Ester Dean, Bryan-Michael Cox, The-Dream & more talk writing mega hits in REVOLT Summit’s “They Sung It, I Wrote It” panel

The panelists have penned hits for the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, Gucci Mane, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Chris Brown, Ciara, Christina Aguilera, Nicki Minaj and so much more. So, they had many gems to teach!

  /  09.27.2019

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

“I don’t know if y’all understand what’s going on up here,” declares Sean Garrett as he settles on the stage. “These folks up here—this is the real deal. This is real. Pound for pound we are [some] of the biggest songwriters and producers of our generation.”

This is the exuberant remark that kicked off the “They Sung It, I Wrote It” panel at the REVOLT Summit x AT&T in Atlanta earlier in the month.

Moderated by publishing guru Catherine Brewton, the panel invited the aforementioned Garrett, Ester Dean, Bryan-Michael Cox and The-Dream to sit down in a candid moment that found some of the industry’s most storied behind-the-scenes creators offering crucial information about their start in music, and the drive that has guided them up the ranks.

Where B. Cox and Dream would cite early influences in the church as their foray into music, Dean and Garrett offered opposing entry points.

“I’m a heathen, “ Ester Dean comically announces before revealing that while her original aspirations aligned with being a front-facing singer, it was the counsel of Brewton and Tricky Stewart that helped her realize she could monetize the songs she’d been writing for herself.

As for Garrett, the road that led him to music took on a much more embattled path, as he dealt with a detachment from his own family due to growing up in the military.

“I sometimes used to cry and feel very in a place where I felt like I didn’t belong,” he revealed. “I felt like my family was growing up in a different way that I wasn’t… but, what I learned about myself was that music was the thing that I was able to [use to] find myself, and define myself, and understand myself. I became incredibly creative because I had nothing else to depend on, but the music.”

Collectively, the set of panelists share decorated catalogues penning hits for the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, Gucci Mane, Usher, Mary J. Blige, Chris Brown, Ciara, Christina Aguilera, Nicki Minaj and so much more of music’s biggest stars. Such highlights have warranted them positions as some of the greatest to ever do it. But, in this conversation, they were sure to underscore the fact that such acclaim comes with examining the ones who preceded them.

“To be a great you have to study the greats,” said Brewton, as she followed up on Cox’s early methodology of studying liner notes on LPs when he was growing up.

“I want to make that kind of music, who makes that music?” Bryan explained of the mindset behind such a habit. “…Thriller—best album of all time. What I was most interested in was, ‘How did Quincy Jones get a logo on the back of this album?’”

As for Dean, her observations lay more upon her peers as she dished her own secret to grinding it out.

“I never left the room because they don’t leave the room,” she said gesturing to everyone else onstage. “Men don’t leave the room.”

As for Garrett’s mantra for greatness? Listen.

“All of us on this stage came in as different entry points. All of our stories are different. All of our mentors are different, but we chose to listen and pay attention,” he says. “That’s what made us great… Listening is really important. Talking to people who are [at] a different stage than you, [you] are surrounding yourself with people who are better than you, who are smarter than you.

He would soon gesture to Sean “Diddy” Combs in the front row to add: “Diddy is one of the greatest inspirations in the world… I’ll never forget when I heard “Benjamins.” The feeling of that song drove me crazy, it made me go nuts. I wanted to be able to create that feeling and that was the part that inspired me. It’s so many other things you can talk about — some of these greats — But, the key word is ‘listening’ and understand when you’re around greatness, just pay attention and learn from the greatest.”

This would serve as the marker in which Brewton would guide the conversation into the business side of music, as the panelists expounded on the importance of diversifying one’s portfolio.

Such a balance was best summarized by The Dream when he said, “There’s a very spiritual element to me writing records and a very capitalist element to me writing records.”

As for Dean, the songwriter and producer has spent the last few years transitioning into the film and television world, notably as a recurring character in the Pitch Perfect film trilogy. For her, such a transition was justified in the sometimes monotonous realm of songwriting and the grueling schedule that it can demand.

