Christopher "Tricky" Stewart and Penelope Magnet knew they were on to something when Britney Spears' handlers took interest in what was only the third song the duo had written and produced together.
The collective known as RedZone had only one problem.
"She told us the song sucked," Stewart said, laughing.
Fortunately for RedZone, Spears bonded with the 19-year-old Magnet — who, like the pop princess, hails from Louisiana — and spent a night in New York hanging out with the duo.
The next day Stewart and Magnet wrote "Me Against the Music."
"Getting a chance to hang out with [Britney] and talk to her and get in her world made it a lot easier to actually write and know what she would and wouldn't say, to know where her real vibe is," Magnet said.
"We knew first we needed some energy," Stewart added.
Tricky, best known for co-writing and co-producing B2K's "Uh Huh," came up with the track, while Magnet came up with the melody on a piano and wrote the lyrics.
"It's extremely aggressive," Magnet said. "It immediately makes you feel like something's happening. So the whole concept is kind of like she was battling the track. Like she was hearing the music and trying to out-dance the track or out-beat the drum or out-pluck the guitar. It's as if she's in the club, losing herself in the music."
"Me Against the Music" immediately won over Spears and eventually another music magnate, Madonna, who later collaborated on what would become the first single from Spears' upcoming In the Zone, due November 18 (see "Britney Gets Down With Madonna Again").
RedZone were then enlisted to work on several more songs for the album, including writing the lyrics for the Moby-produced "Early Morning," recording vocals for the R. Kelly-produced "Outrageous" and writing and producing "The Hook Up," which Magnet described as having "a reggae feel."
Stewart said their Britney material is "the tip of the iceberg" of a new style RedZone are developing.
"It's just a natural growth of what's going on in music," he explained. "It's half-rapping, half-singing. It's young, it's beat-driven, it's everything the kids are going to be looking for. It's a hip-hop dance genre. We don't have a name for it yet, but we're going to name it."
Since "Me Against the Music" hit the airwaves a few weeks ago, RedZone's phones have been ringing off the hook, but rather than accept invitations to collaborate, they want to extend them.
"We have 10 songs right now we really, really love, and we want to find the best artists for each of our songs," Stewart said. "It's about finding more artists that want to get into the kind of vibe we're into right now."
Right now, RedZone have only one commitment, a song with Mya for the "Barbershop 2" soundtrack. The collaboration will find Stewart coming full circle, as Mya's "Case of the Ex" was his breakthrough track.
Stewart, whose mother and aunts were backup singers for Curtis Mayfield and Aretha Franklin, wrote his first song at age 12. As a teenager, he wanted what every other teenager wanted — to be like his older brother.
So Tricky, a nickname he earned with his football skills, used his family connections and at 17 produced his first album, for R&B trio Immature. He went on to work with J.T. Money, Sisqó and Ginuwine and eventually built his own studio in Atlanta.
Stewart also formed his own company, RedZone Entertainment, and signed Blu Cantrell, who scored a hit with "Hit Em Up Style (Oops!)."
Magnet, who had recently moved to Atlanta and was already writing songs for rappers, tracked Tricky down at a club and impressed him enough to get signed. "It's kind of funny because the artist I worked for before Britney was Too Short," she said, laughing. "To go from that to this in the same breath is pretty exciting."
Along with writing and producing for RedZone, Penelope is recording an album as P Magnet. "I rap and I sing, and I like to place a smidgen of my sound on people I work with. My album will be taking [Redzone's production style] to the 10th power."
P Magnet's debut is due early next year, around the same time another Redzone Entertainment act, a Jamaican R&B trio named Brick and Lace, will be introduced. The production side of the company also expects to be highly active in the new year.
"We're not going to join radio right now, we're going to fix it," Stewart said. "We're going to change the way radio sounds."
Evidently RedZone's confidence was not hurt by Britney's initial rejection.
"It was a song called 'Pop Culture Whore,' so I can see why she would hate it," Magnet said, laughing.