By Belinda Huang
There is something special about a person who remains humble and genuine amidst overwhelming success. It is a rare quality, and it is an inspiring quality—it is exactly who Berklee alumnus Makeba Riddick (’99) is. Makeba is a three-time Grammy nominee, which included three nominations in the recent 56th Annual Grammy Awards, she is a Grammy winner for co-writing Beyonce’s “Déjà Vu,” and she is the holder of nine #1 records. But despite all these titles, Makeba still exudes a pleasant quality modesty. She says that being nominated for a Grammy is an experience that never gets old.
“It’s always like, ‘Wow.’ And it’s always incredible and amazing to be recognized by your peers on these things that we are so passionate about and work so hard for. It’s still surreal for me,” Makeba said.
She was nominated for Best R&B Performance, Best R&B Song, and Best Urban Contemporary album for co-writing on Tamar Braxton’s Love and War.
In the past, she has worked closely with superstars Rihanna and Beyonce, along with many other pop icons. She served mainly as a songwriter and vocal producer. Makeba was the woman behind Beyonce’s B’Day album, penning the album alongside Queen B herself, and she also played a role in I am… Sasha Fierce. With Rihanna, Makeba has written and produced three albums, including the #1 hit “Rude Boy” and the Grammy nominated song “Love the Way you Lie.”
“Now there’s a funny story behind ‘Love the Way You Lie,’” Makeba told us. “Rihanna was in Ireland for something and I was in Los Angeles. I couldn’t go to Ireland because of a huge LA Times interview, so I had an idea. This was when Skype was getting really popular, so we did a video conference. It was funny because we were thousands of miles away, but we ended up cutting that hook in 40 minutes, literally.”
During her time at Berklee, Makeba majored in Music Business and was a vocal principle. She says one of the main classes that have been helpful to what she is doing now is marketing.
“Marketing has been really helpful for me because it helped me to understand how to make a superstar. It’s not all about the music—I mean, hit records are a huge part of it, but marketing is a huge part of it. Creating the right perception for an artist, being the first artist to do certain things, branding—all of that is really important to making an artist,” she said.
For aspiring songwriters and producers, Makeba shared two pieces of advice. First, she says to “be where the resources are.”
“If you live in Iowa or Oklahoma or some tiny town in North Carolina, there are no resources to do what you wanna do if you wanna be a songwriting or a producer. You have to be in the places where there are record companies, record labels, studios, and on and on. After Berklee, I moved to New York and that’s where I got my big break before moving to LA where I reside now and it’s been amazing,” she told us.
Second, she advises developing thick skin.
“A lot of times as a songwriter, you’ll be married to the song that you wrote and you’ll feel it and love it so deeply. But when you play it for an A&R executive, they might say ‘No, that’s not right.’ It’s not that it’s a bad song. Maybe it’s just not right for that artist. Our songs live on forever, so never be discouraged by a ‘No,’” she said.
As successful as she is though, Makeba attributes all that she has achieved to God and the role her faith plays in her life.
“I am a Christian—I am a huge Christian—and my faith is what really brought me this far in my career. I could not have done it without Jesus Christ because his promises told me that I can do all things through him,” she explained. “Even though my struggle in New York was really, really hard—it took a while for people to believe in me and I was very poor—my faith is what got me through. I kept praying and I kept believing God, that this gift he gave me was not for nothing.”
She went on to say that even to this day, she prays before she goes into the studio, asking God to help her to write songs that will inspire people and make them happy. She asks God to let people look at her life and see something that will inspire them to want to know Him.
“My gift is a platform for me,” she said. “The real gift is being able to touch people and inspire people to let them know about the goodness of life and the goodness of God.”
Makeba certainly has an extraordinary gift for music and she has been an inspiration to both her listeners and us.
“The special thing about my story is that I am 34-years-old, I have had nine #1 records, and I have had Grammy nominations. In order for my music to go the distance like that, I know that my songs are touching people in a special way, in a different way. And I know that it is nothing but God—nothing but Jesus Christ in my life.”