SACRAMENTO, Calif. - It was late 2007, and Jeremy Reeves was living in his car with barely enough gas to start it up and listen to his hit song on the radio.
The song, Danity Kane’s “Damaged” - produced by Stereotypes, the production team featuring the Sacramento-raised Reeves and his pal Jon Yip - was all over the airwaves with its aching but relentlessly catchy beat.
Amazing year could get even sweeter for Grammy-nominated music producers
The track peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart - not a No.1 hit, to be sure, but big enough to make things happen.
A year later (December 2008, to be precise), Stereotypes, which also features the New York-born Ray Romulus, nabbed two Grammy nominations for its work with best-selling R&B artist Ne-Yo. His “Year of the Gentleman” album earned nods in the best contemporary R&B album and album of the year categories.
Today, the Stereotypes resume includes work with Mary J. Blige, Natasha Bedingfield and Marques Houston. More offers are rolling in, and the guys are finally beyond gas money and rent-check worries.
Still, Reeves, 26, shaking his head over coffee on a recent trip home, says the success has yet to really sink in.
“I went from being homeless to Grammy-nominated in less than a year - it’s crazy.”
Crazy and, of course, exciting, adds Yip, 30. There are Grammy outfits to pick out, parties to go to and friends to text message.
“This is like our Super Bowl,” he says. “We didn’t win (yet), but we get to play.”
Jeremy “Jermbeats” Reeves was working at Guitar Center when Jon “JonStreet” Yip, taking a break from his Los Angeles job at Interscope Records, wandered into the Sacramento store. Reeves, who overheard Yip talking about the label, gave him a memory card filled with some of his production work. Yip, who played the music on the spot, was impressed, and the pair quickly struck up a long-distance working relationship.
It was all good at first. The friends worked via e-mail, phone and weekend studio sessions, producing tracks and trying to meet people who might take them places.
The pair was working steadily with Houston rapper Durtee 3 when a 2004 meeting in Manhattan with Def Jam Records’ L.A. Reid netted the musician - and his producers - a record deal.
“We were in Grand Central Station jumping up and down,” Yip says. “This was our big break.”
And then it wasn’t.
Instead, as is frequent in the ever-fickle record industry, the label’s focus changed and the Durtee 3 album was shelved indefinitely.
“We weren’t expecting that to happen,” Yip admits.
But the men were nothing if not pragmatists. Disappointed, yes, but determined not to let a setback derail the promise of a bigger career.
“I’d already quit my 9-to-5 job, and I didn’t want to get another,” Yip says. “I told Jeremy that if we’re going to take this seriously, he needed to move to L.A. and we would make this our 9-to-5.”
Three weeks later, Reeves was in Southern California, and the two were on a tight schedule: workouts in the morning, followed by breakfast and then a full day in the studio.
They’d learned the lesson, Reeves says. There was no slowing down.
“You need patience and diligence - and never to stop working,” Reeves says. “The minute you slow down, someone will take your spot.”
Romulus joined the group in 2007. The 26-year-old, who’d met the pair during that long-ago Durtee 3 excursion, was impressed by their style and so, just laid off from his Def Jam job, he gave them a call.
“Their stuff didn’t sound like anything I’d heard on the radio,” Romulus says. “You could tell this was two guys having a good time.”
The trio’s first real break came later that year after they hired a manager who, in turn, helped them shop the “Damaged” song.
The song, Yip remembers, was originally on hold for Beyonce’s “I Am Sasha Fierce” album, but when the record’s release was delayed, they realized it would be crazy to wait it out any longer.
Five days later, they were on a plane to Miami to record the song with Danity Kane at P.Diddy’s studio. MTV, which had been chronicling the girl group on its “Making the Band” reality show, was there filming the series, and the whole experience was, well, more than a little surreal.
“There were all these extra lights and people,” Yip says. “Diddy walked past us at one point in full Diddy mode - sunglasses, crew. He always had people following him.”
The song quickly became a hit, but it would take a while for the Stereotypes to reap rewards.
Checks, of course, don’t roll in immediately, and so, even as they worked on the “Why Does She Stay?” track for Ne-Yo’s new album, they struggled.
“I was just living off savings, trying to make it stretch,” Reeves says. “I was sleeping on friends’ couches and at the same time, I’d be driving around (Los Angeles) listening to the radio and it’d be like, ‘Oh, wow - there’s my song!’ “
Getting a Grammy nomination was the last thing on Jon Yip’s mind when he answered the phone the morning of Dec. 4.
“I didn’t even know they were being announced,” Yip says. “My dad calls to tell me we’re nominated and I’m like, ‘What? The Danity Kane song!?’ “
But, of course, it was for the Ne-Yo track, and it wasn’t one nomination but two.
Now, win or lose, doors have been opened. There’s the upcoming Mary J. Blige record, a new Natasha Bedingfield track, and P.Diddy called again - this time to discuss tracks for his new album.
“He was a totally different guy - no sunglasses, no cameras,” Yip says. “It was like he was trying to impress us.”
For Kev Nish, an MC for the Los Angeles hip-hop group Far East Movement, the Stereotypes represent a fresh mix of sounds. The crew produced his band’s latest single, “Girls on the Dance Floor,” which is now getting heavy airplay on L.A. radio stations.
“They can do everything from authentic R&B to dance to grimy hip-hop,” Nish says.
Better still, he adds, it’s never forced.
“Their chemistry is amazing. They take turns and just vibe ideas off of each other,” Nish says. “They don’t overthink it, and that preserves the spontaneity.”
Ken Caulfield, senior charts manager for Billboard magazine, says the Stereotypes show enough diversity to keep the momentum.
“To be able to go from a mainstream hit like ‘Damaged’ to a European pop song like Natasha’s ‘Again’ shows that they have range,” Caulfield says on the phone from his L.A. office.
“The Ne-Yo song is a straight-up R&B ballad, and the Far East Movement track has an edgy electronic beat. These are guys who can adjust and be successful in any type of music.”
Someday, Yip says, they hope to achieve a balance: produce enough big hits so that they can work with some of their favorite lesser-known artists. “I’d love to work with Santogold - she’s really dope,” he says.
“We want to get to a level where we can do both,” Reeves says. “We could do rock, we could do rap - that’s what this opportunity is all about.”
In the meantime, it’s all about sticking to the game plan, which includes, not surprisingly, a faithful adherence to that daily workout/breakfast/studio routine.
And with the money finally making its way to their pockets, it’s nice not having to worry so much. Yip is married, Romulus has a girlfriend in New York, and Reeves’ girlfriend - the mother of his 4-month-old daughter, Layla - still lives in Sacramento.
“I fly up every weekend to see her,” Reeves says. “I’m the second oldest of 10, so there’s a lot of family (in Sacramento) that I want her to know.”
And now, it’s time to get back to work. The Grammys will be fun but, Yip says, it’s just one step in the bigger journey.
“Every year since we’ve started, we’ve had a moment that made us that much closer to our goal,” he says. “This time next year, we hope to have credibility and status.”
And whatever their success, Reeves adds, there’s just one place you’ll find them.
“In the studio, working,” he says, laughing. “Still grinding away.”