Notes on K-pop interview: Dem Jointz

Notes on K-pop interview: Dem Jointz


This is the first of a series for Notes on K-pop focusing on creatives who work within and around the K-pop sphere, featuring American multi-faceted producer Dem Jointz.

I reached out to Dem Jointz, among a few other producers, last year to discuss why children's songs and nursery rhymes are a common theme in K-pop, since he worked on NCT 127's "Cherry Bomb." Due to time demands, that piece ended up not being full of interviews. But I've wanted to spend sometime this year focusing on the craft of K-pop, so I'm grateful that Dem Jointz set aside some time recently me the time of day recently to chat about his career, new projects he's working on, and, of course, his K-pop work.

In that realm, he's known predominantly for helping to craft NCT 127's sound with many of their singles and b-sides, but also has written songs for BTS and its members, NCT U, NCT Dream, EXO, Taeyeon, SHINee, NMIXX, and more. You've probably heard his producer tag, "Incoming," at times, and not even realized it.

This isn't necessarily an interview about K-pop, as much as it is hearing about the creative perspective someone who is heavily shaping it. Happy reading!

This is a YouTube playlist someone compiled of what Dem Jointz has produced. Happy listening!

I'm so glad we could get this scheduled and I won't keep you too long. I know you're super busy. How are you doing?

Dem Jointz: I'm delirious.

Delirious. Okay. Well, I hope there's some caffeine or booze in that cup.

Dem Jointz: It's caffeine. No booze. Wait until this weekend before we get the booze going.

That's a good rule. So how are you doing? I love your studio setup. It looks so nice.

Dem Jointz: Hey, thank you. We have a new studio situation. This is room one of two. So I'm excited about just a new chapter and a level of creativity. We're going dumb, stupid in to provide the smashes.

That sounds really exciting, and you're starting off the year really strong. What are you feeling right now?

Dem Jointz: Excited. I want to learn more. I'm actually looking forward to being inspired. You know what I'm saying? Motivated by new sounds, new audible discoveries. And just learning about new ways I can become a unique original, and stay creative.

That's a struggle for everybody in creative fields. How do you keep up?

Dem Jointz: It's a struggle. You got to be willing. You Can't just expect things. You have to actually put in the effort at some point and it'll come. Put in the effort and put yourself in a position to discover.

Why are you so focused on creativity? Do you feel like you're in a slump of sorts, or you just are always eager for more creativity?

Dem Jointz: I wouldn't say slump, but I would say both. Not necessarily a slump. I don't think I'm at a slump. I feel like the speed of getting to something that's like Eureka-esque... I want to be able to soar to it. And then I want to go from one Eureka location to another Eureka location, and then to another Eureka location as opposed to trying to figure out the best thing I can do in a pace that's kind of going very, very slow.

That sounds very exciting and also a little exhausting.

Dem Jointz: It is, yeah. It very much is. But this is what we do. This is what we do. That's what music is, right?

So this is for a newsletter called Notes on K-Pop, so I do want to get into that a bit but I saw you just released a new album with K.A.A.N. so wanted to ask about that. What's Peace of Minds all about?

I have a couple of artists that I'm working with, one that's K.A.A.N. There's Undecided Future, there's my wife, Stalone. We're just staying creative and making Jammy Jams on the Jammy Jam. So it's exciting to be able to just create with no barriers, no guidelines from any outside ideas, just between you and the artists as to what comes naturally.

[For Peace of Minds] We spent a lot of time on these specific songs because we kind of just wanted to figure out, "What did our experiences and elevation sound like? Let's display that and put that out." So it was super dope. It's 15 jammers. It's an ongoing story. The whole project coincides and connects to the next song; there's interludes and transitions. Because my whole thing is I want to tell one full story, and I want to be one of the reasons why people listen to full on projects now as opposed to just picking your favorite song.

