Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Red One: The Fame…Monster!

RedOne RedOne

A man works tirelessly to build a career now spanning two decades. In the process, he changes the faces of pop music and the charts by collaborating with some singer, starlet and android named Lady Gaga.

Now, A-list performers call left and right for a taste of his melodic magic. His only aim the entire time is to create a stream of timeless music and moments. This is why RedOne is music’s King Midas. During a recent Q&A as part of Miami’s Winter Music Conference, the incredible producer gives up the goods on his rise to fame, collaborating, his new record label, his new acts and of course his musical chemistry with Lady Gaga.

So here I sit, daydreaming this nice Sat., Mar. 12 afternoon, inside one of Miami Beach Convention Center’s conference rooms on the front row. I’ve had fun the past two days but not without a few rough spots (jet lag, minor turbulence from the weather and a late flight arrival -- UGH!). Last night, Talib Kweli and 9th Wonder rocked The Florida Room over into the wee hours of the morning, and my Red Bull friends and I had a ball at our table. I’m still gettin’ goosebumps just thinkin’ about South Beach’s beautiful view, palm trees and warm weather from the 14th floor of my posh Viceroy Hotel room. I’ve clearly made a lot of progress as a writer. I’m now about five hours shy of my flight’s departure back to Atlanta, so I am sure to come across another defining moment of clarity.

Then…RedOne’s glow penetrated the entire room. At first glance -- with a sheened bald head, black and white poplin trimmed in white, platinum-tinted lenses, designer suede shoes and both hands in his jean pockets -- I’m thinking this guy is one of the audience members just hangin’ around. He takes the stage, and I immediately appreciate his spirit. “Hey everybody!” he says with a slight wave. He really lights up when he hears that one of the audience members is from his homebase -- Tetouan, Morocco. He speaks to us in multiple hand mannerisms and an exciting voice; he can’t stop smiling – even as he removes his glasses. When he starts off talking about making music, you can’t help but to question how such influences could have such profound effects on his brand of industrial dance-oriented pop: melodic country festivals, flamenco, his grandfather practicing his instrument, his mother’s incredible singing, his older siblings bringing home massive amounts of vinyl from their travels to other countries, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and his own urgency to want to change the musical transitions in Lionel Richie’s 'Say You Say Me.' A lot runs through RedOne’s mind during the creative process.
“I don’t have any boundaries. I can do it all. For just dance music to be on the radio, now everybody wants a song like that. I’ve opened doors for a lot of DJs and for me. DJs thank me. It was God. We were lucky.”

I believe him! I can’t stop listening to the hard pulsating thumps of J. Lo’s “On the Floor” myself. You’re obviously doing something right if you’ve been talking with U2’s Bono or spent time in Vegas with Michael Jackson working on song ideas prior to his death. Hell, if Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie called you at the last minute to do production for the We Are the World 25 for Haiti project, would you jump at the chance? Well, RedOne did. He’s given Adam Lambert a new rock-infused sound. Former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, The Hills’ Heidi Montag and Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue have all tapped him on the shoulders for some of those big drums, big choruses and 80s-flavored, aggressive synthesizer sounds. Not bad for someone whose only dream was to have masses of people in arenas and stadiums singing along to his tunes.

“The more you know music, the better it’s gonna give you inspiration. It’s gonna help you go further. A lot of good artists have big melodies. Everybody wants my song. Not every song I do is a hit, but it’s up to me to do quality control. I like things less but doing it more. I love the '80s. The sound of the '80s was big. You feel the energy. I want to bring that. I always try to bring something different. It’s not a defining era – it’s a new era. It’s opened up something new.”

