Grounded in hip-hop yet never averse to pop, Mark Ronson has applied his voracious musical obsessions to become one of the most commercially successful producers from the mid-2000s onward.
The DJ-turned-recording artist made his true solo debut with "Ooh Wee" (2003), a collaboration with Ghostface Killah and Nate Dogg that went Top 20 in his native U.K., but he truly set himself apart as the co-producer of Amy Winehouse's throwback-styled Back to Black (2006), a global smash that earned him his first three Grammy Awards, including Producer of the Year. Ronson's subsequent solo albums, all stocked with high-profile guest appearances, have either crowned or nearly topped the U.K. charts. Uptown Special (2015) was particularly fruitful -- also a Top Five pop, Grammy-winning LP in the U.S. -- driven by the Bruno Mars-fronted "Uptown Funk," another international hit that earned multiple Recording Academy nods itself. Ronson has since produced material for Lady Gaga (Joanne and the Grammy-winning "Shallow") and Queens of the Stone Age (Villains), teamed up with Diplo as Silk City (the Grammy-winning "Electricity"), and returned as a solo headliner with Late Night Feelings (2019).
The son of Laurence Ronson, who managed Bucks Fizz, and the stepson of Foreigner's Mick Jones, Mark Ronson spent the first eight years of his life in England. He started playing guitar and drums at an early age and fell particularly hard for hip-hop, including Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys. Around his mid-teens, after he and mother had relocated to New York, Ronson began listening to DJ mixtapes and was inspired enough to seize his father's record collection and try his hand at mixing. A quick study with a level of eclecticism that belied his age, Ronson soon caught the ears and eyes of various socialites and New York celebrities, including fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, who featured Ronson, along with other sons and daughters of celebrities, in a 1997 fashion campaign. A year later, hip-hop mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs hired Ronson to spin records at his 29th birthday bash.
These and other high-profile gigs boosted Ronson's profile and helped advance his fledgling music career, which continued modestly with some underground beatmaking, a role in the Flip Squad All-Star DJs (a collective that released a self-titled album for MCA in 1998), and sessions with the likes of Nikka Costa and Sean Paul. Combining his various talents, budding songwriting ability, and growing list of contacts, Ronson embarked on his first solo album project with support from major-label Elektra. He enlisted artists ranging from Sean Paul and Mos Def to Jack White and Rivers Cuomo, and made his debut in 2003 with Here Comes the Fuzz. The album fared best in the U.K., where the single "Ooh Wee," assisted by Ghostface Killah, Nate Dogg, Saigon, and Trife, became a number 15 hit. The LP was eventually certified silver by the BPI.
Ronson kept busy behind the scenes and was in full stride during 2006 and 2007. He scored with Christina Aguilera's "Hurt" (number 11 U.K., number 19 U.S.) and Lily Allen's "Littlest Things" (number 21 U.K.), and had a hand in Rhymefest's Blue Collar (number ten U.S. R&B/hip-hop), which he released through his J Records-affiliated Allido label. These significant achievements paled in comparison to where he went during the same period with Amy Winehouse. Though the production load of Back to Black, Winehouse's 2006 blockbuster, was almost evenly divided between Ronson and Salaam Remi, the former was responsible for most of the singles, including "Rehab" (number seven U.K., number nine U.S.) and "Back to Black" (number eight U.K.). At the 49th Annual Grammy Awards, Back to Black won Best Pop Vocal Album, "Rehab" took Record of the Year, and Ronson was hailed as Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. Capitalizing upon the momentum, Ronson followed up in 2007 with his second album, Version, on which the likes of Winehouse, Allen, and Robbie Williams helped him reimagine mostly contemporary British material. It narrowly missed the top of the U.K. album chart (and later achieved double-platinum status), with the Daniel Merriweather collaboration "Stop Me," a melding of classics by the Smiths and the Supremes, its biggest single (number two U.K.). Between solo releases, Ronson added to his list of hit productions with Adele's "Cold Shoulder" (number 18 U.K.) and Merriweather's "Change" (number eight U.K.), and continued to cross genres and bridge generations as he aided Solange, Bebel Gilberto, Foreigner, Wale, the Like, and Quincy Jones.
Ronson himself entered the U.K. album chart a second time at number two with Record Collection, a 2010 set credited to Mark Ronson & the Business Intl. The producer's third LP -- and the first on which he sang -- led off with the number six U.K. hit "Bang Bang Bang," featuring MNDR and Q-Tip, and boasted a previously unthinkable pairing, Simon LeBon and Wiley, on the title song. Ronson deepened his association with LeBon as the producer of Duran Duran's All You Need Is Now, provided music for the film Arthur, and then produced the majority of Black Lips' Arabia Mountain. Ronson's longest between-albums phase yet was then highlighted by the co-production of Bruno Mars' 2012 hit "Locked Out of Heaven" (number two U.K., number one U.S.), a Grammy nominee for Record of the Year. Additional studio time with Paul McCartney and the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger preceded Ronson's November 2014 return with another Mars meeting, "Uptown Funk," which topped charts across Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and elsewhere. Eventually certified diamond platinum in the States, "Uptown Funk" anchored Uptown Special, Ronson's fourth album, issued in January 2015. Featuring lyrics written by novelist Michael Chabon and additional featured performances from Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco), and Mystikal, Uptown Special topped the U.K. chart and entered the Billboard 200 at number five. The 2015 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance went to "Uptown Funk."
The wait for Ronson's fifth album exceeded four years, but the producer remained occupied during this intermediary phase. Throughout the remainder of 2015 alone, he contributed music to the film Mortdecai and placed credits on albums from Elle King, Action Bronson, A$AP Rocky, Duran Duran, Cee Lo Green, and Adele. He was also involved in the making of the documentary Amy, the music of which was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. During 2016 and 2017, his primary projects were Lady Gaga's Joanne and Queens of the Stone Age's Villains. He co-produced the entirety of the Gaga LP, which topped the Billboard 200, and carried out the principal production duties for Villains. More feats followed in 2018. Ronson and Diplo partnered as Silk City, whose "Electricity," featuring Dua Lipa, went to number four in the U.K. and topped the dance chart in the U.S. For the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper vehicle A Star Is Born, Ronson co-wrote "Shallow," another cross-continental number one. A couple months before "Electricity" won Best Dance Recording and "Shallow" won Best Song Written for Visual Media at the Grammy Awards ceremony for 2018, Ronson released the lead single from his fifth album. "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart," a number two U.K. hit featuring Miley Cyrus, recalled Dolly Parton's disco crossover bids and previewed the "sad bangers" approach taken by Ronson in the making of Late Night Feelings, which followed in June 2019. ~ Andy Kellman