BY DAN GARCIA
Stefan Ponce is more than just the producer behind your favorite records from Childish Gambino, Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper. Although his name is forever attached to some of your favorite rappers, Ponce is currently making a name for himself. Don’t label him as the Grammy-nominated Stefan Ponce, or the Childish Gambino-affiliated Stefan Ponce, or the guy who produced ‘Down On My Luck’ and ‘3005’, Ponce is an artist of his own, with an album of his own that’s on its way. We sat down with Stefan Ponce to talk about his forthcoming project, and some of his artist friends who have helped him get to this point.
Stefan Ponce’s notoriety has been rising in the past couple years, parallel to the rise of some of his best friends. Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa are not only two of Ponce’s good friends, but they are leading a new wave of Chicago rap, and they are doing it with some of Ponce’s best instrumentals. Childish Gambino is finally getting the credit he long deserves as a rapper, seeing his most successful record yet, ‘3005’, with his most recent album, Because The Internet. Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) even saw his first Grammy nomination with ‘3005’, a record that was produced of course by Stefan Ponce. As these artists stack up their accolades and start to become a household name, so does Ponce.
With the Grammy nominations, it all feels surreal to Stefan. “You know, it doesn’t feel real,” Ponce told us. “I think it doesn’t feel real in a sense where I don’t have anything to kind of remind me of it. I have a ‘3005’ plaque, but I don’t have a “Grammy nominated” thing to remind me. It’s dope and I’m really grateful for it, but I don’t try to think about it too much,” he told us. And a Grammy nomination isn’t getting to Ponce’s ego either, as the hungry producer isn’t content with stopping there. “I kind of want people to forget about it because I don’t want it to define me at the end of the day.”
It isn’t just the Grammy nominations that don’t feel real to Ponce, it’s also the lifestyle that comes with it, where Stefan went from an emerging producer in Chicago to hanging out in New York with Beyonce, Jay-Z and Rihanna, even nabbing a co-sign on his hairstyle from the Queen Bee. Now sporting a new haircut, I asked Stefan if he got Beyonce’s permission first. “I should have, right? (laughing)”
“When you see Beyonce, she has this auro, like ‘Holy shit, it’s fucking Beyonce,'” Ponce told us. “We were at 40/40, and that’s when I met Jay-Z and he told me he was a fan of ‘Down on My Luck’, and it was too much to deal with. I sat down and Beyonce sat next to me, and she shakes my hand and says ‘Hi, I’m Beyonce” and says “I like your hair.’ And one of my fried was right next to me and she goes ‘LEGENDARY!'” Style co-sign from Bee and music co-sign from Hov, pretty legendary indeed. “Things like that don’t happen to normal people, it’s weird,” Ponce told us. Stefan even joked about his new lifestyle, all while staying humble,
“I’m going to be that guy in like 20-years, completely broke and like exhausted at some bar and be like ‘Beyonce told me she likes my hair.'”
While fame and fortune may come when you are hanging with the likes of Jay-Z, a lot of fear comes with being a big producer in 2015. Bringing up the recent lawsuit where Pharrel lost $7.2 million for his production of Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ which had a similar “sound and feel” to Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up’, we asked Ponce if such a lawsuit was scary to him as producer. “Yes! You know why? Because I still shit all the time (laughing), nah, not really but I’m obviously influenced, I like to be influenced.” Ponce shared the words of one of his close friends, “(he) told me ‘there is no original idea’ and I think that sucks but he is also right in a sense, there is no original idea. I’m constantly trying to make feelings of things of how things make me feel.”
One of the first times fan got to know Ponce beyond the album credits, was in person as he had an opening set on Childish Gambino’s “Deep Web Tour”. “The Deep Web Tour was fun,” Ponce told us. “Donald’s fans are insanely amazing. That was the first time where I was like, ‘wait, am I famous?’ Being on that tour was so dope.”
And if you are a fan of Ponce and Donald’s past work together, don’t worry because despite Childish Gambino’s current hiatus, he is still working on music and you can likely expect some Stefan Ponce on Gambino’s next project. “Donald has sent me some things to work on. I don’t really know what he is working on. He is super busy, always working on a bunch of things, but when Donald needs me, Donald needs me,” Ponce told us. A mentor to Ponce, Stefan had nothing but great things to say about Donald Glover. “I’m super grateful, he has put me in his film, I worked on an album, he brought me on tour, there is nothing more I can really ask of Donald. He is super influential on my career and I love him and I appreciate him for that so much.”
But Stefan Ponce is more than just Childish Gambino’s producer and touring DJ, he is an artist that’s working on a big project of his own. “I’m making an album, the album is half way done and that album I love more than anything. It’s the music I grew up listening to, the music I listen to now, that is where my heart is at,” said Ponce. And while producer’s albums aren’t a completely new concept, expect Ponce’s project to differ from the rest. “This album is personal, it’s very very personal,” Ponce told us. “No offense to any producer who makes albums, but their albums don’t tell stories, mine will tell a story.”
While we will have to wait to hear the album, it already has some preliminary huge co-signs, which has proved to be a problem for Ponce. “I played Vic (Mensa) the album. I played Chance (the Rapper) the album. And they are like ‘Yo, this is amazing!’ But what they will do is be like ‘Hey, let me get that song’, but I’m like “No, I need this! I need this more than you,” Stefan tells some of his best friends.
“Respect me, I need this, this is my shit. These songs are so meaningful to me that I can’t give them away.”
While Stefan constantly has to deal with the problems of branding his own name among so many talented artists around him that want his beats for own projects, its a good problem to have. Whether you know Stefan Ponce on his own, or through the talent that his production has supported over the past few years, the man can make a hell of a beat. He is just one piece in Chicago’s new wave of artists, but although he may be behind the scenes more than the rappers he works with, Ponce’s name and achievements will only rise and pile up in the future.