Talkin’ about RedOne’s unstoppable magic with pop music and fashion oddity Lady Gaga is a whole ‘nother story. Those records have evolved into some of pop music’s most memorable #1 singles to date. Even I can’t tell people how many times I find myself humming those adlibs or how often I have conversations with friends of mine about how well-written those choruses are. Don’t believe me? Here goes -- 'Just Dance,' 'LoveGame,' 'Bad Romance,' 'Alejandro' and 'Poker Face.' He’s a trendsetter -- a force behind The Fame shipping in excess of 12 million albums (um, not downloads) worldwide. Its repackaged sibling, 'The Fame Monster EP', gave off an extension of those RedOne/Gaga grooves (um, eight more songs). He’s the winner of 2 Grammy Awards, a BMI Songwriter of the Year honor and was recognized as Billboard Magazine’s Top 40 Producer of the Year. If that’s not enough, as I write this, Gaga’s 'Born This Way' is the #1 single here in the U.S. for the fourth consecutive week. He’s building a recording studio in Morocco. He also has a partnership with Universal Records to develop acts -- Swedish/Congolese artist Mohombi and Detroit’s blurring of Marilyn Manson and Britney Spears Porcelain Black -- under his own imprint, 2101 Records. I’m just curious to know the secret behind the meticulous yet prolific producer’s Midas touch.
For one, I hear RedOne point out that many hit records now feature a lot of loops with no chord progressions, so the lane is open for artists and producers to stretch and create some really interesting material. He also says the method to his madness is a combination of the past, the present and the future.
“I’m here, but I’m thinking about what’s next. Know music history as much as you can. Great songs last forever. Great songs are timeless. Know what’s goin’ on. Know what people are doing. It will help to develop new sounds. Then ask, ‘What can I tweak?’ It’s beautiful. I’m honored. It’s a lot of work. I’m in the studio because that’s where it happens. I’ve always prayed for a sound that will change the world. I don’t feel like I have one sound. My vision is to make interesting productions, good sounds and adjust to who I’m working with. Everytime is different. I let music talk to me. No one knows the way to make a hit. I just let it happen. I believe in good energy.”

It pays to be a dude with a golden ear, and boy it’s been quite a journey for him -- 20 years worth of valleys and peaks. Trust me when I tell you, the man born Nadir Khayat knows where he comes from. RedOne was the youngest of nine children. He was a musical prodigy -- mastering the guitar and piano by age 16 but playing multiple instruments in years to come. He’s serious. He plays by ear. “It was crazy. I have a beautiful family. There was always singing in our house. No one ever did it professionally, but I thank them for the music they gave me.” His heart was set on being a professional soccer player until he heard Europe’s The Final Countdown. He knew that music was gonna be his future. “It was like the moment I fell in love.” He was determined to make it big and to meet his idol, Europe member Jody Tempest, so RedOne looked towards finding his musical fate in Sweden, famous for birthing pop groups ABBA and Roxette. His best friend, named Redouan (pronounced RedOne), decided to move along with him. It was on. The musician struck out to pursue his dream.

Of course, there were rough times, and RedOne has no problem talkin’ about them. RedOne, focused but struggling, performed with a few local rock bands on vox and guitar. He was homeless: sleeping on the kitchen floor of a restaurant and on miscellaneous trains. He didn’t know anyone. He had no papers, so he was an illegal alien. It would be three years before he would accept any family support. Around 1995, his luck was met with a recording contract. His band recorded an album and was left in serious debt. He admits that he didn’t know anything about business. That tune has since changed. RedOne decided to solely focus on writing and producing for other artists. He says unless he can own his output, he is completely turned off by any deal not allowing him full access to his intellectual property. Still with a pearly smile, it’s contagious to see RedOne not losing sight of his vision. It’s all about doing what he loves most.

“Nothing comes easy. Everyone doesn’t have to go through 20 years. It was a lot of tears: a lot of crying. At the time, I looked forward to the weekend to sing. I’m a fighter. I fight for what I believe in. I couldn’t go back; I was making connections. The more I practiced, the luckier I got. It takes nothing from me. It adds. I survived music.”
Just that instant, my eyes got heavy. I couldn’t stop crying. I completely empathized with him – I, too, dealt with some horrendous and insulting egos, multiple rejections from numerous editors, sleeping wherever I could lay my head and dealing with my family’s overprotective concerns for my welfare. To this day, I believe I’m still on a mission, and nothing was gonna stop me. RedOne’s testimony is my motivational speech. I’m clearly onto something, too. “In life, we all need each other. No one can make it by themselves.”

