September 2009: Behind the Scenes

Hit Man

By Kimberly Turner

Songwriter, producer, and four-time Grammy Award–winner Bryan-Michael Cox—aka B. Cox—is the man behind some of R&B’s biggest hits, including number ones for Usher (“Burn”), Mariah Carey (“Don’t Forget About Us”), and Mary J. Blige (“Be Without You”). The single thirty-one-year-old is based in Atlanta, but you’re just as likely to find him in L.A., Houston, or New York, writing for artists such as Toni Braxton, Ron Isley, Monica, Keyshia Cole, Jermaine Dupri, Jagged Edge, Faith Evans, Kelly Rowland, Destiny's Child, Chris Brown, Brandy, Bow Wow, Aaliyah, and many more. Just before his Georgia Music Hall of Fame induction, he talked with Atlanta magazine about his projects, past and present.

How did you feel when you found out you were being inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame on September 19? Just stunned. You don’t think you should get inducted into something like that until you accomplish way more. I’m very early in my career. I didn’t know how to take it at first, but after it sunk it, I was truly humbled and extremely honored.

You moved to Atlanta in ’97 to major in music at Clark Atlanta University, got an internship at Noontime Productions, and through that started working with some of the city’s top players—artists like Jagged Edge and Jermaine Dupri at So So Def. What local artists are you working with now? Doughboy is a hot new hip-hop artist from Stone Mountain. I’m doing a joint venture with him. You’ll be getting a single soon. I’m working on a mixtape now with DJ Scream, the newest young gun coming up out of Atlanta from a DJ perspective. I’m also executive producer on Monica’s album. And of course I’m working with Usher and doing the whole Oceans 7 thing [a supergroup consisting of B. Cox, Jermaine Dupri, Johnta Austin, Trey Songz, Nelly, Tyrone (Intynational) Davis, and occasional guest Bow Wow]. Johnta’s new record’s coming out. I’ve been working on that with him.

I read that you knew you wanted to be a producer when you were nine. How does a nine-year-old get that idea? I remember, when my mom got Thriller, reading the back and it said “Produced by Quincy Jones” and I just put it together: Well, there’s only really three names on the actual album—Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, and then there’s “recorded and mixed by Bruce Swedien.” So in my little mind, I put together that Quincy must be the guy who’s actually putting the music together. That’s the guy I want to be. In 1987, I was nine, was also when Teddy Riley came on the scene and Guy and Keith Sweat and Al B. Sure!, and that music just stunned me, just stopped me in my tracks. It was a combination of Quincy and Teddy that made me start my journey.

How old were you when you wrote your first song?
I grew up playing piano. I wrote my first song when I was six years old. It’s one of those things. I thought I was born with it.

When you’re writing, do you start with music or lyrics?
Music is easier for me. Lyrics, a lot of times, have to be directly influenced or directly dealing with my life. I wrote “Say Goodbye” for Chris Brown because, at the time, I was going through something that was reflective of that. Same with “Burn” for Jermaine [Dupri]. I have to credit Jermaine because he actually was the person who pushed me to start writing lyrics. I had melodies and music all day in my head, but he pushed me to pick up a pen and a pad and just start writing lyrics, because I kind of shied away from that when I got older.

How do you create songs that sound like Mariah songs or Usher songs rather than B. Cox songs? It’s all about spending time with that artist. When I first started producing, I didn’t have that luxury, and you kind of just have to make records that you hope they like, but in my latter years, I’ve been able to spend time with these artists. My best songs are conversations. I watched a documentary on Quincy Jones and it let me know I was right on the money because Patti Austin said they might spend four or five hours talking or goofing off and then might only spend twenty minutes preparing the song, but that twenty minutes is so full of energy because of the four hours you put in, mingling and developing that energy. It’s just an amazing progress. You’ve got to just let go and let God come in and work, you know.

Are there any artists you’d like to work with in the future?
I would’ve loved to work with Michael [Jackson] before he passed. We were in the process of figuring that out. He probably was the only artist I was gunning for. I’ve worked with everybody I could even dream of working with from an urban perspective, so now I’d like to branch off. I’d like to write a song for Seal. I’d like to work with Adam Levine, Coldplay. I’d like to do other genres because a song is a song is a song. Those guys, like a Phil Collins, these are my melodic heroes, so I’d like to grow my catalog a little bit outside of urban. I’d like to make a pop records and see what happens, just challenge myself.

Are you still working on a solo album?
I am. I have about eight songs done. I think I need three more. People ask me all the time why I didn’t make an album a long time ago, and I tell them I didn’t have anything to say. Once I had something to say, the songs started coming. And then they stopped again, so for me, it’s not pressing. When it comes, it comes. Hopefully the inspiration will hit within the next few weeks.

What else are you working on right now?
Usher has an artist on Def Jam, this guy from Toronto, Canada, Justin Bieber, who is an incredible young kid. He has all the makings of being a huge star and I made a record with him that I’m very very excited about. I’m working on Adrienne Bailon’s [from R&B girl group 3LW] record. I’m gonna be really involved creatively on her album. I have an artist named Bertell that I’m doing a joint venture with at Capitol. He has a record out now called “She Bad” that’s featuring Bun-B that’s doing well on radio right now. I got a male group that I kind of put on hiatus for a minute, but we’re gonna try to get it back. It’s called Dirty Rose.

On top of that, I’m developing a television show called “The Studio Exposed” [a behind-the-scenes look at the recording process. View it at thestudioexposed.ning.com]. I am working on a show for VH1 called R&B Music Icon and I can’t really tell you the premise of it yet but it’s gonna be really good. And I’m doing Making the Band again. This time is that the guys are gonna come to Atlanta. I’m gonna produce the entire album and MTV is gonna follow that process. I have a few things up my sleeve that I’m loving working on right now, things I’m feeling good about.