Ester Dean is one of the biggest names in the songwriting game… When she talks we listen AND take notes! BOSSIP’s Sr. Content Director Janeé Bolden recently had a chance to interview Dean about Season 2 of “Songland,” her thoughts on the VERZUS battles and Rihanna’s upcoming ‘R9’ album. Check out the Q&A below:
BOSSIP: What did you think when you were approached with the opportunity to do “Songland?”
Ester Dean: When I heard about the idea it was from Dave Stewart, of the Eurythmics, it was his baby. That was four years before we even shot a pilot. It wasn’t like ‘Hey, I want you to do something,’ and you do it next week. It was like ‘Hey if this works out — great! I wonder how you’re going to do that.’ I was like, ‘How are you going to make that a cooler experience and have people understand the jargon and the way that music is written.’ I thought like, ‘Wow they’ve got a lot on their hands to give that to the public.’ But wow they did a great job.
BOSSIP: When you guys are making the show and these songs are actually getting made on the show, what does the split sheet look like?
Ester Dean: None of your business! [Laughs] Come on, business! That’s money. But they already made sure all of that was taken care of before we came on because that’s one of the things I wanted to be safe about. Because I was like, I want to be protected as I spit out my ideas and I also want to make sure I’m writing with writers who are protected as well, so Shane, Ryan and I, that was the biggest thing — like get that straight. I’m not coming on to co-write with anybody until that’s straight.
BOSSIP: There’s such a great dynamic between the three of you – you’re each bringing something special to the table and it seems like y’all don’t step on each other’s toes at all.
Ester Dean: The stepping on no toes was because they have a thing to tell us, ‘Don’t step on toes.’ In a songwriting session you are stepping on toes. You’re like, ‘Oooh what about this?’ but they need all the microphones to not bleed into each other. Season 1 we had to learn how to be in class while we write songs. You know, wait your turn, keep your idea… So sometimes you might see me in a daze. I’m like literally holding on like, ‘I have something to say, I have something to say.’ You have to look around so you hear what they’re saying. So you’re just being like very observant, and paying attention and being respectful and not stepping on each other’s idea because that idea is worth money.
BOSSIP: You’re not afraid to really go there with the lyrics
Ester Dean: We need raunchy. I’m putting out an album and all my albums are raunchy but I just feel like I come from an era of Millie Jackson and Silk, remember Khia, “My Neck, My Back,” and then you got Trina, and Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj. You got Ester Dean and Rihanna because I’m always going to push my writing to invoke, like, risqué and sexy. Every time I write song I just wonder who is going to resonate with it. “The Night Is Still Young,” Nicki was like, ‘I don’t know if I should sing this.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean? You sound great singing it. Do different things.’
BOSSIP: We can’t believe Nicki Minaj was hesitant to be risqué in a song.
Ester Dean: Everybody is going to hesitate, because you’ve got to give these songs to the public and nobody is giving you a grade before you give it. The artist has got to believe in you and you have to believe in the artist.
BOSSIP: We’ve seen your name come up as a good candidate for a Verzuz battle and it was proposed that you battle Missy, but Missy has already said she doesn’t want to do a battle.
Ester Dean: Missy is my mentor. Missy, Kandi, these are mentors, there is no beat battle, that’s a mentee respecting a mentor. Missy wins, Kandi wins. But people who come after me would be following my steps. But that’s women, women think that’s only respect. Men they like to beat on they chest and wear their jewelry and talk about their Ferraris and their big houses. But that’s what a man does to get a woman. Women don’t do that. we just sit there and look pretty. So I’m just sitting here, looking pretty.
BOSSIP: Would you battle a guy?
Ester Dean: I already beat him. I’m a woman who broke through in their industry. I’ve already won, I’m winning already, so I don’t need to battle to win. If they want to hear they can go listen to the songs that I did. Go support these artists and listen to the songs you don’t know that I did. Listen to the songs that don’t have the marketing and advertisement.
BOSSIP: Speaking of marketing and advertising — the show had so many songs chart during Season 1, it’s almost become like a marketing tool.
Ester Dean: “It is the best marketing tool. If you’re a writer and an artist too, that’s your platform. If “Songland” could be the new way that we hear our music, the fact that these artists are given this platform and the labels are giving their permission, this is the new way we enjoy music. You actually see it happening and understand the whole picture, because it’s a bigger picture. People are tired of seeing the same small little picture. Let me see more, I want to see you. The fact that we’re doing this interview on Zoom, now we get to see you and know you too.
