Raised among rock royalty —his stepfather is Mick Jones of Foreigner, and he counts Sean Lennon among his childhood friends— Ronson came of age in the downtown club scene of mid ’90s New York. There he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Jay Z and Diddy while playing vintage R&B and the latest hip hop cuts. Fun fact: he was the first DJ to ever play Biggie Small’s “Hypnotize” on a dance floor.
A decade later, Ronson made a name for himself in the recording studio by paying tribute to these beloved dance tracks. His work on Amy Winehouse’s instant classic Black To Black broke him worldwide, leading to further collaborations with a list of luminaries including Adele, Christina Aguilera, Lil Wayne and Solange.
His latest full-length, Uptown Special, enlists Bruno Mars, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt, and Stevie Wonder, and together they mount an assault on the techno-monopolization of the club DJ scene. In short, it’s the age-old battle of humans over machines. “The whole point of the song ’Uptown Funk,’ and the album, was to make dance music that was played by people,” he emphasized.
But as noted in his recent TED Talk, merely cribbing tried and true musical styles is not the key to success. “Me and Bruno are never going to hide the fact that we are obsessed with ’70s and ’80s black R&B dance music,” he tells us. The addition of contemporary flair is crucial to Ronson’s unique sonic blend. “It’s Bruno’s delivery, the production choices, and the references made in the lyrical content that make it now.”
Watch as Mark Ronson breaks down how he seamlessly melds past and present to achieve a funky pop alchemy. And be sure to stay tuned for more Playback, where some of pop’s biggest hit-makers reflect on their musical evolution, and offer insights into how they work their magic in the studio.