He Wrote That? The Surprising Songwriters Behind Some Of Our Favorite Songs

March 28, 2012  |  
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Some people have all the talent: they’re blessed enough to have their own singing careers and they write huge hits for some of their peers. Color me jealous!  Here’s a SHORT list of some of the songs I deemed noteworthy (and trust me, I could have gone on for pages and pages). What are some of your favorite songs written by singers for other singers? Let us know…



“Justify My Love” written by Lenny Kravitz & performed by Madonna

Oh Lenny, what a beautiful and talented man you are. Yes, back in the day he wrote this HIT for Madonna.  I imagine Lenny sitting in the house or studio…nevermind.  This was quite the era and I bet he and Madonna had good times.



“Take Me As I Am” by Mary J. Blige 

Written by Keri Hilson 

Outside of her own career, Keri is a notable songwriter who has written for a lot of newcomers in music.  A few years ago Mary hit a new “stride” in her career and Keri Hilson along with her writing crew, The Clutch, was responsible for this smash.



“No Scrubs” by TLC

Written by Kandi Burruss 

In all honesty, I could probably go on and on with Kandi’s songwriting credits but this was the one that stuck out because of all the “man bashing” flack it received. Whatever the men had to say about it publicly they had definitely had something to do with its sales because a song doesn’t remain at #1 on the Billboard charts for four weeks with just female support. Go Kandi!



“I Look to You” by Whitney Houston

Written by R. Kelly 

When R. Kelly got up to sing at Whitney’s Homegoing service, people were wondering why he was there and why he was singing “I Look to You.” But yes, he wrote it. Even in Whitney’s final major interview (the one with Oprah), she mentioned that he wrote it for her years ago.



“All I Have To Give”  by The Backstreet Boys

Written by Full Force

Although their careers as artists slowed down in the late 80s, Full Force didn’t let that slow down their money.  “All I Have To Give” is their biggest songwriting credit to date and I’m sure they’re ecstatic that they were able to get in the hands of the powers-that-be for The Backstreet Boys.




“F*** You” by Cee-lo Green

Written by Bruno Mars

Now that you know Bruno wrote the song, doesn’t it make perfect sense?  After listening to Bruno’s album this song would fit right in. Cee-lo does add a lil bit of “stank” on it though, doesn’t he?




“Emotional Rollercoaster” by Vivian Green

Written by Eric Roberson

“Last night I cried, tossed and turned, woke up with dry eyes…” Remember how hard we all sang this song when it came out? I had NO idea Eric Roberson wrote this song. I’ve never doubted his writing skills based on his own songs and songs he’s written for Musiq Soulchild but this was a pleasant surprise. Vivian definitely did his song pure justice.



“I Want Her” by Keith Sweat

Written by Teddy Riley 

Right in the midst of the New Jack Swing sound, “I Want Her” came out and was an instant hit. Teddy Riley is the unofficial king of New Jack Swing so it should come as no surprise he wrote this.  As an aside, Teddy also wrote “Heaven Can Wait” by Michael Jackson a few years later.



“Rock Wit’cha” by Bobby Brown

Written by Babyface 

Babyface is responsible for almost any R&B song you can think of.  We could very easily do a post on all of ‘Face’s hits but because of the influence the Don’t Be Cruel album had on my young life (I don’t know what my mom was thinking but I ended up with four copies of the album because I’d play it OUT), I had to go with this one. I found out ‘Face wrote this a couple of years ago and was surprised to learn he’d written songs for anyone other than his own group, The Deele, at that time.  Who knew he could write such a fresh and “mannish” song?



“U Don’t Have to Call” by Usher

Written by Pharrell 

We knew that Pharrell could produce but did you know that he can write? By far one of my favorite songs by Usher and it is so appropriate that Pharrell wrote it (The Neptunes produced it). Skateboard P, as he is affectionately known at times, has also written for Kelis and Gwen Stefani.


“Butterflies” by Michael Jackson

Witten by Marsha Ambrosius as part of Floetry

Michael had long since reached a plateau that no one could ever touch by the time he received “Butterflies” so it was surprising to find out that he would accept a song from someone virtually unknown. But he did get the song from Marsha and he LOVED what he heard. In fact, he loved Floetry’s demo version so much that Marsha said he didn’t even want to sing the song and thought they should keep it.  It is an absolute gem of a song.

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  • No shockers here. But did “Floetry” write butterflies or did Marsha write it alone?

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  • Great list I love Erro, he also wrote Musiq’s “Mary Go Round” and Dwele’s “Hold On” and Pharrell wrote SWV’s “Use Your Heart”

  • How could they forget “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera was written by Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes? Linda Perry wrote a ton of stuff for Christina and Pink.

