Last Monday afternoon, a trailer appeared on Facebook. The video, set to the raspy realness of Bibi Bourelly’s “Ego,” starts with a wide-pan shot over the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Viewers are then taken on a ride-along with Dallas producer J. Rhodes as he makes his way from Oak Cliff to his Deep Ellum production studio.
As Rhodes enters his studio and shuts the door behind him, the camera zooms out abruptly, the screen fades to black and the words “These Beats Ain’t Free” pop into view. It seems Rhodes’ already long resume is due for an update — one to include the titles of a screenwriter and actor.
When we last checked in on Rhodes, he was basically taking the music world by storm. Over the last year, he's been repeatedly awarded by the industry for his production talents and he’s touring to promote his book, These Beats Ain’t Free. "I’ve always been a writer,” Rhodes says. "I’m not just a producer, I’m not just an artist."
Rhodes and his business partner, Kory D. Williams were sitting in the studio, throwing around the idea of doing a documentary series on producers. Williams, a Fort Worth-based photographer, videographer and high school media technology teacher, met Rhodes while they were both attending the University of North Texas and the two remained friends.
Rhodes says he was plagued by a nagging sense of creative urgency while mulling over angles for the documentary. “At first we were just going to do a documentary series — which we’ll still probably do — but a lot of people kind of do those," he says. "And even if it’s cool, it’s really expected. We just wanted to make something unexpected.”
It was then, Rhodes said to Williams, “What if we did a show where we really bring people into the world of music producers, in a cool way?” So, in true creative fashion, the pair jumped in headfirst and began to brainstorm. And the result was something altogether different for both artists: a web-based miniseries.
The primary focus of the show, which is set to premiere on August 1, will be to give viewers an insider’s look into what music producers face away from the awards shows. Viewers will watch Rhodes’ creative process as he develops new beats. “There are so many reasons why we’re doing the show, but that’s the first reason,” Rhodes says. “[Fans] don’t see your day-to-day, they don’t see the struggle. Sometimes, they only see the music that you’ve got out. They don’t see the beats that don’t see the light of day. They don’t understand the dedication in the craft that you have to do.”
Rhodes describes his vision for TBAF as a combination of the character development in HBO’s Entourage and the perfect grasp of culture seen in The Wire, but composed in the same vein as Issa Rae’s YouTube-based series, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. And taking a page out of Rae’s rise to the Home Box Office, Rhodes and Williams hope to build enough of a series following to attract the attention of network television.
On the visual side of things, Williams says, “At this point, right now, we’re trying to establish a certain look for the series.” He continues, “We want it to be funny, like Entourage, we want it to be extremely meaningful for photographers, writers and producers and we want it to be informational as well.”
The challenge though, is that this is completely new territory for both Williams and Rhodes. Williams, for example, has been a photographer since 2008, but only took up videography this past year. So, to him, the art of directing and creating scripts has been keeping him on his toes. “This is my first time doing something of this caliber,” Williams says. “To be honest, we’re amateurs. We don’t have screenwriters — we’re kind of winging it. I’m kind of learning as I go, but,” he adds with an assured laugh, “I’m a pretty fast learner.”
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At the end of the day, Williams and Rhodes want to create something that will allow viewers an all-encompassing look inside the world of music production. It is their hope that by doing so, the series might help to inspire an up-and-coming music producer to take the next big step in their career. But not only that, both of the shows creators are dedicated to shining a light on Dallas, as a whole. As signified by the iconic bridge in the trailer.
“Even though this show is about music, you’re going to see Dallas culture like you’ve never seen it before," he says. "Because we are that and we’re going to embody that.”
These Beats Ain’t Free premieres August 1. For more information, please visit These Beats Ain’t Free on Facebook or thesebeatsaintfree.com.