Rico Love maxed out his first credit card solely from buying Greyhound bus fares.
When the singer-songwriter and producer headed to college at Florida A&M at 17, he established a routine. Every Friday morning, he'd board a 5 a.m. bus and ride the seven hours to Atlanta, then spend the weekend bouncing from studio to studio meeting and working with artists. On Sunday night, he'd take the 7:30 Greyhound back to Tallahassee, arriving in the wee hours of the morning.
"My mother is one of the greatest peopel in the world, so I'm not holidng this against her, but she told me I was a fool, that music wasn't going to happen for me," the 30-year-old born richard Preston Butler, Jr., says. "When everybody around you-family, sisters, aunts-is talking shit about you and laughing behind your back, you grow this will. Everything that's going on in my life right now, I saw it. And I went for it."
He sure did, and the right people noticed. Love was barely in his 20s when Usher tapped him to pen "Throwback" for 2004's Confessions. It was the very first song Love had ever written, and the album was a staggering success. After selling over a million copies in its first week, it eventually became the second-best selling project of the decade. Unsurprisingly, Love suddenly was in high demand, fielding requests from Chris Brown, Marques Houston and Fergie. By 2010, he'd added Beyonce ("Sweet Dreams") and two more smash hits for Usher, "Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home)" and "There Goes My Baby," to his resume. In the last two years alone, he helped set the scene for Kelly Rowland's comeback with "Motivation" and worked on songs by a trio of rap behemoths, Rick Ross ("Touch'N You"), T.I. and Lil Wayne ("Ball"). Recently, he released his first EP as a solo artist, the gorgeous, darkly sexual Discrete Luxury, whihc Jon Caramanica of The New York Times recently praised as "lush, naughty" and "sharp with details."
Perhaps on eof the msot serendipitous moments of his career, however, came when he wrote for Mary J. Blige's "Mr. Wrong," The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul's first album had been executive produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs. "I grew up in the Boy Can era. Puff, Big, Mase," Love says. "I was a huge fan. I wanted to emulate the fly, flashy, flamboyant lifestyle. Nowadays the hipster kids think that's kinda corny. When I was a kid, Versace shirts and driving Bentleys and champagne were the flyest shit in the world. We saw ourselves as being greater."
Born in Louisiana, Love's partners divorced and he split his childhood between living with his father in New York and his mother in Milwaukee. A minister, his father instilled in him a strong sense of spirituality. Bu the also loved Diana Ross and schooled Love in the music of Motown as well as classic artists like Miles Davis and Sly adn the Family Stone. Meanwhile, back in the Midwest, Love gravitated toward rap, but also was transfixed by VH1's Behind the Music, becoming a fan of bands life Queen.
"People thought I was a weirdo, he says, laughing. "But I loved those songs. I was a big fan of chord progression and songwriting and lyrical content at a young age."
He knew he watned to be a rapper, and only went to college to escape dealing drugs. Enrolling at FAMU was simply a way to pass the time until he could make his dream a reality. On that path, a few things happened. During his jaunts to Atlanta, he became close with and subconsiously absorbed the R&B group Jagged Edge's songwriting techniques. He also became friends with and crashed on the couches of producers the Corna Boyz when FAMU's financial aid mixed up his papers and mistakenly kicked him out of school despite his 3.5 GPA. Turns out, it was for the best. When the Corna Boyz were working on a remix for Usher, Love rapped on it. Usher liked what he heard and ultimately signed him to J Records.
"I went in one day and said, 'I need money.' Usher said, 'I can give you some money, or I can give you the chance to make a lot of money," Love explains. The chance? To write "Throwback."
Love creates his own chances now. In 2010, he launched his label, Division1, to whihc he has signed producers and songwriters. This yera, he did a JV deal with Interscope, signing the sizzling/songwriter Tiara Thomas, whose seductive voice helped make Wale's "Bad" one of the best singles of the year.
Naturally, he signed himself as well. The challenges, funny enough, are the same as when he was 17. Maxed-out credit cards aren't the issue-his empire is starting to resemble that of his childhood idol, Puffy-byt hte word 'no" is. Fortunately, he's heard, not to mention overcome, negatively so often, it's hardly a concern.
"People still say, don't do the artist thing," he says before pausing, "but why fight a feeling that comes so naturally?"