Note: I have been thinking and planning on doing some blog features on my songwriting idols, inspirations and innovators. I consider songwriters to be the REAL stars behind the stars. Where would Rihanna be without Makeba & Ester Dean?? Where would Celine Dion and the rest of the divas be without Diane Warren? Where would Britney Spears be without Max Martin? I truly believe that you have to study the best in order to become the best. This is me studying….because my time to be the best in the game will be coming sooner that expected so I need to be ready. I will choose an inspiration each week, pick 3 of my favourite songs from their catalogue and examine their genius.
Makeba “The Diva” Riddick
Many a friend of mine know that I am aspiring songwriter in the genres of popular/urban/soul music. Who better encapsulates this very delicate combo than Makeba Riddick? Who, you may ask? Let me just say this: she wrote those killer hooks that you whistle as you walk down the street not know that they were written by this magical woman. She calls herself Makeba The Diva/Makeba The Barbie…well, I call her Makeba The Magic because she is exactly that..magic when it comes to music.
Quick background. She went to Berklee College of Music (John Mayer also went there…I wish I would have had the chance to learn there but alas) and she’s written /co-written/vocally produced mega hits such as Rihanna’s Rude Boy (well, she actually produced the vocals on the whole or Rated R, wow!), T.I’s Live Your Life (hook), Eminem’s Love The Way You Lie (chorus), J Los’ All I Have (monster hit of the early 2000s), Beyonce’s Deja Vu and many more. I love her style, grace and melodic ability.
I was first introduced to her whilst watching a Beyonce documentary on YouTube back in the B’Day era. Friends know that I’m a more than avid fan of Beyonce so of course I googled Makeba’s name that instant and I have been following her work ever since. (Follow her on Twitter, she’s super cool and even replies sometimes, which I love about her: Makeba’s Twitter). She is a genuine REAL star behind the stars
Her are my 3 favourite elements of Makeba’s writing skills and why I like them (you might think my choices are random but there is method to my madness hahaha):
1. Melody: Rihanna – We Ride & Toni Braxton – Lookin’ At Me
Why? Makeba’s melodic instinct fascinates me because it seems to me like she links the emotion of the song directly to the melodic flow. Brilliant!
For example in Rihanna’s We Ride, in the pre-chorus where the lyrics say, “now I look back on the time that we spent and I see it in my mind playing over and over again”, I literally get visions of someone pondering their past and having a mini-movie of images flickering in the past as she reminisces…this feeling is because of the fluttering, sweet quality of the melody. The chorus lyric saying “we riiiiiide” has a drawn out and lulled melody at the end of the phrase which feels like a literal ride, kinda like the ebb and flow of the ocean. The beat definitely helps the song move along, I won’t deny that. Love it!
Lastly, the post-bridge insert that says “boy, I wish that you could hold me when I’m lonely…” again has that sweet fluttering melodic pulse of a butterfly’s wings…that expresses the bittersweet tinge of sadness as Rihanna pines for a past lover. Love it more!
Notable mention: Toni Braxtion – Lookin at Me. Pulsing beat mixed with the sweetest melodies about noticing the glances of desire that come when you’re looking fly.
2. Lyrical Style & Delivery : Beyonce – Upgrade U & Christina Milian – Us Against The World
Why? As an aside, Us Against The World wasn’t the hit it was meant to be in my humble opinion. The song is bananas! So good and so full of emotion. (I love Ms Milian, but I don’t think she had the full star quality to carry this song off…obviously there was the label situation and then came The Dream….but that’s another story).
Back to the song! Again, I’m noticing that Makeba’s songwriting and melody style is rooted firmly in emotion – (i.e. there needs to be sincere emotion and truth for the song to work – a lesson I’m learning from studying her work). For example, in Us Against The World, where Christina sings, “Cuz I know if I’m falling, you won’t let me hit the ground. If the boat is sinking, I know you won’t let me drown”, the legato (lengthening) of the vowels on the words “falling” “won’t” “ground” “sinking” “know” and “drown” really make you feel the depth of the emotion that the girl feels for this man…you understand that no “matter what anyone can say”, they have each other’s back because it’s them “against the world”!
In addition, the way the notes go up/higher at the end of the phrases emphasises the intensity of the battle they have against the world and the strength of their unity. Examples of this are in the whole song: for example in Verse 1: “If the sun shuts down and decided not to shine no more, I would still have you, baby. If we see the last day and they say we gotta go to war, I’ll be fighting with you, baby” and the Chorus: “Because it’s against the world, the world, the world“.
Bravo to Makeba and Christina Milian (co-writer) for this gem, even if it was unnoticed. Shout out to Madd Scientist for the epic feeling of the track! Only gripe: I wish Christina had a stronger voice…in my very humble opinion (since I admire everyone that worked on the track), I think this would have been perfect for Mary J Blige. She would have ripped it and taken it to heaven! That I know for sure.
Notable mention: Beyonce – Upgrade U. The sass and swagger in the delivery (I hate that word btw, but nothing else really describes what I want to say, lol) combined with the hard beat and the left-field melody literally drove me insane. I was obsessed there for a minute in 2006. This is when I first heard of Makeba…been hooked ever since.
3. Emotion: T.I Feat Rihanna – Live Your Life (Chorus & Bridge)
Why? OMG! Where do I begin? I feel like Makeba must have been going through something when she wrote the bridge and chorus. The chorus melody is easy…it was interpolation/interpretation of the sample used (O-Zone’s Dragostea Din Tei/The Numa Numa song). For me however, the gem is the bridge (that actually on the album version that I had):
“Now everybody what you wanna do, come walk in my shoes, and see the way I’m living if you really want to. Got my mind on my money and I’m not going away. So keep on getting your paper and keep on climbin’, look in the mirror and keep on shining. Till game ends, till the clock stops, we got post stuff on the top spot”
Whooooo! The melody has pure feeling in it! The notes all seen like their situated in minor chords…i.e. there’s some pain and suffering that has been experienced but there has been a decision made to stay strong and overcome the obstacles, no matter how hard they have been and will be in the future. This part of the song is like pure gold to me. Pure gold! As that part plays, I feel strength, courage, hardship, hope and faith. Love it! Makeba Tha Diva!
In conclusion, one word: AMAZING! I can’t wait to hear what she has been working on for the future and I hope that one day I will be able to be in her presence to watch her work, learn from her and ultimately work WITH her. (I believe in putting your dreams out into the universe and God will receive them and put conspire to put them in my path).
So, what do you think? Are you a Makeba fan? Which other songwriters do you love and want me to profile.
In the coming weeks, I will be profiling Ester Dean (she’s beyond amazing), Dr Luke, Claude Kelly, Rico Love, Andre Merrit, Max Martin, Toby Gad, The Clutch, The Underdogs, Ne-Yo etc….one week at a time.