Interview: With Grammy Nominations for Work With Missy Elliott, Lamb Sets Sights on Producing Entire Project
If you check the credits for some of Missy Elliott’s penned hits since 2006, you’ll likely notice the name Cainon Lamb next to her name. The dynamic duo of Lamb and Missy Elliott have gone on to create some of the bigger R&B records including “Everything To Me” by Monica, “Need U Bad” by Jazmine Sullivan and “Let It Go” by Keyshia Cole. Lamb also recently produced the Beyonce smash “Countdown”. YouKnowIGotSoul had a chance to speak with Lamb about the history behind some of those placements, his first encounter with Missy Elliott and his upcoming projects including SWV’s new album.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How did you link up with Missy Elliott?
Cainon Lamb: It’s a crazy thing how things come full circle. Brianna, who is a young local artist from Miami, her name was Lil’ Brianna at the time, I met her when she was 9 in 2001, and Brianna and I worked together. I was just doing a whole bunch of songs for her and I knew her because her Mom and I grew up together. We were working on a whole bunch of songs. At the time, Brianna was signed to Trina. Her mom then took her over to Missy and they played a song for her. I was still playing Football, playing pro ball. They played a song for her and I was on the hook. I felt like it would be a cool hook to have Missy Elliott on. KeKe is Brianna’s mom. KeKe gave Missy’s hypeman the song to give to Missy. He gives the song to Missy. Missy happens to be in the studio with Timbaland. All of a sudden, they just love the song. They give everybody a call. They give Brianna’s mom a call and tell them to come to the studio and by the time Brianna got there, Missy and Timbaland knew all the words to the song. They loved it. They heard it twenty times back to back to back. From that point on, Missy signed her. I actually thought like “Okay, Missy is going to do the songwriter and Timbaland is going to handle the beats”. I thought with me playing football, that was it for me like “Cool, they got it from here”. Maybe I sparked something to help this young girl and that was what it was all about anyway. It was just trying to help her career from the very beginning. I was playing football and I was trying to get back into a NFL situation playing Arena ball. I felt comfortable and happy with Brianna getting her shot. When she was at that same session, they asked “Who did the music?” KeKe told them “It’s a young guy named Lamb, he plays football. He’s our friend, I know him growing up. He’s family to us. He did all our songs”. Missy was like “Tell him to keep doing them, I like his style”. She was calling me “Dude” for the entire year like “Tell dude to keep doing it”. At that time, I kept doing songs knowing that Missy would hear a song and even Timbaland would hear a song at times because they were working on an album together. So when I sent songs, they’d be in there listening to the songs that Brianna and I did. I wasn’t working in a big studio. I was pretty much just working in a closet over here at the house. That’s how Missy got a chance to hear my music. After that year, it’s a great story because the second song I ever did for Brianna is a Cyndi Lauper remake of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”. I did that song for Brianna and everybody loved it so a couple years later, Cam’ron did a song with the same remake. It’s a sample so it’s fair game. Whoever comes out with the sample first, that’s how the game works with samples and using old music. It came out with the sample and it was a single. I don’t know if the song did that well, but they still called me and they thought I did the song. I told them “No, I didn’t do that song. I didn’t have anything to do with it”. They figured I did it because at the time, Dipset had signed an artist that I was working with and they figured that artist heard Brianna’s music and flipped the idea up there for them to use. That wasn’t the case. So Brianna’s mom ended up calling them and telling them “Let’s hurry up before he takes Brianna’s songs and gives them to someone else. Let’s put Brianna’s stuff out”. Brianna is 11 years old at the time and I don’t know if she was ready to come out yet at the time, but I think that’s what sparked Missy to be like “You know what? Maybe he can take these songs and give them away. He’s talented and he can take these same songs we’re using for Brianna and give them to someone else”. Missy told Keke “Tell Dude to send me some beats, I’ll put my name on them and we’ll see how that works out”. I sent her some beats, like 25 beats, and to make a long story short, my first placement was on