I mean, I'm one for one a smash hit. I love that. You know what I mean? So if we can grab one of them up, I'm not mad at all. But what I don't want to do is stress myself out trying to figure out how to create just those moments. I want to create a moment, period. And if that's a body of work, then so be it mean. And I feel like we put a lot into it and it came out super dope. The story in terms of why this project is motivating, it's Get Off Your Ass-esque. I'm saying, "do some shit." You know what I mean? And block out the haters. But it's crazy because each jam just tells each story in that realm. Anything that we can say that is positive, that can change someone's mindset of going to go get it, whatever that is that you're going to go get. And we just made 'em in the Jams and tried to make it sound like a cinematic movie.

It definitely sounds like a full album or project. Which you don't really, well you hear it from a few people...But nowadays it's all about the two minute TikTok vibes.

Dem Jointz: Yeah, man. How do we get people to appreciate those moments again? And at the end of the day, if you find a TikTok moment out of anything that we've done, I'm not mad at that neither.

I hope you're not distributed by UMG.

Dem Jointz: I'm not.


I'm not.

[More pausing.]

Oh shit. Wait a minute. We are. Oh shit, I didn't realize this.

I'm sure it'll be back.

Dem Jointz: Probably not on TikTok now. I got to do my homework.

Oh no...

Dem Jointz: I'm realizing this... Lowkey we are, oh shit. Dammit.


Dem Jointz: K[A.A.N] has a pretty locked in fan base that really appreciates what he does. And I'm not a hundred percent sure about whether or not they're super heavy into TikTok like that. If they are, that'd be super great. Unless we ain't on it... I'm definitely going to check after this now. Shit.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Dem Jointz: Appreciate you allowing me to discover that while we on this interview.

Happy to be of help... Although I'm sure UMG and TikTok will get back in cahoots sooner or later

Dem Jointz: They're going to figure it out.

Back to the music... You mentioned one word that am I really curious about. You said something about the album "elevating" people. You use that word. That's a very interesting way of describing what this album is.

Dem Jointz: Just advancing from the state that you're in. So for an example, I feel like it's easy to be in a slump of trying to get to the next level and figuring out what that is and not even knowing where to start. How do you start these things off? And a lot of the context in the jams is pretty much saying... Well, it starts with you. It starts with your mindset. It starts with you believing in [yourself], and it starts with you blocking out anything that's going to stop you from having a focal point. It's just like... how can we turn this into a jam where it's not only that we're underlining roadblocks, we're underlining that when you're on your way to this level of success, these are things to look forward to. These are stumbling blocks. These are all kind of different shits. There's haters, there's taxes. Man, we talking about some real shit. You know what I'm saying?

It's crazy because it's like, dude, we don't talk about the real shit that I feel like people need to know about. How do we make jams out of that? And I feel like if you listen to some of the jams, we're actually covering a whole lot of shit that I feel like people need to be talking about. Things that can help, or tools that can be used for people that are discouraged to make big moves, maybe because they're in debt or some shit. Or maybe they feel like they're at a dead end job or maybe because they ain't got a job, or maybe because they tired of working for motherfuckers and they want to work for themselves. But it's just like, where are the jams that's actually talking about shit like that? So we was just like, we need to focus on this concept. Ain't nobody doing that.

The whole fucking album is crazy. A fun fact is a lot of this record, we've done it with The Aftermathians. They kind of helped us out with a lot of the foundation. Dr. Dre actually wrote that chorus on "Prize." I thought that was fucking dope that he loved what we were doing and wanted to assist.

Do you, honestly, just even thinking of how long your career is, how are you still excited about getting in a studio and creating something new?

Dem Jointz: I think that it has to start with an obsession of making music and making beats and writing songs and creating, you know what I mean? It is an obsession. And I don't know how long obsessions last, but shit, it last me for a minute. I'm obsessed with creating. I'm obsessed with making music and everything that comes along with it.

How did you get into it?

