Usher’s latest album Looking 4 Myself hits stores today, powered by the chart-topping single “Climax.” The song—which has been in heavy rotation around the Complex office since it came out—was produced by Diplo and written by Elijah Blake, a young R&B artist formerly known as Redd StyleZ.
You may not know his name yet, but just remember where you heard it first. Now signed to Def Jam, Blake’s currently working on his own album with production by No I.D., Salaam Remi, T-Minus, Happy Perez, Pop & Oak, Fuego, and Diplo. Behind every great song is a great story, and this one’s no exception. So read on to find out how Blake’s first-ever session with one of his idols led to “Climax.”
As told to Rob Kenner (@boomshots)
The making of Usher's "Climax"
“I visited L.A. on a writing trip and two things made me say ‘OK, I'm gonna move here.’ First of all, the hotel bill was like $12,000 and I was like ‘Oh hell no.’ And the second thing was that I was only supposed to be doing some small sessions and they just booked a couple extra days in case something popped off. And bro, I kid you not—just from me going into sessions a lot of things happened through word of mouth.
“The way L.A. works is there’s a big studio, let’s say Westlake for example. So one room could be booked out for me and working in the next room is Mary J. Blige and in the next room is someone else, for example, Mariah Carey. So, people pass by doors and they hear things and they’ll say, ‘Who’s in that room?’ Then they hear it and say ‘This guy named Redd was in there just going in.’ So then eventually some of these execs and managers of these artists were coming to me like, ‘While you’re here, let’s meet, let’s talk, and through that I ended up getting a session with Mary J. Bilige. I went from writing songs hoping that the artists would hear them to being in the studio with them. And then the next thing I know I was on a plane because Mark Pitts had played a song for Usher. He was like ‘I think this kid is the future.’
I got a phone call—it was night time and I was half asleep—and it was like, ‘I need you to get on a plane and go to New York.’ And I was like, ‘For what? Does it have to be tomorrow?' They said ‘Yes.’ I said ‘For who?’ And they said ‘Usher.’ And I was like, ‘Huh??! You got the right number?
“I met Mark Pitts through an artist named Juwan Harris. I ended up doing some songs with Jim Jonsin for Juwan and Mark Pitts ended up hearing then and saying, ‘Who the hell is this kid?’ After that he pulled me aside. He was like, ‘You know what your thing is?’ The reason that every writer and every artist is successful is they know what they have to offer. When I listen to you what I love about you is you’re able to take the lingo and certain cool and quirky things that people say in the streets and put them to a melody and make it so everybody feels like they can sing it. The only other person I hear doing that is Bruno Mars—and even he doesn’t have the street terminology. That’s like your niche, to take street terminology and cool little sayings and incorporate them into pop culture and not make them sound so aggressive and hard to where people are like, ‘I don’t know if my kids want to hear that.’ Mark was like ‘That’s your thing.’
“Anyway Usher wanted to do some new stuff this time around. So I got a phone call—it was night time and I was half asleep—and it was like, ‘I need you to get on a plane and go to New York.’ And I was like, ‘For what? Does it have to be tomorrow?' They said, ‘Yes.’ I said ‘For who?’ And they said ‘Usher.’ And I was like, ‘Huh??! You got the right number? Are you calling the right person?’ Cause for me it’s like Michael Jackson then Usher, and when Michael was gone I was like, I have to meet him. I didn’t get that chance to rub shoulders with my icon.
“So I was packing, and it was supposed to be for a two-day session, and I got on the plane, got there—I'm late, and Usher’s already there. And as I'm walking in Usher’s stepping out the room and just as humble as can be. He's like, ‘Hey, how’s it going? I'm Usher.’ And I'm like, ‘I know who the hell you are—do you know who I am? Do you even know why I'm supposed to be here?’ The whole time on the plane I was like, ‘I'm gonna embarrass myself. He's not gonna know who I am. He's gonna be like, ‘What the hell are you doing in this session?’ I was thinking Mark PItts is just trying to look out for me and he's gonna have to introduce me in the session as I go in.
So I sit there and Usher goes to talk on the phone and when he gets back in the room, Usher looks at me just like I thought it was gonna be. He says ‘What are you guys doing here?’ And me and my composer go “Uh uh uh uh....” And I end up saying, like, ‘Um, well, Mark Pitts told me to show up here for the session to write with you.’ And he was like, ‘You’re supposed to say, We’re here to make history, man!’ And he was like ha-ha. And we was like, ‘That wasn’t funny man. We thought we were about to get kicked out.’ He was like, ‘Nah, we here to make history man.’ I was like, Cool. And he was like, ‘Once you say that from the beginning and that’s the goal, that’s what it’s gonna be.’