Miguelito’s Tupac mural is only a diptych.
Since 2014, Ron-RonTheProducer has been responsible for the rise of the new L.A. rap underground. It’s his vision that helped Drakeo the Ruler and 03 Greedo define the nervous and anxiety-riddled gangsta rap sub-genres. It’s his soundscapes that supplied the infectious carousing anthems for Shoreline Mafia and Stinc Team — not to forget FrostyDaSnowmann’s Gurb Nation missions.
Born LaRon Robinson, Ron-Ron grew up in Watts, California, near 99th & Central Avenue. He spent many afternoons skateboarding through the shadows of Ted Watkins Park in the years before he took up producing. His mother and father were raised on that same block after multiple grandparents emigrated from the South in the middle of last century. Echoes of their Ozark and Rocky Top drawls still linger in the relaxed cadence of Ron’s speech. In fact, his Southern attributes are often the most noticeable aspect of his persona, whether in demeanor or production.
Fifteen seconds into his verse for “Lay a N***a Down,” Watts rapper 03 Greedo, the Project T-Pain, asserts “Ron-RonTheProducer just like Mannie to me.” “I actually started smiling when he said [that],” the 21-year old producer tells me in the entryway to his Torrance studio. “Me and Greedo only met like six months ago, but we both came from Watts so there was an automatic bond. I made that beat for him while channeling some Hot Boys shit, so when he said that I just sat back and thought, ‘Damn, that’s a hell of a comparison’.”
For a moment, Ron-Ron’s stare drops below the rims of his gold frames, a gesture towards the compliment’s weight. Greedo’s comment wasn’t exaggeration, “Lay a N***a Down” contains the indelible bounce and cushioning laser synths that characterize Mannie Fresh’s work with artists like B.G., U.N.L.V., and Big Tymers in the early-to-mid ’90s; but it’s not meant to reduce the producer’s sound to a single regional influence. Ron-Ron’s sonic lineage extends from New Orleans’ 7th Ward to Vallejo, carrying with it the rebellious spirit of Memphis and the fortuitous energy of Atlanta’s Patchwerk Studios.
Much of his style is rooted in the South’s rich bounce, crunk, and trap traditions popular while he was in high school. Over the last four years he’s sharpened many of these polis-specific idiosyncrasies into his own niche form. Whether co-opting the unconstricted form of Zaytoven’s melodies during drum pauses on Greedo’s “Paris Hilton” or expanding the dystopian synths of Lex Luger and DJ Paul that direct the black magic of Drakeo’s “Later,” Ron-Ron came into the game coated with Dirty South grime.
After-school cruises in his dad’s fourth-gen Chevy Malibu exposed him to the music of his more recent California roots and diversified his base. “My dad was a music head and a DJ. So he used to pick me up and had loud music bumping in his shit,” he says smiling. “That’s how alotta my West Coast influence came in: Tha Dogg Pound, Snoop, Kurupt, Daz Dillinger, fucking E-40, Mac Dre. Mac Dre sticks out to me ’cause I remember hearing him talking shit and thinking it was hard.”
Ron-Ron now imbues this swagger into instrumentals for artists like Shoreline Mafia (“Spaceship”) and Ralfy the Plug (“Pimp, Pimp, Pimp”), molding ecosystems for them to talk their own shit. While reflecting on these rides, he realizes a pattern in his personal listening habits: “When I’m listening to songs I don’t listen to the vocals, just every little noise in the beat. I can hear the vocals, but it’s almost like I’m listening past them, you feel me? I’ve always been like that, too. When I was little and my dad played music, I would listen to the beat, you know? The bass is rumbling and you just feel that sound.”
His mother completes the picture of his eclectic style, germinating his lighter, more sparse offerings (Stoner Vibes Instrumental EP) by playing neo-soul duo Floetry when he was young. Producer Vidal Davis’ eccentric choice of noises (“Mr. Messed Up”) must have influenced Ron-Ron’s blend of disparate sounds found on FrostyDaSnowmann’s “Doctor,” and across his executive produced collaboration with Shoreline Mafia, ShorelineDoThatShit. He’s also maternally indebted for his tag, as she coined his visceral “RonRonDoDatShit” drop. Originally just an encouraging imperative said while watching him make beats after class, Ron-Ron asked her to “say it closer to the mic.” “I put a little effect on it,” he reveals. “But her voice really does sound that squeaky.”
When I approach his studio, the rumbles suggest he’s tapping into the 808 innovations of his trap forefathers, with the dull thump of his monitors growing more defined as I get closer. I reach the nondescript building’s door as Ron-Ron’s cousin arrives from the opposite direction and he asks if I’m a photographer, producer, or an artist. When I respond with ‘journalist,’ he notes quite a few have been through recently.
