Creative Spotlight: How Dem Jointz Found a Producer’s Playground in K-Pop

09/19/2021
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EXO’s “ Obsession,” SHINee’s “Don’t Call Me,” Super Junior’s “2YA2YAO,” NCT 127’s “Cherry Bomb,” “Punch”, and now “Sticker,” have been some of SM Entertainment’s most experimental yet polarizing songs in their 26 year discography. You either love them for how much they stray from the typical pop song structure, or you hate them for being too noisy and unpredictable. There’s no inbetween. What cannot be denied is their fresh approach and strong impact on the K-Pop landscape.

At the helm of these tracks is Dem Jointz. A Grammy award winning producer who has spent the last decade crafting a sound all his own. His productions are so different, but universal enough to weave across multiple genres and languages.

EnVi caught up with the producer via Zoom to talk about legacy, K-Pop, and his pivotal role in shaping the NCT noise sound.

 

THE ORIGIN

Dem Jointz

Photo courtesy of Dem Jointz.

Born Dwayne Abernathy Jr. in Compton, California, Dem Jointz always knew he had a gift in music. It wasn’t until he got tired of working for someone else that he decided to deep dive into music production afro first in 2010 at age 34. The more you speak with him you realize his larger than life personality is not one to be contained to the average desk job. Even in the emails setting up the interview, he was so excited, speaking in all caps. 

“It [was] one of those situations where you figure ‘I don’t want to work for anyone anymore,’” he said. As he talked he got up to dim the lights in his brightly lit studio, gesturing at them to silently communicate they were too much and he’d be right back. Once he sat back down at his desk he continued, “I wanted to switch things up. And I’m going to put my body into doing music, like full time.” 

Right away Dem Jointz secured A-list placements for artists like Rihanna. The new style production and unique samples on the track “Cockiness (Love It),” made it a stand out on her platinum selling 2011 album Talk That Talk. From there, it was full steam ahead and sleepless nights for the producer. He traveled across the world to work with everyone from musical legends like Janet Jackson, Brandy, and Christina Aguilera to fellow production trendsetters Dr. Dre and Kanye West. 

 

DEM K-POP JOINTS

The heavy hitting producer was first tapped by SM Entertainment in 2015, when they reached out to him to work on upcoming tracks for their artists. First was girl group Red Velvet, where he had a hand in their album, The Red, with the track “Don’t U Wait No More.” He explained his good relationship with the label that he likened to family, and excitedly shouted out the A&R team that helped foster the partnership. 

“They wanted to try me out on a few songs and it actually worked and became successful. We kept doing that again. And again.”

 

 

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Dem Jointz found a producer’s dream playground in K-Pop. He was able to experiment with different sounds, textures and samples to bond his style and K-Pop’s usual left of center, mixed genre style together to create some of SM’s biggest hits in the last decade.

“The cool thing about it is, it doesn’t matter how weird or experimental [what I send them] is. They see the vision, they understand and they go as far as I’m willing to go.”

Whereas most of his songs tend to have deep bass, sharp instrumentals and synths, one song in his K-Pop discography sticks out. EXO’s “Ya Ya Ya” from the group’s sixth album Obsession relied heavily on a 90s R&B sample and more laid back production approach, which made it a fan favorite. When told the general sentiment around the song from K-Pop listeners is that it’s perfect for all occasions: weddings, parties and barbecues, he laughed.

“Ya Ya Ya” was the brainchild of his and another frequent K-Pop contributor, Rodnae “ Chikk” Bell. Chikk was already familiar with EXO’s sound due to penning several of their earlier hits. Dem Jointz explained they just decided to give it to EXO, not expecting it to be picked.

“This is one of the songs that we gave them. We felt like ‘yo that’d be crazy if they sang this’ and they did. It came out and of course, the reception was crazy because we already knew this song is a smash. It’s undeniable. I’m glad that they did it justice.”

