From soothing R&B jams to punchy pop hits, Rico has written them all. He's responsible for penning hits like Beyonce's 'I Am... Sasha Fierce' hit 'Sweet Dreams,' Usher's 'Raymond v. Raymond' banger 'There Goes My Baby' and Kelly Rowland's scintillating 'Here I Am' smash 'Motivation.' Those are just a few of his gems and their climb up the Billboard charts is reason why big executives come calling when they need a hit song. This year, he moved outside of his comfort zone and worked with Latin singer Anthony Santos and past collaborator Usher, for 'Promise,' a record that was performed by the two at the 2011 Latin Grammys.
The BoomBox spent a sunny afternoon diving deep into the mind of the songwriting expert. Rico, who built his brand Division I to serve as a platform for new talent, is never shy in speaking about his accomplishments. However, he's self-assured without being a braggart. Read on as the man with a mean pen game divulges his secrets to success, explains why Rufus Wainwright is a genius and gives some shine to the world of bachata.
With 'Promise,' a collaborative effort between Aventura frontman Anthony Santos and Usher, was this your first foray into Latin music?
Yeah, this is my first time with bachata music. I had just educated myself on what it was being that I live in Miami and the group Aventura is so big and the Spanish market is big in Miami. It's my first experience like that. I had worked with Shakira but, you know, we did a few ideas and nothing really surfaced. This is my first actual pairing and for the record to go No. 1 is amazing.
How did you and Anthony Santos come up with the song?
I wrote the concept of the record and produced the record along with Romeo. I wrote the concept and the melody and then he translated what he was saying into Spanish. He wrote his part. He had his musicians come in and play it. It took us 15 hours to track it. That was recorded this summer.
You worked with Mary J. Blige on 'Mr. Wrong,' a song off her 'My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1)' album. What's the story behind Mary getting her hands on that?
Me and Jim Jonsin were working in the studio and we were working on song. It came to me when I heard the chorus to the song. It's pretty fast the way my process is -- I don't over-think; I don't sit down and come up with concepts. Usually the music kinda tells me what to say. I kinda figure out instantly what I feel like a track is gonna say. With 'Mr. Wrong,' I felt like it described myself and my relationships that I have with women. Same as [Melanie Fiona's] '4AM' -- it's kinda autobiographical for me. I'm just describing what I've heard women in my life say to me.
I played ['Mr. Wrong'] for [Mary]. I had a session with her and we recorded a bunch of songs and then I played that for her. She loved it and flipped out over it. Then I found out that they wanted to make it an official first single.
You recently worked with Q-Tip in the studio. Describe what went down in that session.
Me and Q-Tip did a few days just working on music. Not for his album, we just were working on songs.
So how does that process work since you're not writing his raps?
We just started experimenting with sounds and different ideas. We'd lay down a track then add a chord idea. I'd give my input on where I feel things should go sonically. I'm a huge Tribe [Called Quest] fan so we just made that happen.
You've worked with so many big name artists already. Who is still on your wish list?
I really want to work with Rufus Wainwright. Michael Stipe from R.E.M. I would love to work with Kanye West. [Rufus], he's a genius. He's one of the greatest writers to me. I feel like he's one of the closest things to Leonard Cohen that I've ever heard, in my lifetime as far as my age group. He's just amazing. One of my favorite albums of all time is 'Want One.' I'm a huge fan.
I know you have Division I, which is your entertainment company. What's the roster looking like currently?
I'm working with my artist V. She's an amazing vocalist. She sang a duet with Timothy Bloom on a song ['Til the End of Time'] that was kinda big. They had lke a little underground following on the record. I'm signing her. I signed Teairra Mari. I'm excited about her project. I have an R&B singer by the name of MJ, who I'm excited about. [He has] so much soul and flavor in his voice. Then Young Chris, who is my favorite rapper. And then, Cherlise, another R&B artist that I have. She has a current single out with Lil Wayne called 'Love you Right.'
What about Cherlise's artistry were you drawn to?
She's an amazing talent. She has crazy energy, her smile lights up a room. She's just a star. She's like the sweet girl next door who has enough attitude to be a sex symbol. She just got a lot of flavor with such a distinctive voice and [she's] an amazing dancer. Just a great all-around performer. I see the potential in her and I'm going to keep developing her 'cause I know where I could take her.
With Teairra Mari, she's a veteran at this point even though she's young -- since she's been in the industry for awhile. Critics have written her off at times. Why did you give her a chance?
The same reason I worked with Nelly when everybody told me he was over. The same reason I got in with Puff when they said his album would never come out. Same way I got in with Kelly Rowland and did 'Motivation' when they told me it was a lost cause. Same way I got in with Usher when they told me Trey Songz was the new guy and that Usher was over. If I see something special in somebody, I know what a hit record can do. And everybody that's giving their opinions, especially the ones in the business, aren't contributing to hit records. We just going to prove them wrong like we consistently been doing over the years.
I had interviewed Boyz II Men and they said something similar, that artists in the industry -- they didn't mention names -- may have felt like they couldn't make a comeback with their new album, 'Twenty,' and decided not to work with them. What is your opinion of that, when veterans are being snubbed?
A song is a song and a hit record can change a life. I don't believe in writing people off. I currently have a single with Carl Thomas called 'Don't Kiss Me,' and it's doing amazing out the gate. It's been out for a few weeks and it's already charting. Why would I count out Boyz II Men if I could have the opportunity to spark something. Its about believing in yourself and believing in the song and believing in your ability. I study my craft and I feel like I'm the best at what I do.
When you say you study your craft, what kinds of things do you do to keep your pen game sharp?
I listen to all types of different music. I go to different festivals. I'm around music. I try to tell myself, "Why do I like this song so much?" "Why do people not like this song?" "What made this song great and what made this song not great?" It's just like a basketball player who studies game footage of the other team. You try to figure out why did this team get beat by this team. It's the same thing I do with music. Sometimes the songs that I like the most don't do as well. So then let me figure out how I can make the same substance do as well on the charts as the songs with the less substance. So it's studying it and perfecting it and honing your skills. I write songs everyday. I'm in the studio everyday. I don't stop.