that beat CD. I had to leave from playing Football to go have a meeting with Missy just to see how everything was going to work out with the Brianna stuff and the songs she had written off of my beats. She played me the song when I got to Miami and I loved it. I was like “Wow who is that for?” She was like “A Girl named Fantasia, she just won American Idol. That’s going to be on her album. This is one of the songs that I did for her”. That was my first placement and that was the first day I heard my first placement. It was also the first day I actually physically met Missy Elliott. It’s crazy because the person who was on the demo was a 15 year old girl by the name of Jazmine Sullivan. She demoed the actual song for Fantasia to hear to say she likes it and cut the song. Everything goes full circle. It’s crazy because Missy and I worked on Jazmine Sullivan’s first single entitled “Need U Bad”. It’s a big deal how everything worked out. Brianna, the little girl, she’s now a brand new signee at Atlantic Records. She just got her deal a couple months ago and she’s 19 now and I’m still working with her. I did her first single “Marilyn Monroe” and it’s picking up. There’s a big buzz on the song and her whole campaign. She just put out a mixtape called “Face Off”. There’s a lot of features on there. I’m still working with her. I worked with Missy a whole bunch and we have great chemistry together.
YKIGS: What is the creative process like with yourself and Missy?
CL: Missy is a great visionary. She hears the song before the song is complete. She has an old soul. She pulls from what came before. The way people felt when records were made back in the day. She’ll pull from that energy and she’ll come up with an idea of where we should go on songs. Sometimes, I come up with ideas of where we should go. There’s different scenarios for each song of course because the approach is depending upon the artist of who you’re working with. With Jazmine Sullivan, she has a tone of a Lauryn Hill so you have to give her that feeling that everybody felt when they heard Lauryn Hill. That’s one thing by itself. Then you have a Monica, everybody knows she has a beautiful voice. She’s had it since she was younger. What you have to do is make people feel like how they felt like back in the day. Speaking of Jazmine with the Reggae feeling track that we did. That song to me is pulling from a song “X-Factor” by Lauryn Hill. With the Reggae feeling on the verses and then the hook, it changes to R&B. It’s like that kind of feeling. That’s where we pulled from in that sense. That’s where the energy came from for that song. The reason why the song went number one is probably because of that feeling of nostalgia like “Whoa who is this? Is this Lauryn Hill again?” Then they find out it’s a new girl and then they fall in love with the new girl. That’s how you approach creating a song. What I want to hear as a consumer, even though I’m going to produce and write this song, but like “What do I want to hear as a consumer coming from this particular artist?” On Keyshia Cole, she gives you that Mary feeling with her passion and her vocals. It’s like “Okay, Mary did a lot of stuff like ‘Real Love'”, that was a big record for someone who is passionate about love. When we did “Let It Go” for Keyshia, it was that energy almost. It was a feeling of nostalgia when you listened to it and you heard it on the Mtume or Biggie sample. When you hear that come on, it’s like “Aww man, this feels like the 90’s all over again”. You got a great chemistry when Missy and I put our minds together and we think of these ideas of where we would want to hear artists. Missy is like a sister to me because of the fact that she’ll be on one side of the room and I’ll be on the other, she’d hear something and we’d be thinking the same exact thing, but we won’t talk about it until later on. Once she brings it up, I already give her the answer of what she’s about to say next. That’s happened hundreds of times with her and I. It’s that kind of chemistry. We think alike on a lot of different levels. She’s been in the game obviously for a long time so she has more experience than I have, but when we get together, it’s almost like I have to get up on my game to catch up to her. I’m learning a whole bunch now that I have my feet wet a little bit. I’m learning how to create a hit and how to develop songs for new artists and old artists as well. The chemistry is outstanding. Most of the times, I cut the vocals on the artists. Missy doesn’t particularly love cutting vocals on artists anymore. Back in the day, she worked with Beyonce and Destiny’s Child and all of those big acts. She doesn’t necessarily have the patience