  • I love Butterflies.What a song! 

  • LOVE this post. I’m always super impressed, like you, when I find out that great vocalists are also great songwriters – especially when it’s a song that makes me go “REALLY?!” with a smile. Beyond the groove factor, two words come to mind: KA-CHING 😀 … especially when said song(s) is a hit. Can you say Neyo anyone?

  • Tai

    Thanks to all the contributors in the comments section! They gave some REAL shockers!
    Better than the article, SMH (I already knew 99% of these).


    Another interesting tid-bit about Pharrell – he said the memorable words “S – W – V” during the bridge of S.W.V’s ’92 Hit “Right Here (Human Nature Remix)”…

    • Truthhurtz

      Wow…never knew that 🙂

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  • QuestionsBeforeAnswers

    Or how about Robin Thicke writing “Can U Handle It” by Usher? Justin Timberlake writing “Rehab” by Rihanna?

  • Butterflies was GENIUS!!!!  It’s so good that Michael Jackson sang over the demo… One of my all time faces!!!!  Love Marsha Ambrosius!!!

  • loopdedoop

    where is Trent Reznor writing “Hurt” and Johnny Cash covering it?

  • Str8muzik321

    Where are….
    Ryan Leslie (Karina Pasian, Donell Jones)
    Keith Sweat (Isley Brothers, Silk, Dru Hill)
    Alicia Keys (Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Keyshia Cole)
    Eugene Wilde (Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears)
    Missy Elliott (nearly every-daggone-body)

    • Simba711

      If I’m not mistaken Donell Jones wrote “Get It Together” for 702.

  • E Mercedes86

    Clearly this article was written by an old person.

  • Liz

    Babyface is a genius! He wrote “I choose You” performed by Mario. That song is just beautiful, the writing, the singing and everything. Akon also wrote “Do Right” and that song holds such a positive message. I know we’re talking about songwriters but it’s a shame Mario isn’t more successful. Solange wrote a lot of songs for Destiny’s Child and Beyonce

  • what is crazy is that I can imagine the artists who wrote these songs for others singing that very same song they wrote for themselves.

  • Yamini

    Let’s not forget the countless songs Prince has written for other artists…Chaka Khan “I Feel For You”, Bangles “Manic Monday”, Sinead O’Connor “Nothing Compares 2 U”, MC Hammer “Pray”, Tevin Campbell “Shh…Break It Down”, Sheila E. “The Glamorous life”, and so on

    • Gregg1029

      Prince did not write I Feel for You for Chaka Khan, he sang it on his “Prince” album in 1979. Chaka COVERED the song in 1984.

  • Slim Shady

    Never Can Say Goodbye by the Jackson 5 was written by Clifton Davis aka. Rueben Gregory from the TV show Amen

    • Papillon

      Thelma’s boo was a songwriter? I never knew that!

    • BrandonCroweIII

      He also wrote “Lookin’ Through the Windows” for the J5.

    • Simba711

      I knew that.

  • Lisa

    Toni Braxtons song (I dont want to) was written by R Kelly. 

  • you forgot to mention Daryl Hall’s 1993 song Help Me Find A Way To Your Heart was co-written by Mariah Carey or that a few of Mariah’s songs back then were Co Written by Babyface Never Forget You & Melt Away are the two that come to mind easily NFY from Music Box  & Melt Away from Daydream.

  • Most of these are collaborations people who are fans of the artist should already know. Kandi talked about No Scrubs all the time on RHOA during her 1st season with the show. Whitney was very vocal about I look to you being written by R. Kelly, things you should have included would be anything Beyonce takes credit for because chances are it was written by someone else. She claimed for a long time that she had written Irreplaceable when it was actually penned by Ne-Yo. 

    • Simba711

      In there any song Beyonce can make a legitimate claim to? Most know R. Kelly and Babyface have written many hits for others. People know about Kandi and “No Scrubs” too. Where’s Prince? He’s written many hits for others.

  • Airhaash

    R.kelly also wrote “you are not alone” for michael jackson. Crazzyy

    • that was a great collabo.

  • guest

    The site is swamped with ads!!! Its impossible to pay attention to the story with 1 thousand ads going on. I hate the site!!!

  • classic


    • G flyy

      P, also wrote Tonites the Nite for Blackstreet when he was only 18 and still in high school, dang that was the JJJJJJJJJJJJJam for a player like me to put on at the crib for a Honey Dip 🙂

      • chevonne22

         HaHa “Honey Dip” took me right back

  • Tiffanyc

    When you write most of the songs on the Waiting to Exhale Soundtrack, you Babyface are a beast….:-)

    • Truthhurtz

      And that album is still a banger!