Dem Jointz: I feel like I've been always musically inclined. I used to play drums in the church, but back in the day I was rapping. I was trying to get my little lyrical spirituals off until I realized I love producing way more. When you rap and can't find people to make beats? Then I'd be like, fuck it. I think I can do this shit. I'd rather just make beats. But then it's crazy coming into the industry. Coming in, I thought you had to write record, mix your shit if you want your shit to sound a certain way, vocal produce whoever you want to be on the song so they can sound a certain way. I thought you had to do it all. And so then I did it all and then realized that there is a vocal producer, there's a songwriter, there's an engineer, there's a producer, there's a musician, there's all kinds of people. And so now I do everything, and sometimes that's a lot of work. But I love it. I still am doing everything, but the team is building as we speak.

Because that can't last forever neither. And not only that, but I'm at the point to where I want to stay creative and the rest of the elements to come along. There's so many different people out there we can give opportunities to. Give them a chance to produce engineer song, write. Whatever the case may be, I definitely want to give that opportunity to other people that deserve the chance to get onto the get on.

How are you finding new talent nowadays?

Dem Jointz: Shit, social media, the homies, word of mouth. That's pretty much it.Discovering new talent is super dope, man. Especially if they already have a foundation in terms of what they doing with their artistry. But usually it's because somebody told me about something, because my head's in the computer. I'm looking at Pro Tools or some shit. I'm not necessarily on social media as much as I would like to be. I know I probably need to be more active and looking at shit and checking shit out and all that, but I got work to do. How do you balance that shit?

Well, you definitely have a habit of finding the talent in the industry, that's for sure. You've been working so long and you just scroll your Wikipedia. It just feels like every name that matters is there. You've been doing it for so long and it really does feel like you've worked with everyone.

Dem Jointz: I feel like I have. If not, then shit, I'm still on the mission, you know what I mean? There's so many different people that I still want to work with, so we going to figure things out. But I appreciate that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

DYou're somebody who it really does feel like... Well, you started out in rap. You're from Compton, right? You started from the heart of things, and then you moved into pop. I was scrolling down your Wikipedia and it was like... Kanye, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Chris Brown. Everyone. Then in 2015, in between Janet Jackson and Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar, you have Red Velvet. And I just think it's really a funny paradigm. You are a person who really has touched every facet of the industry.

Dem Jointz: Thank you so much. Thank you so much, man. I'm just being creative and discovering different things in different rooms, you know what I mean? I mean, maybe we all don't speak that far of a different audible language, you know what I'm saying? A jam is the jam on the jam jam.

There's a lot of conversation about how K-pop has a lot of roots to hip hop. So do you feel like that has definitely been on your mind whenever you get a brief [from A&R teams]?

Dem Jointz: Hip-hop, R&B, and then now that I'm listening, I hear a little Latin pop now. I'm starting to hear a little Afrobeats. So all different types of genres. I'm actually hearing mixtures of genres within one song. It's freeing to go all the way there and all the way to another genre just to mix it up, to go ahead and define the rollercoaster. It's all dope and I'm here for it. I feel like it's pushing forward. It's super creative and it's super dope. But yeah, I do hear all those different genres and influences.

How did you get into it? Going from being embedded in the US industry and then sort of becoming a person who people now is fairly heavily associated with K-Pop?

Dem Jointz: They came to holler at us, and then we made a jam and it placed and it did well. So then they came to see me and they showed me pretty much the whole infrastructure as to how the whole thing worked, and we were like, what? And then we were like, okay. So we kept on going. We kept on going, but then started to see the acts that I kind of started off with, for an example NCT 127... And we're looking at the growth and looking at just the progression, how big the fandoms are, and how strong and loyal and die hard they are. And how embracing they are in terms of everyone that's supporting the body of work. To where they'll come holler at me. Thanks for the jammy jams. That love is crazy. I appreciate it, especially when I'm not necessarily getting that much- I mean, yeah, we get a pat on the back here in the States. "Good shit." "That was a jammy jam on a jammy jam." But not like these fans.

So you can't help but fall in love with what you've been doing and looking at the progression in terms of what you've done and created with, for an example, a group like that.

