“The best way into the music industry is to become a writer first,” Oliver says. “Write for people. People don’t want to do that. The production game is that outlet.” His plan is to make great beats until he has established himself as an artist instead of just trying to be an artist. He says he’s been “running through it” since he moved to Dallas from Baltimore a couple years ago. He was raised there and says The Wire was accurate.
Oliver is very driven and sometimes hilarious, with much to say about his craft. He sits very comfortably in his Carrollton studio wearing a tank top and sweatpants. He is very upset to see the Ravens losing to the Browns and occasionally glances at it being broadcast on a laptop in disgust.
“This new culture where it’s the underground culture,” Oliver says. “They’re not really getting radio plays but they’re packing out venues.” He has toured nationally with T. Mills. Blackbear would be another example. Oliver went to House of Blues last month to see him perform and was asked to fill one of the opening slots. He jumped at the chance and received an enthusiastic response from the crowd.
There are many different avenues for getting your music heard. J. Oliver’s? Production and writing. His new album is called I Am Kanye West because he wants to make it the same way Kanye West did. “I just let them play my beats first,” he smiles. “And once I play people my beats it grabs them and they want more.” People learn about his beats and then they learn he is an artist too. Eventually the right person will agree to be featured on one of his tracks or he’ll be featured on the right person’s track.
“There are a lot of artists who aren’t using radio,” Oliver says. Like A$AP Rocky, for instance. He packed out South Side Music Hall last week and performed at ACL. Rocky wanted to meet Oliver after hearing his beats. It was the last show of the tour with Tyler, the Creator and Rocky bought a bunch of water balloons. Tyler stole the balloons out of Rocky’s dressing room but not before a few had already been filled.
Tyler was hit in the head with a water balloon in a backstage hallway and didn’t take it lightly. After a water fight outside the building, the situation escalated when everyone went back inside. “40 water balloons were thrown,” Oliver says. “They had like 10 cans of silly string.” A bucket of ice was thrown; people were throwing whatever water they could get their hands on. This was before Rocky performed. The audience had no idea this was going on. The venue was not happy.
Oliver has worked with Diddy a few times and vividly remembers being cussed out by the mogul at his house in L.A. in 2012: “Unfold your motherfucking arms when I’m talking to you!” J. Oliver wasn’t actually part of the conversation taking place. But Diddy made a fair point about success after getting his attention and then Future called and got cussed out too, so he didn’t feel so bad. He remembers looking at the "ridiculous" view of the ocean from Diddy’s "ridiculous" house. But there was a tension in L.A. he just didn’t care for.
Oliver has also worked with French Montana and Meek Mill. But now he’s excited about a country song he is trying to pitch to Luke Bryan. That’s not a joke. Selena Gomez’s stepfather actually gave it a listen. He struggles to describe it: “It’s a new sound. It’s going to reach the ages of 14- to maybe 30-year-olds.” He says he has turned away a very healthy sum for the track, but wants Bryan to have it. It sounds like a country anthem with a stomping beat crossed with a club banger.
“My A&R’s are like urban A&R’s and they don’t really know any country A&R’s,” he says. “I might have to take a trip to Nashville.” It's real country music, though, and very modern. Oliver sees licensing deals for truck commercials and it doesn’t seem farfetched. He plays basketball with a country music musician who convinced him to give country music a try. He recalls working with country musicians who stepped into his studio and asked him who the producer was.
Oliver sees this country song as his secret weapon. It could be like what Kanye West’s “Power” did for S1. “I have guitarists coming in here all the time,” he says. “The ones who use that spit thing. I don’t even know what that’s called.” (That’s called chewing tobacco.) Indeed, the song is modern country, but it has a stomping hip-hop beat to it that you just don’t hear in the genre. “This is something different,” he says. “Nobody really knows how to mix the two together."