  • Alert

    Butterflies is such a beautiful song!  Wonder why the great songwriter and 2nd Black female winner of the ASCAP award (Bey) hasn’t written for anyone?  hmmm.  
    (hint it’s because she’s a fraud)

  • Premirechicago

    Did You Also Know That Pharrell Wrote ” Use your Heart and Not Your eyes” For SWV


    I’m probably going off the subject so please excuse me but when it comes to songwriters the one that always impressed me was Rod Temperton of Heatwave fame. His collabarations with producer Quincy Jones were awesome.

    • Spoon


  • Tina

    This was ot a surprising list at all. The only one I didn’t know about was Lenny/Madonna. I was wishing for some real nuggets. I love this site but please find another way to get clicks. Going through tons of pages is not the business!

    • Clear Captain

      Lenny diidin’t write that song.  He stole it from Inga… i forget her last name but she was the girl who starred opposite prince in Graffiti Bridge.   Lenny produced the track for her and she wrote the lyrics but when it turned out hot in the studio he gave it to Madonna.  Both he and Madonna were sued and settled out of court, look it up.

  • Rejon18

    This is a bit deceiving. Most of these songs have co-writers but this article is giving full writers credit to one artist.

    • Papillon

      I agree. You can’t say someone wrote a song if they have a partner or “crew.” And why does it sometimes take so many people to write one song?

  • cleojones

    butterflies is my joint..

  • Elle8u

    “Fortunate”, one of my favorites by Maxwell was also written by R. Kelly. A beautiful, timeless piece.

    • flyer27

      r kelly wrote that? big tune dred

      • tpg22

        bahamian aye lol

        • flyer27

          trini. shout out to bahamian crew.

  • Cokeland

    The Dream coulda been added to this list. He wrote some monster his for some big artists…

    • thesouthizback

      Your right, One of my favorites was “1+1” by Beyonce, it’s the first track on the ‘4’ LP

    • Guest

      The title of the article was “Surprising songwriters” you (as indicated) and several thousand others know that he writes all these songs. Mostly because he makes sure everyone knows it. 

      • Cokeland

        Yeah. He has a knack for writing hits for female artists and he makes it known. Just as a couple of these song writers do. They’re talented

  • @msredbonebrite

    Marsha also said she wrote “Say Yes” originally for The Isley Brothers, but they passed on it and told her it wasn’t “hitworthy”… I’m actually glad they did because Say Yes is STILL a banger!!

    • thesouthizback

      WOW, I didn’t know that, The Isley’s surely missed out but I’m glad they passed on it too.

  • Marco Panache (dot) Com

    Uhh, James Ingram wrote PYT by Micheal Jackson. 

  • Pharrell and The Neptunes made a bunch of songs that they were trying to get on Michael Jackson’s Invincible. Usher and Justin Timberlake ended up getting a few of them.

  • J A SASSY aka salon22w

    R Kelly is a musical gunius and it shouldnt even matter why he was there,, he had folks singing along and in tears!

    • Chocolatestar23

      I agree he’s a genius. And don’t forget R. Kelly wrote Fortunate by Maxwell.

      • Msmykimoto2u

        That song makes me mellt ^_^

    • Ms12

       Let alone “You Are Not Alone” by Michael Jackson <3

  • NikkitaMichelle

    Kandi is extremely talented, but Tiny needs her props as well.  They wrote “No Scrubs” together.

  • Kristen

    Great article!! Just wish Daron Jones (of 112) would’ve been included as he has written many smashes including “I should have cheated” for Keyshia Cole and “Seperated” by Usher from the 8701 album. Kudos!!

    • NVAdamzz

      I hate all of Keyshia Cole’s songs lyrics-wise. They all sound like she’s having a conversation with Pookie from down the street about the drama in her relationship. It doesn’t have harmony or a good flow. I love that song “Heaven Sent” by her, but the songwriting is horrible. It doesn’t really make sense. 

      • Lady G

        I thought I was the only one who felt this way. Listen to her songs always give me the “HUH” face

        • NVAdamzz

          Lolz!! I know right! Me too. I’m like….What the hell is she talking about? It makes them hard to listen to really. You can tell whoever writes her songs is not a wordsmith by any means.

          • GET CHO LIFE

             Yassssssss!!! I agree w/ both of you. I have been saying this exact same thing forever. She is not a good writer in my opinion. Too much rambling and no melody. Do her lyrics even rhyme???

            • NVAdamzz

              Half the time they don’t. I can’t think of any of her songs that rhymed, had a real melody, or made any sense.

      • lol I thought I was the only one!

