By Shirley Ju
March 12, 2019
“No Role Modelz” might go down in history as one of J.Cole’s biggest records. Thanks to a fire producer by the name of Darius Barnes, aka Phonix Beats, J.Cole’s song hit the Billboard charts and as it went up in the rankings, so did Phonix Beats’ price. He has been in the music industry for well over a decade making beats for artists like Fabolous, Bryson Tiller, Dave East, 50 Cent, and many more. So he’s used to hearing his songs on the radio, but creating a hit with J.Cole allowed him to reach a new pinnacle of success.
While there are no words to articulate his actual sound, it’s his signature style and consistency that audiences can’t help but gravitate toward whether he’s producing a hip-hop, EDM, r&b, or even an alternative track. He’s a chameleon with the power to produce a beat regardless of the genre. We respect him. Not only because of his musical agility or catalog of hits, but because of his entrepreneurial hustle and desire to make unforgettable beats.
In the few weeks he’s been in Los Angeles, Phonix Beats has been locked in the studio every single day working with everyone from Dr. Dre and Jeremih to YBN Cordae and The Game. He has built solid relationships with prominent figures in music and that rapport has figured into his success. Ultimately, it has allowed him to provide for himself and his family.
Fortunately for him, his personality and charm, combined with hard work and passion, has yielded him a fulfilling career and substantial bank account (especially after that J.Cole placement). Additionally, those Dreamville sessions in Atlanta for ROTD3 were monumental. Can you imagine working side-by-side with J.Cole?
We couldn’t either, but luckily Phonix Beats sat down with us for an interview and we found out more about his process, working with J.Cole and his work ethic:
SJ: Your dad John Barnes has been in the industry and worked with Diana Ross, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, etc. What did he teach you and how have you implemented those lessons?
PB: He always taught me to be original. Stay out the box as much as possible. Music is always free – free flowing. Own your own sound. Have your own sound. Everybody sounds so redundant, sounds like each other and copies the next man. But to have your own sound essentially is where you want to be.
SJ: How do you master your craft?
PB: I work on it everyday. When you love it, you don’t view it as work. I’m always doing it. If I’m always doing it, I’m always mastering my craft just a little bit more everyday.
SJ: How do you stay grounded working in the music industry?
PB: Honestly family. I have other things in life I love doing that has nothing to do with music, but contributes to the creativity. Me being an athlete or me training or learning new things, those are the grounding elements. ‘Cause you’re so used to hiding behind this persona that you have to be in the music — it’s you but it’s still a business name. I’m Phonix, so sometimes you have to turn Phonix off and be human.
SJ: How do you prepare for working with artists?
PB: Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Some artists I already know their sound, so there’s really no preparation. I just go in there and do it. Other artists I’m unfamiliar with or haven’t work with before, I’ll do research. I’ll listen to their biggest hits and then listen to their hits that weren’t the biggest hits. I’ll listen to their music and start doing my own A & B comparisons. Figuring out “okay this is what’s gonna work from my sound.”
SJ: What do you appreciate most about working with J.Cole and his low-key studio vibe?
PB: Oh man, he’s just a fun character. He raises the bar every time I work with him. Just being in the studio and seeing how focused he is — he knows what he wants. He’s open to creativity. A lot of big artists aren’t open to other creators sharing their creativity. Music is a group thing, it’s not just you by yourself. Being able to exchange ideas and opinions with somebody like that is pretty fun actually.
SJ: How did you feel when you found out J.Cole heard your beat and was so inspired he created “No Role Modelz” in a day or two?
PB: How could I not feel nothing but great? It was unexpected honestly. He got a hold of the track and I just got a random phone call. It caught me off guard but I was ready for it. I was of course excited, it didn’t really hit me until it came out. Then I just ran down five or six city blocks, it was crazy.
SJ: J.Cole was just at All-Star Weekend and played “No Role Modelz,” did you watch the performance?
PB: Oh yeah, it caught me by surprise again. They didn’t tell me that they was doing it. I had no idea. That was a very joyous moment for me because I’m also a big basketball fan. I was just watching the All-Star game like “LeBron you better win! I wanna see LeBron win.” I forgot it was in Charlotte, so I was like “okay that makes sense why Cole would perform.” But then I thought about it like “wait a minute, I wonder if he’ll perform my joint.” I got lucky I guess.
SJ: Did you hit him at all?
PB: No I didn’t, he’s on tour. He’s always moving around. I just got done doing the Dreamville writing camp in Atlanta. Bas is doing the Milky Way Tour, Cole is just tagging along with them. I love how they move. I love EarthGang, they’re amazing. I got a chance to work with Olu from EarthGang, hang out with J.I.D., Omen. Lute, Cozz, all them. It’s some guys coming up.
SJ: What was the best memory recording in the Dreamville sessions with Cole?
PB: When he asked me to put in a certain sound, I think it was 808 or one of the moves. I completely forgot that he produces as well so it was just a reminder. I didn’t want it but he did, so it just kind of worked out that both of them stayed in the beat. His artistic opinion is really interesting because most artists don’t produce and most producers aren’t artist. To be able to like talk to him as a producer and then he goes in there and turns on J. Cole is pretty impressive. It’s amazing. That’s one of kind, you don’t get that in life.
SJ: You’re in the studio everyday, what do you do to unwind?
PB: I’m a foodie so I like trying new food restaurants, new cultures. I’m a culture person, I go to museums. I was just in New York and went to The Museum of Pizza.
SJ: I didn’t know they had that!
PB: Me neither. They walk you through and at the end, they give you pizza. They give you cheese pizza and it’s probably one of the best plain pizzas I’ve ever had. It was pretty shocking.
SJ: What’s your favorite food spot in LA?
PB: That is so wrong to do me like that. It would be a fight between Crustacean and Din Tai Fung. I love dumpling houses. Din Tai Fung is in Glendale, it’s a really really good spot. They got the broth dumplings, beef broth soup, etc.
SJ: How do you know when it’s time to hustle vs. when it’s time to flow?
PB: I feel like me flowing is my hustle. The fact that this what I do everyday all day... even the outside things I’m creative. As long as I’m flowing and moving, there’s gonna be hustle. I don’t move if I’m not being paid.
SJ: You’ve worked with Cole, Bryson Tiller, The Game, Ty Dolla $ign and many others. Are there any women in the industry that you’re interested in producing songs for?
PB: Rihanna. Rihanna, Rihanna! Wya Rih-Rih? We need to work, work, work, work, work. [sings] On me! Her and Beyonce. If I had to have a third, I love H.E.R.