Rico Love, R&B Songwriter to the Stars
His songs are all over radio stations, movie theaters and Web sites, where he's selling plenty of downloads, but Rico Love still has a soft spot for his longtime home, Milwaukee.
"I lived half my life in Milwaukee," says the songwriter, who was born Richard Butler Jr. Birthed in New Orleans 26 years ago and raised in Harlem, N.Y., where he acquired his stage name from a Hispanic neighbor, Love has been bounced around by his parents' divorce and professional ambition through Milwaukee, Tallahassee, Fla., Atlanta, Los Angeles and his current digs in Miami. One of his three sisters still calls the Mil home.
Though Love struggled in his attempts to launch a career as a rapper, from early on his penchant for fitting words to another singer's voice has served him well, especially when that voice belonged to Usher.
Love says he was in Atlanta plying his skills with a hip-hop group when "Usher gave me the opportunity to write a song for him." Love's "Throwback" appeared on Usher's multi-platinum 2004 album, Confessions, and performing that tune on the road with Usher gave Love his first national touring experience.
It also led to his stint as a rapper with a major label deal. The fruits of that labor, from which a full CD never emerged, can still be heard on YouTube and elsewhere online. With the casual profanity and mixed moral signals of so much commercial hip-hop, Love's recordings owed some musical debt to the party-hearty aesthetic of Jermaine Dupri, and his flow bears the influence of his one-time Harlem mentor, Mason "Mase" Betha. Though a couple of cuts are impressively catchy, popular music has become better with Love behind a pen instead of a mic.
"I think my calling is as a songwriter," Love admits. Acts as varied as pop divas Fergie and Natasha Bedingfield and R&B men Donell Jones and Chris Brown have sung Love's numbers. His current behind-the-scenes successes include Bedingfield's "Angel," Keri Hilson's "Energy" and soundtrack contributions to the recent Sex and the City movie. He'll soon be heard on the big screen again with songs in next year's Confessions of aShopaholic.
Love says that one of his professional thrills is to hear his work interpreted by artists who take his songs to heights he couldn't have imagined.
"The great vocalists always know how to make a song great," Love says.
Among the greats he cites are-no surprise-Usher and Beyonce, who impressed Love with her take on the "kinda rock ballad" he wrote for her next release.
Living and building his new studio in Miami, as opposed to a city with a higher music-biz profile such as Atlanta, "keeps me off the radar," Love says, explaining that staying hungry for greater achievement in a wealthy neighborhood keeps his feet grounded, too.
"I'm doing well, but not as well as I could be doing," he remarks of the surrounding, pricier real estate.
What may get him into that next tax bracket could be his production company, Division 1. Love is already grooming protégés for different labels, and although none are from Milwaukee, he says it's not out of the question.
"There's a lot of great talent in Milwaukee," Love says. "I don't want to say it's something I wouldn't be interested in doing in the future."