You actually took the question out of my mouth. I was going to ask, do you think it's too much to say that you've shaped NCT 127 sound? But you have been there since the beginning, and you're still placing songs

Dem Jointz: I think that I've been there since the beginning. I hope that I'm shaping the sound, and I feel privileged to be a part of their ongoing story that they still rock with me. I appreciate that the jams show because they jam. And they appreciate the jams to where they put their body into it as well. A whole thing. You know what? It's an extravagant situation, and man, it is just super dope that we've been consistent with making jams to where the fans really appreciate that and they go hard, and it's easy because these are smashes.

Yeah, there's definitely the constancy of your discography is like, oh, here's another hit and here's another hit. Even moving away from NCT 127, it's like you did some BTS stuff, with J-hope and "Run BTS." "Run BTS" not one of their singles, but it's a big hit from recent years among fans.

Dem Jointz: Just imagine if it was a single.

When you started working with K-pop, how did you find it?

Dem Jointz: So when they showed us what it was, and we saw that going down the rabbit hole there was so many different groups with so many different creative ways of being creative... We were like, "oh. Shit." It just seemed like an unlimited source of being creativity as opposed to everyone being reserved and scared here in the States.

So what I decided to do is kind of just pivot and put my body into doing K-pop because I felt like it was more appreciated when I went outside the box or did some weird shit musically. When I did some weird stuff, or did some weird soundscapes, or switched the beat up completely in the middle of the song? I felt like that was more appreciated. They loved what I've done in the K-pop industry as opposed to just wanted to calm it down like here in the States. I don't think I ever stopped doing weird or crazy shit, or conformed to whatever the industry standard is. And I feel like that's why I love K-pop so much because I don't think they conform to the industry standard.

Yea, I think that's definitely come through, from your older to your most recent work. I actually think "Parade" from NCT 127's album was one of my favorite songs last year.

Dem Jointz: Yeah, that was the Jammy Jam on the Jammy Jam.

I don't want to keep you much longer, so I'm curious... What has been the most surprising thing about your career overall?

Dem Jointz: The surprising thing about my career? Well, I feel like I've yet to experience the most surprising. What I am grateful for is that I am able to do this at such a capacity for this long, and I don't have any intentions on quitting. So I'm excited and looking forward to the most surprising moment.

I love that. I mean, you're still pretty young. Nowadays age is just a number, and everyone's getting younger as humanity changes.

Dem Jointz: Right? I feel terrific. I can go in for a second, third win. I mean, I'm on a mission, so we're going to see what it's going to do. But yeah, I'm excited for what's to come. I feel like even so, I'm always asked, what is your biggest hit or your most favorite song? But like... I feel like I've yet to create that, and I'm looking forward to creating that. I feel like I haven't done it yet. My best or pinnacle moment. Yeah, I don't think I hit that just yet. And I'm looking forward to exploring that way of life.

If not surprising or favorite, how about something that felt important?

Dem Jointz: I take being inspired very seriously. And I remember moments where I saw the oncoming of inspiration. For an example, going to work with Dr. Dre, and I started working with him back in 2015 when he was working on Compton. And I came in right in the smack middle of that process. And I remember being so inspired, like... Oh. Shit. And then not only that, but it's just in experiencing what that was about and how it gave me so many ideas that I didn't realize I could obtain so fast and be so confident with these new and crazy ass ideas I had in my head... Then meeting Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis working on Janet Jackson's album. I actually worked on Janet Jackson's album and Dr. Dre's Compton at the same time. I was working on both of the projects so my brain... I couldn't even sleep at night around those times. I was doing both sessions every day. That shit was crazy. But I remember just so much inspiration, learning so much and being so excited about that shit. That shit was crazy. So I remember that. And then just learning from a lot of people was super dope. I remember when I was signed to Bangladesh working with Rihanna. Just working with Kanye was fucking dope. You know what I'm saying? The embracement. Is that a word? We going to make that a word: the embracement of the K-pop community, that's super memorable. And not only that, but these are experiences that I expect and intend and looking forward to experiencing over and over again. So I definitely have plans on just my sound, new sounds and new developments of what I'm doing with artists here in the States as well as K-pop. We're still creating memorable and precious moments.

