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James Worthy, not the basketball player, is making moves in the music industry

The young superproducer started from the bottom to now working with big stars

Remember the 1990s? You should. It was just over two decades ago when Nike’s Air Jordans were the hot pair of shoes to purchase. School crushes were the focal point of schoolyard chases. And TV shows like the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Martin were hot on the tube.

For music producer James Worthy, growing up in the 1990s was all about the beginning of discovering his love for music, not so much those latest fads. Not to be confused with the former NBA star, Worthy refers to himself as a mild-mannered child who grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Queens, New York. He said he often felt like an outcast around the kids at school because his tastes were a bit “eclectic” compared with those of his peers.

But in finding music, Worthy found a way to express his personal style on his own terms. Now, the 28-year-old is a Grammy-nominated record producer who’s worked with pop stars Justin Bieber, Kid Ink, Future, T.I. and Dr. Dre.

Worthy has also produced music for Men at Large, Sara Stokes, formerly of Making the Band, Yung Berg, Bonecrusher, Bobby Brown, Petey Pablo, Arrested Development and Lil Zane. He has appeared on such reality TV shows as Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, Access Hollywood and BET’s docuseries From the Bottom Up.

As his own star rises, Worthy still finds himself expressing his artistry on his own terms. He sets a standard for himself, vowing not to conform to certain policies or be swayed by voices in the background. In the past, he was encouraged by his associates in the music business to tailor his production to sound more like the collective sounds flooding the radio.

“If you produced in the early 2000s, then you would be making Uncle Luke-style music,” Worthy said. “For me, I never took that approach because it’s been done. For me, it’s all about the music aspect. So it’s not about what’s hot right now. It’s not about who can get to the hottest artist right now. I don’t really chase after that kind of stuff, I just do what I feel and what I love.”

Worthy gained some notable songwriter credits for being one of the co-writers on Justin Bieber’s single Company off his 2015 album titled Purpose. Then he linked up with buzzing California artist Kid Ink this year to help co-write his smooth island jam titled Nasty featuring Jeremih and Spice.

He enjoys participating in the mental exchange that happens when collaborating with other songwriters on projects.

“We all have different visions for the song,” Worthy said. “We all have different creative ways of writing and producing, putting a masterpiece together. So, when we do come together in one space, we can feed off of each other. Whether it’s two people, whether it’s five or 10 people in the room, we all feed off of each other and put ideas together. That’s how masterpieces come together. A lot of people don’t realize, man, that sometimes it’s 10 to 20 people who have credit on one song. That’s the behind-the-scenes stuff that people don’t know. But that’s what goes into it.”

At the age of 15, Worthy taught himself to play the keyboard and drums. He gravitated to piano first because his father also played. Being raised in a two-parent home, Worthy’s family always supported his ambitions and dreams.

Worthy acknowledges the vibrant city of New York for instilling in him a respect for all genres of music. He began tuning his ear to the sounds of the street and was inspired by the allure of the Big Apple.

“It’s fast-paced. It’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s a lot of different personalities and nationalities. You know, different genres of music in one place,” Worthy said. “So you put that in one pot, you’ll get something crazy anyway. That’s what happened to me. I’m a very creative person. Me coming from that area played a big part.”

He studied New York-based groups such as A Tribe Called Quest, which was belting out classic albums from 1990 to 1998 and was known in the industry for its songwriting and producing skills. He considered the hit-making trio multitalented and business-minded. That respect and love for the craft molded him into a versatile music creator.

Worthy said he doesn’t feel people in the music industry understand the mindset of being multifaceted in music. “I’ve seen a lot of people just get put down into one box and just kind of stay in that one little lane. But for me, I’m so worldly and I do so many different things. I can’t stay in one genre. I bounce around so much.”

On occasion, Worthy collaborates musically with companies such as Roc Nation. He also assisted in bringing another rising artist to life: Supa Peach. The teenage rap star appeared on legendary Atlanta music producer Jermaine Dupri’s Lifetime TV competition/reality show The Rap Game. Supa Peach’s smash hit track Pretty Gang has more than 1 million views on YouTube.

Before he started his company Dreammusik Group, he worked for record label Sony/RCA for two years, where he was exposed to a variety of artists in hip-hop and R&B such as Future, Robin S., B Angie B and Truth Hurts.

Worthy specifically recalled what it’s like working with rap stars Future and T.I. in the studio as they rap over his tracks.

“Future is a rhythmic. I call him a rhythmic-melody guy,” Worthy said. “Sometimes you may not even understand what he is talking about, but just the melody alone catches your ear. T.I. just brings that energy and lyricism, too. He can really write, as well. So they both have different styles, but they both bring something great in their music.

“Musically, I pick the artist that I work with based on what they’ve done for me. As a fan, it’s what I feel I can bring to the table for them. It’s more of a strategy of, if I can revive something and make, that could become the fad, so to speak, that the industry would automatically come to you for the hottest artists.”

Worthy parted ways with Sony/RCA in March to go the independent route.

“Sony is great,” Worthy said. “I’ve done some great stuff with them, but as anybody would say, you got to expand. If any producer knows what I’m talking about, you like your freedom — like to do what you need to do on your own. In my case, it’s not too much difference. You just take really more ownership of your situation. Taking more control. Not being limited to anybody really. That’s really what it is … it’s not a money issue. It’s not political … ”

Worthy is making moves that further showcase the go-getter part of his persona. His love for music production and the art of songwriting, paired with his desire to encourage true artist development, are some of the reasons popular artists and clients feel safe working with him.

“There are a million other people doing what I’m doing, so I got to stay one step ahead, if not two, because someone could easily try to do something better than you or take your spot,” Worthy said. “Even though I’m not really worried about that ’cause I’m in my own lane. But at the same time, I got a job to do. I got something that I have to prove to the world. I’m inspiring people around the world to follow their dream, so that’s my responsibility.”

Worthy is always looking for ways to pass on some of his knowledge of the music business to those who are students of the game. At the end of September, he released his book, The Road to a Hit Record, a biographical inside look into the industry. In the book, he highlights some of the music industry’s dos and don’ts while explaining how to write and produce a hit record. He engages readers with stories about his own journey to success.

“It gets difficult when things don’t happen the way they should,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to have the mindset that’s, ‘OK, I’m going to go through this, but that can’t take away the love for the craft.’ At the end of the day, the craft isn’t the business. Business is just what’s formed around it. Once you know how to separate those two, you will be OK.”