Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Matthew Knowles (and Beyonce) exposed!!!

Amid the high-gloss mix of teen-pop Cyranos, R&B blue-chippers and top 40 auteurs on Billboard's Top 10 Songwriters list (see page 14), only one name prompted sheepish shrugs and subsequent Googling in the Billboard offices. Lady Gaga's most devoted "little monsters" may know 41-year-old Rob Fusari as one of the executive producers of the 2.8 million-selling album "The Fame," or as the co-writer of three published Gaga songs, including the No. 6 Billboard Hot 100 hit "Paparazzi." Perhaps they've stumbled across the tale of how Fusari, a fan of the Queen song "Radio Gaga," helped formulate Stefani Germanotta's royal moniker.

But even the most avid Gagaphiles may not know the full extent of Fusari's sway and impact on her career. The classically trained Livingston, N.J., native broke into the business at the not-so-young age of 29, with a co-writing credit on Destiny's Child's 1998 debut, "No, No, No," and went on to enjoy intermittent success as a producer and writer for, among others, Jessica Simpson, Will Smith, Kelly Rowland, Whitney Houston and, most notably, with Destiny's Child again, on 2001's "Bootylicious."

On Lady GaGa...
No club beats, no disco performance art?

No. She was anti all that. She would go to festivals like Bonnaroo. We started to make a very heavy rock record. Hard and grungy. But after three or four songs it seemed we were going down the wrong road.

Then, one day, I read an article in the New York Times about Nelly Furtado and how she'd abandoned her folk-rock thing and made a dance record with Timbaland. My antenna went up. I said, "Stef, take a look at this. I'm really an R&B guy. I never produced a rock record in my life. I don't know, you think maybe we should shift gears?"

She kicked and screamed: "No! No! I love what we're doing. We're not changing it." I'm like, "Stef, just try this. Let's at least abandon the live drums and some of the guitars." I finally got her to agree, and that day we did "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich," which was me sitting at an MPC drum machine and Stef playing her piano riff.

The record deal?
Finally, a week or two later, we get a call to come back out. Jimmy's there. It's me, Vince, Jimmy and Stef. Very casual meeting. Jimmy has John Lennon's Mellotron in his office. He's on the phone with Mick Jagger, trying to find some lost tapes of Mick and John or some shit. It's very impressive, obviously. Anyway, he listens to a little bit of "Dirty, Rich" and to another record Stef and I did called "Sexy Ugly." He stands up, looks at Vince and says, "Let's give it a try." And that was it. She got a deal.

Are you and Stefani still friends?

I don't know. I feel like I may have been demoted to . . . what would be one level beneath friend?

Professional acquaintance?

Yeah, there you go. That's it.

What do you think happened?

I don't know. I can't figure it out and I won't ask. I don't know if I said something or did something. I don't know.

Will you be involved in her next record?

I don't believe so.

On Matthew Knowles

Did "Bootylicious" come together in a similar fashion?

I came up with the idea to build a track using the guitar riff from Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen." I really wanted to play the riff from "Eye of the Tiger," but I was flipping through my CDs in the studio and I couldn't find it. But I saw the Stevie Nicks CD and I remembered that the riff was similar.

I figured I'd put the guitar loop on there temporarily, and later go into the studio with a guitar and replay it, because I'd learned, after sampling Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" for Will Smith's "Wild Wild West," that I didn't want to lose 50% of the publishing. I vividly remember telling Mathew Knowles, "Mathew, you got to book me into your studio and let me replay that riff." It was Guitar 101! One note!

But Mathew didn't want to do it?

He didn't want to do it. So 50% got cut for one note. That whole experience was bittersweet for me.

I remember watching Barbara Walters interview Beyoncé about "Bootylicious," and she told Barbara about how she came up with the idea for the track. And I was just like, "What?" I called Mathew-which was a big mistake; I got emotional, and I apologized after-but I called Mathew and said, "Mathew, like, why?"

And he explained to me, in a nice way, he said, "People don't want to hear about Rob Fusari, producer from Livingston, N.J. No offense, but that's not what sells records. What sells records is people believing that the artist is everything." And I'm like, "Yeah, I know, Mathew. I understand the game. But come on, I'm trying too. I'm a squirrel trying to get a nut, too."