Studio Sessions | Ron Browz was shocked when Nas used his beat to diss JAY-Z on "Ether"
“Then I hear the ‘Fuck JAY-Z,’” Browz tells REVOLT on this installment of “Studio Sessions.” “Nas was chillin’. He knew the impact of it.”
Ron Browz has produced bangers for everyone from Big L and Lloyd Banks to Nicki Minaj and Papoose. Still, few moments compare to the first time he was in the studio and realized Nas turned a beat of his into “Ether,” one of the most vicious diss tracks of all time.
“It was just him and the engineer in a very calm setting. He was eating fruit and he goes, ‘Yo, play the joint for him.’ Then I hear the ‘Fuck JAY-Z,’” Browz tells REVOLT. “Nas was chillin’. He knew the impact of it.”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the multi-platinum-selling producer discusses making one of Big L’s best records, “Pop Champagne” changing his life, and his upcoming star-studded compilation album.
What was the first studio session you felt signified you’d “made it” in the industry?
Big L’s ‘Ebonics’ was the first record I produced that I heard on the radio. I was with Big L for a short period, but it was effective. Each of these sessions was going to be monumental in my eyes because they were going to be a part of my first gold record. He would just call: ‘Let’s go to the studio.’ I was so fresh and new in a game, I was like, ‘Alright.’ This is when people started to have home studios, so we would bounce from D & D Studios to a house where somebody got a studio over there. It was pretty cool. In our short period together, we recorded five records, and ‘Ebonics’ was one of them.
How would a typical session with you and Big L go?
Big L was very premeditated. He had ideas when he met me, and he could finally put those ideas together. When I met him, he didn’t really have no records out at the time. He’d do an appearance here and freestyle there on mixtapes, but he didn’t have many records himself. So, I think when he met me and the chemistry was what it was, it was like, ‘Oh, I could rap with this guy.’ The first record we did was “Ebonics.’ That wasn’t something he wrote soon as we met. I think he already had an idea to do a song breaking down slang. The sample is from Nas’ ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ where he says ‘talk with street slang.’ Big L added that. He was like, ‘Yo, I want to sample the joint from Nas.’ I think that was premeditated already — he just needed to hear the right beat.
Technology changed the entire recording process. How different was working with artists in the studio back in the 90s/early 2000s compared to now?
This was before we had Pro Tools. So, we were going reel-to-reel. In the clip of me in the studio with L, he was going over his verse so I could know on the 24th ball to make a change. He was saying a rhyme, and I’m putting the beat together. Nowadays, you could just lay the beat in Pro Tools and make changes on the fly. Back when it was reel-to-reel, the track had to have all the breakdowns and drops in it before you put it out.
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I have to ask. How did Nas get the infamous ‘Ether’ beat?
We were definitely in the era of big producers. I remember it was like, ‘Yo, you ain’t getting on no Nas album if you aren’t Preemo or a big producer.’ I just happened to have a manager named Fuzz at the time who kind of worked inside the building everyone called ‘The Def Jam Building.’ In there, it had all these labels like Roc-A-Fella and Murder Inc., so you could just be in the hallway and bump into people. My manager bumped into Nas’ travel agent and begged her to give the beat to Nas (laughs). So, she gave it to him.
When did you get in the studio with Nas for that record?
After that, we get a phone call like, ‘Hey, Nas is interested in one of the tracks.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, right.’ I just didn’t believe he picked the beat. That was in summertime. So, then in the wintertime, I forgot about it. I then got a phone call saying, ‘Hey, Nas wants you to come to the studio and hear what he did.’ So I’m like, ‘Cool, okay.’ I thought I was about to listen to a regular Nas record. I didn’t know this was going to be ‘Ether.’ In the studio, he’s really calm. It’s him and the engineer. He didn’t have 40 people with him. It was just him and the engineer in a very calm setting. He was eating fruit and he goes, ‘Yo, play the joint for him.’ Then I hear the ‘Fuck JAY-Z.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ I made the beat, but I didn’t put that in there (laughs). I didn’t know if this was a good thing or a bad thing. It was good because I was working with Nas but I’m like, ‘This is a straight diss record.’ Nas was chillin’. He knew the impact of it. I tell people I played the beat for [Hip-Hop], who was JAY-Z’s A&R at the time. I was a young kid. My friend hung out with the Hip-Hop and brought him to my mom’s crib, and I played ‘Ether’ for him. I guess he passed on it.
Before we get deeper into your career, I’d love to know what was the most impressive thing you saw an artist do in the studio?
It was Jim Jones. ‘Pop Champagne’ was done. My version was out in the streets. It was buzzing. I bumped into Jim like, ‘Yo, Jim, jump on this joint.’ We see each other, and he’s like, ‘Yo, that joint you got is dope.’ The radio was playing my version already. I was like, ‘Jim, you wanna jump on it?’ He was like, ‘Cool.’ We go to the studio and it’s me, Jim and the engineer. Jim is knocked out cold. He’s asleep (laughs). I’m looking at the engineer like, ‘Yo, should I go home? I didn’t know this guy’s process, but he seemed to be asleep. I just remember sitting there for two hours. Jim wakes up like, ‘Hey, put the mic on.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ The engineer puts a mic on, and Jim raps his verse to ‘Pop Champagne.’ I never saw anything like that.
