Interview: Producer Kendrick Dean Shares Studio Session Stories With R&B’s Finest Artists (Part 2)
In part one of the interview, Kendrick talked about his journey to the music. In this second half of the interview, he gives us the background and history behind some of the records that he’s been a part of with artists like Usher, Mariah Carey and Monica. He also discusses who he wants to work and also lets aspiring artists know how they can get a chance to work with him.
YKIGS: I have a list of songs and I would love to hear the history behind them. The first one is Marques Houston’s “Circle”
KD: It was done in the Boom Boom Room, a studio owned by Will Smith in LA. I remember we had some meetings with Marques prior to actually having a session. It was a very impromptu session. We ran into Marques outside of the W in Westwood, LA and we just chopped it up. He was like “Man I definitely want to get in with you guys.” We made it happen within a couple of days. He came by the studio. He and his team explained that they wanted a record that was emotionally tapping like the Usher songs that Bryan had done like “U Got It Bad” and the song we had done with Chris Brown. They wanted something like that for Marques. I remember distinctively they said they wanted to use Marques’ falsetto. A lot of people didn’t know he had a good falsetto. So in approaching that record, we had a conversation with myself, Bryan and Adonis and talked in terms of what we wanted to write about. Adonis really took the helm in writing the majority of that song. He just made sure there were parts where Marque could demonstrate his high range. It was classic I think and a great record for him to showcase that in that it was a very emotional record. Bryan and I did the track; Adonis took over with the writing and did a marvelous job. Within a day, we got a word it was going to be the single. They were really excited about the record, they shot the video outside of LA in the desert area and they did some in studio shots. That was one of the quickest placements I’ve ever been involved in, in terms of creating the record and almost the same day knowing it was going to not only go on the album, but it’s going to be the next single and we’re shooting the video in a couple of weeks. That was a great experience and definitely memorable.
YKIGS: Mariah Carey’s “I Stay In Love”
KD: What a beautiful record. That whole Mariah experience is something I can never forget. A lot of artists do write and a lot of artists say they write and don’t write, but Mariah Carey is a phenomenal songwriter. For the record, and it’s ironic that she has a song called “For The Record”, but Mariah Carey has been influential in writing a lot of her hits and this song didn’t change it. I first met Mariah at her penthouse in New York and it’s the same penthouse that’s been on MTV cribs. Bryan and Adonis had previously worked with Mariah several times and for this particular project, they worked with her a few weeks prior to on an island. So they were very familiar with everything and I was kind of the new guy on the scene, so walking up to her house for the first time it was kind of like…actually let me take that back. I made an error in the story. I didn’t meet her at her house, we did go to her house but I met her at Tommy Hilfiger Summer Home in the Hamptons, I believe it was Labor Day weekend. We were going there to work on the song, so we went into the home and she was actually on the beach. Beautiful home with bright color, furniture, mahogany wood, big window pane, patio, long walk to the beach and it was at night so everyone was lighting fireworks. I was like “Man this is like a video right here!” We’re going out to the beach to meet Mariah, or at least I am for the first time and she’s so sweet. She’s out there with her family and she’s like “It’s a pleasure to meet you!” I was thinking if we were actually going to write a song after chilling on the beach. Long behold, she was ready to rock. She’s a workhouse. Within a few minutes, we went downstairs and she had her portable studio set up there because she was renting the house for the Summer. So all three of us sat around; Bryan was in front of the piano, Mariah was sitting on the edge of the couch, I was on the floor and Adonis was in another corner and we just started brainstorming. Bryan came up with a melody, the distinctive melody in the hook “I Stay in Love With You”. He came up with that on the piano and we kept reoccurring the theme “I Stay In Love With You”. We had no lyrics, but great melodies. As we’re trying to figure this out, Darryl Simmons and LA Reid walk in. Both of whom I’ve never met at that time. If you’re talking about pressure, the head of her label just walked in and we’re trying to create a smash and we still don’t have all the lyrics! So that was some amazing pressure. LA and Darryl sat down and watched us for a while. LA nodded his head and smiled and I felt good and relieved. He was like “Guys keep it up, I love what I’m hearing.” Then he leaves and Mariah was like “That’s a good sign.” I was like “Wow, I feel like we’re doing well.” We didn’t finish the song that night. Here’s when the penthouse came in. We went back to New York a couple days later and she invited us to the house where she has a full studio and we were there to finish the song. We got there and Mariah was having this nice dinner with some business executives that she was having a meeting with. After she was done, they left and it was just myself, Mariah, Bryan and Adonis. We went out to the patio. We had a good time, sat around, took the CD player out, played the track and wrote the song. We finished having the conversation and we wrote the lyrics. That’s pretty much how the magic happened. It was an amazing experience and working with Mariah is phenomenal. Not only is she a great songwriter, but she’s a great person and friend. She’s very funny and we had great laughs together. We even went out to a party later that night and just hung out. We just had a good time. That song of course became a single and it was the theme song for the launch of her perfume on the commercial, so it was a pretty deal and I was fortunate and blessed to be a part of it.
