By Trent Arnold
Lower Merion High School
Even when Ruben Imaizumi was just two years old, he was tapping along to Brazilian samba music with his dad in their home in Salvador de Bahia.
“Rhythm is how it starts,” the 18-year-old said.
After years of practice, learning, and listening, Imaizumi ultimately became a music producer. Even though he’s just a student at Central Montco Technical High School, Ruben is the sole producer for the record label Zumi Records.
That Brazilian inspiration colors the music he creates today. The culture, the history — everything comes into play. Music is Imaizumi’s passion. He believes that its purpose is mainly for the creator. Anyone else willing to listen and connect is a bonus.
“I definitely think it’s a personal thing, like people will either enjoy it or not. I don’t really care if people like it,” he said.
“I feel like I have to make it.”
Growing up in Brazil, Imaizumi was constantly surrounded by lively music, dance, and traditions rooted in the country’s history by his father and uncles. One of his favorite artists growing up was Jorge Ben Jor, whose samba and funk music sparked inspiration worldwide.
However, due to the violence and conditions of Brazil at the time, Imaizumi and his family had to escape the country and move to the United States when he was just 5. Despite leaving Brazil behind, his life was still filled with the country’s musical spirit.
“I grew up playing jazz drums, playing reggae,” he said, still continuing to practice and explore music after he came to the United States.
Producers, in every genre, are an essential backbone to music. They are the “director” for the song, choosing and considering every part of the song, from the broad sound of a track to the single placement of a clap.
A good producer is nimble and able to operate across genres. Like Pharrell, who has created the blueprint for the current sound of multiple genres, not just rap, which he is known for. Pharrell has produced pop songs, rap beats, soul tracks, and so much more.
Imaizumi’s creative process is driven by “mixing the old with the new.” He often takes the reggae and jazz he grew up with and adds them to newer themes, such as trap and boom bap, without the use of loops.
He does this especially when he works with one of the artists on the record label, Rius. Rius specializes in an old-school hip-hop sound, so Imaizumi likes to flip older Brazilian and jazz samples and fuse them into his beats.
With Xander Ray, another rapper, the creative process is a bit different.
“He’ll come in and start playing the piano. I’ll make a melody off those notes, and he’ll just freestyle from there,” he said.
Even though the processes for those two and his other artists are different, he works to give every song a unique feel.
Imaizumi’s responsibilities at the label go beyond production, though. He is also Zumi Records’ manager and owner, which comes with its own separate set of jobs. He works on the label’s marketing, promotions, tour setting, merchandising, licensing, and social media management. And ultimately, like any good manager, Imaizumi also needs to prioritize the happiness of the label’s five artists.
These two distinct roles, even by themselves, can be difficult and overwhelming for people to undertake because of the precision they require. So taking on both roles was almost unbelievable, but not for Imaizumi.
“I don’t do it, no one else will do it,” he said. “Someone has to cultivate their talent and put it in the right places.”
Some may wonder where he finds the time. Imaizumi gets to practice his craft through his technical high school and is also free to use class time to work on his artists’ careers. It’s still not as much as he would like, though.
“I wish I could spend all my time in the studio,” he said.
Imaizumi hopes that the label continues to grow as more fans tune in to their distinctive sound.
“I want to get to the point where I can have mixing engineers and mastering engineers working for me,” he said. That way, he would be able to focus on just the music and not the technicalities of production or the logical burdens of being a manager.
“Executive producer,” he said. “That’s when you have the most creative freedom.”