Oh hey, party people! I’m Sam Lansky, unabashed music geek, and this is “Pop Think,” a serious examination of the most serious thing out there: pop music. On this week’s agenda? The lyrical genius responsible for pretty much all of your favorite songs, my girl Ester Dean, who is set to rocket to the top of the charts as a solo artist.
See, Ester Dean has already carved out a niche for herself as one of the most in-demand pop scribes in the game, churning our monster hits for pop divas such as Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj (basically, Top 40’s A-list) — but now, she’s stepping out on her own and putting her hitmaking pen to work on her own artistic identity. She wouldn’t be the first artist to take this route; in fact, many contemporary artists, like Lady Gaga and certified songwriting genius Ke$ha, first cut their teeth writing tracks for other acts before launching their own careers as recording artists.
Now, Ester’s going hard with a hot new Nicki Minaj-assisted single, “Gimme Money,” a major deal with Roc Nation and an arsenal full of killer tracks for her upcoming debut album — all of which is set to have the public asking, “Where Have You Been?” (See what I did there? She cowrote that song for Rihanna! I know, right? Amazing.)
Pop music’s been waiting for your solo career, Ester Dean.
Even if you don’t know Ester Dean’s name, there’s no way that you haven’t heard her work; the Oklahoma-born chanteuse and scribe is arguably the most in-demand songwriter in the industry right now for radio candy that has a magical way of skyrocketing to No. 1. From the undulating pop-rock of Kelly Clarkson’s “Mr. Know It All” to the infectious hip-pop of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” to the soaring house vibes of Katy Perry’s “Firework” to pretty much every Rihanna hit from the last few years (“Rude Boy,” “What’s My Name?”, “S&M,” “You Da One,” “Talk That Talk” and now her newest single, the incredible “Where Have You Been?”), you’d be hard-pressed to find a songwriter with more No. 1s on the pop charts than Ester.
Read more about Ester Dean’s solo career after the jump.
But that’s just her career as a songwriter. Though she’s only just now beginning to gain recognition for it, her work as a recording artist in her own right has been equally impressive. With a distinctively husky, charmingly crackly voice, she first launched as a solo act back in 2009 with her debut single “Drop It Low,” a crunchy R&B collaboration with Chris Brown that peaked at No. 38 on the Hot 100. Since then, she’s focused on working for other artists while continuing to record her own tracks. Which songs will actually make her upcoming album remains to be seen, but even leaked demos from the last few years show her extraordinary talent as a vocalist and songwriter: The emotive harmonies of “Stay In My Life” are mournfully evocative, and the dramatic hook of “Love Suicide” (later reimagined with Tinie Tempah for the U.S. release of his debut album) is an earworm you’d find difficult to cure. She seems to have an innate knack for attention-grabbing choruses, with melodies that sound familiar but never derivative, and her ability to straddle pop and urban markets with seamless ease is virtually unparalleled. She is to rhythmic, urban and pop what Diane Warren is to the power ballad.
So in January 2012, when Ester Dean announced via Twitter that she had signed with Jay-Z’s monolithic entertainment company Roc Nation (to augment her deal with Interscope Records), it was reasonable to expect that big things would be on the horizon. Accordingly, a new track with Nicki Minaj, “Gimme Money,” dropped a few weeks ago, and it’s a monster: Evoking Rihanna’s “What’s My Name?” but with even more robust instrumentation, “Gimme Money” sees Ester calling out a big spender who doesn’t seem to realize how grown she is. (Clearly, he hasn’t listened to the radio in the last three years.) Ester just told Complex that she and her team plan to push “Gimme Money” as a single while finishing her album and scaling back on her work for other artists. “We’re about to work ’Gimme Money,'” she explained. “So ’Gimme Money’ is my single already… I had to stop focusing on any other artists, and start focusing on myself.” Whether this song takes off or she releases something else, it’s hard to conceive that, at this point, she’ll put out anything other than a huge smash.
For me, what’s most spectacular about Ester is what she’s already managed to accomplish by the age of 24 (!); a jaw-dropping catalog of huge radio hits and, no doubt, a roster of artists who adore her for her tremendous talent. In the liner notes for Loud, Rihanna thanked Ester, writing “Ur my favorite… Ur a little genius bitch!” And indeed, Ester ended up cowriting nearly every track on Rihanna’s most recent release, Talk That Talk. But then, part of Ester’s skill is having such a rich and subtle understanding of an artist’s image and identity that she can tailor songs just for them: After all, there’s some island swagger at the heart of songs like “What’s My Name?” or “You Da One” (both penned by Ester) that’s distinctly Rihanna even before the Bajan banger lays down her vocals. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine a song like “Countdown,” cowritten by Ester but so iconically Beyonce, in the hands of any other artist.
And with “Gimme Money,” Ester steps into her own as an empowered pop-R&B chick with major attitude. But she really is empowered; whereas for lesser artists, it’s about posturing in a lifestyle that’s ultimately unattainable, Ester truly has forged her own path through the industry and carved out a niche for herself as one of music’s most inventive and ingenious forces. Now, it’s time for her to step into the spotlight.
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