For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
ROE is finally here, but you’re already familiar with her work whether you know that or not. Before releasing her debut single “I Like” in August 2020, she helped write songs in the studio with Mary J. Blige, Kash Doll, Normani, and City Girls to name a few.
“[The City Girls are] there to work. Don’t get me wrong, they have fun and a good time, but they’re focused. It’s not for play. They’re busting down five records a day. They’re recording non-stop. They work hard,” she told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the accomplished songwriter discusses advice from Macy Gray, the differences between writing for JT and Yung Miami, and more. Read below.
You signed with Macy Gray when you were 15 years old and were on her label from 2011-2015. Did she give you any advice?
Yeah, absolutely. She encouraged me to start writing. I would always have writers at the time. I didn’t get into my writing bag until after that situation. She had me performing. I did a little tour with her. It was a lot of fun and was a learning experience.
What is the creative process like with her?
She knows exactly what she wants and what’s her niche. She writes all her own music. She may have someone there to assist with a melody here and there, but she does a lot of her own writing. That inspired me about her.
You’ve also worked with the Queen of R&B, Mary J. Blige. What did you two work on?
I don’t know if I can say exactly what we were working on, but she was gathering records. My A&R hit me two days before the session like, “I want to get you in the studio with Mary.” I asked, “Will she be there?” He said, “Yeah,” and I immediately felt all these emotions and nostalgia. I sang “Our Love” at my parents’ wedding. It was a full-circle moment. My mom, and I called my cousins jumping up and down screaming. To be in the room with her was surreal. She is so nice and down to earth. I think she knows the effect she has on people. She knows how to make someone feel comfortable. I didn’t really show all of my excitement because I’m professional and was there to do a job. But, on the inside, I was definitely jumping up and down.
What is the mindset you have to get into in order to write for other people as opposed to writing for yourself?
I’m so glad you asked me that. People always ask me, “Do you ever feel like you gave away a song you should’ve kept?” I always say, “No.” The first thing I do when I get in with an artist is kind of have a therapy session. I want to know what you’re up to and what’s new. I want to know what is something you’ve wanted to say that you haven’t been able to necessarily articulate in the way you’d like to. What do you want to get off your chest? It’s always personal and I’m always looking for a way to tap into their spirit. It’s not about me when I write for someone else. I’m there to serve. It’s personalized and catered to their personal experience.
Are there any conversations that have turned into songs?
I worked with Kash Doll. We were in the studio sipping a little bit and joking around. One of the other writers was joking with her and told her, “You’re doing too much.” They put the beat on and I was like, “Oh, that’s it.” I just hopped on the mic and started saying, “Bitch, you doing too much. Shut up hoe, you ain’t doing enough.” It literally happens all the time. I try to be ready for those special moments.
I remember Ne-Yo said he was moving into his new spot and one of the movers was like, “To the left, to the left,” and that was his inspiration for putting it in Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.”
How about any personal therapy session conversations? Any of those turn into songs?
Let’s talk about “80/20” by Chloe x Halle. We were talking about relationships and how you can be in a relationship, and you have most of what you want and need. Then, you can meet someone and they have that other 20%. It wasn’t that they could personally relate to that, but it was a topic that came up in the midst of talking about relationships and stuff like that. We ended up writing “80/20.” It’s a really fun record and I’m happy they put it out. It’s spicy and I don’t think that concept has been put in a record before. We did that song close to a year and a half ago. This was before the pandemic. It came out [Feb. 26], I found out the day before.
What did you work on with City Girls?
I’ve done two [writing] camps. The first time, I and other creatives that are with Universal flew out to Atlanta, and we mainly worked with JT. What I love about JT is she’s very dominant and knows what she wants. She’s a great writer. She really wants to talk about the fun and spicy things. She wants to give bars and punchlines. A few months ago, working with [Yung] Miami, she cut one of my records right there on the spot. I can’t say what’s going on with that song, but she wanted to talk about relationships and things you go through — the good and the bad. They’re the same, but they carry two different vibes. The way they put it together to make it one world blows my mind. Hearing them record something in real life is literally one of the best experiences in life. Their voices are iconic.
What is the studio vibe for a City Girls session?
They’re there to work. Don’t get me wrong, they have fun and a good time, but they’re focused. It’s not for play. They’re busting down five records a day. They’re recording non-stop. They work hard.
The songwriting process is a mix of creative inputs, but is there a lyric from a song that when people hear it, they can know that came from your pen?
There’s a song I did with Kiana Lede called “Easy Breezy” and she says, “I’m doing me and it’s making you livid/You talking shit just to get my attention.” I just feel like when you’re living your life and doing your thing, some people might not be too happy with themselves and it’s fun to talk about it in music.
When did you start putting out your own music?
I put out my first single on August 7, 2020. Putting out my own music always was the goal. That’s plan A. The writing sharpened my tools and allowed me to grow in my craft, but my artistry has always been No. 1. I created an EP with my producer who I’m working with right now, Rick Rude. He has an incredible resumé. We were just going to put it out and see how people vibe with it. A month before I was going to do so, my A&R James Supreme over at UMPG approached me like, “Hey, what do you think about doing your own EP?” I told him, “It’s already done.” So far, people are loving it.
What do you need in a studio to make your best music?
I need champagne. I need a nice moody light. Sometimes, it’s a pink light. Sometimes, it’s just a dim, warm sunset-looking vibe in the room. I need to live with the beat for a good 20 minutes. I need a really good 808. I need a gorgeous melody. After that, I’m good to go.
How did your single “Fool 4 U” get created?
Right now in the game, there’s not a lot of vulnerability. I wanted to talk about how when you’re in a relationship with somebody and you have all these things you know you won’t stand for, but, when you’re in it, you’re like, “Damn, I love you a lot. I’ll be a fool for you.” That song took me two hours to perfect the melody and the story.
I had no idea what I was going to talk about until I went to freestyle on the mic and was like, “Oh, OK. This goes together well. Let me build upon this storyline.” The storyline came after the melody, which happens a lot with me. It turned into something people connect with, which surprised me because I wasn’t in love with the record. It didn’t hit me until after I released it. My A&R was like, “You have to release this song. It’s my favorite song.” Then, I saw the response and was like, “Oh, you know what you’re talking about.”
Rick Rude produced that and he’s worked with some heavyweights like Destiny’s Child. Has he shared any stories from his time working with them?
Absolutely. The story with “Cater 2 U” was he was just having fun. The bassline, melody, and all of that stuff happened organically. He didn’t know where it was going. I guess a phone call was made a couple of weeks later where someone told him, “We love this beat. Destiny’s Child is hopping on it.”
What’s coming from you in 2021?
I am officially releasing my EP next month, April 2021. I’m very, very excited about it. It’ll have seven songs. You guys have already heard three. I’m really excited to share my first baby with the world and I hope you guys love it.