J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League stands for “Just undeniably some of the illest composers ever.” This might be a pretty boastful moniker, if they didn’t have the hits to back it up.
Erik “Rook” Ortiz, Kevin “Colione” Crowe, and Kenny “Barto” Bartolomei are originally from Tampa, Florida. The three producers were working individually at first, and met through producing beats for the same circle of musicians in Tampa. After discovering a mutual respect for each other’s work, the three producers decided to work as a team, and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League was born.
The union of the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League is successful one because each of its members bring something different to the table. Colione specializes in club beats and dirty south hip-hop production, Rook has an East Coast influence, and likes experimenting with vinyl samples and classic drum breaks, while Barto is the multi-instrumentalist in the group, with expertise on the saxophone, piano, and other woodwind instruments.
Early on in their career, the group had the good fortune of working with Young Jeezy during sessions for his 2005 album Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. They ended up making five beats for Jeezy on the spot, while working with him in the studio. The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League happened to be in the right place at the right time, because Chris Hicks, a representative from the Warner Chappell Music Publishing company paid Young Jeezy a visit in the studio that day. The League played Hicks everything they’d done for Jeezy, as well as some other projects they had going at the time, and he signed them to a publishing deal before they’d even placed a single song with a major artist.
One of the beats the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League played for Hicks was “No One Will Do,” a song that would eventually be placed on Mary J. Blige’s GRAMMY-winning album The Breakthrough. The GRAMMY-nod gave The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League their breakthrough as well, and the group was soon working with many of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B.
Rook, Colione, and Barto didn’t really carve out their niche in contemporary hip-hop until working with Rick Ross. The producers have a special bond with Rick Ross, contributing to almost every release Rozay has been a part of since 2008′s Trilla, eventually landing on what is known as the definitive Maybach Music sound.
The special thing about a J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League production is the undeniable musicianship involved. When you hear a piano, or a woodwind instrument on one of their beats, you know it’s not a sample, or a loop, or tedious note-by-note sequencer programming — Barto is actually playing these instruments, with his two partners waiting eagerly to add their own ideas to the composition. For this edition of the Friday Mixtape, let’s check out some of the best work from three Tampa natives who are just undeniably the illest composers ever — The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League.