Turning the lights and lessons on with Rico Love
“TTLO” with Rico Love
The Grammy-nominated musician shares his Usher Super Bowl predictions, state of R&B music and thoughts on the social media algorithm.
This past January, the Bandier Program and the Conversation on Race and Entertainment Media series supported by the Hearst Speakers Fund at Syracuse University hosted an event with Grammy nominated songwriter and musician, Rico Love. From working with stars such as Usher, Beyonce, and many more, Love has cemented his legacy in the music industry and now looks to pave the way for others as he reflects on his own journey. Before his talk with SU Professor J Christopher Hamilton, Love sat down for a candid conversation with NewsHouse Entertainment Lead Producer, Rayshaun Sandlin and discussed everything from his Usher Superbowl predictions to the state of R&B music and his thoughts on the social media algorithm.
Rayshaun Sandlin: Thank you for being here with us today, sir! So, your boy Usher is preparing for the Superbowl right now. What hits do you feel like he has to perform? And from the songs y’all have worked on together, which ones do you think he might perform?
Rico Love: I don’t think my songs are going to make the cut.
RS: Really? I feel like he said his performance is going to be very R&B. He’s trying to bring R&B back to the mainstage so there’s definitely a possibility.
RL: Yea, but when you think about “U Remind Me,” he has to do that, “You Don’t Have To Call,” he has to do “Yeah!”, “ DJ Got Us Falling In Love Again,” because that’s such a mainstream record, and he only has 13 minutes and I just named four songs, so..
RS: I feel like your new hit “Good, Good” may make the cut.
RL: Oh, no “Good, Good” won’t make the cut.
RL: Like he has “Climax”. That has to have a moment and even “Nice and Slow”. He just has so many hits.
RS: No, he definitely has hit on hits. So, someone else you’ve worked with who has also performed the halftime show at the Superbowl just had a major tour last summer and I’m a big fan of hers but I’m curious if you were happy to see “Sweet Dreams” make the tour setlist again? Because I feel like it’s been a minute since she (Beyonce) has performed that one.
RL: Yeah! It was really cool because it wasn’t just the fact that she performed “Sweet Dreams,” it was the fact that the “Turn the lights on,” moment had hit the stage.
RS: And that was a phrase that you originated?
RL: Yeah, so to see it on the tour and see it in the movie, and see how she mixed it into “Alien Superstar” … I think when you write for Beyonce it’s like having your green jacket in golf. And I not only wrote for Beyonce but had a hit with Beyonce so, it’s really cool and to have my tag out there, she really helped brand me.
RS: That wasn’t the only song y’all collaborated on during that time right? There were also some deep cuts like “Save the Hero,” and “Scared of Lonely,” that are fan favorites. You’ve mentioned she wrote “Sweet Dreams” in fifteen minutes, were the other songs y’all did together done that fast as well?
RL: Oh, you mean she recorded in fifteen minutes?
RS: Oh yes, recorded I’m with the songwriter right here!
RL: Ha. Yea, yea she recorded them really quickly, her process was quick on the s song “Radio” as well (another deep cut from the I Am..Sasha Fierce album) And I remember “Save the Hero” was the first song I cut and I played it for her and she almost cried.
RS: Wow. Yes, I love “Save the Hero” And is that Timbaland on the background vocals of that song?
RL: No that’s me.
RS: Oh Wow! A man of many talents. So, since you’ve already worked with some of the biggest stars in music, Is there any artist that you haven’t worked with yet that you still aspire to?
RL: Drake. We worked together on a Mary J Blige project, but I would love to be in the studio with him, Rufus Wainwright is another artist I’d love to work with. Love Rufus. Kanye West, Sza, PJ Morton is also one of my best friends, but we still haven’t worked together, I would love to record something with him.
RS: Yea, so many great hip hop and R&B artists, and so, this next question I’m sure you get asked a lot but there’s always a question about where the state of music is right now. Do you feel like R&B music is dead and if it’s not what makes a good R&B song to you today?
