WHO: One of the ‘oos’ most in-demand DJs, the 31-year-old ascended from tiny downtown New York bars to spinning at glitzy events thrown by Hova and Hilfiger. These days, he’s becoming better-known as a record producer, working with Christina Aguilera and Lily Allen, as well as producing more than half of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. His second solo album, Version, is out in July. Check his killer revise of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” featuring Dirt McGirt.
HIPSTER HERITAGE: The three progeny of writer-socialite Ann Dexter-Jones and former band manager Laurence Ronson have been part of the New York scenester elite for years. Twins Charlotte and Samantha, Mark’s younger sisters, are a fashion designer and a DJ, respectively. Their stepdad is Foreigner’s Mick Jones, whom Ann married after she and Laurence split up.
ZEP WITH A PHAT BEAT: After a failed attempt to start a band that would reflect his growing passion for hip-hop, Ronson began spinning records in his late teens, picking up $50 gigs wherever he could. “I only had the bare minimum of skills,” he says. “But I had a love for all different kinds of music, and I knew a lot about old funk and soul and stuff that wasn’t super obvious.” He became one of the first DJs to blend hip-hop and rock in a way that kept fans of both genres happy. “If you skipped a beat going from an M.O.P. record into ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ you’d lose the whole crowd,” he says. “This was at a time when not everyone could be a DJ. You had to be able to blend and do basic cutting, not just plug into an iPod.”
GETTING FREE IN THE STUDIO: His first job as a producer came in 2001, when Nikka Costa’s manager heard one of his DJ gigs. It made him understand the value of developing artists such as Allen and Winehouse: “If you’re working with an artist with nothing to prove, you have more freedom,” he says. “I don’t really like working with people who are already big or famous. When it’s the artist’s first record, it’s a journey you’re going on together.”
THE REMIX, REMIXED: Ronson moved from London to New York with his mom when he was eight, and while absorbing the sounds of New York’s hip-hop scene, he also nurtured a passion for British indie rock during trips to visit his dad. Version, he says, “is a synthesis of those things.” It features beat-heavy reinterpretations of songs from Radiohead, the Smiths and Kaiser Chiefs, among others. For each, he recruited singers like Allen, Winehouse and Robbie Williams, and he funked with the arrangements to give the songs fresh context. “As a DJ, you’re used to taking well-known tracks and bending them and shaping them to make your crowd get the song,” he says. “Gone is the day of the superstar DJ. Now you’ve got interesting people expanding the definitions of dance music, and you’re allowed to multitask without looking like a blatant opportunist.”