Reality beats


Photo By Nick MILLER

Local hip-hop audio engineer J-Intell doesn’t just do sound; he also manages reality-TV stars. That’s right: Those girls you see on shows such as A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila and at Las Vegas clubs. So how does a Sacramento guy go from making beats to managing party girls? Intell, owner of Omina Laboratories—one of Sacramento’s foremost recording, mixing and mastering studios for up-and-coming hip-hop and R&B artists—opened up his labs and revealed his methods.

You’re an audio engineer who hung out with, and now manages, reality-TV stars. When did this happen?

[Matt Cali] was recording here, and he was getting little snidbits of what was going on with [reality star Cocktail], and I told him, “You know what? I need a photo shoot with her,” because I knew she was going to be on VH1. I paid her to do a photo shoot [at] homey-love pricing, because I knew her best friend.

The thing that I would tell anyone is that a little money can go a long way, because that money I spent to do that shoot got me into being part of her management and got me into doing everything that I’m doing now.

It’s the same thing with music. The first studio album I did was a compilation called Omina Bust, and I paid all the artists on it to come in here and record. I’m getting these people here to see what I can do. I spent a little bit of money, but I’m getting a lot of return.

Now these people are coming in and not charging me for verses. E-40 is about to drop his album, and I have a song on his album and I’m pretty juiced about it, because it’s going to be the first major album that I’m a part of.

Why do San Francisco artists like E-40 and Messy Marv come here when there are so many other Bay Area studios?

I believe they’re coming for me. When you’re recording, you’re paying for a studio. When you’re mixing, you’re paying for an engineer. And right now in Northern California, as a whole, I am the engineer to go to, the new up-and-coming engineer. Anyone can go out and buy a recording studio, but that doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing.

Where did you get the training and capital to make all this happen?

Let me tell you the story of Omina. Omina was a band; it started in 2001, and it was kind of an R&B, funk, hip-hop and dance blend. We did a lot of shows for, like, three years, and were kind of a big band. It got to the point where we needed to record an album, and I was just like anyone else: I [wanted to do it myself]. …

I ended up buying a little Pro Tools setup and we started recording, and I didn’t know how to use it, just like the people that buy the studios. … So I went over to [Sacramento City College] and got an audio engineering degree.

Your first headquarters was on Broadway?

This all started in the basement of my grandmother’s house. It got to a point where I started having people come over to get some studio time, and I just had too many people coming through and it wasn’t really cool to keep it at Grandma’s house.

So that’s when I started looking and found my first spot on Broadway. The way I bought all this stuff was: I started working in law when I was 18, at Tennant & Ingram, and they treated me like family over there. I’d work till 3, then go to school, then go straight to the studio and work all night. Also, when I was born, my great-grandmother put $50 into a mutual fund, and by the time I graduated high school it was $5,000. …

My family took $1,400 of it and invested it; my aunt’s a nurse and knew a new product that was going to come out that every hospital in the nation would want to buy, so she put that money in stocks for that company and it blew up, turning that $1,400 into close to $30,000, so I used it to buy what I really wanted.

Then, after meeting reality star Cocktail, things just snowballed?

There’s a show on VH1 called Real Chance of Love right now, and one of the girls on the show, Mamacita, just called me. So then I had another girl named Spanish Fly call me, then another management company in New York call me, and then I had another management company in L.A. call me that’s managing another set of girls, so now we’re all brokering the company together.

So what exactly do you do for these girls?

Anything from hosting, photo shoots, magazine covers. Some girls go-go dance, some girls want to act. I just got Mamacita and Spanish Fly parts in an independent film in L.A., so they fly to Hollywood in two weeks.

Everyone’s doing their own little thing, mainly modeling, acting. Then a lot of them want to be like Paris Hilton and just party for a living. Just make appearances at nightclubs. Cocktail gets $2,000 just for showing up at a nightclub, and they pay for her flight and room, and she gets a VIP booth and two bottles. She gets paid to party from city to city.

And your job is to collect on 20 percent?