to cut vocals anymore. So I’m literally there at the computer recording these artists myself now. I’ll sit down with Monica and get her to push out a note that she’s not used to pushing out. On “Everything To Me”, she had to reach higher than she ever had to reach. That went number one. Sometimes it works different ways. Sometimes the artist wouldn’t want to push out a note or do something that’s going to take the song to the next level, Missy will come in the room and that artist will see Missy, and Missy will be like “Come on, we got to do it. We’re trying to make this a big record”. Then all of a sudden, the artist pushes the note out. It works in a great way where I’m more of the music side of the group. Even though I write lyrics as well as produce like in the SWV song. I wanted to everybody to feel like “You know what? This is the SWV I know!” I wanted to people to feel like that because I want to feel like that. If I didn’t have the connect to have to get on a SWV project last year, if I didn’t that connect, I would have wanted to hear SWV to come exactly how that song came out with “Co-Sign”. That’s how I approached it when I wrote and produced it. I approached it like “I want that real R&B, I want that SWV. I want them to sound like they’re 16-17 years old again. I want to get that feeling like ‘Who are these new girls?'” That’s the approach when I went in for that. Let me tell you this. I call this a genius. It’s a genius to be able to take what you thought about in your mind, a song that you thought about or how you wanted that song to come out, and be able to make that thing happen exactly how you thought of it. I think you have to be a complete genius to be able to pull that off. That’s what I do. I go in mind and I hear the song, words, beat and everything before I even start hitting the beat machine or keyboard or even coming up with lyrics. I hear the song in my head and I think it takes a certain level of genius to be able to get that song from your mind onto a CD. Then the world hears it and then they like it.
YKIGS: I know you’re working on SWV’s album right now. What can you tell us with the approach of that album?
CL: “On “Co-Sign”, a lot of people are going to hear a lot of the same SWV. They had rich harmonies, Coko is a great lead. The music that you’re used to hearing when you heard “Weak”, “You’re The One”, “Anything” and all these big records that they came out with a while ago, I’m not going to try to deviate from that. I’m just going to give them a new age SWV and pull from all those songs. I understand that this is what I would want to hear as a consumer. I’m not going to try to deviate and fight against that. I used to try to fight against what people wanted, but I approached it like ‘Okay look, don’t fight against what’s hot for that artist’. SWV, they‘re big acts and they’ve been in the game for a long time. They took a long break, so when you hear them you’re going to feel like ‘Wow, they never missed a beat!’ That’s very important to me as a producer to be able to bring that feeling out of the people so that they can feel like ‘I got to get SWV’s album because it’s crazy’. I want them to feel like ‘I love this song, song after song after song. It feels like greatness.’ They’re a legendary group and I’m honored to even be able to work with them. I have another little short story about SWV also. I was in the 9th grade playing football and we had a prep rally and our band struck a song. They played the song “Weak” and I almost felt like I didn’t want to play football, I wanted to go in the band when they played it. It just sounded so amazing in the gym and we had a big game that night coming up. I’ll just never forget that feeling of when I heard “Weak” and the band playing it. Those little elements and those things in my life and pieces, I carry those same pieces today when I sit down and create another song. I have to pay homage, and not even pay homage, I feel honored to be producing and writing for a legendary group as SWV. There are females that sing now and they’re solo artists or vocalists right now that pulled a lot of their runs from Coko and pulled their harmonies from SWV. I feel the same way. I feel like I’ve pulled a lot of the music that I do right now from the music that they did back in the day. You can call it paying homage or whatever you want to call it, I just feel like they deserve to have a great album. They deserve to be mentioned when people mention great vocalists, great acts. When people mention legendary acts or artists, they deserve to be up there with them. It’s my job to try to pull that out so that people can look at them from that same respect when they were out in the 90’s.
