Ugh. Tired. I’m clearly not getting enough sleep – I sleep for about 5 hours on average everyday and it’s starting to take its toll on my body. I’m always tired and I always have a headache. Work is hectic at the moment (which is expected, so I’m not complaining) but wanting to deliver high quality work at a pressurized time eventually causes one to burn out. So, from tomorrow I’m calling it a wrap! All work and no play is making Koodzi a dull boy so I’m going to confine work to the work hours and keep after-work hours strictly for play. Boundaries need to be set people, boundaries need to be set!
First thing I’m doing is going to watch a live band (at Wolves in Illovo – I hear it’s a fantastic venue) tomorrow and try out a great new Thai food restaurant (next door to Wolves). I also want to get my guitar back out, write some songs, work on my vision board and just hang out with friends. “Only you are responsible for your life” – Mama Winfrey.
I love music and I love songwriters even more. These are the people responsible for actually creating the magic. My awesome songwriting team (Citizens of The World Music) are having a 30 Song Challenge. We have 30 instrumentals (by NdaJunior) and each writer in the team (myself, TheJuniorJohn and anyone else who wants to join the fun) each have to write a song and see what different pieces of musical goodness we can come up. Here is what we came up with for Song 2. Let me know you think and if you want to join the songwriting party.
What separates a long-running chart-topper like Lady Antebellum from an artist that survives on peaks like Katy Perry? What separates Adele’s long reign of the charts from Rihanna’s necessary stream of multiple hits? Why has Beyonce’s Dangerously In Love sold more that the albums that followed? It’s the songs. It has always been about the songs.
I have always believed this, always. Without great songs, an artist is just floating around, waiting for a hit song to appear and save them from the descent into the bargain bin.
I was having a YouTube binge moment and watching ALL the Adele interviews I could find and she mentioned, in a matter of fact kind of way, that she was holed up in Malibu and London to record her sophomore album, 21, and had no idea idea what was happening on the charts. Instead, she delved into classic country, rock and soul songs and decided to deliver a record that was an expression of her life and her truest feelings. That was my “a ha” moment of my “it’s-the-songs” theory meeting real life in the modern day music industry. Listening to 21, I feel and hear bitterness, love gone awry, lessons learnt from love, finding love, longing for closure, revenge, confusion and brokenness. There feelings have to come from a real place. That is why they connect. I commend Adele! Brilliant stuff.
That is why she’s killing the industry right now. She’s real. She’s not contrived. Oh, and you can’t forget about THAT voice!
Other albums that I still have on my playlist because of the truth they contain: Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Corrine Bailey Rae – Corrine Bailey Rae, U2 – The Joshua Tree and Carole King – Tapestry. You might say their obvious choices, but there’s a reasons why we all love these albums.
Note: 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….
Where do I even begin when writing about Ester Dean? Do I start with her super strong melodic hook (which, I love), her rise from rapper/singer to superstar Billboard Hot 100 topping songwriter or her gracious/positive spirit? Anyone who knows me, will know that I always root for people on the rise and Ms Dean is no exception. She’s amazing at what she does and that, coupled with her lovely personality (as seen on Twitter) mean that I am in full support of her musical take over. I am a self-confessed stan, lol.
For those not in the know, she has written hits such as Rihanna’s Rude Boy, What’s My Name & S&M, Katy Perry’s Firework (co-write) and Pussycat Dolls’ Jai Ho (from the amazing Slumdog Millionaire OST). Being a part of such major hits is such an important and admirable achievement for a songwriter in the popular/urban realm of music.
As an aspiring songwriter, I have this never-ending habit of checking who the songwriters are for the songs I love the most. This is how I first came across Ester Dean’s work. I remember hearing Rude Boy on my first listen on Rihanna’s “Rated R” LP and I was immediately enthralled. The melodic top line was fierce/aggressive/authentic and truly captivating. I had never heard a melody quite like that. I googled the songwriter and up popped her name. That, right then, was the moment I fell in love with Ester Dean. I then realised that she had written so many songs that I had previously loved upon first listen. I can not wait to hear what she has been working on, my ear will be glued to the music blogs.
