Black Music Month Spotlight: Ester Dean
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on MadameNoire May 27, 2014.
Let me not even mince words, 28-year-old Ester Renay Dean is paiiiid. She’s got hits for days under her songwriting belt. Seriously, her resume is nothing to snuff at. The Oklahoma native comes from a very musical family. So musical that when she told her mother she was going to be chef, she told her no she wasn’t and directed her back to her musical roots. Dean said sometimes it takes your parents wanting it for you, for it to click. You know what they say, momma knows best. Check out some of the hit songs you may not have known Ester Dean wrote.
Google Me- Teyana Taylor
Shortly after we got acquainted with Teyana Taylor via her appearance on MTV’s “My Sweet Sixteen,” she dropped her first single “Google Me.” It wasn’t a bad effort for her debut album From A Planet Called Harlem. In fact the song peaked at number 90 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop charts. As the title would suggest the 2008 release got major buzz on the internet. It even caught the attention of Google–the company and they praised Teyana obviously for the free promotion. And by the end of the year, Rolling Stone called it one of the top 50 singles of the year. Recorded during Teyana’s partnership with Star Trak (Pharrell’s label), it was written by Cristyle Johnson, Rickey Deleon, Ester Dean and Jazze Pha.
The One– Mary J Blige ft Drake
In 2009, when Mary J Blige was releasing her ninth studio album, she wanted a new fresh sound, so she tapped the hottest up and coming rapper Drake and super producers Rodney Jerkins and Ester Dean who also served as co-writers along with Mary and Drake. The song went on to chart on number 32 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop songs. The video competed for the number one spot on “106 & Park” daily, leading BET to include the video on their show “Notarized: Top 100 Videos of 2009.” Mary described the song as the most successful of her career. She also utilized auto tune to allow “Crazy Mary” to shine through on the track. She couldn’t let her loose in her regular voice.
I Think I Love Her- Gucci Mane
This is the point in the list where we take a turn toward the hood. I include this song because I’ll never forget the first time I heard it during a party in college. I didn’t know it, obviously, but apparently I was the only one. Every girl in the club was screaming “Ni**a, you don’t love me!” at the top of their lungs. It was a sight to see. And in case you weren’t sure, Ester Dean is the woman who responds to Gucci. It’s like the more modern version of Three-Six Mafia’s “Chickenhead.” Naturally, since she has her own verse on the song, Ester Dean served as a co-writer.
Rude Boy– Rihanna
The first time I ever heard Ester Dean’s name it was mentioned in conjunction with Rihanna. Dean is a bad girl mostly because she’s written a good handful of Rihanna’s hits.
“Rude Boy” was written by a lot of people including Mikkel Eriksen, Tor Hermansen, Ester Dean, another talented and accomplished female songwriter Makeba Riddick, Rob Wire and Rihanna. Ester Dean is credited with coming up with the concept of the song and worked with Stargate, the production team, to develop it. Dean, in an interview with The Boom Box said she wanted to channel Rihanna’s alter ego with the sexually suggestive lyrics and praised Rih Rih for being willing to go there. “I think Rihanna is sexy and will say things that other chicks won’t say. Even if she says let’s go kiss some girls, who really cares…that’s Rihanna. Music is about fantasy. This is what people want to do, but are afraid to do.”
Maybe Dean is right. After debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 at 64, in just a month it was number one. The song stayed there for five weeks and was certified two-times platinum. And then of course the video, directed by Melina Matsoukaswas equally amazing.
Dean is also the writer and sometimes producer behind some of Rihanna’s other big hits like “What’s My Name,” “Where Have You Been,” “Talk That Talk,” and “You da One”
Sex Therapy – Robin Thicke
Now, before you start to write Dean off as someone who just writes for the kiddies, get into her grown and sexy collaboration with Robin Thicke “Sex Therapy.” Written by Thicke, Dean, Jamal Jones, Herb Wiener, Seymour Gottlieb, John Gluck and Walter Gold, it was the first single from the album bearing the same name and was released in October of 2009. The song was number 100 on the overall Billboard charts and number 1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop. Interestingly Melina Matsoukas, the director behind Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” also directed this video shot in an L.A. mansion.