In Dream’s case, the expansion of his own empire has been continuing his education at SCAD and franchising a Popeyes restaurant. On that note, he was sure to thank Black Twitter for the frenzy that the chicken sandwich caused in weeks past.

“The best thing you can always do is invest in yourself,” he affirmed. “As a songwriter, our job has always been to watch and help someone else get theirs. Songwriters need to be protected in that way. In order for me to do that, I have to invest in myself.”

It opened the door for Cox to stress the importance of protecting your art as a producer and songwriter, and being sure to leave something behind for your legacy.

“As a culture, we do not think about when we’re not here anymore,” he stated. “You have to protect your art. Make sure it’s not lost in the sauce or lost in some attorney’s office.”

To that, Ester Dean added her strategy of straying away from educating herself solely in the realm of music, and opting to expand her horizons in finance and business as a whole.

“I never read a book about the music industry,” she admitted. “I started reading books about business… The music business is not what you need to know. You know how to do that because you’re in there. But, you don’t know what to do with the money.”

Such words illuminated the growing conversation surrounding the tendency for black creatives to miss out on lasting success when finances get involved. While plenty of perspectives see such a trend as being indicative of some perceived ignorance among the black community, it was The-Dream who offered a different look into the subject, appropriately grasping the gist of REVOLT’s presence in Atlanta that weekend.

“We have this guy,” Dream said, gesturing toward Diddy. “And we have JAY[-Z]… We know what to do, it’s just whether we feel like we need to get up and do it or not.”

Watch the full “They Sung It, I Wrote It” panel below!


If you love Los Angeles stars and hip hop, you’ll definitely want to join us and AT&T in L.A. on Oct. 25 – Oct. 27 for our three-day REVOLT Summit, which was created to help rising moguls reach the next level. Head to for more info and to get your passes here!



View More



View More


Tiffany Haddish on therapy, wild fan interactions & the upcoming 'Haunted Mansion' movie | 'The Jason Lee Show'

On this all-new episode of “The Jason Lee Show,” the one and only Tiffany Haddish sits for a must-watch conversation about wild interactions with fans, her new movie ‘Haunted Mansion,’ bringing her therapist on dates, and being present. Watch the hilarious interview here.

  /  07.12.2023

Jordyn Woods talks prioritizing authenticity, her brand & saying, "No" | 'Assets Over Liabilities'

On this episode of “Assets Over Liabilities,” Jordyn Woods welcomes hosts Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings to her headquarters to discuss expanding Woods by Jordyn, prioritizing authenticity throughout her brand promotions, not talking about money with friends, being patient, and saying, “No.” Watch here!

  /  08.09.2023

Pheelz talks expressing himself through music & his biggest inspirations | 'On In 5'

On this all-new episode of “On In 5,” multitalented Nigerian artist Pheelz opens up about waiting for his opportunity to fully express himself through music, his inspirations and emotions, and the musical icons he grew up admiring. Watch!

  /  07.11.2023

BNXN talks leaving IT for music, linking with Wizkid, going viral & new album | 'On In 5'

For this all-new episode of “On In 5,” singer-songwriter BNXN discusses his journey from IT to music, finding his voice and originality, linking up with Wizkid for their hits “Mood” and “Many Ways,” and what fans can expect from him this year — including a new album. Watch the full episode here!

  /  08.08.2023

Kareem Cook talks growing up in The Bronx, studying at Duke & networking | 'The Blackprint with Detavio Samuels'

On this all-new episode of “The Blackprint with Detavio Samuels,” the host and REVOLT CEO sits down with Kareem Cook. Throughout the introspective episode, Cook talks growing up in The Bronx, studying at Duke and being nervous to be in the South at the time, network vs. education, taking advantage of your opportunities, and connecting with Debbie Allen. Watch!

  /  07.10.2023

How Angela Yee found more to her life's purpose beyond the microphone

Check out six insightful gems that Angela Yee dropped on “The Blackprint with Detavio Samuels.”

