Makeba Riddick: Tried And True

In the year 2006, the world has been introduced to many break-out artists and even more song-writers and producers, but Makeba Riddick steals the show. As the only female in Sean “Diddy” Combs’ hit-man stable, Riddick is proving that she can hold her own on her own, and has the accolades to prove it.

Makeba stole the show and the number one spot as a co-writer on Beyonce’s sophomore album B’Day, including the number one hit “Déjà vu.” she got the year started with writing credits on Danity Kane's chart-topping debut album, Jessica Simpson's Top Ten smash A Public Affair and international pop sensation Rihanna's A Girl Like Me. She also previously penned songs for Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton, and in 2003, she won an ASCAP Pop Award for J.Lo’s hit “All I Have,” which featured LL Cool J.

The industry has been keeping this one under wraps, but Makeba has certainly formulated the secret to success. Forget mystery - we got the goods on how she became the “Girl Wonder.” Alternatives: It seems like more and more song writers are stepping out from behind the pen and in front of the mic, such as Ne-Yo and Johnta Austin. Do you have any plans to put out an album of your own?

Makeba: Yeah, I definitely want to do that. It’s a lot harder for a female, because there are so many of us. When I do come out, I don't want to be another cute girl that can sing. That's just not fly to me - I want to be my own movement. People like Pharrell and Puffy are like a movement, so much more than just an artist. That’s how I want to be.

AHHA: Certain songs can bring out particular emotions in the listener. What is the most engulfing emotion you feel when you here a song you have written?

Makeba: Hmm…that's a good question. I think, because emotions are so broad, you could feel anything. But when I listen to all of the Beyonce songs that I wrote, I just feel really excited. When I first heard “Upgrade U” on the radio I was in the Lincoln Tunnel. I was like, “I know I heard this before.” But when I heard her singing I got so excited I almost ran into a tree. [laughs] I mean, that song has so much flavor and swagger. I was just really excited.

AHHA: We've seen Diddy’s Myspace video from the studio. Do you have any interesting rituals you do to get inspired and energized while in the booth?

Makeba: Pray. I just pray, but not a long drawn out Lord's Prayer or anything. I let God know I’m waiting on him to give me the song. You know, waiting on him to spark that vision. I like to go in the studio and have fun, bug out and watch videos...nothing too serious.

AHHA: When you sit down to collaborate with an artist, what is the first question you ask?

Makeba: Every situation is different. Sometimes I have a track and I write a

song and just send it to a label. Other times, the artist and I sit down together and write. Somebody like Beyonce, because she knows exactly what she wants, it's not hard. We can be talking about a situation she's in and it’s really like talking because it's a real situation, and through that it'll just evolve into a song.

AHHA: What is it like writing for younger artists like B2K, when the line of

what is appropriate is thin but just as important?

Makeba: I mean I'm young so it's no different. When I wrote for B2K I was 20. Teenagers like that want to be grown these days anyway, and they’re talking about the same thing we talk about pretty much. [laughs]

AHHA: I recently moved to Baltimore and I know you grew up there. You attended Baltimore School for the Arts, which has been receiving a lot of acclaim lately with movies such as Step Up. What was it like attending high school there?

Makeba: I loved BSA. It was like a show everyday because it’s a school full of performers. It was fun. It wasn't even like school because we were always rehearsing for a show. I actually did a song for the movie soundtrack Step Up. It was nice to be a part of something that's connected to me and my past.

AHHA: Cool. Tell me about your relationship to Diddy and how that came about?

Makeba: I'm signed to his publishing company. He has a joint venture with EMI, which is the biggest music publishing house. When I came to New York in 2000, I was doing everything I could to get in the industry. I was interning for Columbia, working for Def Jam. My demo eventually ended up in hands of Francesca Spero, and she took it to Puff - and he is an extremely hard one to please. He was like, “I don't know, I ain’t really feeling it.” So he put me in the studio with Mario and the crew to see how I would mix. At the time that didn’t work out, but that just made me grind even harder.

Max Goose took me under his wing and had me writing for 3LW and B2K. Then I had a hit single with J.Lo with "All I Have." All these labels wanted me after that, but Puff never let me slip from under his radar, and he snatched me up and signed me in 2003. Since then I started working with a lot of producers and getting placement on a lot of albums.

AHHA: With producers stepping into the limelight more and more, lyrics seem to matter less and less, and you work with some of the best in the production arena. Is the collaborative process a joint effort, or do you feel the need to make your lyrics shine?

Makeba: You know what's funny, is that a lot of people ask that question, but I really don't experience that. In New York and L.A. a lot of writers are stepping into the limelight, but I guess it may take a little while for the world to see that though.

AHHA: And when a song flops, do you take the blame, or is the weight simply put on the artist?

Makeba: Well, just knowing the business of music, there are so many factors that go into a song doing well. A lot of times it has nothing to do with the beat or the lyrics. It could be the artist, the market at the time, not enough money put into the production or promotion. So I never look at it like it’s my fault because I know there are so many factors that go into making a hit song.

AHHA: It's a hard-knock life in the music business. What do you intend to do to stay ahead of the game?

Makeba: Well for me, everybody's different, but I know for me I like to switch it up. I write the gritty R&B albums but I also do pop. I did a song on Jessica Simpson's album, some pop stuff for Danity Kane. I want to work with Kelly Clarkson. I have different things I want to do. I don't settle for just being a writer.

AHHA: So much of staying on top is choosing who you write for and who you are associated with. If you could write the score for your ideal movie, what would the movie be about?

Makeba: That's an excellent question. I think [I would write for] movies that are dramatic. You've probably never seen White Oleander…

AHHA: I definitely have. It’s one of my favorite movies.

Makeba: Well yeah, something like that, serious and dramatic. I mean I like up-tempo songs more than I like ballads, but I’d want to challenge myself writing a score.

AHHA: So what's next? What can we look forward to from you in 2007?

Makeba: Well so far I have Fantasia. It was a wonderful experience working with her because she is just so talented. [Also] JoJo [and] Mya. From there, just continuing to build my song catalog. I’ve been working on doing video treatments, so a lot is going on.