YKIGS: Another artist I know you’ve been working with is Monica. You had the big single “Everything To Me” from her last album and you’ve also had the first two singles from her new album “Anything” and “Until It’s Gone”. What kind of approach are you going to take with this album to continue the success of her last album?
CL: She’ll be down here in a few days to finish up her album. It’s the same thing with Monica. People know what they love from Monica. They know the type feeling they get from her when they heard a whole bunch of her hits from back in the day. I just feel like I’m approaching it in that same way I approached all those other projects. I’m not going to fight against the battle of trying to impress what’s going on on the radio right now. I learned from Missy that if you want your records to stick out like a sore thumb when it hits the radio, don’t listen to the radio. If you listen to the radio, sometimes you’re getting influenced by what everybody else is doing and you tend to cater to that need of whatever the radio is playing. To be honest with you, if a record comes out on the radio right now and you try to mimic whatever that song is, your song probably won’t come out until six months to a year later. So you mimic something of right now, but the song won’t come out until six months from now if you happen to get a placement doing that same beat. What happens is, you end up sounding old. Not old as far as nostalgic. I’m saying you’ll end up sounding just like somebody else that just came out with a record when originality is usually what pushes a song to number one. I try to not listen to the radio. I learned that from Missy. As producers and writers, we work on these songs and we listen to the song a hundred times before it actually hits the radio. By that time, you’re not tired of it but you’re tired of it. It’s like “Okay I’ve worked on several songs since then. Why am I still listening to this song when I’m trying to move onto the next project?” We listen to these songs hundreds of times just fine tuning it, mixing it, rough mixing it and adding stuff. It’s quite a bit of a task to put these records together, so you hear it a hundred times. By the time it hits the radio, it’s like “Okay, I’ve heard it a hundred times so I’m good. That’s for the people now”. The people get a chance to hear it for the first time and they love it, I feel good about that, but my joy as a producer and writer is being able to create another song. The creative process of creating the next song is my joy as a producer and writer.
YKIGS: Are you and Missy doing the majority of Monica’s upcoming album?
CL: Polow is the executive producer so he’s going to have a whole bunch of records on there too. Missy and I, we did “Until It’s Gone” and “Anything To Find You”. I can’t speak for what Missy is going to do as my partner, but hopefully I get a chance to get a couple more on there and we’ll go from there.
YKIGS: One of your biggest songs to date so far is “Let It Go” by Keyshia Cole. Talk to me about the creation of that song?
CL: Like I mentioned earlier, “Let It Go” pretty much came up of the feeling like “Okay, here we are. This young girl has her hair colored a certain way like how Mary did her thing back in the day when she had the blonde hair”. Everybody always has love for the girl next door and she gave us that feeling. We were at the studio 2Pac got five times at in New York. That turned out to be the first time my first single that I ever produced. It was crazy what happened though. My MPC was not working for some reason. I don’t know if it was the MPCs that they were bringing out for me to use or if it was my flip disc with my sounds on them. It was not working for some reason. They brought out three different MPCs and none of them worked, but I had a couple of sounds on the one that was working. I just started with the beat. Once I found the beat, I was like “Okay that’s a cool beat”. Then I added keys to the beat and that’s the keys you hear throughout the song. That’s what I added. Missy thought it would be nice if we added the Mtume beat up under the beat that I did. So she grabbed the sample of a beat and threw it up under there and it sounded good. That’s all we had at first. Fantasia had an opportunity to have that same song. She actually cut that song. I don’t know what happened, they didn’t keep the song for whatever reason. Keyshia Cole was like “I love It”, so she actually wrote on the song and it turned out to be a smash record. That was my first single that I ever produced and it turned out to be a number one record. I was very happy when that happened.
YKIGS: You were mentioning earlier that you don’t really listen to the radio. Are you ever concerned your sound might not work on the radio because a lot of the stuff out right now is dance driven?