What’s not to respect about this guy? He never stopped hitting the ground. Things changed for RedOne when he linked up with Swedish producer Rami Yacoub. The two collaborated on writing material as RedOne learned about programming software. He began earning placements ranging between bubblegum pop (A*Teens, Christina Milian, Darin, Tiffany Evans); uptempo R&B (Carl Henry) and dance pop (RBD). He received Sweden’s coveted Grammis Awards and the Scandinavian Song of the Year honor for Darin’s 'Step Up.' He reached another milestone in 2006. His record, 'Bamboo,' was selected from thousands of submissions, after a year-long process, as the Official Melody for the Federation Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) World Cup: later becoming the official songwriter and producer for the World Cup Official Music Program. 'Bamboo' was then mashed up with Latin songstress Shakira’s vocals for 'Hips Don’t Lie.' So what do you do next with global and rhythmic music? You seek out cross continental success. So RedOne set his sights high on making it in New York City. “I knew I had to go there to make it globally.”
It was back to square one for RedOne. Record labels continued to elude him. He didn’t have a major production credit on his resume. He got discouraged yet again, so he set his sights on moving back to Sweden. “I got very emotional. I’d been trying forever, and no one would give me a chance.” Then, fate intervenes in 2006. RedOne is approached by an Epic Records executive to remix a record for superstar Jennifer Lopez. He didn’t get to meet the singer, dancer and actress at the time nor was the record picked up for release, but he was offered the opportunity to produce the entire album, 9 Lives, for Dominican-American vocalist Kat Deluna in 2007 as an incentive. Stakes were higher for RedOne.
“I spent all my life trying to make it for 20 years. My career was forever. I thought this dream was gonna be easy, but I had to fight for it. A lot of songs didn’t get the fair shot. I can do them now, and they’re hits. It was all worth it. A good song is a good song.”

Then, into RedOne’s life comes this massive petite thing called Lady Gaga. From the first day they meet in 2007, their chemistry lands the two in the studio and with some amazing ideas on tape. Post first meeting, they record 'Boys Boys Boys,' a song he tells the audience is the sound that changed music. If RedOne is developing a new act, being edgy only adds cool points to the equation.

“Somebody out there is always gonna change the world. I like uniqueness. The artist has to be different but special. It’s a big plus to me; you gotta have a world to yourself. Know who you are. Know yourself. I’m attracted to artists who make stuff happen themselves. They fight; they go everywhere to do whatever it takes. [Gaga’s] been fighting. Music is music. Anything that’s good is good for me and my label. These artists survive.”

When RedOne and Gaga come up with songs, they normally start with the chorus. Sometimes, RedOne says he’ll wake up, play his guitar and come up with a melody. When asked how the concept for 'Bad Romance' came into fruition, he says the song was written on a bus ride from London to Belgium. Gaga wrote the lyrics on the fly as RedOne worked his magic on two laptops, two sets of headphones and Mac Logic 9 software. He admits he likes to stick with big drums and big sounds for Gaga. As for the adlibs and refrains to those records – i.e. 'Bad Romance' (the “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohs” or “la-la-oh-la-la-Gaga-oh-la-las”) or 'Poker Face' (muh-muh-muh-mawh) – don’t expect RedOne, who provided additional vox on 'Poker Face,' to take the credit. Making a quality record is always his primary objective.

“It’s just like that. The songs have to open big like a takeoff of a plane. That’s the emotion I wanna give in every song. We just sing and take the best ideas. The songs sound amazing on the headphones. I usually want something futuristic and industrial, but you can still dance to it. The production can be the coolest. You can have killer songs with guitars and pianos, but it’s a marriage. I love good music. I love all sounds as long as it’s quality.”

The credits and calls came in by the dozens – requests to produce as well as remix records for Brandy, Akon, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, Mary J. Blige, Sean Kingston, Lil’ Jon, Usher, Selena Gomez, Leona Lewis, Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera, the Far East Movement, Livvi Franc, Kevin Lyttle, Robyn, Alexandra Burke, Menudo, Britney Spears, Love Generation, Colby O’Donis, Pixie Lott and Space Cowboy among others. Latin superstar Enrique Iglesias was also blessed with RedOne’s golden touch; RedOne calls Enrique “his brother.” He’s helped the singer break from being pigeonholed by his former label, Interscope, as a balladeer beginning with 'Takin’ Back My Love' in 2008. Their 2010 collaboration, 'I Like It,' became a huge international and dance hit: allowing Enrique to even negotiate an even better deal with Universal Republic. RedOne’s reunion collaboration with J.Lo, 'On the Floor' featuring Pitbull, has also cracked the Top Five here in the U.S. He’s taken over the executive producer credits for her next album, LOVE, and promises to deliver another hit moment.

“I’m very inspired and honored. J. Lo was always a star. She never left. She’s an incredible star – a superstar. She just needed the right song. She’s always made people dance. We need to bring it back – the good feeling. We can do this, and do it big.”
Words Christopher Daniel

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