Not Myself Tonight– Christina Aguilera
Time really does fly. If someone had asked me when this song came out, I would have confidently said last year. But actually this single from Aguilera’s sixth studio album Bionic, debuted in 2010. Similar to Rihanna’s and Mary J’s bravado, Christina sings about taking on a different persona once she’s out at the club. Aguilera said after giving birth to her son she felt more expressive and wanted that represented in her music. People had dissenting opinions about the “dirty girl” vibe, even though this certainly wasn’t the first time Aguilera went that route. The song written by Jamal Jones, Dean, Jason Perry and Greg Curtis, was number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club songs.
Super Bass– Nicki Minaj
I know this song was Nicki’s first mainstream hit–white folks loved this one–but it’s probably one of my favorite Nicki songs even it’s a bit left of her regular hard core Hip Hop sound. The song was written by Minaj, Ester Dean, Roahn Hylton, and Daniel “Kane Beatz” Johnson. And though she isn’t’ credited as a feature, that’s Dean singing the vocals on the chorus. You already know the song was a hit. It started on the Billboard Hot 100 at 98 and peaked at number 3, spending 39 weeks on the charts. In 2012, it was certified octuple platinum with more than 4 million digital copies sold.
Firework – Katy Perry
We all remember how this 2010 song was everywhere. Again, can you believe it came out four years ago? Anyway, the song was written by Perry, StarGate, Sandy Wilhelm and Ester Dean in Atlanta, Georgia. Though people have argued that the lyrics are a little juvenile, you can’t help by appreciate the inspirational message. It peaked on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Perry’s fourth single to do so and it made her the first female artist since Monica in 1998 and 1999 to have three consecutive singles from one album top the charts. It spent four weeks at number one. The song was certified five times platinum, was downloaded (legally) over 5 million times and was nominated for song of the year at the 54th Grammy Awards.
Lil Freak – Usher
This song was Usher showing us his darker, freaker side. When Usher flashes that smile, he seems like such the clean cut guy. But we all know that sexual/sensual alter ego is very real. Anyway the song is about using another woman to help solicit other women to do some nasty thangs. The song features a slowed down version of Stevie Wonder’s instrumental from “Living for the City” and as such Wonder is given a writing credit. In addition the song was written by Usher, Nicki, Jamal Jones, Dean and Elvis Williams. It peaked at number 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 8 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop songs. And this wouldn’t be the last time Dean and Usher would work together. She also co-wrote “Hot Tottie” with Raymond, Jay-Z and Jamal Jones. If you listen to both this song and “Hot Tottie,” you’ll hear Dean singing in the background.
What would the list be without a Bey song? And “Countdown” is it. The song passed through a lot of hands. It was written by Terius Nash (The Dream), Shea Taylor, Knowles, Ester Dean, Cainon Lamb, Julie Frost and Boyz II Men got a writing credit for providing the “Countdown” The song came about when Beyoncé announced that she wanted to mix styles from the ’70’s and ’90’s. Beyoncé helped produce the song and said, “I wanted to do something refreshing and different, so I mixed genres and drew inspiration from touring, traveling, watching rock bands, and attending festivals… I was like a mad scientist, putting lots of different songs together. Boyz II Men were the first ones to put Destiny’s Child on tour. They showed us how to treat an opening act and I will never forget that. That was 15 years ago! Wow, 15 years! I’m old.”
Cainon Lamb was the one who came up with the Boyz II Men sample though and Beyoncé approved it. The song leaked before the album was released, but went on to be a part of the Billboard Hot 100.
Lay It Down- Lloyd
This is my cut! And if you listen carefully, you can almost hear Dean’s voice singing the demo. It sounds like a lot of her previous work, with the yodel sound that’s made Rihanna a household name. It was featured on Lloyd’s fourth studio album and was the lead single, sampling Patti Labelle’s “Love, Need and Want You.” Dean is the primary writer on the song along with Jamal Jones, and Veronika Bozeman. The song was such a hit ,Lloyd made three remixes, the last of which featured Ms. Patti herself. The song went on to peak on the Billboard Hot 100 at 64 and number 7 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Songs.