Here are my 3 favourite elements of Ester’s writing skills and why I like them:
1. Melody:Keri Hilson – Toy Soldier & Rihanna – Fading
Why? Ester’s melodies feel so good to my soul, I literally feel nourished when I hear them. They are sweet, soulful and they linger in your mind forever.
For example in Keri Hilson’s Toy Soldier, the first line “you told me that our love would keep marching on, hoorah”…the “hoorah” instantly hooks you and I think it’s got to do with the upward movement on the notes…she carries you to the next line in way that feels good. The next key melodic point is “why would I doubt you, when you said you loved me”, the “me” has a prolonged and undulating melody that is almost hypnotizing. You immediately want to hear it again, so in that way, Ms Dean already has you roped into listening to the next verse and not pressing the skip button so soon. Keeping you hooked for the whole song is the key to a great songwriter. This song never lets up in that regard. I love it. I would say that it’s the best cut on Keri Hilson’s “No Boys Allowed” LP.
Notable mention: Kelly Rowland – Rose Coloured Glasses
Other than compulsive music blog readers like myself, most people don’t know this song. This song is magical and show’s Ester’s brilliance. Produced by Dr Luke, the song (wrapped up in a story about a failing relationship) is a fierce anthem about having peace in knowing that your life decisions were made on your own terms instead of being based on other people’s opinions. I was raised on Destiny’s Child, so I like almost anything the DC ladies do and this is no exception. Ms Rowland’s underrated vocal instrument handles the well-written melody & lyrics with ease. This is a winner and should be listened to, do yourself a favour.
2. Lyrical Style & Delivery – Mary J Blige – The One & Rihanna – Rude Boy
Why? Attitude! Attitude! Attitude! Ester Dean is from Oklahoma/Nebraska/Atlanta so I know she’s got soul. This comes through in these songs. She’s not afraid of fierce lyrics that celebrate female empowerment, sexual liberation and straight up fun.
Rude Boy was such a hit that anybody should be able to understand why it’s so fantastic. It is beyond captivating and naughty (in a good way). So instead, let’s rather focus on Mary J Blige’s The One. My favourite lyrics from the song are as follows;
“Let me break it down if you don’t get it, quality, I’m custom fitted…
..I ain’t saying that I’m the best, but I’m the best, hey baby you need that”.
Combine Ester’s sick pen game and Mary J Blige’s glam-hood swagger and you have magic. It’s so ferocious and I love every second of it. Every second. Go Ester Dean!
Notable mention: Paradiso Girls – Patron Tequila
Lyrically, this song is about having a good time and “leaving” yourself and immersing yourself in the fun of the night. Straight up fun! I don’t drink that much anymore but nothing beats Patron shots and a good time. “I’m on Patron, Tequila, I’m drunk on margaritas, that Patron tequila, me and my mamacita” – some would say it’s a simple lyric but add it to the thumping beat and you have nightclub gold. This is so much fun in the club.
3. Emotion:Monica – Here I Am
Why? “If you need to love somebody, hey baby, let me be that body, here I am”. Whoooooo! This is such a sexy song and Monica is emoting like her life depends on it, I love that! It’s about wanting someone in that way and telling them that you’re there – ready, willing and bloody well able.
There is a mixture of longing, lust and a hint of finding someone that you think is your true love so you need them to give you the strength to leave your current relationship. That’s a whole lot of feelings to work with and only a talented writer, such as Ms Dean, would be able to weave all of those thoughts and feelings into one song. I’ve noticed that Ester likes to sing her melodies in a hard/strong tone (listen to the Rude Boy demo or Lose Control demo) – I wish I could sing like that and I would love to hear the demo for this song.
This was and still is my favourite song from Monica’s “Still Standing” LP. I loved it before I knew Ester wrote it so finding her name on the credits only made me love it even more.
Notable mention: Mary J Blige – Stronger
The way Mary sings the line “I will survive as long as it’s you by my side”, I just want to die! So powerful – that’s some deep ass love. Lord knows I love this song so much! Ester put soul and sweat into this song, from the melody, lyrics and emotion. Yaaaas!
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.