RL: It can’t be dead. Everyone is using it. Summer Walker’s making great records, Sza is killing it, PJ Morton won four Grammys last year. Janelle Monae, Victoria Monet..they make straight R&B records…It can’t be dead. What I will say is what an R&B artist looks like is just different. Like even Futures biggest records are actually R&B.
RS: I’m glad you brought up Future because I know you lean into hip hop as well and as a matter of fact, you were encouraged by your mother at a young age to do poetry and even in school had recited a Langton Hughes poem. We know there’s a fine line between poetry and rap/hip hop. What is that fine line to you? And how do the two differ?
RL: To me it really is A, B, A, B. You know, understanding rhythm syncopation and timing… and understanding how to put the most commonly said thing in a way that pierces the soul and doesn’t feel obvious when you say it. How do I speak for the person feeling something and doesn’t express it? How do I speak for the person who feels alone and feels afraid? That’s our job and our gift. Poetry does that and listening to different poets I love like Langston Hughes. The spirit of taking a short excerpt to say this grand feeling and emotion that people don’t know how to explain for themselves I think that’s what hip hop is and to be able to paint a picture of what I’m feeling and show it to people that’s what poetry does and hip hop does the same thing.
RS: We know you’re a man of many talents and you have previously mentioned wanting to be able to utilize all of your gifts. How many gifts does thee Rico Love have and what does utilizing those gifts meant to you?
RL: I’m still discovering my gifts and I think teaching is one of my favorite things right now. Mentoring, lecturing, I think being a father to my two kids is the one thing I’m most gifted at. Being a nurturing person. I love making sure everyone is okay. Being a provider. If I’m not learning from you or not teaching you something, I feel like what are we doing? But I’m still discovering all of my gifts.
RS: From starting out doing your own music to then being pinned to be a songwriter for Usher, how important was it for you to have that skillset and be able to tap into to what ultimately furthered your own career in the music business.
RL: I think in everything I’ve done I’ve just been being myself. There was a book I was reading about acting, and the book said ‘acting was just being yourself under imaginary circumstances’ and in everything I’m doing, I’m just being myself and figuring out different ways to express different parts of myself. So its jut who I am and asking ‘How do I respond in this setting?’ In music genres, in the classroom, onstage, studio, in business, in clothing, fashion how do I respond ‘how do I express myself under these different circumstances?’
RS: And you know you’re here with us at a communications school to I have to ask because I know you’ve talked online a lot about the social media algorithm and trying to breakthrough it to make sure your word is out there. Do you feel like you’ve mastered the algorithm? How important is it for you to get the message you really want out there?
RL: That’s like saying you’ve mastered roulette! Ha. But I’m just finding ways to have fun with it and not taking it too serious… making sure I’m inspiring and letting people know we’re all here on this same app!
RS: Teaching as you said is something else important to you right now. You have some studio seminars coming up in Dallas, Chicago and Boston. What can people expect from those and why is giving back and teaching so important to you right now?
RL: I wouldn’t even consider it giving back, I’m getting more from them. I enjoy seeing people have that light bulb go off and be like ‘wow I didn’t see it that way.’ I’m teaching them but also working with them, and it’s just so much fun.
RS: Have you decided to do further work with any people you’ve taught in the seminars?
RL: Oh, yea I’ve been doing them since 2015 and still work with a lot of them.
RS: Looking back on your catalogue of hits, are there songs that you wish you could go back and work on or any songs you feel like weren’t complete?
RL: There are some and it happens…when I think back and I’m like ‘I should’ve said this or wrote this’, but for the most part they’ve worked out. Like, Kobe would shoot 60 times but only made 20.
RS: What advice do you wish you had coming up that you’d give to people coming up in the industry now?
RL: Oh man, I had some really good advice coming up. My mentors were Bryan -Michael Cox, Jazzy Pha and Tricky Stewart.. but I’d say don’t be so disappointed in people for being who they are. Stop expecting everyone to love you the way you love others. We’re in a world of self-preservation and to stay alive, people have to choose themselves first. I think looking back, I’d be less disappointed in the things I was disappointed about but going through this journey there were a lot of times I was disappointed in people, expecting a lot out of them because of how much I gave but that relationship you have in your mind may not translate the same for them. So not expecting you out of others..