BOSSIP: You mentioned not getting a grade sheet ahead of time. Were you nervous about whether the first season songs would do well?
Ester Dean: We do get a grade sheet, because the songs have been vetted already. “Songland” has A&R’s, that are vetting the songs. The Able Heart song they found that on a video of Able being an artist. So the A&R will find the song, then they vet it to the artist manager, so the artist manager has to listen to all of the songs, and the artist manager will say, ‘I think H.E.R. will like these, but you have to fix it.’ Then we have all these people on set, and you kinda get to hear which one everyone is attracted to, it’s like 200 people on set, so now you get to a see a grade of who is tapping in, who is singing the song every time you walk by, Axel’s song “Scary,” even though it didn’t get taken, he’s an artist, he should put the song out because EVERYBODY was singing it.
BOSSIP: This show is doing great things for shining light on songwriters, VERZUZ has as well…
Ester Dean: I’m an observer of the music industry. There’s different category of music industry and I’m in the category of writer. We heard about the producers, the Timbalands and the Pharrells, but we never heard about who wrote the songs. Even when they have the beat battles they’re playing things they produce, not wrote. When you see Sean Garrett and The Dream, those are the people who wrote the songs. So I started to observe the writing network and what you actually have to do to make it work, because normally it’s a one song and you’re done kind of industry. If you go to people’s catalog you’ll see a lot of people have one or two songs and that’s it. Tricky Stewart used to say, ‘Was it luck?’ And the second one, ‘Was it lucky?’ and then the third one dumb luck. After, one, two and three then it’s you, there is something about you that is getting exactly what you need out of the session.
BOSSIP: Sean Garrett was really feeling that battle too
Ester Dean: If you’re in the studio with him that’s how he vibes out, that’s why a lot of people kick people out of the studio because we don’t want you to see our quirks. He writes songs for the girls, he has to go and see what that sounds like, what that feels like, the aesthetics. Dream is the same way, it’s just so in love with music. All I did is laugh at it. He’s in there feeling his stuff.
BOSSIP: We know you don’t want to do a VERZUZ battle but have you been watching them?
Ester Dean: I watched the first battle… It made me go and run down all the songs that Babyface, now Babyface is running around my house singing. It’s just legends, now I want to go listen to all the songs Brian Michael Cox and Mary J. Blige did. Johnta Austin been doing “Star,” he’s been writing the songs for “Star” for this whole time, so we’ve been hearing him anyway. It just makes you remember there are great ears that don’t go away, and we should go get Babyface to write an album for somebody else. Give Babyface Mary J. Blige, give Rihanna Teddy Riley, give Timberland Katy Perry, and then mentor new people in. That’s the only way we’re going to get new people.
BOSSIP: Have you heard ‘R9’?
Ester Dean: No. Did you? Is it out? I love Rihanna so much. Y’all don’t understand. Everybody is a Rihanna fan. I am a Robyn fan. I am in love with that woman. She is an artist who takes your song, buys your song, makes sure she gives you everything you ask for, because those songs are my babies and they are her babies. This girl is going to do a video, she’s going to feel it. This is a superstar. I’m in love. I can’t wait to hear the album. I don’t care if I’m on it or not. I’m buying it. I got Fenty on my face. Everybody get into Fenty. We support Rihanna extremely because she changed my life. She’s the one who made “Rude Boy” a single. They wasn’t going with a single for “Rude Boy”. She’s the one that seen me in Chris Brown’s studio and said ‘You’re going to write for me. I like you, let’s write.” This is not a somebody in the industry came to me and said “Rihanna is working on an album.” We personally connected and it lasted and now it’s time for her to give other people a chance. She does that. She gives new writers chances. So sometimes as an older writer, you’re not supposed to take new writers chances. She gave Dream a chance, Ne-Yo a chance, Makeba a chance, Priscilla Renea a chance at the end of the day this woman is looking for the new Ester because that’s what she is supposed to do. And I’m going to buy the album anyway. And I’m going to try to find her the new Ester.
We absolutely loved chatting with Ester Dean, check her out in the new movie “Trolls World Tour” and check out a brand new episode of “Songland” on NBC tonight at 10pm EST