Jim Jonsin is no stranger to the fast track. But the hip-hop South Florida-based music producer, whose recordings — by stars such as Usher, Beyonce and Lil Wayne — have sold millions of downloads, is taking a different track. Jonsin has added a racing team, Rebel Rock Racing, to his Rebel Rock empire. That’s right; the Grammy Award-winning music mastermind is now taking the wheel.
Jonsin and his team are ranked in the Top 20 in GRAND-AM, the Continental Sports Car Challenge GS class.
“I’ve always loved racing,” said Jonsin, who started his team in 2010. “I basically grew up in a body shop with my dad. I wanted to go further with this hobby and I’ve made sure to connect music with it too, especially the young artists I’m working with on my label. Racing is more of a hobby that I’m turning into a job. Music is my bread and butter.”
The producer took the track earlier this month for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Test, in preparation for the Brickyard Grand Prix on July 27 in Indianapolis. Veteran NASCAR racer Kenny Wallace joined Jonsin for the test, who said it “went very well.”
“All in all we feel like we are dialed in for the race weekend,” Jonsin said.
Jonsin’s impressive car collection — which includes a 2012 Porsche GTS CSCC race car, a 2007 Porsche Carrara S GS Grand Am race car, and a 1999 Mazda Miata Spec race car — is comprised mostly of race cars.
“I sold most of my street cars and I now have race cars,” said Jonsin, who uses a 2011 BMW 750i for everyday driving. “I plan on building a few more race cars.”
Although Jonsin is new to racing, he is a veteran in the music industry. He is responsible for B.o.B.’s success, and has produced and written several No. 1 hits, including Lil Wayne’s Lollipop
. He has also created a record label, Rebel Rock Entertainment, and a production company, Rebel Rock Productions.
Jonsin, who grew up in South Florida, started DJing at 14 years old. By 18, Jonsin — whose real name is James Scheffer — took a different path than most and started a record company, Cut It Up Def Records. His first hit, Cut It Up Def,
sold 40,000 copies.
A conviction of theft while he was still a teen taught him the value of staying on track. “I made a careless mistake when I was young,” he said in a statement via a spokeperson. “I am grateful I was just a kid and could quickly learn a valuable lesson to create a solid productive life for myself.”
Throughout the ’90s, Jonsin released music and toured with artists like Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. In 2005, he established Rebel Rock Entertainment. He shortly signed B.o.B.Recent additions to his label include young talents Nick Merico and Leroy Sanchez.
“I make sure that they know music,” he said. “Before being an artist, they have to know how to play instruments, write music. I want to develop them as a whole: songwriter, engineer. I don’t want puppets.”
Neil Crilly, senior executive director of The Recording Academy’s Florida Chapter, lauds Jonsin’s dedication.
“I think he’s proven that he’s a guy who will find new talent and nurture it,” Crilly said. “He will use all the connections he has to help new artists succeed.”
And it seems as if Jonsin has the right mindset. The tracks he has worked on have sold millions of copies: Lollipop
had more than 6 million downloads, Nelly’s Just A Dream
sold more than 5 million, Beyonce’s Sweet Dreams
has more than 3 millions and was No. 1 in more than 10 countries, and T.I.’s Whatever You Like
sold more than 5 million downloads. It’s safe to say Jonsin knows what he’s doing.
“He has discovered the elusive magic formula for finding a talented artist, producing a hit track for them, and then effectively marketing the artist and their music,” said Serona Elton, an associate professor and director of the music business and entertainment industries program at the University of Miami.
And where does most of the magic happen? Jonsin often works out of his South Florida studio, Parkland Playhouse, where he has recorded well-known musicians including Usher, Akon, Rick Ross and Nelly.
Record plaques decorate the walls of this converted house; almost every room has recording studio equipment.
The one-time family room gives guests a taste of his second passion: racing. A racing simulator sits next to the couch. As he swerves through the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course he says: “I’d say I practice with it about an hour a day. It’s not like a video game, it’s so much harder.”
His car mania led to the launch of his team, Rebel Rock Racing, in 2010. Rappers Pitbull and Rick Ross, along with others, sponsor the team.
Jonsin started off in club racing. But after competing with co-driver Bucky Lasek for a year, he decided to go pro.
“I’ve been putting together a solid team,” he said. “I’ve been applying the same business model I apply to music. I want to develop drivers the way I work with musicians.”
Although he’s relatively new to the industry, those who have worked with him acknowledge his commitment.
“He’s definitely getting competitive,” said JJ O’Malley, GRAND-AM’s manager of communications. “He’s building his team up and taking the right steps forward.”
Racing driver Joel Miller, who is part of Rebel Rock Racing, agrees. “Saying he’s a hard worker is an understatement,” Miller said. “We did a race in Miami and I remember he got there at 7 a.m., then worked with an artist until the early morning, and the next day he met up with us early. He’s really taking racing on full grasp.”
Jonsin made his pro-racing debut in the 2012 GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge competition at Daytona Speedway in late January. The race made Jonsin the music industry’s only team owner and professional driver to compete in a division of NASCAR.
Although Jonsin makes family a priority (he has three children), managing his time can be difficult.
“Even though it can be hard, my wife and my kids are supportive,” he said. “And my team, both in music and racing, is also great.”
Jonsin is also working on a health shot with Buchulife.com and creating video games. Ask him for the reason behind all the madness and he’ll laugh: “I’m a Gemini. I get bored and I can’t sit still.”