By Thanksgiving, J.R. Rotem might have finally lived down his fling with Britney Spearsthe one last winter during which, according to him, he had sex with Miss Oops I Did It Again “wheelbarrow-style.” And by then he’ll have full control of your iPod, your stereo, and your cell phone. His protégé, Sean Kingston, laid claim to last summer’s popsicle-and-sprinkler jam with his “Stand By Me”-sampling hit “Beautiful Girls.” That, coupled with his work on Rihanna’s beeping dance-floor smash hit “SOS,” means that Rotem’s number is on speed dial for anyone looking to employ his particular talent for pop-infused R&B floor-fillers. J. Lo has called. So has Fitty. And Snoop. The Game, who leaned on Rotem for his latest album, Doctor’s Advocate, calls him “the white Dr. Dre.” His public imagewith his vanilla-fied B-boy swaggercertainly fits that of a platinum-crusted mix master. Tracksuits and silver chains dangle down to his waist. Giant black windshields cover his face. A South African-born Israeli, Rotem grew up in Canada listening to Coltrane and The Chronic. The kid mastered piano at 6, went to Berklee College of Music, and, just a few years ago, was still tickling the keys at San Francisco jazz clubs in a suit and tie. He celebrated wrapping Kingston’s album by watching a documentary about the Kennedys. In bed. Alone.
“I’m not a very well-rounded person,” Rotem says. “I tend to go to the extreme. I don’t do vacations. Or sports. Music is my life.” He pauses. “And yeahI’m weird.” Within five minutes of meeting him it becomes clear that the next Timbaland has some seriously Spector-esque predilections. His apartment, for one: Ivory carpet. Ivory walls. Ivory sectional sofa. A black baby-grand piano and a neon-colored painting of himself are the only things keeping it from being a complete whiteout.
And to make sure it stays that way, Rotem requires all guests to strip down to their socks (his own custom Christian Audigiers are the only sneakers allowed on the carpet). “It’s really for the sake of cleanliness,” Rotem explains. “When you’ve got a nice carpet, you want to preserve it.”
It’s right about now that Rotem spots a rogue candy wrapper. To you and me, it’s just a piece of plastic. A barely noticeable wad of garbage.
But to Rotem, it is the embodiment of evil. A sliver of anarchy in his otherwise meticulously groomed living room atop Westwood’s Sterling International Tower.
He tries to ignore it, tries to maintain eye contact, tries to stay interested in the conver . . . Where were we again? Britney? 50 Cent? Paris? Then, suddenly, he pounces. Snatching up his prey, Rotem bounds back to his seat, rolling the tiny piece of cellophane silently between his thumb and forefinger. Then he crushes it.
“I hate chaos,” he says, finally at peace. “I like to be in control.”