  • Chessica450

    let’s not forget THE DREAM!!! he wrote BABY by Justin Bieber, RIhanna’s Umbrella, Birthday Cake, Beyonce’s single ladies Put a Ring on it!! 1+1 by Beyonce,  and countless other songs for beyonce also he wrote J.Holiday’s BED, Mary J Blige’s Just Fine, MAriah Carey’s Touch My Body, Ciara’s Ride list goes on he is an amazing song writer. Also alot of ppl dont know but Justin Timberlake Wrote Rihanna’s single Rehab,as well as Keri Hilson’s single Slow down…and many other songs….another talented writer is RYAN TEDDER!! of the Popular Band called One Republic (remember the song Apologize? with Timbaland?) well Ryan has written songs like Leona Lewis’s Bleeding Love, Beyonce’s Halo, Adele’s 21 majority of her Album, Kelly clarkson All I ever wanted, ….list goes on, now am hearing alot of buzz with Bei Major as he is a talented singer, songwriter and producer (he sings Trouble with J.Cole) Bei Maejor is very talented….and by the way did anyone knew that Akon is also a song writer he wrote Estelle’s Thank You 🙂 and CEELO wrote the Pussycat Dolls’s DONT CHA song and Produced it lolz

    • Liz

       Ryan Tedder co-wrote Bleeding Love with Jesse McCartney. And Baby and 1+1 must be the worst songs The Dream has ever written! In fact, he co-wrote Baby with Christina Millian. She’s a songwriter too. She wrote Play for Jennifer Lopez! I loved Rehab. Actually Justin Timberlake also did the background vocals on it

      • Jjh2456

        Ryan Tedder did Beyonce’s “Halo” and “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele.

  • Guest

    “I could go on and on for pages…” Great list, but having one long page would’ve been nice.

    • Abc

      That seems to be an ongoing issue. Having to click through several pages to get the whole article. It’s truly frustrating when you’re trying to read quickly. 

  • Love_Sexy

    I knew about most of them but did not know about Pharrell writing for Usher and R. Kelly writing for Whitney…..Good article MN!

    • am

      I didn’t know P wrote that song too. That was my song and every now and then I pull that CD out just to hear that song.

      • thesouthizback

        Now that I know I’m not really surprised knowing the style of Pharrell’s music at that time.

        • BilderbergSuperstar

          P wrote it for Michael Jackson ..but he wanted the Superthug beat…lol…How can u not have Dream aka Ted Ruxpin…he wrote Baby for Justin B and Umbrella for Rhianna

  • Tagirl

    Great list. Babyface’s style crossed so many genres of music. You could never put him in a box. But I didn’t know he wrote that BB song. Also didn’t know that Kerri and her “Clutch” crew wrote that Mary track. Surprised that Eric Roberson wrote “Emotional Rollercoaster” since Vivian usually writes all her own stuff. Surprised about Bruno too. I already knew the majority of the others wrote those songs. Kandi has written for a lot of artists.

    One that didn’t make the list, I was surprised to find out that Drake and his partner wrote “Unthinkable” for Alicia Keys while she her partner produced it. One of my fav songs.
    And Neyo co-wrote Mario’s hit, “I just wanna love you.”

    • thesouthizback

      You are right, Drake did write that track for AK, that really surprised me when I found that out.

    • Liz

       You mean “Let me love you”

  • Ms_Mara

    Great article. I had absolutely no idea about Lenny writing for Madonna. I never knew that about Pharrell either. It must be pretty cool to be able to write a song and have a legend make it a hit!

    • Clear Captain

      Lenny diidin’t write that song.  He stole it from Inga… i forget her last name but she was the girl who starred opposite prince in Graffiti Bridge.   Lenny produced the track for her and she wrote the lyrics but when it turned out hot in the studio he gave it to Madonna.  Both he and Madonna were sued and settled out of court, look it up.

      • Esther

         Thx! Hopefully the editors change that part bcs not everyone reads the commments

  • IllyPhilly

    Any true music fan knows the writers!!!  Y’all forgot Neyo, he’s vicious with a pen!! Ask ya favorite girl!

    • thesouthizback

      Ne-Yo is the TRUTH

    • Jjh2456

      People forget the he wrote “Irreplaceable”…Beyonce’s biggest solo hit to date.

      • IllyPhilly

         ^^^ that’s what I alluding to.

      • Princessjessica143

        he also wrote Rhianna’s “take a bow” and “unfaithful”, Jennifer Huddson’s “Spotlight”,  Chrisette Michele’s “What you do”, Beyonce’s “Flaws and all”, and co-wrote “Pretty Girl Rock”

      • MINA

        And Mario’s hit “Let me love you”.

        This song actually got Ne-Yo the record deal with Def Jam.

        • Msmykimoto2u

          Didn that song set a record at beiing one of the longest running songs at the top of the charts before it retired?

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