There aren’t too many artist coming out of Nashville, Tennessee making it big outside of Country Music. But pianist/producer Ron Gilmore has managed to make his way to the top and with a humble spirit, he’ll be the first to tell you that it wasn’t so much his doing as it was God’s. Now, coming fresh off of Eminem’s “Rapture” tour in Australia, where he played piano during J. Cole’s set, Ron is getting back into the grove of things producing tracks for his own project as well as for numerous others. The Delerme Discussion got the opportunity to touch bases with Ron to talk about his career thus far, producing tracks with J. Cole, the music scene in Nashville, TN and much more.
Tony Delerme: What’s it like coming out of Nashville, musically?
Ron Gilmore: To be honest with you, it was the best training that I ever had. Back in 2010 when I came to New York I was expecting the best of the best and I think I got that. But I didn’t realize how good Nashville was as far as learning about the industry and honing your skills as a musician. I can attribute a lot of my success from the training that I had while being there.
Tony Delerme: I do know that musically there’s a lot going on in Nashville. But when I think of it, it’s always from the side of Country Music. Is there a big Hip Hop scene down there too?
Ron Gilmore: Here is the thing about Nashville that’s really interesting, cause you’re 100% right. Most of the economy in Nashville, musically, is based off of Country Music and 99% of Country Music is made in Nashville. But you also have to realize that Country Music has real musicians. There are so many musicians who come to Nashville trying to make a living and they’re some of the best musicians in the world. Now as far as the emerging Hip Hop and R&B scene, it’s hard. That’s one of the reasons why I had to move. It’s hard loving Hip Hop, R&B and all other genres of music in a city that’s dominated by Country Music. But to answer your question more directly, there is a great Hip Hop scene down there with a lot of talent. I actually have a mixtape coming out called The Story of L. Ron Hubbard to showcase some of that talent.
Tony Delerme: Are the artist who’ll be featured on you mixtape still down in Nashville? Or are they in New York with you?
Ron Gilmore: They’re grinding it out in Nashville. When I left, it kind of shifted the culture. Not to say that I’m a big deal in Nashville, but when the homies saw someone in the community leave to New York and make a name for himself, it was a shock, like oh, we can do this too. So a lot of my friends are trying to stay in Nashville and build the community of Hip Hop and R&B from within. Meanwhile a person like me, I’m going out and trying to run the world for Nashville.
Tony Delerme: I interviewed, rapper, Kaj Kadence not too long ago. He’s from J. Cole’s hometown, Fayetteville, NC. I asked him how the Hip Hop scene has changed in Fayetteville since J. Cole blew up and the answer he gave was similar to what you just stated. There’s obviously always been a Hip Hop scene in Fayetteville. But when J. Cole blew up, he gave Fayetteville a name and now people are taking a closer look at the artist down there.
Ron Gilmore: Exactly, that’s what it takes. It takes someone from where you are to get noticed then everybody else starts noticing. I was thinking about that this morning. I got this mixtape coming out and I was thinking in my head, “What’s the best way to roll-out a mixtape with artist who no one knows?” It has to be attached to a bigger name to get people to look at it. I figured that I have a great opportunity to be that person without even trying to be. J. Coles’ not trying to be that person, he’s just proud of where he comes from and feels that there’s a lot of talent in his hometown. That’s the same way I feel about Nashville.
Tony Delerme: What was your childhood like?
Ron Gilmore: I was just your normal bad kid coming up in the hood until I was 15 when my mom got me into the National School of the Arts. It changed my whole life because that’s when I became interested in music. When I was 10 my guidance counselor taught me my first song on the piano. But I didn’t really think anything of it then. When I got into music, life got way more fun. I ran into a plethora of great teachers and people that really shaped and molded who I am today as a musician.
Tony Delerme: How did you learn to play 2Pac’s “I Aint Mad at Cha” on the piano?
Ron Gilmore: For black piano players, that’s one of the biggest songs ever. I learned “I Aint Mad at Cha” when I was a kid. It’s one of those cultural things for black piano players were we all know that song.
Tony Delerme: How did you get your gig playing for Lauryn Hill?
Ron Gilmore: The story of me playing for Lauryn Hill is a true testament of God’s talent. I played for a singer/songwriter named Tim Dillinger in Nashville. He moved to New York in 2009 and formed a group with two other guys. Then he called to tell me about it and said he wanted me to come to New York and start playing for his group. I came to New York two times. Both visits were for maybe three or five days. Eventually he offered me a spot in their house to come stay at. So in February of 2010 I officially moved up to New York and started grinding while playing for Tim’s group. I went to every club, talked to every musician, every jam session, every night and got every connection that I could to hustle my way in. I ultimately got a job playing during an open mic from a bass player who runs it named, Nate Jones. Now, Nate Jones was in the group, originally, that I was called up to New York to play for. So he hears me play, loves me and from then on I started playing at his open mic every Wednesday in Brooklyn called “Taste The Stage”. At the time Lauryn Hill’s music director, James Ralph, was playing the open mic. They had just come back from tour in Australia and needed another keyboard player. They were having auditions for a keyboard player and of course he asked me to audition. I missed the first audition because of traffic. The second time, I went and played for Lauryn and she hated me. About a month later I had to move out of the house that I was living at because the guy that I was playing for was about to move. So one night I go to church and I write on the back of the tithing envelope “a place to stay” and I put my last hundred dollars in it. That same night I got a call saying, “you got the Lauryn Hill gig, come to rehearsal tomorrow.”
