There's not much that's unusual about Memphis, Tenn.-based pop-rock group Joan Red. Led by emotive, well-manicured singer Anthony Basurto, who bangs his ruby-dyed locks to the anthemic, extreme-sports-alternative brand of radio jams that's resulted in the group's MySpace success, Joan Red hits the standard marks of modern-day crossover appeal. Nothing out of the ordinary could be found in their image until they announced last month that they had inked a deal with a new Warner Music Group—distributed label called Fuel Records, whose co-founder is none other than Grammy-winning hip-hop producer Rockwilder.
Stranger still, the label is headquartered in Orlando.
"Florida has the lead in terms of music. It's the place that's moving right now," says Rockwilder from Fuel Records' New York office, one of three locations they maintain. (There's also a Los Angeles branch.) "A lot of music that comes to New York, I'll hear in Orlando months before. I'm happy with our company being down there, plus I have a cool `rapport` with a lot of the producers there, `like` the Runners."
Rockwilder spent most of the mid-'90s gaining underground notoriety as a dependable beat maker for artists like Erick Sermon, Busta Rhymes and Big Pun, but he reached A-list status in 1999 with a track that was originally intended as an album interlude. "Da Rockwilder," clocking in at just over two minutes long, became the hit single from Method Man and Redman's album Blackout — it was Redman who gave Rockwilder his start — and has since turned into a hip-hop classic. The song's futuristic, tough-as-nails beat defined Rockwilder's sound for the public, helped along by the fact that the track bore his name.
"Although the song was hot, it really had a lot to do with Red and Meth, and Def Jam `Records, which released Blackout` being such a powerhouse at that time; there was a lot going on," says Rockwilder. "To tell you the truth, `the song's success` was a shock to me. It opened doors. It wasn't even supposed to be an actual song. I was trying so hard to be on the album and they were like, ‘OK, Roc, here's your song.' It turned out to be one of the biggest songs of their career."
Rockwilder translated the smash into more hit singles, culminating in a Grammy award for co-producing "Lady Marmalade" for the film Moulin Rouge and a Grammy nomination for Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty," featuring his old friend Redman.
It was on a business trip to Orlando in January 2008 that Rockwilder found himself in the water with pro wakeboarder Shawn Watson and a mutual friend named Dave Drazen.
"On top of the wakeboard boat, there's these big speakers that you can hear over the water, and Roc was like, ‘Hey, I can make music for that,'?" says Drazen, an Orlando native and Fuel co-founder. "We went out and had sushi and talked a lot about action sports and the industry and decided to form the label."
Within 10 months, Fuel released an album, Rockwilder Presents: Blue Octane, on which the producer customized songs for 18 different pro wakeboarders according to their personalities. The label also signed two bands, Las Vegas' We Play For Keeps and Joan Red, and a hip-hop artist, New York's Whuteva.
Rockwilder and the label continue their public introduction this weekend with a booth at the AST Dew Tour at Amway Arena.
"I've always had a diverse interest in music," says Rockwilder. "So it was only a matter of time."
Drazen and Rockwilder say they're keeping an ear to the ground locally for new artists and, in the meantime, Rockwilder has taken a cue from fellow production superstar Timbaland and begun work on his own solo album.
"It'll be the rapping, the guests … it's just my time to do it and let people know what I'm about," says Rockwilder.
"Of course Red and Meth `will guest on the album`, definitely Busta, and I'm thinking of having Q-Tip. "I'm gonna be real finicky because I want to jump out and do a lot of genres, similar to the Timbaland album, but my own thing."firstname.lastname@example.org