Two of the most important songwriters of the 20th century, Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford, passed away on Aug 22. Leiber, with partner Mike Stoller, left the world timeless tunes “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak” and “Stand By Me” while Ashford, of the famed husband/wife duo Ashford & Simpson, etched classics like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Every Woman” into our memories.
Coincidence or not, gifted 28-year-old songwriter/rapper/producer Rico Love spoke to Georgia Music on that same gloomy day. And while we wouldn’t compare a classic like Leiber’s “Spanish Harlem” to any of Love’s modern hits just yet, there is a bit of symmetry to it all.
When you think about some of the songs Rico has helped pen—he wrote Usher’s “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home)” for Raymond vs. Raymond and co-wrote/produced Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” on I Am…Sasha Fierce—you realize the man’s motives are similar to those of the earlier greats: set a romantic mood with steamy lines atop cool instrumentals. Much was the case with Ashford in the ’70s; only he worked his magic with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
“I always believed that I would be where I am,” states Love, who credits Raymond as the person who opened songwriting doors by allowing him to pen “Throwback” on Usher’s 2004 smash Confessions. “I didn’t think I would be a songwriter. I always thought that I was going to be a rapper. I thought that I was going to be the biggest rapper in the world. That was always my dream. But I always believed that I would be at this level in some capacity. I always had high hopes for myself and high expectations.”
All according to plan
Though his artistic roots sprout from Milwaukee and New York, the man born Richard Preston Butler Jr. holds a special place in his heart for the south. Rico went to school at Tallahassee’s Florida A&M University. Along the way, he got cool with Atlanta-based R&B group Jagged Edge. He’d pick their creative brains. He’d crash at their house. He’d get familiar with the city’s musical inner workings.
“I would sleep on their couch every weekend and just be around the music and watch the guys create,” Love recalls. “I got my first record deal on J Records in Atlanta. I was discovered in Atlanta. It was a place where I could develop music. I love Atlanta.”
After working on Confessions and realizing rap probably wasn’t his most profitable move, Rico went on to pen Billboard toppers for a host of other pop and soul acts. Natasha Bedingfield (“Love Like This”) was one of the first. Keri Hilson (“Energy”), Fergie (“Labels or Love”) and Kelly Rowland (“Motivation”) would eventually find out about how Rico worked his way around a recording studio too.
“I think we just give it our all,” Love says about men writing great songs for female artists. “Like a guy who writes a horror film, you know, he hasn’t been in an actual ghost or monster chase, but you just kind of evaluate the situation and figure out what would it feel like if I was in this position. Even if you watched from the outside looking in: how is she relating to you and how does she feel? So, it’s just your way of communicating back to the women what you have heard from them or what you have gotten from them.”
Of course, ladies aren’t the only ones benefiting from Rico Love’s way with words. Gents like Pleasure P (“Boyfriend #2”), Diddy (“Hello, Good Morning”), Nelly (“Just a Dream”) and Mario (“My Bed”) all have called on him recently.
You probably won’t get the same wholesome feeling with any of those cuts that you might from listening to Jerry Leiber’s innocent “Love Potion No. 9.” Still, Rico’s canoodling with the charts is to be commended. So, too, is his confidence. “Man, we just kind of go with the flow, ya know,” Rico tells. “I am doing this for life, so I just feel like put out the records. [Them doing well on the charts] is the only way I see it. That’s the only way I envision it. There is no more surprise for me.”
Put a label on it
While songwriting may be a well-trodden path by now, Rico Love is preparing to venture down a relatively new road with another aspect of his career. Division 1 is the record label he’s been preparing for the world for some time now. Housing a mix of somewhat familiar names (Young Chris, Teairra Mari) and altogether fresh ones (Cherlise, Sofi Green), the imprint’s CEO says things will work because “I have made a career off of making hit records for people that were doubted. I have made a career of being able to develop great songs and hit records for people that a lot of people say, ‘Why waste your time on that?’ That is why the label trusts me to bring new artists because they know that I can approach the situation fearlessly. I believe in the music.”
Cherlise’s first single, the Lil Wayne-featured “Love U Right,” is already bubbling on urban airwaves. But even if subsequent projects falter, Rico can always fall back to his first true love, right? “I jump on records for fun and rap just because I love hip hop,” he explains. “I am not interested in doing an album at this point. I feel like it would be a big cliché, ya know. Keri Hilson and Sean Garrett, that’s their thing. I don’t want to be that guy.”
That all makes perfect sense. Jerry Leiber never performed himself. And though Nick Ashford certainly did, he also knew when to step aside and let others have the spotlight. We’re pretty sure Rico will do the same. Giving up one love, so that another can fully flourish. Hmmm, kinda sounds like the premise behind a future hit record….