It’s funny because that bass player, Nat Jones, was also the one who introduced me to Elite. Elite is a producer who has been working with J. Cole for a long time. He produced “Who Dat” and “Crooked Smile”. Elite introduced me to J. Cole and that’s how I got on with him. I was actually working with Cole around the same time that I got the Lauryn Hill gig but I didn’t care because I was working with Lauryn Hill. I was like, whoever this Cole guy is, I’ll just do that work on the side.
Tony Delerme: So that was back in the Friday Night Lights Era, correct?
Ron Gilmore: It was little bit before Friday Night Lights. I meet Cole in 2010 and I went on tour with Lauryn in 2010 as well. Right when I got off tour with Lauryn was when he did Friday Night Lights. So yeah, it was around that time.
Tony Delerme: What’s it like producing alongside J. Cole?
Ron Gilmore: Honestly, since the beginning, I’m the guy in the room that’s sitting right beside Cole on every song. So it’s a normal thing really. We have a really good connection and work ethic together. It doesn’t take us long at all to get in the grove and start making music. It’s really gratifying and fulfilling to work with somebody that I feel I’m supposed to work with. All of us, in the Dreamville camp, are on the same wavelength.
Tony Delerme: When did you make the transition from pianist to producer?
Ron Gilmore: It was really Cole man. We were on tour in Europe two years ago and he was like, man, you should really try to start making records. So I started making records using my computer and it sounded good. A year later, Cole bought me a new computer and I’ve done a lot of work since then. Producing is the thing that I really want to do. I always tell people, yeah, I play the piano but I’m really a producer.
Tony Delerme: Are you signed under Dreamville?
Ron Gilmore: We’ve been talking about some things but nothing official. I don’t know if I even want to do that as of yet. It’s definitely good being free.
Tony Delerme: Who else have you worked with outside of Cole?
Ron Gilmore: Working with Bas has been the most production work that I’ve ever done. He has a project coming out in April called Last Winter and I executive produced that whole thing. Outside of that, I’ve worked with Elite, Omen and Lauryn Hill, those are a given. I’ve also been on records with Jay-Z. Now have I worked in the same room with him, no. But production wise I’ve worked with a bit of everybody.
Tony Delerme: What was the Jay-Z record, “Mr. Nice Watch”?
Ron Gilmore: Yeah, I played keys on that and I wrote the bridge.
Tony Delerme: Is there any particular artist you’d like to work with?
Ron Gilmore: Honestly, I really want to work with Bill Withers. I love his voice.
Tony Delerme: How did you feel when J. Cole’s album, Born Sinner, didn’t get nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammys?
Ron Gilmore: I was disappointed that Born Sinner didn’t get nominated. But true music lives to tell the test of time. True good music is gonna be here and it’ll affect people and change things. That doesn’t always mean that it’ll win a Grammy or any other awards. But you don’t have to win Grammys to change people’s lives. I keep that at the forefront of why I do music. When I was coming up, I listened to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. That album changed my whole perspective about life in America, life as a black man and life in general. That’s something that is very important. Years after this man has died, there’s a little kid who is listening to this album being inspired and that’s what it’s about. Recognition, Grammys and awards are all things that serve your ego and that’s the only thing that gets bigger from all those awards. Helping people out serves the God inside of you and that’s what I’m about more so then a person that gets gratification by things of the flesh. So yeah, I was disappointed that we didn’t get nominated but in the long run I really don’t give a fuck. 10 years from now I want somebody to say I was going through something and I listed to this song and it made me feel a little bit better.
Tony Delerme: What was your reaction when Kendrick Lamar didn’t win Best Rap Album?
Ron Gilmore: I wasn’t shocked at all. I wanted him to win because I felt like he deserved it. He definitely put out the best rap album. But I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t win because it’s not about putting out the best rap album. It’s about who is the most popular. Us as African Americans will always get the shorthand of the stick, but we gotta realize what game we’re playing. When Kendrick didn’t win I just felt like, well, props to Macklemore, because he played the game to win it like that. Kendrick played the game to win the best rap album and those are two different games.
Tony Delerme: What’s your overall goal for this year?
Ron Gilmore: My overall goal is getting more attention as a producer, that’s the purpose of the mixtape. People know me as a keyboard player and that’s about it. But I have so much more to offer then just that. I want to put something out there for at least the people who don’t know who I am to come listen and see another part of me.
Tony Delerme: How far along are you with your mixtape, The Story of L. Ron Hubbard?
Ron Gilmore: It’s about 90% done. The 10% is just waiting for artist to record. Having to wait for all these artist that I’m working with to get back with me with their tracks is the hard part of being a producer.
Tony Delerme: What’s your advice for up and coming artist and producers?
Ron Gilmore: The number one thing and this is gonna sound cliché, is trust in yourself and be able to listen to yourself. Know what you’re capable of and know what you’re not capable of. As a producer I would say that’s the biggest thing, know what you can do and know what you can’t. I’m not as talented as some people but in life I’ve maneuvered the way I have because I’ve always trusted myself and I’ve always known what I was good at.