By Rob Putnam
Santa Cruz hip-hop and production duo Cruzmatik—J-Willz (Jason Williams) and Famouz (Reggie Stephens)—became friends in high school. Their careers diverged down different paths soon after: Famouz attended Rutgers out east and played pro football for a time. Later he landed a record deal and segued into production. Meanwhile, J-Willz was singing with hometown rock outfit Ribsy’s Nickel and toured with them for 12 years. The pair reunited around 2009 and last year released their EP Style Trippin on their own label SpinRich. Their singles “Party Don’t Stop” and “Up All Night” have been well received online, paired with high-quality videos.
Although Famouz has a production background, Cruzmatik works almost solely with Santa Clara-based producer Justin Dublin Beats. “We work with five beat makers but only one producer,” he explains. “We’ll come into his studio with an outline and he’ll turn it into a masterpiece. He’ll add or subtract from the beat to make it stronger. There’s an energy and a vibe and everything works.”
The way Cruzmatik begins a new project usually starts with a beat sourced from a small pool. “We get a beat and we might not think of something for two or three months,” Famouz notes. “Then Jason [Dublin Beats] might come to me with an idea. That’s usually how we start to build a song. Once we get into the studio, Jason will also make suggestions, like making beats fuller with live instruments and things of that nature.”
Moving from the largely reggae/rock sound of Ribsy’s Nickel to hip-hop was a stretch for J-Willz. But he found that when he rose to the challenge, things soon fell into place. “A lot of those songs were out of my comfort zone,” he explains. “The ones that I learned the most on were the ones on which I pushed myself the hardest. ‘Party Don’t Stop’ was like nothing I’d ever done before. Now it feels like I can do anything.”
Indeed, he finds that the skills that he and Famouz both bring to the process complement each other nicely. “It’s like the yin and the yang,” the singer asserts. “There are things that I can do that he can’t and vice versa. We help each other. Without him, I don’t think I’d learn as much.”
Cruzmatik’s approach to finding success in cyberspace was to link up with online distributor Empire Distribution, a relationship that came about through a friend. “Being on [online music site] Vevo, we’re right next to the majors,” Famouz observes. “The digital process of music now allows you to not necessarily be on a major [label] but it grants you access to everything that they have. Having quality music and a nice digital deal was key to our process. Empire got us onto Pandora, Vevo, Google Play and Amazon.”
Both of the duo favor Empirical Labs’ Distressor compressor with ample reverb. “It makes things pop out,” Famouz says. J-Willz prefers the Soundelux ELUX 251 microphone, which he runs through a Neve 1073 mic preamp and equalizer.
Projects on the horizon for Cruzmatik include a full-length album, which they expect will drop in the spring or summer, and the launch of their clothing line. The video for their single “Clouds” just dropped online. Cruzmatik is noted for the quality of their music video production, commonly employing helicam mini helicopter cameras to dramatic effect.
Contact Elan Vance - The Image Cartel, 310-540-5120; http://cruzmatik.com