Feature Stories

The Music Business is a Small World When You Know Jay Z and Timbaland

To hear Daniel Jones tell it, the music industry is a small world. Hard work and networking with a small group of people is all you need to rise through the ranks. After co-producing tracks with Timbaland and sharing stages with names like Jay Z and Justin Timberlake, Jones makes a pretty good case for himself. But now he's eyeing a collaboration with musicians he grew up with in Oak Cliff for an upcoming solo project.

Jones, a keyboardist and producer from Dallas, has been touring since he was a teenager, before he even graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. He was recruited by Dallas gospel group God’s Property in the late 1990s. The group performed on television shows, had a hit song called “Stomp” and a double platinum album. He would go to school during the week and leave town Friday, returning Sunday, sometimes even Monday, before heading back to class. 

He is now rehearsing with Janet Jackson in L.A. for an upcoming tour. “We rehearse for two months before anyone sees the show,” says Jones. It was the same way before he first shared a stage with Justin Timberlake a few years ago, leading up to a performance at the Grammys before heading down to Rio de Janeiro. This was to get the band tight and energetic for the 20/20 Experience tour. “It’s not an overnight thing,” Jones says of getting a 16-piece band ready for the road. “We have a system we work through together: Trust each other, trust the music, trust the work.”

While on tour, Timberlake was still recording the second half of the 20/20 Experience. In New York, Jones was called in to do some studio work. He was expecting to see Mary J. Blige. “But then in walks Jay Z and Beyoncé,” he says. Then Justin Timberlake walked in. Timbaland was working on projects with all three of the artists, so it was no surprise for them to be in the same location. Jones had emceed for Timbaland on the Shock Value tour, earning his respect as a producer and live performer.

Jones ended up contributing production to some of the tracks for Timberlake’s second 20/20 Experience album. “Justin is a very specific artist and he knows what he wants,” says Jones. “But he’s a musical cat.” At one point, Timbaland and Timberlake liked the sound of something Jones was putting together on his laptop and used it for a track, which Drake later appeared on. From there, Jones was able to strike a production deal with Timbaland and has been helping him out with projects ever since.

Another milestone in Jones’ career occurred, again, while touring with Timberlake. On break in between shows in Miami, he was once again called into a studio and pleasantly surprised. Timbaland was there, working on a posthumous Michael Jackson release using a mere vocal track. “Sony had a couple songs in the vault,” says Jones. “They pressed play and it was Michael Jackson’s voice.” Along with King Solomon Logan, another producer from Dallas, Jones added music and co-produced “Blue Gangsta,” which appeared on the Xscape album. “It’s really hood trap,” Jones says of his contribution to the track.

Jones usually leaves town for work and spends his time in Dallas with his family. But now he is ready to focus on a solo project called Samuel III working with musicians from Oak Cliff. “I call it trap funk,” he says, of his sound. Collaborating with people he grew up performing with in church — including his grandparents — it could be considered trap gospel. Jones considers his Oak Cliff church to be his foundation, a place where he learned how to make music and gather enough social skills to make it in the music industry.

He plans to release a Samuel III mixtape called Oak Cliff Worldwide in the fall, a medley with 17 tracks, filled with strange ideas. “They can sing their ass off and perform their ass off,” Jones says of his local collaborators. “I just wanted to include my people that I know from the hood, the people who have influenced my life.” He plans to follow-up the mixtape with a proper album next year.

But Jones thinks of it as a project that lets him combine several different genres instead of focusing on one. “I have a jazz degree,” he says. “But the context of what I’m talking about is pretty much still ratchet." He laughs. “Sex, drugs, music — but with a positive side. How can you be positive without sex, drugs and music?”

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Jeremy Hallock