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I know you worked on “What’s The Word?” with Lil’ Kim in the studio.
That was cool. I remember her saying, ‘People be thinking I don’t write my stuff.’
What about your time working with Foxy Brown on your song “Ride Ya Bike”?
I actually met Foxy in the airport because I was on the road doing ‘Pop Champagne.’ I’m flying in and out. But, I see her and I’m like, ‘I’m Ron Browz.’ She was like, ‘Who?’ I was like, ‘I’m Ron Browz. I got a couple ringing off.’ She was like, ‘Yo, I never heard of you before, but keep doing your thing’ (laughs). I was like, ‘Yo, let’s do something.’ Later, we got in the studio for that record. She was the same way as Kim, saying, ‘People think I don’t write my stuff.’ I love that record. She’s a dope person. We were in the studio for one night and just knocked it out. I love to get records done in one session.
You’ve been in the room with all kinds of legends, one of them being Jermaine Dupri. What did you learn from him?
That was around the time ‘Pop Champagne’ came out. He reached out like, ‘I got this song with Bow Wow and Nelly. I want you to be a part of it.’ He flew me to Atlanta, and I did the hook on this joint called ‘Big Time.’ I’ll tell you the one lesson I learned (laughs). He said, ‘Yo, this the song’ when I got there. I said, ‘Ok, you want me to write?’ He said, ‘Nah, this is the chorus you’re singing.’ In business language, that means he’s getting the writing credit and the publishing. I’m just getting the performance credit.
What’s going on with your record label?
We’re doing an Ether Boy/American B-Boy/Fat Beats kind of collaboration. It’ll be like a compilation album. Busta [Rhymes] is on there. Jadakiss, Raekwon, Kid Capri, Puff and T-Pain are also on it. I got to work with these artists in my journey, and I just wanted to put a special project together for people to listen to. It’s called 1-2-7.
What’s your favorite session from the making of that album?
I got a memorable Busta session in Miami, and Busta had his traveling studio with him with the laptop. He was like, ‘Yo, put a chorus on this right here.’ I’m like, ‘Right now?’ He was like, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Yo, we are about half an hour from going to the club.’ That just shows his work ethic. Bus is always in the studio, and his work ethic is crazy.
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What is your recording process when you create?
I’m really energy-based. If I’m feeling happy, we’re going to get a party record. If I’m feeling a little angry, I guess you’re going to get an aggressive hip hop song. If I’m feeling hip hop, you will get some dope boom bap, soulful type of record.
What are some of the life moments that have dictated the songs you’ve created so far?
I’m gonna keep it all the way real. Right before ‘Pop Champagne,’ I remember I was running low on money. I’m like, ‘Yo, what the hell am I going to do?’ I just got this apartment in New Jersey, and I was running out of money. I felt like by the grace of God I heard the song ‘I’m A Rider’ by 50 Cent, and he was using an auto-tune effect. I called one of my engineers like, ‘Yo, I need that effect 50 used.’ They get it to me, I play around with it and by the grace of God, I made ‘Pop Champagne.’ My lease was ending in two months. I created this record, and I was on the road getting paid by the end of that lease. I was booked. I was booked for the rest of the year.
How long did it take you to make the record that changed your life?
I did it in one day. I thought it was a joke. I had a girlfriend at the time, and we laughed because I said ‘Ether Boy’ at the beginning. We just laughed at how funny it sounded. I remember I took a couple of records to DJ Enuff because I was trying to make the transition from producer to artist, and he was dubbing some of the records like, ‘Yeah, that’s not it.’ I make ‘Pop Champagne’ and I was like, ‘Yo, I think I got one.’ He said, ‘I’m gonna be at Rucker Park. You could bring it, man. If it’s terrible, I’m gonna let you know.’ He came to Rucker Park for a Hot 97 event they did every week. I played it for him and he was like, ‘Yo, this is crazy right here.’ On Hot 97, he blasted it off the next day, and my life changed right there.
What’s the funniest session you’ve ever been in?
Big L was in my mom’s crib telling us about how he caught his girlfriend cheating on him. It was so funny to him. I think somebody had called him and said they saw his girl in the hot tub out of town. It was something wild like that, but he was cracking jokes, and it was just hilarious.
I know you formed a duo with Rock of Heltah Skeltah called Rockness Monster. What made you want to do this duo?
That was my boy American B-Boy’s idea. He felt like we were from two different worlds musically, and he wanted to see how it would be if we did a joint project together. He knew Rock and me, and he just connected the dots.
What else do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
I got the 1-2-7 album coming out. I’m developing more artists. That’s how I got sharp being a producer. I used to make beats for guys in the hood that had no name and make them sound amazing. I like developing artists. Shout out to Prayah, who is signed to Busta’s Conglomerate label.
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