I have the Wikipedia page open, and I just think it's really funny that in between those two albums that you were just talking about, the Janet Jackson one and Dre's Compton, there's the Red Velvet song, which is your first K-pop song. It's "Don't U Wait No More." I just think it's so funny, it's so perfect. So here's the big moments, and then this is a seemingly little one, but it became a big one.

Dem Jointz: No, but it became a huge moment. And we didn't realize that it was such a big situation as it was happening. Like I said, we were briefed on how the culture moved and how it was. And we were just like, this is super dope. "Yes, we're in." So of course we gave them jams, and then we didn't know what was going on until we just actually saw it bubble up and it actually continued and grew and became bigger and bigger to where we was just like... ohhhh shit. "Remember that song you did on Red Velvet's album? That shit is blowing up." As a matter of fact, that album is incredible. We're Just consistently and constantly reminded about how big that shit became. And we weren't paying attention to it as much as we should, but now we pay attention to it all.

I'm looking forward to working with a lot of these artists because that's the song that I was into being super crazy unique, and weird, and different, and that's the jam that blew up. "Oh, snap. So they rocking with all my weird shit. What? I can make more? Let's go."

A screenshot of Dem Jointz's discography showing 2015 as the year Janet Jackson's Unreakable, Red Velvet's The Red and Dr. Dre's Compton album all featured his writing credits

You're someone who is as comfortable working with some of the biggest soloists of our era, but also you've constantly worked with the sound of boy bands and, to some lesser degree, some girl groups. How do you approach the scale of difference in your music creation process? Does that ever come into play?

Dem Jointz: I feel like impactfulness is impact. I feel like edginess is edginess. Dark is dark. And at the end of the day, I bring in what I bring to the table in terms of the craziest and wildest shit. And then I want them to match what it is from their perspective. For an example, the K-pop groups, whether boys or girl groups have done a great job in terms of matching what they're about with what I'm doing. We're challenging the listeners. We're challenging the market. I never think about who's it for and should I back it up a little bit? Should I go ahead and pull back a little bit? Nah, we going full throttle everywhere.

I did say we're almost done so want to let you go, but I have to ask... you've made so many moments for other people. You've worked with so many others and had so many moments of your own, I'm sure. But have you ever thought, "maybe I don't want to be only in the studio anymore. Maybe I want to be on the record." Have you ever thought of doing your own stuff? What does your own stuff even sound like? Do you have that idea anymore? Or is it just not who you are as an artist?

Dem Jointz: No, I feel like that's definitely a portion of what it is. I actually have an album I've been working on since forever. I don't even know when I even started on this shit, but I've just been going back and forth in terms of what defines my sound. But what I'm starting to realize is I think that I'm so multifaceted and have so much different shit, it's just going to have to be all over the place, provided that I even release it. But I am dabbly dabbling with the dabble. I'm in a group with my fellow producing homies, Focus... and Denaun. My fellow Aftermathians. And we started on the project and generally it was just like... "Let's just be creative and see what we can come up with." But then we were having so much fun, we decided to create a whole album that's coming out [planned for Feb 14], called Read the PDF.

You're releasing so much this month. [Note: Read the PDF's release date is TBD as of writing this.]

Dem Jointz: So I think that right there, I've been having so much fun with that. So it kind of helped me tiptoe more into the idea of what my actual shit would sound like. But I will say this, it will consist of a whole heap of different artists and collaboration. And a sound of my journey mixed in with somebody else's. It's just a whole burst of creativity that we shall continue. And I'm excited about just creating, like I said, it's an obsession, so you know what I mean? And for some strange reason, the shit ain't stopped. So let's go.

This has been edited slightly, but I wanted to keep the flow of his tone so if there's any grammar errors, they're probably intentional. Please @ me if you think anything is really egregious.

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