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Local Producer Stefan Ponce Gears Up For His Grammy Send Off

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 28, 2015 8:30PM

Photo courtesy of Cramer PR

The 2015 Grammy nominees list wasn't short on Chicagoans. Common's nomination for Nobody's Smiling even extends the possibility of a trophy to lesser known local artists like Dreezy and Lil Herb. You'll see names like Kanye West, Jennifer Hudson and R. Kelly on that list too.

Stefan Ponce is enjoying two Grammy nods this year after working as a producer on Childish Gambino's latest full length Because The Internet. It's up for "Best Rap Album" and the Ponce-produced single "3005" also received a nomination for"Best Rap Performance."

If you've been paying attention, Ponce's producer credit has popped up on a number of memorable releases including Chance The Rapper's Acid Rap, ShowYouSuck's Girls, Girls, Girls and Vic Mensa's Innanetape. His name may not be front and center but his slick, futuristic style is with every track he touches.

The Wicker Park native holds down a monthly residency at East Room which will serve as his Grammy send-off party this Friday night. Before we party with the potential Grammy winner though, we had to call him up and talk about the good news.

CHICAGOIST: Well, first off, congratulations on your Grammy nominations. That's huge!

STEFAN PONCE: Yeah! It's funny, I was talking to one of my good friends about it. She told me congratulations, you're forever going to be known as "Grammy nominated…." And I was, like, oh yeah, that's right. Then later that day I was driving and Jon B. was performing in Chicago around that time but it was "Grammy nominated artist John B."; He's still getting called that. That's for the rest of his life.

C: Definitely. I don't want to jinx anything but then there's an even more prestigious title that could come after that.

SP: Oh yeah... [laughs] I don't think we're gonna win.

C: Why not?

STEFAN PONCE:: I just don't know. Me and a bunch of my friends were talking about how there's usually that one artist at the Grammys that no one really knows that wins a bunch of stuff. Remember the Grammys when Justin Bieber was nominated for "Best New Artist" and someone else won it? [Editorial note: Esperanza Spalding, 2011]

Donald [Glover, stage name Childish Gambino] is to that point where he's humongous but he's not a household name yet. It'd be dope if we were that artist that, you know, won every Grammy that we were nominated for.

C: I'm already super happy for you though. I was thinking about the Grammys before I talked to you today. The music industry has changed so much, especially for younger artists like you. Are Grammy nominations still a huge goal for musicians like they were twenty or thirty years ago?

STEFAN PONCE:: Yes. I still don't believe it. I'm still When I go to the Grammys, I'm going to be like, "oh shit, this is real. I'm at the Grammys." I think that was always the goal. It's crazy. "3005" was the first song I ever put out through kind of a major label. Glassnote is still indie but there are many pretty major artists on there. So it's like the first song I ever put out that was really humongous that I produced gets nominated for a Grammy. It feels too early, you know? I don't want to peak in the beginning and then end up two years from now being like, "I accomplished what I wanted to already. I got a Grammy."

C: This has been said a million times, but I'm going to say it again: there is just so much talent in Chicago right now. So I forget sometimes, because I live here and hear names like yours or Vic Mensa's constantly, that you've made a name for yourself around the country as well. Obviously the Grammy nominations help, but just on a day-to-day basis does it feel like you've really conquered that national circuit yet?

STEFAN PONCE: Personally, no. There's so much more that I want to accomplish and so much that I haven't done. Chance and me were at Target the other day and so many people walk up to him, it's annoying. [laughs] It's funny because I've known Chance for very, very long now and he's one of my really good friends. On Halloween, it was me Vic [Mensa], the mother of my son and the baby and we were walking through Wicker Park getting stopped like every five minutes. I was like, c'mon, this is not fun. We're at home right now. Why is this happening?

C: What do you guys do to kind of combat or deal with that feeling? You need to be good to fans but I can definitely understand how that would get old fast.

STEFAN PONCE: Well, the reason I mentioned that is because they have success to where they're getting stopped every five seconds. They've reached that. Me? No. People know me from my work with them but I want to reach my own success where people just kind of know me for me.

C: Well, it's a really great time to be a producer. I think that people are aware of more producers now than they were at a lot of other periods in music.

STEFAN PONCE: I agree. Soundcloud is a really big part of that.

C: And I feel like people used to be either DJs or producers. Now there's so much more crossover. I know you've toured as Vic and Chance's DJ but you've also done solo sets around the country.

STEFAN PONCE: Yeah, yeah. I was the only opening act for The Deep Web Tour with Donald so it was just me doing a 40-minute DJ set.

C: So what else do you plan to do to spread your name further?

STEFAN PONCE: I'm dropping a lot of my solo stuff, meaning productions by me featuring other artists. I'm dropping an EP and an album later this year. Those are rap releases but I have another dance EP that I want to drop. I should be dropping a shitload of music this year.

C: I'll certainly look forward to that.

STEFAN PONCE: It's a lot. I'm sitting on music that I made last year at this time. So now it' all gonna come out.

C: That's the coolest thing about how music is put out now to me. You can just drop a track or an EP or an album on Soundcloud on any given day. I feel like the artists we've talked about so far have really embraced that and it spreads so fast.

STEFAN PONCE: I remember when Vic and Chance made "Suitcase" and they dropped it maybe a month later. But they did it really randomly and then like two days later it had 300,000 plays on Soundcloud. We live in such a different, computerized world where Drake can drop a Soundcloud song and get nominated for a Grammy. He's one of the contenders against "3005."

C: Speaking of Vic. I'm super curious to hear about his new album since you've been producing it.

STEFAN PONCE: It's amazing.

C: I'm sure! I want to know ... and I'm sure other people want to know when it's coming out. Any updates on that?

STEFAN PONCE: He's had a collection of songs for a long time and he's just touching them up. The number of songs [he's going to put on the final album] changes every day. But there's some great stuff on there. I'm going to give you a heads up, there's a song on there called "Burning Road" and it's one of my favorite Vic Mensa songs I've ever heard in my life. It's so theatrical and beautiful. It sounds like something at the end of a movie. I want it to come out so bad!

C: Same here! So let's talk about the send-off party you've got coming up at East Room. I couldn't make it to your first night there in November. The second one in December I was out of town for so I'm just really excited to finally get to one because I've heard they've been great parties. It's cool that it's just for whoever wants to come out and play with you.

STEFAN PONCE: Yeah, that's why I wanted to brand it as "Stefan & Friends." Like, I had Hannibal [Buress] DJ and that was very fun for me. He was talking and saying jokes over the mic. I announce day of who's coming to the party. I don't want to give it away. It's really impromptu stuff and that's what I wanted. I wanted spontaneous things to happen.

Stefan Ponce & Friends is at East Room this Friday night. No cover. RSVP on Do312. Watch for Ponce at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 8 on CBS.