Jerry Wonda: Miguel’s New Song Has ‘Party, Love’ Vibe, Keyshia Cole’s Track Is Estelle-Like
Jerry Wonda is still in awe of his more than 16-year run in the music business. He’s established a career that has no limits. The New Jersey native — by way of Haiti — started off on an upswing in the mid-1990s, co-producing the legendary Fugees album, The Score, with his cousin Wyclef Jean. Since 1996, Wonda has been behind some of the biggest hits that heard across multiple genres. He’s worked with everyone from Shakira and Mary J. Blige to Akon and Justin Bieber. His sharp ear has made him one of the most coveted producers in the industry.
Even with the amount of time that’s passed since his first break, his passion for creating timeless tracks hasn’t diminished. A long way from the Jersey basement that birthed The Score, Jerry Wonda is still as eager to nurture creativity. His newest venture, the production company Wonda Music, will allow him to do just that without adhering to any margins but his own.
The BoomBox had a moment to speak with the lauded beatmaker about his company goals, the new songs he and crooner Miguel have cooked up, how Keyshia Cole’s new track is coming along and stories about collaborating with Whitney Houston years ago and her daughter Bobbi Kristina hopping on the mic.
Do you have a formula when you head into the studio? Is there a science behind it?
You know what? I don’t follow no format. It’s just whatever God sends for the day. We go in the studio today, we do a record for Mavado. We go in the studio tomorrow, and I do a Mary J. Blige record. Then the next day, I do a Keri Hilson or Anthony Hamilton record. [I’ll work with] Trey Songz, Lupe [Fiasco], T.I., whatever the day brings, that’s just what music’s about for me man.
People saw how effortless that session was with you and Olivia on VH1’s “Love & Hip-Hop.” Is it always that easy for you to come up with the skeleton of a hit song?
It’s so easy for me, like me sitting and talking to you is hard. Once I’m in that room, man, it’s like I’m more in my element. So that day with Olivia — I’ve known her for a long time, we’ve been friends — since that day in the studio, we’ve been hanging out a lot. We went to Brooklyn the other day for a lovely reggae show, Mavado [was performing]. She got on stage and the crowd went crazy, you know? To me, she’s just a great person, she’s very talented and I’m really open to give the artist whatever she’s looking for. I’m behind her, she’s a good friend. Whenever there’s a good energy in the room you can always come up with some great chords, great melodies and great songs.
We hear you’ve been in the studio a lot lately. How has it been working with Keyshia Cole? Can you speak a bit about the song you have coming?
Me and Keyshia will hang in the studio and just vibe on something. I don’t know that I can say the title of the song yet, but we’re definitely working. She’s great though. A very talented woman. I love her spirit and we had a great time and we have a great record that I love but it’s not fully done yet. The concept was just to create something that’s hot. In fact, something like the song I have out there right now with Estelle [called] “Thank You.” When we did that record, we just went in. Akon officially wrote the top line, we just wanted to create something — a song you could listen to while you were driving, while you’re in the club, while you’re at work, while you’re taking five minutes out for yoga [laughs]! Running! A song that can fit it all. It’s a great record you know?
But, Keyshia came in and we talked about the kind of vibe she was looking for and believe it or not, she was just like, “Gimme something bangin’.” So we started working off of three ideas that we had. With one, I cooked the track right in front of her and she started writing with some of the members of the writing team. It was like I do with every artist. Sometimes, some artists will come in to write the song. Others come in with a writer. I just worked with my man Miguel the other day, and he walked in and said, “Jerry, I need you to give me something crazy.” As soon as I gave him something, he went into the room and oh my God! He came out with something crazy! Perception is different, because it’s a vibe. Like I told you, with Wonda Music, it’s all about a vibe.
What’s the title of the Miguel cut? Can you talk about the concept?
The song with Miguel has a very special title and I can’t give it out yet because we’re in the process of [building] the album, but when you listen to that? Aww man! Remember, I told you! It’s party, it’s love, it’s all that! It’s a great melody, it’s just a great record! I listen to the record every day since we recorded it, real talk. Before I start my session, I just listen to it. It’s just a great record and he’s such a wonderful person, you know what I’m saying? He’s a cool guy and talented and once again we were able to come up with something so nice and he loves it so much. I love when I do a song with an artist and they call me to talk about it. It’s all he could talk about. The same thing happened with French [Montana] on that single I did with him and Akon called “Hurt Somebody.” Shout out to me and Switch and the whole Wonda Music team. We bodied that record.
How’d French end up on that with Akon?
Well, I did the record for Akon and he met with French in Miami and played it. Then French was like, “I gotta jump on that.” Akon told him, “You gotta check with Jerry.” But when I do a song, I try and keep it on lockdown so it’s not all over the place, you know? So ‘Kon called me and said, “Man, I got French coming to Platinum [Sound Studios]!” French came into Platinum [to record]. When I sent it to Akon he was like, “Yo! This is gonna be a problem.” French finished it so fast and was like, “Yo, Jerry! What’s up with that song you have with Estelle? ‘Thank You.’ I heard it while I was coming out here, and I know it just came out but can I please drop a verse on it?” He jumped on that remix record and man, he cooked like five to seven records in one night. I love working with French.
You’ve built a very impressive resume since your start. Is there anyone you’d like to work with that you haven’t yet?
The other day I was here in the studio with Madonna. I love to work with her. I love to work with Prince. There are a few people that I really like in a different world but I have access to everybody right now. I was so happy to work with Mary [J. Blige] again, because I love her, she’s a sweetheart. She’s the queen, you know what I’m saying? So day by day, man. I’m ready to work with everybody, especially some new acts, and I collab with different producers too, whoever calls me. I wanna collab with Timbaland, that’s my man. I just want to go in the studio with him and have fun. Not only artists but I’m open to working with everyone.
Over the past few years we’ve had a couple huge losses in music with the passing of Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
You’ve been lucky enough to work with both. What was the most memorable thing you remember about those studio sessions?
I’ll tell you, working with Whitney was one of the best things for me. Michael was great but Whitney, I grew up in East Orange, N.J., you know. We all grew up in East Orange, Newark, Irvington, it’s like one town, we all link up. When she walked in that room where me and Wyclef [were sitting], I was just like, “Oh my God! I really made it. This is Whitney for real.” We did that song, “My Love Is Your Love.” It’s actually a song that I remember me and Clef cooked the beat for on the bus while we were on tour. When Whitney showed up, she was with her daughter and I remember when we put her daughter [in front of the mic] and she said, “Sing Mommy!” She loved it so much, it was like, she’d be like, “Cue my daughter’s voice loud!” We’d turn it up, she’d be like, “No! Louder! Louder!” Another thing: I was born on August 9, and had never really met anyone else with my birthday, but me and her were born on August 9. I used to send her flowers and me and her assistant were really close, her brother used to be my neighbor, you know. I was driving when I got the phone call and I really had to stop the car. That was the last thing I wanted to hear.
With Michael, when we did the remix to “Blood on the Dance Floor,” there’s one thing I remember. Dude was so talented, when we got the vocals from him, there were so many tracks. When you put one, two or three tracks together, you still wouldn’t understand it because of the way he hit the notes, you had to blend all of the tracks together. It was like a recipe. His background vocals were crazy. When he came into the studio, you know how people say, “Oh, Michael Jackson’s shy.” Oh, no, no, no. It was a great feeling. Everyday I say thanks to God and my mom and dad, and just everyone around me who helped me be who I am today. Working with those two was a blessing.
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