If you ever danced to a Jennifer Lopez track, chances are you owe Cory Rooney a huge hug of appreciation. The Grammy-nominated producer, with more than 100 million copies of his music sold worldwide, is largely responsible for La Lopez’s turn from Hollywood A-Lister to music megastar. “I’m obsessed with the loyalty that Latin people have for their music, culture and their people,” says Rooney. “And I love to make music for an audience that’s so ready to accept just raw music. There’s no gimmicks there’s no bells and whistles there’s just a pure song.” Here, in an exclusive interview, the Queens, New York native tells us about crafting the Jennifer Lopez sound from its inception, behind-the-scenes stories of her biggest hits and why we’re tagging him as the Latino Artist Whisperer.
PS: Enjoy the never-before-seen photos of Rooney and J. Lo!
How did you first start your working relationship with Jennifer Lopez?
Tommy Mottola at Sony Music was courting her to sign her to the label. Tommy set up a meeting at his office in New York, and he had all the biggest producers and writers he could think of. It was for the first album, and it was the first time Tommy and I met her. He had Diane Warren, Emilio Estefan, Babyface and more. He was basically giving us all 15 minutes of face time. He was saying, “If you sign here with Sony, I’ll get the best of the best writers and producers in industry to work with you.” I came in last, and I was sitting in Tommy’s waiting area while someone else was meeting with her and when they walked back out I was sitting at the piano and I was playing a song. She walks out with Tommy because she hears the music playing and she’s like, “Oh my God! What is that song? Who is that singing? It’s so beautiful.” So Tommy says, “This is Cory, one of our big writers and producers. He wrote this song and if you like it you can have it.” So that was really the beginning of our relationship. That song [“Talk About Us”] ended up on her album; it was the first song we went into the studio to record.
After that night of working together, she decided she didn’t want to work with anyone else unless they worked through me because I guess I provided a certain level of comfort. I knew right away that she could sell anything. She was larger than life. She’d walk in a room and commanded the room. She owned it. I’ve worked with other artists in the past and that’s the one thing you can’t teach them. Every single day she showed up to the studio the whole room was at her command. I knew she was a superstar beyond her acting.
How was it working with her on her debut album, On the 6?
I’ll tell you a story about her first single, “If You Had My Love.” We were at the end of the album and I had promised Rodney Jerkins, who produced that track, to set up a time to play some music for Michael Jackson and we did that. “If You Had My Love” was one of the tracks he had on the list to play for Michael Jackson, so I was saying to myself when I heard it, I was like, “Damn, this is so perfect for Jennifer. I really want to keep my promise to both Michael and Rodney but damn I hope he doesn’t take this record.” And I remember it was the eighth song on the CD that he was playing for Michael, just the track. The music begins and Michael starts moving and shaking to it and he goes, “Man, I like this one.” My heart sunk. Then he says, “I don’t like it for me, but I like it. It’s gonna be a hit for someone else.” I smiled from ear-to-ear and that same day we ran from that office and LaShawn Daniels and myself wrote that song for Jennifer. Jennifer had some hand in that writing, too. We recorded that song and it became her first single and it was the one record we needed to set her all up.
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