 

STICKING TO NCT 127

Without a doubt, the K-Pop artist he has worked with the most is NCT 127, the Seoul-based unit under the larger NCT umbrella. In the summer of 2017 the group released “Cherry Bomb,” produced by Dem Jointz, in collaboration with SM’s in-house team. The track was a step in the direction of developing NCT’s “neo” sound, which quickly developed into what is known now as “NCT Noise.”

The production featured distorted snare drums, oddly timed shouts, and sirens. But it came together in a fresh way that resonated with the audience to make it one of NCT 127’s biggest hits.

 

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Their relationship only strengthened when Dem Jointz produced the group’s 2020 singles, “Kick It” and “Punch,” from their million-selling album, NEO ZONE. This year, he participated in their Japanese EP, LOVEHOLIC, producing R&B track, “Right Now.”

The mention of the group immediately sends a smile onto the producer’s face. As we discussed the role he played in helping shape their sound, he couldn’t contain his excitement and shouted “aye aye aye!”

“It’s super dope, that you’re helping craft the sound…and that they’re actually staying loyal to the sound, and they’re following the vision. It just goes to show that they have the same vision and we all are on the same page in terms of where we’re trying to go,” he said.

Dem Jointz was tapped again to produce “Sticker” from NCT 127’s recently released album, Sticker. The album racked up 2.12 million pre-orders, as fans anticipated the group’s return after a year-long hiatus. 

“I feel like with [Sticker], we’re going to take this to the moon, they’re going to be huge.” He said, “It’s one of my favorite tracks.” 

“Sticker” begins with an oddly tuned flute and a distorted heavy bass that continues throughout the verses. The production almost seems empty until the pre-chorus that fills it out with piano and harmonies. The song fits right into NCT 127’s discography and captures sound they’ve stayed loyal to. Dem Jointz talked a little about the process behind creating the song and tuning it up for NCT.

“Just being different. You want to stand out, but at the end of the day, you still want everybody to get what you’re doing,” he said. “The groove is crazy. There’s a flute that makes you get down and boogie. And I feel just as strong about this record as I do ‘Kick It.’”

“The groove is crazy. There’s a flute that makes you get down and boogie. And I feel just as strong about this record as I do ‘Kick It.’”

He also explained the song went through revisions prior to the final product. It also boasts production credits by Yoo Young Jin, Calixte, Prince Chapelle and Ryan Jhun

 

INCOMING!

Dem Jointz credits his ability to not only think outside the box in music production—but also songwrite, mix, vocal produce, and more—as the reason he quickly took off. 

“I came in thinking that you had to do it all. I didn’t know that there was a difference between producers and beat makers. I felt like we all fall into that same category,” he passionately expressed. “I didn’t know that was going to actually be the reason why I’m still around, still relevant. My placements are as much because I do more than just make beats.”

Indicative of the distinctive production style he’s crafted, listeners know they’re in for something different when they hear his signature “ incoming” producer tag at the beginning of each of his tracks. If the first few beats of the song don’t make them think it’s a Dem Jointz production, the tag definitely will solidify it.

When asked how he came up with the tag and what it means, he said, “Man. Ah, how did that happen? I think I came up with that tag before tagging your beats was even a popular thing. So the reason why I did it is because I feel like people aren’t like me, they’re not going down the rabbit hole to check who produced the song. And the people behind the scenes.”

Dem Jointz is only getting busier as the global COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, using the downtime to increase his workload. After seeing viral star Keedron Bryant on TV in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, he decided to take the young singer under his wing. They’re working on his upcoming EP, which he expressed excitement for. He also has several artists he manages with music on the way, and will continue to work on projects that come his way.

“I’m just excited about Keedron’s EP. I have a group called Undecided Future that’s working on some stuff. My artist K.A.A.N has new music coming out. Eventually I’m going to have a project. Yeah, we’re just we’re just going to continue. Just continue to rock.”

He finished the interview by exclaiming “WHEW, LETS GO!” 

 

Want more NCT 127 coverage? Read our Q&A with the writer of Lemonade here!

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