  /  09.13.2023

Angela Yee talks "The Breakfast Club," growing up in Brooklyn & interning for Wu-Tang Clan | ‘The Blackprint with Detavio Samuels’

On this all-new episode of “The Blackprint,” host and REVOLT CEO Detavio Samuels welcomes Angela Yee to discuss growing up in Brooklyn, interning for Wu-Tang Clan, “The Breakfast Club,” and curating her own show. Presented by LIFEWTR.

  /  09.12.2023

7 Atlanta residents reveal what they’re most excited about for the first-ever REVOLT WORLD

“I love music and media and thoroughly enjoy observing panels,” one person said. “Also…I love to see our artists performing, so I’ll definitely be in attendance to see Babyface Ray perform!”

  /  09.05.2023

Yo-Yo is happy hip hop's trailblazers are being recognized & loves how fearless today's female lyricists are

Ahead of hip hop’s 50th birthday, Yo-Yo opened up about her outstanding career and the women who are holding down the fort today. “I think this generation is more fearless, they take less s**t, they say what they want, and they get it,” Yo-Yo stated in this exclusive interview. Read up!

  /  08.07.2023

Scotty ATL is achieving longevity with grillz by staying ahead of the curve

“I built my own lane… I’m just educating myself on a daily basis,” he told REVOLT in this exclusive interview for Black Business Month. Read up!

  /  08.16.2023

Doechii pays homage to hip hop icons and talks pushing the boundaries of music genres

Ahead of hip hop’s 50th birthday, Doechii sat with REVOLT for an exclusive interview and talked about her upcoming tour with Doja Cat, love for Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, some of her favorite rap albums and much more. Read up!

  /  08.04.2023

Breakdancing, an oft-ignored pillar of hip hop, is taking its rightful place in the spotlight

In celebration of hip hop’s 50th birthday, we discuss the history of breaking, the art form serving as a voice for the marginalized and it being added to the 2024 Olympics. Read up!

  /  08.10.2023

Pride was the theme of the night at the inaugural Caribbean Music Awards

“This marks an important historic moment,” Wyclef Jean exclusively told REVOLT. “The Caribbean Music Awards created a bridge to unify all Caribbean artists and show the world that [we] are strong in numbers, as well as leaders of the culture.”

  /  09.05.2023

Web3 | Ice Cube's BIG3 league is centering innovative ownership opportunities within sports

“Ownership holds a lot of weight. It’s about reaping the rewards of your hard work, having a say in how things roll,” Ice Cube tells REVOLT in this “Web3” exclusive about giving fans a piece of the BIG3 pie.

  /  08.18.2023

Halftime Report | How Rucker Park culture transformed the legacies of hip hop and basketball

The late Greg Marius played matchmaker between basketball and hip hop, and the marriage is still going strong. In honor of hip hop’s 50th birthday, read our latest “Halftime Report” below.

  /  08.09.2023

Jaylen Brown: Hip hop has been an essential part of my growth as an athlete

Ahead of hip hop’s 50th birthday, REVOLT sat down with NBA star Jaylen Brown to discuss his career, the South’s impact on rap, the importance of Black media outlets and so much more. Read up!

  /  08.02.2023

Happy 50th birthday, hip hop! A letter celebrating and thanking you on your big day

Happy 50th anniversary, hip hop. You’re on a tier where no tears should ever fall. My hope is that the millions of us forever enriched by your glory of the past 50 years continue to endure and inspire in your name over the next 50. 

  /  08.11.2023

Flau'jae is winning on and off the court with zero plans of slowing down

“I still feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of my capabilities… I just want to be the best version of myself,” she acknowledged in this exclusive interview for REVOLT. Read up!

  /  08.22.2023

Web3 | Willow Smith's groundbreaking honor as the first-ever RIAA NFT plaque recipient

This groundbreaking chapter in Willow Smith’s journey signifies innovation at the intersection of Web3 and the music industry. Read up!

  /  09.01.2023

Kickin' Facts with Legendary Lade | Clarks Originals x MAYDE WORLDWIDE Wallabee “Pacific Blue”

LA native and designer Aleali May teams up with Clarks Originals for a new collaboration.

  /  08.21.2023
View More
Revolt - New Episodes