Last spring, Usher reemerged to the music scene with “Good Kisser” as the lead single off his forthcoming album. The modern soul funk tune received a warm response from radio and helped Usher score his 13th number one single on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. The song earned the R&B veteran two nominations at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards including Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song. While it isn’t Usher’s first time being nominated in the latter category, it’s producer Jameel “Jproof” Roberts first time.
Produced by Pop Wansel and co-produced by Flip, Terry “Tru” Sneed, Natural and Oak, Jproof is one of six producers who worked on “Good Kisser” for Usher. However, Jproof is the man responsible for the record’s infectious melodic groove. Still, Jproof isn’t overly confident about his individual production efforts. “Everything about the record is just organic. It was all us as a team,” says the Norwalk, Connecticut native. “Even the part when it’s the short chorus at the end … ‘good kisser, good kisser,’ that’s us in the booth in Philly just clapping and saying those little [things] almost like a Marvin Gaye song.”
After working collectively with his fellow GOOOOOOOO music team members, Jproof says the song was sent over to Usher’s team, who immediately fell in love with it. “It was kind of surreal to find out [“Good Kisser”] was going to be his first single for the album,” says Jproof. “It’s surreal to make a record and to turn around months later and see one of the biggest R&B stars in the world performing your record. Nobody can know what that feels like to have what you literally create be on the radio. It’s one of things that I still always marvel about when I hear a song that I’ve done and it’s on the radio or a commercial.”
Before having music he produced get nominated for awards, Jproof grew up in Norwalk, just outside of New York City. His parents, both from the Caribbean, played a lot of calypso, soca and reggae in their household. Still, Jproof experienced the great sounds of R&B from his mother, who listened to The Temptations, The Commodores and Gladys Knight and The Pips. However, Jproof grew fond of jazz music as a kid. He took his love for jazz a step further and started playing the saxophone, which was his first musical instrument. “At that point, you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t about to be the next John Coltrane,” laughs Jproof.
Jproof believes being a drum major in high school set him on a course for success. After graduating high school, Jproof attended William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey where he studied Classical Music and Jazz Studies. During his studies, Jproof connected with Curt Chambers, a Philly bred musician who introduced him to the music culture of Philadelphia and the then-popular movement, neo-soul. Jproof appreciates embracing that era of music because it helped fuel his passion for wanting to become a musician.
Jproof furthered his education by attending graduate school at New York University where he studied composition. His music career started to pick up steam when he got a call from a friend who landed him a deal playing saxophone for rap legend, LL Cool.
Soon after, Jproof relocated to Philly and started working closely with Ronald “Flip” Colson, who co-produced “Good Kisser” for Usher. Through his connection with Flip, Jproof started an apprenticeship with Andrew “Pop” Wansel and Warren “Oak” Felder.
With the guidance of Pop and Oak, Jproof received an opportunity to work on Nicki Minaj’s Chris Brown assisted song “Right By My Side” from her sophomore album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Jproof calls it his “first major placement” as a musician.
One key skill Jproof learned from Pop and Oak is listening. Throughout his extensive work with Pop and Oak, Jproof says he has learned to have ear for music. “In production, your ear has to be in tune with a certain kind of sound,” says Jproof. “Being a trained musician, there are things I hear musically that I want to do that may not be necessarily relevant to R&B or hip-hop or urban music. But the great thing about working and learning under Pop & Oak, is their ear is always so in tune with what works and with what translates well to radio and for certain artists. Also, none of their work sounds the same. It’s always fresh and it’s always trying to push the envelope.”
In December 2014, R&B veteran D’Angelo released his critically acclaimed second album Black Messiah. Jproof shared his thoughts about D’Angelo’s newly released work by tweeting “I’m officially excited about music again.” Jproof says he wasn’t downplaying the artistry of other performers, however, he was pleased to see artists like D’Angelo and J Cole return to album concepts vs. being single driven. “It’s always refreshing to have artists like D’Angelo and [J] Cole come out with music that’s inspiring,” says Jproof. “We’ve been waiting on that D’Angelo album for 14 years. When it finally came out and it was really good stuff on it, it’s like ‘Yo. I feel excited again about music because you really don’t get that all the time with releases. A lot of times, especially in the climate that exists today, it’s about singles. Once the single climbs enough, then we’ll put out the album.”
Like Beyonce, Jproof is praising D’Angelo and J Cole for not releasing music ahead of their album releases. The nostalgia of album concepts was dear to Jproof because he had recently produced a song titled “Hello,” which appears on J Cole’s newly released album 2014 Forest Hills Drive. “I remember him [J Cole] having this white board up and he was so concerned with an album as a whole and the concept 2014 …. the address 2014 Forest Hills Drive where he grew up. He [J Cole] wanted to talk about how it was to grow up there from an album perspective and the transition between the adolescence of growing up in that house and what it meant to be where he’s at right now. It was just an album concept. It’s dope that people are trying to go back to albums to give a complete body of work rather than just coming out with singles.”
While singers wrestle with being identified as a singles artists and a performer who can drop a solid album, Jproof doesn’t struggle with how he wants to be perceived by industry professions and his peers. “I would like to be recognized as a music producer,” says Jproof. However, Jproof realizes being a music producer isn’t an easy job. “Being a producer as a whole doesn’t just mean making a beat or just playing an instrument. You have to think about all the aspects of the song and not just the production. You’re thinking about the lyrics, how it’s going to be received and balance your relationship with an artist to push them to make good music and good decisions on a song or on a lyric. Also, know when to pull back to not upset them by pushing them too hard. So I would like to be known as someone like Quincy Jones. Someone who has an understanding of everything and uses all that knowledge and skills to create a ‘Thriller’ [album].”
All in all, Jproof still wants be to known as a musician first. “I came through [the music industry] learning instruments. While not every producer is trained musically and has gone to school and can read music, it’s not a bad thing per say all the time. You don’t necessarily need that to make great music. But I definitely know for myself, having formal music training has definitely been valuable to making the music that I make today.”
While making great music can be a difficult task for some, Jproof believes it can be achieved if it’s manifest from a honest and vulnerable place. “The best way to make classic music is to be honest. Music from Stevie Wonder, Prince and Michael Jackson, all that music is honest. It all comes from a place of a point that the regular person has thought that and felt that.”
Jproof has a lot more things to look forward to in 2015. He recently wrapped up a session in Nashville with Jill Scott for her forthcoming album. “I’m excited for the world to hear that project,” says Jproof. “The records that we [Pop, Flip, Tru] came up with were so fresh. I think people will be pleasantly surprised with her next album.”
In addition to contributing his talents to Jill Scott’s new project, Jproof has worked on new music for Meek Mill and Ty Dolla $ign.
With all the new music Jproof is producing for urban artists, Jproof hopes his records and urban music in general is supported by its listeners. “If you like a certain artists music, go out and support them with your wallet,” says Jproof. “Never feel like your voice doesn’t matter. The artists that you support will keep working. They’ll keep getting budgets and making the type of music that you’re going to love.”
To keep up with Jproof, follow him on Twitter @Jproof.