I first met Ben Ruttner (DJ B-Roc) through my sister at our high school in New Hampshire. He was a freshman who wore big t-shirts and sold mix tapes out of his backpack. At the time he was the only DJ in our school. He was also probably the only serious entrepreneur. (All the drug dealers I knew smoked way more than they sold, and everybody else mostly just worked at a bagel shop or hung around the parking lot at the video store.) From his personal mix tape circuit, to packed talent shows, to being a junior DMC finalist, Ben had way more hustle then your average 14 year old dude. He’s 21 now, and living in New York City. The hustle hasn’t stopped, and the music has only gotten better. B-Roc is like Rick Rubin and Russell Simons all at once, a gifted music maker with a mind for the business that I know must go way beyond his years. If in 20 years we’re all downloading Chinese Reggae to an invisible chip in our third ears, I bet B-Roc will have something to do with it. You just opened up a studio in Chinatown, right?
Yeah. It’s exciting, man. “Heavy Roc Music.” I’m in here every day, and the place is fully operational now. My production partner, JPatt, and I (together “The Knocks”) work out of here now, but we also rent out time to other people to pay the bills. I actually just started doing DJ lessons out of here too, which is fun.
On the production side, tell me about your current project.
It’s called SAMUEL. He’s a singer and a New York kid born and raised. Then it’s JPatt and I doing all the production. Ww’re about to drop our single, "Say Goodbye," which features Wade, the guitarist from the band The Virgins. How did the Samuel project start up?
I met him through a friend. The two of them used to sing in a band called Ghost Town Symphony. Samuel had some really rough music, recorded on Garage Band in his laptop. JPatt and I heard it and thought there was mad potential. Now we’re about to blast off that single, “Say Goodbye.” Mark Ronson is going to play it on EVR soon.
Doing this pop singer stuff is different from a lot of your other work, which is mostly hip-hop based.
Yeah it’s really different. I still do some hip-hop stuff though. I have a Sheek Louch track coming out - featuring The Game and Bun B - on his new album, “Silverback Gorilla.” But I’m steering away from hip-hop. And now with the studio it’s been dope because I can bring in people playing violin, guitar, or whatever. I feel like I’m actually producing and not just making a beat and trying to sell it. Should we look out for a Samuel EP dropping soon then?
Yeah, but right now we’re not sure if we’re going to do it independent still because we got some serious label interest. They see him as the American Lilly Allen.
I mean the New York, male Lilly Allen. That’s how labels talk. It’s pretty funny.
The Samuel stuff kind of sounds like a Justin Timberlake / Timbaland kind of thing.
Yeah. It’s a real fusion between our normal sound, which is strictly hip-hop and then Samuel’s emo-hipster vibe. We definitely try to make the beats still knock.
Last summer you were on the road touring with Sean Kingston all over the U.S. How did you like that?
It was an ill experience, man. Something I’ll remember forever. We went all over the country, rode in private jets, and shared a stage with Beyoncé, and played huge arenas. I’d typically come out on stage first to get the crowd hyped, and that feeling when people scream in response to your voice is crazy. I mean it’s one thing when it’s an auditorium in high school, but 200,000 heads is different. Now I want to go on tour with Samuel. I feel like things will be peaches and cream. Have you been DJing in the city at all?
Yeah, a lot. Spots like Gold Bar, Marquee, Runway, PM, but I also throw parties with my dudes weekly where all our people can come and chill while we DJ. And I’m about to go to Virginia to DJ with Benny Blanco at Virginia Tech. That’s going to be fun. What type of stuff do you notice going over well in the clubs these days?
If you go to the nice places, it’s all dance music obviously, but a lot of oldies too. MIA is big. All the hipster stuff really kills it. Justice is big. What do you think of Justice?
I like them but that genre is getting really saturated now. My dudes come up to me with new music all the time. Some weird producer from Sweden or something, that makes Justice-esque shit. It all starts to blend together for me and sound the same.
Yeah, I know what you mean. With that kind of stuff so big these days do you think there’s still room for hip-hop? Where are the raps going?
I think hip-hop is actually finally taking a turn for the better. I mean there’s always going to be the bullshit - the Soulja Boys and the snapping - but then people like Mark Ronson are doing really well. He just got a Grammy. He just beat Timbaland! Hip Hop is just so oversaturated, but that’s why people like Will I Am and Kanye and Mark are standing out. Because they’re switching it up and bringing in different aspects and new sounds. Like I was in the studio with D.O.E. the other day and I was playing him beats, and once I played Sam’s shit, he flipped out. He was like, “I need some shit like this. I need him on my tracks! This is what the bitches listen to!” Rappers are realizing that and putting people like Mathew Santos or the homeboy from Coldplay on a track. People who they think are going to stick around, not who spits the hottest 16, because Tupac and Biggie already spit the hottest 16. I mean I want to make the kind of music that’s going to be in jukeboxes in twenty years, stuff that makes you remember an era, stuff that you can party and drink 40s to - or drink a glass of wine with your grandmother. So you want to make music that can crossover as much as possible?
Yeah, man. If you want to sell records and have a real impact, it’s got to cross over. Is it harder to produce for singers than it is rappers?
Only if you can’t play. But that’s why we have a serious advantage. JPatt can play anything. When we make beats it’s dope because I might have an idea in my head and all I got to do is hum it to him and then he’ll tweak it or something. You’ve worked out of Vermont and Boston among other places, but how has New York been influencing your work? What’s this city like for you?
Being downtown in the music scene is really dope because you’re surrounded by creative people, whether it’s clothing lines, artists, musicians, whatever. And everyone around me is still very young. Most of the kids I hang out with grew up either in New York or L.A. It’s kind of funny for me having been in Vermont. Everyone’s like, “Yo, where are you from?” But it’s cool because it kind of gives me an extra edge coming from the middle of nowhere. We had a show the other week at 205 and we packed it without even rally promoting it. That felt really good.
That’s a good sign.
Yeah, kind of makes you feel like you can take on the world.