Let me start at the beginning so I can explain to you how I ended up meeting her. My mutual friend actually worked for Whitney and Bobby for many years as part of her security staff. We’ll call him Big Sean, because this guy is so damn huge and don’t take shit from nobody. I had been friends with Big Sean for many years. He was always bringing me artist he was working with, and would get me to produce their demos. We were always on the grind trying to make something happen.
Big Sean was not known for calling ahead; he would just show up and ring the doorbell. I remember him showing up at my front door 3 o’clock in the morning just like it was the middle of the day. On top of that, I was in a gated community and thought I could at least screen people at the front gate. Not Big Sean, when he needed me he would just show up. Needless to say, I always entertained his visits just like it was the middle of the day.
Big Sean shows up one day and he is far more excited than usual. He is not one to show too much emotion, and this guy is so big his only body language is usually, move the fuck out the way. He asked me, “Man you ready to make some real money”? My response was hell yeah, as long as we’re not doing a robbery. So he starts grinning and says I need you to produce a Christmas song for Whitney Houston. Part of me said this is some bullshit and the other part of me said, “What do I have to lose”.
So Big Sean explains to me why Whitney Houston was giving him the opportunity to get a song on this Christmas CD that would be played every year for the rest of time. What it boils down to is the great working relationship they had. She knew how hard he worked and how relentless he was about breaking into the music industry as a manager/producer, so she gave him a break. All he had to do was bring her something hot enough to make it on her Christmas CD.
He told me the song she wanted to do was “Silver Bells” and we went to work. The first thing I did was to listen to everything she ever sang. Big Sean was going back and forth to the studio and trying to get a feel of the direction of the CD based on the songs she had already recorded for the project. We worked on about six different versions. I was not happy with any of them because I was trying to follow the crowd. As I was researching Whitney, I came across a clip on YouTube with her singing a jazz standard with just a piano player, and then it hit me. I stripped down all the big production and did the Christmas song like a jazz standard, the way Ariana Grande performed her hit songs on the 2014 AMA awards recently. It worked.
We were sitting around relaxing in my studio the same day we turned the song in to Whitney. We didn't expect to hear anything from her for at least a few days. Then the phone rang and it was Whitney Houston on the other end. I could hear her screaming through the phone how she loved the track and she was going to put it on the CD. She told Big Sean to come out to the house and bring me so we could meet.
This story is really about relationships because I went from sitting in my little home studio as an unknown producer, to working with the greatest female singer in the world (this is how Clive Davis describes her). Whitney Houston and Arista records could have gotten any producer they wanted to submit songs for this project, but because of her relationship with Big Sean she gave him a chance to submit the song. Because of my relationship with Big Sean he gave me a chance to produce the song. Big Sean knew every million dollar producer in Atlanta at the time, but he felt like I could make it happen. People always think it takes knowing somebody who knows somebody to get in, but I believe it takes building relationships. That takes time and work and not just kissing ass. People usually do favors for people they like.
The truth is, Big Sean worked with Whitney many years before this opportunity came about. And I put in a lot of work with Big Sean over the years. When the opportunity came, everybody was hungry, in place, and ready. My advice to anybody grinding and trying to be successful is to work just as hard at building good relationships. Don’t hide in your lab behind your computer 24/7, build relationships and add value to what others are doing. This makes you a valuable and desirable person to be around. There were times I didn't get paid for my work, but there was never a time a good working relationship didn't pay.