “I had several hits on that artist; we did a lot of great stuff, got a lot of great things together. Just work with them again is cool but I really wanna start paintin’ the next twenty years.” You know what I mean?
Whitney: Yeah, right.
Rodney: So, that’s when the Sam Smith comes along, different artists that I’m workin’ with now. It just extending-- opens new doors and new legacies. It’s extending the legacy but just to be able to work with people I never worked with before that I believe in as well.
Whitney: Is there anyone right now that’s working on another label that you wish you were working with?
Rodney: There are artists that I wish I could work with that I see, and I know I could give ‘em a smash right now, or they just-- they need the right record. You know what I mean? Usher, I feel like Usher is bigger than what the music he’s been puttin’ out, lately. And I just-- I can-- deliver for him. Beyoncé, deliver for her. You know what I mean? So, there’s definitely those artists that I know that if I got in my zone. It would be something great.
Whitney: Yeah, that’s great. What about in the news right now? Is there anything going one that you’re really passionate about? And, it doesn’t have to be celebrity news, just in general.
Rodney: Passion in the news?
Rodney: Yeah, Floyd Mayweather.
Whitney: Yeah? Okay.
Rodney: He’s a good friend of mine, and he was actually at my aunt’s, two days ago, hangin’ out with me. We talkin’ him and Manny Pacquiao. And, I just wanna see them fight. And, I think everybody wants to see them fight, and I think eventually we will see them fight. You know, once the business is all straightened out. I’m a sports guy. I don’t watch too much T.V. unless it’s sports.
Whitney: Sports? Yeah, typical guy.
Rodney: I’m also heavily into Joel Osteen right now. He’s like my mornin’ motivator. I listen to him every mornin’ when I wake up.
Whitney: Yes, he’s definitely very inspirational.
Rodney: He’s just a great person. He really is.
Whitney: Yeah, for sure. That’s great! Do you have any hidden talents or anything about you that people don’t know, that they’d be like “What! Rodney, that’s you?”
Rodney: You know what? If I do, I probably don’t even know.
Whitney: Yeah! Okay.
Rodney: I probably don’t even know.
Whitney: Okay. What can we look forward to in your future? What are some of your future projects going on?
Rodney: There’s one that I just can’t really talk about it right now. But, another one that I’m workin’ on is my-- what do you call it? The twentieth anniversary project. So, basically, I’m celebratin’ my twenty -year anniversary, right now. So, I’m, literally, workin’ on music for that project right now…It’s good music. It’s just representin’ twenty years of me working as hard as I’ve been working; it’s salutin’ those twenty years, but it’s also looking forward as well.
Whitney: Okay, is there a website? Or, your social media where people can just keep updated with everything?
Rodney: No, because I don’t believe in websites anymore. We're building an app right now. That’ll be our “Evolve App.”
Whitney: Okay, so once the app comes out then people can go through that way.
Rodney: Exactly. And…some stuff we’ll put out organically somewhere online ‘cause we love the gift of discovery. So, I love the fact that people can just find things, now. Just discover like -- I was just on this random blog sayin’ “I found this song.” You know what I mean?
Whitney: Yeah, exactly because online is where it’s at right now. People are being discovered but I think they’re torn whether they wanna be with a label or whether they wanna just be discovered online.
Rodney: You know what? I don’t work for a label. I don’t want you to misconstrue that. I don’t work for a label. I own Evolve. It’s a group. I own my Christian label, which is called: Lifestyle Music Group, and I just have a partnership on a couple a’ artists at Capitol. But --
Whitney: It’s a partnership.
Rodney: You’re absolutely right. You know, for me, I just wanna be outside of the traditional box. You know what I mean? When it comes to puttin’ out music, I want people to hear my music; discover my music in a whole new light and not just have to turn on the same traditional methods. It’s just not what I’m into, anymore.
Whitney: Well that’s great. It’s good that you are younger and you understand that era. Plus you’re able to, kind of, grasp the technology aspect and say, “This is where it’s at, and this is where I wanna hone in”. It’s awesome because that’s the next generation.
Rodney: I have several different technology deals that I’m part of right now. And so, it’s definitely such an eye-opener. And, to see, what I believe is 2050 in front of my face sometimes; see things that I see as the future that are not even out yet is pretty amazing. It really is.
Whitney is an on-air multimedia personality, and works behind the scenes helping businesses gain extra exposure, through her WIN Promotions video production services.