YKIGS: I actually wish that song had become even bigger, I felt like it was a hit.
KD: There are a few songs that in my career wish would become hits. Actually there are a few that weren’t even singles and felt they should have been. You stay positive and keep moving on though, so onto the next. *Laugh*
YKIGS: Another song I want to ask you about is Monica’s “Superman”. When she had the reality TV show out, there was a clip of just you and her in the studio working on that song. What was that whole experience like and just give me the background on that one.
KD: “Superman” first started at the home of Johnta Austin. Bryan and I went over to work on that record for Monica. Bryan and I started the track and we didn’t know what the theme of the song was going to be. Johnta is incredibly amazing at writing a song without looking like he’s writing a song. Bryan and I were doing track in one room and Johnta was in another room watching College Football. He comes in the room and says “Load it up”. He goes in the booth and one takes the entire song down. It’s something amazing. I hear Jay-Z does that, so he’s like the Jay-Z of songwriting. He came up with the record Superman. Of course at the same time, we were taping this reality show for Monica’s Still Standing. Bryan and I played the record for her and she fell in love with it from first listen. She was like “I need this. This is what I need to cut right now”. At that point, I had also not just been creating and writing with Bryan, I had been doing the majority of her vocal production. Of course it was my turn to do the vocal production on this particular record and seeing it all the way through. It was just Monica and me. We have a chemistry that’s unbreakable. She’s like a sister to me. She understands the way I sing and I say that because I’m not a great singer, but she can interpret what I’m trying to do and make it work and make it hers. That’s very important in vocal production and producing is being able to communicate with the artist. Whatever language you use to express what you want them to do, make sure it’s a language they’ll be able to understand. We were blessed that we had done so many records together that we knew each others’ language and the beauty was in the song. That was a great record.
YKIGS: That was a favorite of mine off that album.
KD: Thank you, I appreciate that. That album had a lot of great records.
YKIGS: Another song I want to ask you about is an unreleased song by Brandy called “Cry”?
KD: That was done several years back. Another combination of Bryan, myself and Adonis. We were in LA getting ready to work with Brandy and at the time, she was in the beginning stages of her project. We just came together and with the same approach, had a conversation with her and figured out what we wanted to do in terms of subject matter. We knew that we wanted to do a ballad-y mid, the groovy tempo mids that we’ve done. Adonis goes in there and lays a scratch rough. Brandy goes in there and she is absolutely amazing. Anything you give her vocally, no matter how difficult it may be, she will take it, master it and then take it to the next level. Every influx of that song was Brandy’s imprint. It was phenomenal to work with an artist like that. I don’t recall working with an artist quite that gifted in that sense to be able to take what you give them, twist it and come back to make it make sense for her. It’s like “Wow, you don’t need me!” *laughs* She’s incredibly gifted in that sense. It was a great experience to write that record. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the album. Of course directions change within the middle of projects and that song was the unfortunate beneficiary of a direction change and it was early on. Nonetheless, it’s a great record and I’m glad people appreciate it. I’m also very excited about this Brandy stuff I’m working on, so it’s going to be another great adventure with her.
YKIGS: Do you think “Cry” will ever be released at any point?
KD: You never say never because there have been songs that have been leaked, or created years past that have all of a sudden become singles for us. For instance, “Hood Love” which was a record Johnta originally wrote for Mary, but with him and Mary in mind. There’s a version of that song floating on YouTube with Mary J and Johnta. Of course, that was years prior to the official release of the single being Mary J Blige and Trey Songz, despite it getting a lot of burn in the internet. That song never died, it was just a great song. Hopefully, if not we just create some more stuff for her. At the end of the day, I think “Cry” is a great record and a Brandy record. I know Brandy loves that song still to this day. I just talked to her yesterday and I know she really remembers that song. It’s just a matter of what’s the direction of the project.
YKIGS: Ginuwine’s “Frozen”?
