Ruling the World of Pop
He has been a DJ, a producer and a solo artist (in that order). After adding his magic touch to records by Lily Allen, Adele, Paul McCartney and Amy Winehouse, the Brit with the perfect hairdo is the leader of the pack, with the most danceable song of the moment.
Text: Marcos Ortiz Finch
phOTO: GETTY IMAGES / Contour
When it comes to getting things done, the simplest methods are often the most effective for 39-year-old Mark Ronson, the British DJ, producer and writer of “Uptown Funk,” the most danceable hit since Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” “Usually what I do is I handwrite [a letter] then I scan it and send that in an e-mail.” That’s how he got Stevie Wonder to play harmonica on two songs for his new album, Uptown Special, and convinced Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon (author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and one of Ronson’s favorite books, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) to co-write the lyrics on nine of the record’s 11 tracks.
Ronson is a perfectionist, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get things done. When he and co-producer Jeff Bhasker decided that the vocals on “I Can’t Lose” should be provided by a new voice, they got in a car and drove around the U.S. south. They visited churches, bars and colleges until they finally found the voice they needed for the Uptown Special track: 23-year-old preacher’s daughter Keyone Starr.
Securing the talent of the ultra-successful Bruno Mars was also a real effort. Ronson spent months pursuing Mars while the superstar was on tour before he finally got him to sing on “Uptown Funk,” which become a massive hit. Mars also co-produced the track, helped direct the video and played instruments for other songs on the album.
The Midas Touch
phOTO: GETTY IMAGES
As a teenager in New York, he discovered DJ culture and started devotedly listening to local heroes like Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. The first victims of his restlessness were the vinyl records belonging to his brilliant stepfather, Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, which Ronson used to make his first mixes.
Time and experience made him a sought-after DJ on the NYC scene. At clubs, the likes of Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes would approach him to talk about music, and Ronson set dance floors on fire with his mixes for celebrations like P. Diddy’s 29th birthday or the marriage of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The young musical genius was making himself heard and becoming one of the best-connected producers on the scene.
In 2003, a little more than a decade after getting behind the turntables, 27-year-old Ronson made his solo debut. Cashing in favors with famous artists – including Jack White, Sean Paul and Rivers Cuomo – Here Comes the Fuzz received a lukewarm reception but trademarked a style Ronson would continue to develop. Hip-hop, soul, funk and rock all had a place in songs that made people get up and dance.
Ronson followed up with two more records – Version (2007) and Record Collection (2010) – but he really found his niche in his role as a producer for other artists.
In 2006, Amy Winehouse secured his services for what would become the much-lauded Back to Black, where songs like “Rehab” reveal the explosive mix conjured by the Camden diva’s vocals and vintage 1950s and 60s sounds. Despite the three 2008 Grammys won by his work with Winehouse, as well as his own Grammy for Producer of the Year, Ronson always kept his feet on the ground. “I didn’t make Amy Winehouse’s career,” he would later say, “She made mine.”
Ronson Goes Uptown
phOTO: GETTY IMAGES
It was an instant hit. With Bhakser’s help, Ronson came up with a song destined to become a classic, the kind of tune you can listen to over and over again without getting tired of it. Critics praised “Uptown Funk” for drawing on vintage funk influences while updating them for a modern audience.
Already a hit in the UK, “Uptown Funk” climbed to the top of the U.S. Billboard charts. He was invited to perform live on shows like The Voice, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Saturday Night Live (of which he had been a fan for years). In his native England, the song also garnered praise, earning a Brit Award for Best Single of the Year. The only question now is what will he do next? in
Check out the new video by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars