Growing up in a household where Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Michael Jackson came to party would, for most, seem a pretty daunting prospect. Imagine coupling that with your mother remarrying Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, and you can begin to get a sense of the expectation that might loom over someone growing up and trying to make their own way in such an environment. For Mark Ronson, who moved with his mother from London to New York when still a small child, this superstar surrounded, jet-setting lifestyle never felt anything less than normal. If any such expectation was present, he never felt it.
New York is home. A city that’s been continually driven and shaped by creativity, Ronson’s relationship with his home city has had its way with his ever-changing output from day one. The sounds of New York dance floors, the respective hip-hop, disco and indie scenes, are all elements that have to come find a place in Ronson tunes somewhere along the line.
Hip-hop served as home base during his teenage years, ingraining an ear for a beat that’s been everpresent since. But thrown into a melting pot from an early age were a fusion of genres, including a love for Madchester and Britpop, that developed through trips back to the UK to visit family. When Ronson began his career as a New York DJs, spinning in backend clubs and bars, he soon picked up a reputation as one of the most exciting and versatile selectors on the circuit. P. Diddy once said of him, “He wouldn’t play the regular DJ Red Alert James Brown set. He would go even deeper than that in the crate… He was educating people on good music and how good music is all related.”
Hip-hop serves as a rather apt metaphor for the producer and songwriter that Ronson has gone on to become. With the foundations of hip-hop being sampled beats, ideas taken from genres and eras that went before, it’s a pointer to Ronson’s relationship with the genre that his own formula is so similar. Speaking at TED earlier in the year, he discusses and exemplifies how sampling changed music and how it allowed him to build upon, reimagine and invest in the narrative of tracks that meant something to him.
It’s Ronson’s readiness to collaborate that will resonate with so many. It was a perception affirmed following his 2007 sophomore album ‘Version’, a record that earned him a Brit Award for Best British Male in 2008. It’s a readiness that strikes as completely free of pretence, and with production credits dating back to the ‘90s, Ronson’s repertoire is as diverse as his stash of records. Thriving off others is a deep-seated feature of his creative process. It always has been, from the biggest stars to emerging talent and with a handful of bizarre team ups thrown in for good measure.
His breakthrough single ‘Ooh Wee’ is as good a place as any to start when talking about collabs. Featuring bars from Ghostface Killah, Nate Dogg and Trife Diesel and sampling from Boney M’s ‘Sunny’ and Dennis Coffrey’s track ‘Scorpio’, it served as the springboard for everything that’s come since.. A huge fan of Wu Tang Clan first and foremost, working with Ghostface Killah - whom he cites as his favourite rapper - was the dream collaboration and an association that continued when the rapper included a version of ‘You Know I’m No Good’ on his 2006 album ‘More Fish’.
Paul McCartney, Christina Aguilera, Robbie Williams and Duran Duran are among the big names Ronson’s worked with, but an eye for emerging talent has always been just as important. It’s easy to forget now that the likes of Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Adele were not established names when Ronson began his association with them. With Winehouse, it’s a relationship that now defines both artists, the ‘Back To Black’ album bagging three Grammy’s including the gong of Best Producer for Ronson.
With new record ‘Uptown Special’ set for release in January 2015, the formula has been revisited. 2015 best prepare itself for another Ronson takeover. ‘Uptown is where I wanna be’ sang Prince in 1980, and it seems Ronson is set on taking people there with Bruno Mars, forever channelling his inner purple one. There’s a massive whiff of funk revivalism in the tracks released so far, with both Kevin Parker and Bruno Mars each putting their own twist on Ronson’s foundations. The horns, which could have been trademarked after ‘Version’ but were abandoned altogether on follow up ‘Record Collection’, are back in abundance on ‘Uptown Funk’, with the chorus carrying an air of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. Still, hints of funk showcased so far might not represent the final piece. Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, Hudson Mohawke and DJ Zinc are all confirmed to feature, news that asks more intriguing questions than it answers.
What’s clear is that Ronson is once again flaunting his tag of the best-connected man in music. Bruno Mars might be the mega star fronting this renewed attack, but Ronson’s dug deeper this time round. He’s incorporating musicians and producers capable of extracting unearthed streams of imagination when exposed to one another. Reiterating his commitment to emerging talent, there’s a spot for vocalist Keyonce Starr. A road trip in search of inspiration through the gospel churches of New Orleans, Mississippi and Chicago led to the discovery of Starr, who features prominently and is part of Ronson’s antidote to what he considers the heartlessness of much of modern pop. The inclusion of Pulitzer winning novelist Michael Rabon to write half the lyrics adds another exciting and more abstract dimension, and allows ‘Uptown Special’ to stake its claim as the most diverse collection of artists to feature on any one Mark Ronson record.
By his own admission, 2010’s ‘Record Collection’ didn’t quite live up to the billing. In many ways it’s a slightly forgotten record ,and as such ‘Uptown Special’ may yet come to serve as the follow up that ‘Version’ really deserved. Ronson looks set to recapture the infectiousness of his most successful work, working with musicians and instruments in a shared space, allowing a danceable human quality to exude from his end product. The signs are there: ‘Uptown Special’ is set to reach and perhaps even top the heights of previous Ronson mania.
DIY’s put together a playlist of Ronson’s best moments, from at the desk to riding solo. Listen here.
Mark Ronson — Ooh Wee
Lily Allen – Littlest Thing
Sean Paul – International Affair
Duran Duran – All You Need Is Now
Bruno Mars – Locked Out Of Heaven
Daniel Merriweather – Change
Amy Winehouse – Rehab
Wiley – Cash In My Pocket
Paul McCartney – New
Solange – 6 O’clock Blues
Adele – Cold Shoulder
Ghostface Killah – You Know I’m No Good
Giggs – Is It Gangsta
Kaiser Chiefs – Never Miss A Beat