KD: That was done in St. Louis. It was the second time I’ve actually been to St. Louis and the first time I went there to work. We did it with these songwriters named Woodworks out of LA. One of the rare times we didn’t do a record with Johnta or Adonis. It was with the Woodworks. They’re super talented songwriters, all relatives. They came in with the concept of being frozen over. Bryan and I did the track and we knew it had to have a sense of a bite to it because with that title, it gives you sort of a bitterness. I think we were able to sonically accomplish that to complement what was written on top and vice versa. So Ginuwine cut the record and I think he did a marvelous job. It came out on his album in February. Unfortunately, I thought it was going to be a single, but it hasn’t yet. I think it’s a great song.
YKIGS: You’ve done a lot of work with Joe, so tell me about “My Love”.
KD: Bryan and I did that one together and I believe Greg Curtis is on that one as well. We did that one in Atlanta at ZAC Studios. Greg Curtis is actually on that record, he laid the piano line. Bryan and I came together and made it a full record. I enjoyed working with Joe. I think he’s a phenomenal singer. Johnta Austin was the writer on that record. He’s been working with Joe for years. His ability to capture that Joe moment is unmatched to me and it’s just accurate. Joe got in the booth. All Joe needs is..I can’t give his ritual away *Laugh* but he doesn’t need much to get in there and really knock it out. Joe is probably the most accurate singer I’ve ever heard in terms of stacking vocals, being on pitch without the assistance of autotune. It doesn’t take him long to knock down a song and that’s part of the reason why we did so many songs with Joe because he’s in and out. In a couple of hours, he’s like “What do you got next?” That was a great experience doing that record. The way he works and the way we were able to work with him allowed us to do numerous songs
YKIGS: The last one I want to ask you about is Usher’s “Before I Met You”.
KD: That was another combination of myself, Bryan and Johnta. Bryan and I did the track and Johnta came over and heard it. He was immediately inspired to write a song that was reflective of Usher’s past life, but at the same time where he is at now. Once again, writing real records for artists. Usher’s past life being that he was a hustler and a player before he met the one that changed his life. We wanted to make a song that was reflective of where he was at the time, being a married man and being committed to a family life. I think we effectively did that. Usher loved the record and he did it immediately and the rest is history.
YKIGS: You’ve already worked with some of the biggest names in R&B, are there any artists that you’re still hoping to work with and are there any artists you want to work with again?
YKIGS: Yes and yes. *Laugh* If I could work with every artist that I’ve ever worked with again, I would because I’m a perfectionist. I always feel like there’s room for improvement in particular in my end as a producer. Every artist that I’ve worked with, I would love to get a shot at again. Whether it’s projects that I’ve worked on that haven’t been released or projects that I’ve had hit records with, I would love to work with them again because I feel like I’m at a different level as a producer and a musician now. I understand what a hit record really is now, as opposed to it just happening because of God’s gift and I just get lucky. I know how to drive a car than just getting in the car with having no other cars in the road to interrupt me, so now I can bob and weave. Other artists that I haven’t worked with that I would love to work with include, but not limited to, Carrie Underwood, Adele, CeCe Winans, Babyface hands down. That’s my mentor if you ask me. I think I’m the biggest fan. I almost want to call myself Babyface Jr *Laugh* Wayne calls himself Birdman Jr, well I’m Babyface Jr. *Laugh* I’ve met Babyface a couple of a times, but we’ve never got in the studio. That would be a dream come true, even if it’s just to say thank you, shake his hand and leave. That will be well worth it because what he’s done for music overall, not just R&B, is untouched. There’s no one like him. Plus he was so versatile and had the ability to create hit records not only for urban acts, but for the biggest Pop stars in the world. For me that’s the bar, I want to be known as an eclectic, a very versatile producer. At the same time, very effective and operating at a very high level in each one of the genres. I don’t want to just do it to say “I can do this”, I want to do it and be like “I can make a difference in doing this.”
YKIGS: How can the fans contact you and find out more about you?
I also have a BlazeTrak page. If you’re a songwriter or produce, you can send me stuff for me to listen to and get an opportunity to possibly work alongside me and some of the great artists that I’ve been blessed to work with. Go to www.blazetrak.com/wyldcard and you’ll get right on my page. If you have some work, you’ll be able to submit it to me and not only that, I will guarantee you a video response of your music. It’s not like you’re sending it to a random person and no one is listening to it, I’m listening to it and evaluating it. I think that’s a good opportunity to people who aspire to do this and this isn’t an outlet that I had coming up and I would have loved. I love to give the opportunity to others.
Also my website www.kendrickdean.com which is currently In construction right now.