CL: Yeah well, I never concern myself with dance or whatever the case may be. I did a song for Beyonce called “Countdown”. That song pretty much came about by me just doing what I do every day in the studio. I wasn’t trying to get on Beyonce’s album or work on a song for her. I just did a song. The song or idea got to her. In detail of how it got to her, my publisher Big Jon Platt over at EMI pretty much heard the music and was like “Whoa, what is this?” He played it for Beyonce that same day. I was flying out to L.A. for the ASCAP awards at the time and he called me when I got off the plane. I saw a whole bunch of missed calls from him. He was like “Hey man, that track that you sent me…” I don’t always send my publisher music like I used to. I just sent that randomly. That was one track I sent that whole year to him. He was like “What is this? This is the most unique thing I’ve ever heard’”. Then He told me what Beyonce did once she heard it. He told me Beyonce started bouncing up and down, dancing when the countdown came on. She started dancing, bouncing, moving all kind of ways. He said “Man that song might be a smash” and I was like “Wow are you serious?” He was like “You don’t know what you just did!” Beyonce wanted to the cut song in three days. I was like “What do I need to do?” So I just sent the rest of the files to them, so she could do it. I didn’t actually go in the studio with her, but the song got done. It had a couple of other people help finish the song like The-Dream help write on the song, Ester Dean helped write on the song and Beyonce helped write on the song. Her production partner Shea Taylor helped finish the song off. It came out beautiful and it went number one on the dance chart last month. I wouldn’t particularly say my songs don’t make it on dance or pop, I just don’t start at Pop. I don’t start doing a beat saying “I’m going to do a Pop beat today” because what’s a Pop track? Popular means Pop. If my song happens to become popular and it’s an R&B song, so be it. If it’s a ballad, so be it. If it’s an up-tempo R&B song and it’s not particularly dance and it makes it on the Pop side and it becomes a dance number one, so be it. I don’t start at Pop and say “This is Pop and nothing else is”. My song may become popular if it’s a great song sometimes. Sometimes, R&B songs just stay over in the R&B lane and on that side of the charts. I’m totally fine with that also. That’s the industry we’re living in and the time we’re living in as far as radio is concerned.
YKIGS: Who are you currently working with right now?
CL: I’m having a great time working on Brianna’s album. I’m finishing her album. We had that mixtape that just came out and it’s real heavy in the streets right now. It’s called “Face Off”. It’s a big record. That’s the name of the mixtape. It’s a prelude to her album. I’m working on her whole album. I’m working on a new signee from Geffen/Interscope named J Randall. He’s the first signee for Gee Roberson over at Geffen. Gee Roberson is Kanye’s manager and Drake’s manager. J Randall is Pop, but like I said, it may be Pop/Soul music that people hear. I’m doing his whole album. I’m also working on finishing SWV’s whole album. I worked on Missy’s album. I did some writing on that album with Tim producing and helped put some songs together on that album for Missy. I’m also finishing up Monica’s album. This year I’m just concentrating on doing whole albums, working on artist’s whole albums. I just want to take over projects as opposed to getting placements. As a producer and writer, I don’t want to be 50 years old chasing placements. Chasing placements at that age when you have a lot of new guys coming around with their new styles. I don’t want to be chasing placements at 50 years old. I want to be somewhere finding people, signing artists and moving over to my company. I have a company called Lambo Music Group that I started late last year. I will be doing the same music that you hear from the big artists that are already out, but I’ll be developing new talent and new artists, R&B acts such as Jori. She’s a beautiful finger from Atlanta. She’s a vocalist. I have a rap artist, his name is Superstar AX. I did a whole bunch of work with him. He’s a young guy. I have young artists. I also have a Pop artist. Her name is Shikari. I’m just working on my artists and working on pretty much covering the whole project as opposed to just getting placements this year. That’s how I’m working this year. Every year I set goals and that’s the goal. The goals get accomplished every year. The goal this year will be to complete whole albums and take over projects or do most of the projects.
YKIGS: Anything you’d like to add?
CL: Make sure people know I’m humbled and I thank God for the opportunity to reach people with my music.