“The first time I heard one of my songs on the radio, I was like, ‘I’m not going back to nothing else, this is where I need to be at, right here,’ jokes Mannie Fresh, as he sat amongst a group of distinguished song writers at BMI’s “How I Wrote That Song” panel in Hollywood. The annual Grammy week event featured several accomplished song writers and artists that shared stories and laughs behind some of their biggest hits. In addition to the former Cash Money mega producer (who shared that he’s done a few tracks on Lil Wayne’s highly anticipated Carter V), the diverse panel included country singer Natalie Hemby, songwriter and producer David Hodges, chart topping songstress Ester Dean, and hip-hop hit maker, Rick Ross.
The event provided audience members a unique glimpse at all that is involved in making a hit record. Each artist shared their perspective on songwriting, lessons learned during their time in the music industry, and back stories around some of their most popular works. Ester Dean, the song writer behind hits such as Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” and “S&M.” as well as the Katy Perry smash “Fireworks,” provided color on how she distinguishes songs penned for her versus those for other artists. “You have to learn how to give it to people. Sometimes, people are like, ‘Why didn’t you keep that song for yourself?’ It’s not mine…I didn’t write it for me. She explains further by stating, “‘S&M’ is not for me. ‘Rude boy’ is not my song. S&M [was] for Britney Spears…it was for that kind of girl. And Rihanna fit that kind of girl. It resonated with her…it doesn’t resonate with me.” Ester goes on to share how songwriters that are also artists can sometimes get in their own way when it comes to sharing their material with others. “In business, you gotta know what’s for you, and what’s not. There are a lot of songwriters that are artists that hold everything and won’t give it to another artist. And there are some that are giving away songs, but then end up feeling like, ‘that’s my song.’ Take your album, put it to the side, and then work on that. Then when you go to work for Mariah Carey, makes sure you know that you’re working for Mariah Carey.”
You have to learn how to give it to people. Sometimes, people are like, ‘Why didn’t you keep that song for yourself?’ It’s not mine…I didn’t write it for me.”
Mannie Fresh, the venerable producer behind early Cash Money hits like “Back That Azz Up” and “Bling Bling,” shared his perspective on what it’s like to provide the soundscape for some of the biggest rap artists in the game. In describing the concept behind the chart topper, “Still Fly,” Mannie revealed that at the time, almost no one from Cash Money liked the song. “Baby hated that song. When we [were] doing the song, everybody was like, ‘He in there tripping, talking about everything in his momma’s name.’ And I was writing this from a real perspective, I was like this is really how I’m living. Juvenile had just left Cash Money and they was like panicking dude…they was just like, ‘man it might be lights out, it’s over with.’ And I was like, ‘Man, just tell the truth.’ If you write something from the heart people are gonna feel it.” Mannie goes on to talk about how all through production, his Cash Money crew continued to have their doubts, until the song ended up being a huge success. “Every time somebody would walk in the studio, they was complaining about something I was doing and it was just like, ‘Dude you’re really tripping right now…this is not going to be the song.’ And when the song debuted, it was Cash Money’s first number one.”
Every time somebody would walk in the studio, they was complaining about something I was doing and it was just like, ‘Dude you’re really tripping right now…this is not going to be the song.’ And when the song debuted, it was Cash Money’s first number one.”
Ross rounded out the conversation with his thoughts on several of his songs, but most notably his debut hit, “Hustlin.” “At that time, I had been writing music and workin with other artists and doing my own thing for 7, 8 years,” he recalls. “I just felt like, yo, this is something I love. Today would be the last day that I did this if it wasn’t what I love. Of course, I felt like that was the test…I remember that day as clear as ever.” Ross goes on to detail that poignant moment: “One of my homeboys hit me and was like, ‘Yo, I got something that I want you to hear.’ I put the shit in my car and by the time I hit the corner I said, ‘What the fuck?!’ I actually made a call or two, and I found out that Trina was having a show in Tampa that night. I wrote the very first verse, and drove to Tampa and performed it. And I just remember the way the crowd looked. I went back and finished the song, and that was ‘Hustlin.’”
Words by: Mark Anthony Jenkins
IG and Twitter: @markanthonyj20