In working with seemingly every rapper that’s emerged from South Florida’s fertile SoundCloud rap scene, Miami-based producer Ronny J has built up a formidable resumé in the past two years—but isn’t yet a household name.
He’s a disrupter, someone who’s fundamentally changed the way popular, youthful rap sounds, but is still in the process of formally being inducted into “the industry.” Right now, Ronny seems to be on the brink of his red-hot local scene and the rap game at large, currently making in-roads and logging studio time with established stars—XXXTentacion, Travis Scott and Chief Keef—who are trying to maintain their status as innovators. This will be the busiest year of his life.
Ronny first made a splash at the start of the decade by lacing Denzel Curry with beats that recall the surfer kid in Apocalypse Now  taking acid just before reaching a besieged U.S. outpost: trippy, but terrifying. Since then, he’s further honed a signature sound that revels in clipping and distortion—two characteristics most producers strive to avoid. The quintessential Ronny J beat basks in unhinged chaos.
His work has provided the perfect springboard for an aggression that’s run through Florida rap’s veins from the Raider Klan days up into the current class of Ski Mask the Slump Gods, Lil Pumps, and Smokepurpps. Now rappers outside of the scene want a piece of it, and Ronny wants to establish himself outside of his production work as a rapper. He has no doubt that both will yield further success.
Four weeks, five publicists/managers/A&Rs, dozens of texts and emails, and three rescheduled phoners after first attempting contact, I finally caught Ronny on the phone 10 days before he released his debut solo project, OMGRONNY.
PATRICK LYONS: You’re a difficult guy to get a hold of. What’s been keeping you so busy?
RONNY J: I’m working on OMGRONNY, which is my project that’s about to drop any day now. I’m also working with Travis Scott, Swae Lee, Ski Mask the Slump God, Lil Pump, Smokepurpp— basically all of the hottest artists. I’m working a lot on my production, and then also my own stuff as a solo artist.
LYONS: Is OMGRONNY a solo project?
J: It’s basically a mixture of my production for other artists, production for other artists featuring me, and then some that’s just my production and my vocals. A pretty even mix of all that shit.
LYONS: You’re better known for your production right now, but which came first for you, rapping or producing?
J: I mean, I’ve always been messing around and playing with melodies. That’s alway been a part of me, but when I started producing I wasn’t really incorporating that. I started recording vocals seriously about a year or two ago.
LYONS: And when did you first start producing?
J: I was doing production for about a year before I met Denzel Curry. The first song we made was [2013’s] “IndigoB,” with Pouya and SDotBraddy, both from South Florida as well. That song did pretty well, but the next one I did with Denzel was “Threatz” with Yung Simmie and Robb Bank$, and that one went crazy.
LYONS: It wasn’t until you moved to Florida that things started picking up. What originally made you want to leave your home state, New Jersey?
J: Honestly? The nice weather, bro. It sucks in Jersey, but I really didn’t know how bad it sucked until I left. Growing up, I always knew that South Florida, even Orlando, was beautiful. Disney’s even in Orlando, so I’ve always wanted to be there.
I actually first went there for college, straight out of high school in 2010. I did a semester at an HBCU college, then I went back to Jersey for a semester at Camden County, then ended up back in Miami after that. That was when I met Denzel. I was going to the Art Institute at that time, but stopped because I couldn’t afford it, and ended up at Barry University, basically just as a place to live.
I never had family in South Florida, but I had always seen it as a way out. Before I came there, I didn’t know about a music scene or anything like that. I just went there off instinct, and obviously something happened because of it.
LYONS: What made you decide to stay in school, even when you seemed to be transferring every semester?
J: I could never afford to go back to the college I was in for another semester. I had my dad in my ear like, “School, school,” but my mom was always down for whatever I wanted. Eventually I was just using school as shelter, somewhere to sleep. At the end there, I was going to Barry and having a horrible time, so I just started making beats day and night, and it just blew up.
LYONS: You and Denzel, one of your earliest collaborators, have continued to work together. What did you initially bond over?
J: My production was already really aggressive, and obviously Denzel’s always had a really aggressive flow. We kind of instantly matched each other. When I met him, he was a part of Raider Klan, so around that time I started making my sound a bit darker so that he would want to rap on my beats and it would fit in with the rest of Raider Klan.
LYONS: You’ve gotten even darker and more aggressive since that early stuff. What first inspired you to distort your drums so much? You never used to hear that but it seems like you started a trend.
J: The whole distortion thing was never really planned out. I was never on some, “Okay I’ll use distortion and be totally different.” Nah. I don’t follow rules, I make up my own. I’m supposed to be creative, right? I just do what I want to do until the industry, or whoever, wants to fuck with it. Now I’m in high demand and everybody wants to work with me.
LYONS: Have you ever played an artist a beat and they’ve been like, “This is too weird. I can’t rap on this”?
J: Yeah. I mean, no one’s ever said, “This shit is too weird,” but once I started linking up with artists that have been in the industry for a while, I’ll play my shit, and they seem kind of nervous or scared. It’s like they fuck with it because they see my name keep popping up, but don’t know what to do on my beats. They’re used to having everything perfectly mixed and mastered, so when I come in, it’s a whole new thing for them. When it comes to all the newer kids though, it’s no questions asked, every time.
But the more sessions I do, the less people say anything. I have a certain sound, and they’re not going to tell me how to tweak it. However, I am open to artist’s opinions and feedback. I love working with people hands-on too.
LYONS: What was the first industry co-sign that surprised you?
J: I would say DJ Carnage. It was a crazy time in my life. Me and Denzel were working on Imperial, and I was staying at my boy’s crib. Actually, I was sleeping on his floor, bro. Like on the floor with one sheet. I was just angry at life. But then one night I checked my Twitter and Carnage tweeted at me, and just put “ULTIMATE” [the title of a Ronny J-produced Denzel track] in all caps. At the time I had no idea who he was, but it seemed like he was popular, he was verified on Twitter. I did my research and was like, “Damn, that’s crazy, this big-ass DJ fucks with my shit.” I’d say that was the first time I had anybody big reach out to me.
LYONS: Now that you’ve been in sessions with all these popping artists, what do you think you bring to the table that’s fresh?
J: I feel like there’s no other producer out there that’s like me, as far as my personality and my confidence. I don’t really come from the normal hip-hop background where I know about all this history and shit. I really don’t, to be honest. I grew up in church.
Then there’s my energy. I’m a star myself, I’m not just some kid behind a computer in a basement. I feel like I have a lot of great ideas. I started noticing that if I was in the studio with an artist for production, I was also giving flow ideas, melody ideas. I love doing that. Nowadays I’ll go into a session thinking somebody just wants my production but they’ll tell me they need some vocals too. It’s cool having people be open to your input.
LYONS: Alright Ronny, pleasure talking to you. Thanks for your time.
J: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. But let me say one more thing, bro. Put this in the interview.
J: OMGRONNY on the way. OMGRONNY taking over the whole entire game. OMGRONNY the best to ever do it. Put that in there, bro.
OMGRONNY IS AVAILABLE NOW.