Soon the thumps halt and Ron-Ron greets us at the door in a black hoodie and matching jogging pants. He’s tall—the uniform colors emphasize his height—and friendly during our introduction. “I’m a people person,” he says. “I never had fights in school, always got along with everybody.” He walks down the hallway with the same approachable energy as he shows me to his suite, a quaint L-shaped alcove in the building’s corner. It’s meant for intimate sessions, equipped with a small couch in the rear, two desk workstations, and ottomans lining the remaining wall space.
There’s a modest quadriptych of Tupac hanging on the opposite wall. It’s perpendicular to Ron-Ron’s main desk and sits as the lone decoration breaking the slate walls’ continuity. When he closes the door I see the dry erase board on its back outlining his studio rules. There are particular emphases placed on leaving chargers be and paying attention to where your ashes drift. Once he rests at the console, his focus is consumed with the project he was refining before I arrived. I later discover it was a post-production mix for a third-party and not the genesis of an original beat. “I engineer too, but alotta people don’t know that. My cousin had a studio back in like 2012-13 and I was recording shit for them. One day I just told him I’d try and mix it,” he explains. In retrospect, that explained his rapidity.
After a few minutes, he switches from mixing in Pro Tools to crafting an instrumental in FL Studio, with a brief recess to prepare a Backwood cigar. Even during his pause, he doesn’t waste a moment. When he returns he’s fluid, gliding through plugins with an intuitive workflow honed in the near decade since a cousin, producer Ace The Face, first showed him FL Studio. At the time he was attending Bethune Middle School and looking for something to do after school ended. Skateboarding had proved fruitless by this point. “I just took [what he taught me] and ran with it,” he says. “One day Ace looked at me and said, ‘Bro you’re gonna be big.’”
“Really I just locked myself in a room for three summers,” he says, giving context for his cousin’s prediction. “It wasn’t even on some Kanye shit either, this was before I studied his music like that. My cousins would go out a lot, but my mom was more protective of me. When she didn’t let me go out, I’d make a beat. Eventually I said, ‘Fuck it’ and started enjoying staying home to make beats. So I locked myself in the room for three summers, that’s when I started to body beats. I did damn near two thousand beats before my computer crashed and I lost them all. I had to rebirth.”
In the course of his rebuilding Ron-Ron discovered he preferred to start with the melody, a stylistic quirk that continues to this day. His keyboard inputs sound gothic until he layers it with a string-like synth to give the feeling of an orchestral ensemble. He peppers in twinkling chimes for punctuation and then moves on to dispersing hi hats and claps with oracular vision. The cigar from earlier is still unlit, dangling from his mouth and submitting to the flow of his head nods.
Once he adds the drums it appears finished to the uninitiated, but he responds to my query with a quiet “Almost,” tinted with the comical inflection of his one-liners. He splices in found sounds—what seem like liquid splashes and metallic pings—to break up the beat’s continuity, quirks found elsewhere in his work (“Power Ranger” by Shoreline Mafia). He looks over his shoulder and reaches back to find the lighter resting on my desk. It doesn’t spark yet, he’s just streamlining its eventual use. He then adds dimension to the percussion with sharp, wooden taps, similar to the ones heard in the background of 03 Greedo’s “Scope.” During the formal portion of our meeting he claims it gives beats “an ambient feel, a hazier space.” His head nods become more engaged now, as if there’s a transcendent status bar he’s watching and the beat is nearing completion.
“Knowing when a beat’s done is like a videogame to me,” he says. “No, not even that, really.” He pauses for a moment, digging for terms to describe the ultimately ineffable. “It’s like a math problem.” I ask if he was good at math in school. “No, but it is still like a math problem. Once you solve it, you’re gonna keep getting it, like a formula. It’s just an ear thing instead.”
Despite the gap between hearing his words and understanding them experientially, I see he’s met his internal criteria once his chair bounce reaches uncontainable levels. The final product is aggressive yet narcotic, a fitting entry in the brash nihilism of his recent output with Murrda Mellz (“Woc Star”) and Rocket Da Goon (“Cautious”). He shows his natural gift for arrangement as he drags sounds to their destined start point and fades certain ones out when the timing is right. “It requires you to look at a song differently,” he says with respect to arranging. “Don’t put all the drops at once, throw a little razzle dazzle on it. Honestly, alotta producers don’t like to arrange their beats and they’ll ask me to do it for them.”
After relishing the high of accomplishment for a moment, he grips the lighter resting above the keyboard and finally ignites his Backwood. As the now-finished beat cycles through its progressions, he spins in his chair to face me and, with smoke rolling between his teeth, exhales, “Done. You wanna do the questions now?”