Behind The Boards: How Ricky Reed Became One Of The Game’s Hottest Producers

Ricky Reed was perhaps better-known as the frontman of hip-hop/pop collective Wallpaper until he co-produced Jason Derulo‘s monster hit “Talk Dirty” and instantly became one of the game’s hottest hitmakers. The influence of that song (and its killer sax hook) can be heard in everything from Ariana Grande‘s summer smash “Problem” to Cheryl Cole‘s UK chart-topper “Crazy Stupid Love”.

I spoke to Mr. Reed about the creative process behind “Talk Dirty” — it was originally intended for Missy Elliott! — and the opportunities that have since come his way. Like production duties on Fifth Harmony‘s recent earworm “Bo$$”, Jessie J‘s current single “Burnin’ Up” and an unlikely but exciting collaboration with country superstar Tim McGraw. Read our Q&A after the jump.

How did you get to work with Jason Derulo? I was first brought in to work with Miles Beard — he’s a DJ who works for the label. He brought me in to work on something else, and by the end of the session he was like ‘Hey, you gotta hear this song that I heard while I was on vacation in Tel Aviv.’ And he played this Balkan beat box song with the saxophone part in it and my mind was blown. He was thinking Missy Elliot, and I was like ‘Of course, I love Missy Elliot. Let me do something with it.’

While working on my own album, I spent time just flipping it, adding some big bass and arranging it in a way that made sense. Then I sent it back to him. A couple full moons later, they told me ‘Jason Derulo sung the record and it sounds great!’ I was like, ‘Is this the same Jason Derulo that did “Whatcha Say” and all that stuff?’ Then I started to see the song roll out internationally. I got really lucky, I was hooked up with a great opportunity.

Is it common for things to work like that? Yeah, it’s very common. It’s actually a running joke, that you never make a song with the person that’s actually gonna end up singing it. That’s so uncommon. I only know a few stories of people doing that. It kind of happened with Jason and “Wiggle”. Axident and I started the track out in the desert near Joshua Tree. We made that one specifically for him.

Were you expecting “Talk Dirty” to be so big? That sax hook is definitely undeniable. When I first heard it, I knew it was big. But I didn’t expect it to be quite as big as it was. When you’re working on these songs, you have to trust your instinct but then you can’t put too many eggs in one basket. If it feels good in the moment, send it off and let it be. You really never know if music fans in your city, state, country, the world are going to resonate with the same feeling you had. There’s no way to tell.

The song started a trend for percussion and sax in pop songs… I’ve been doing the saxophone/bass stuff for a minute, and then you had the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Thrift Shop” record. It’s not like I invented funky sax. But I do think it is cool that I’m part of a movement of bringing stranger, louder sounds to the American mainstream. It does feel good to be encouraging people to push writers and producers.

What else have you been working on? We have Fifth Harmony’s next one “Bo$$” — it’s a complete nutcracker that’s really gonna fuck people up. I have a Florida Georgia Line/Jason Derulo song coming out, which is weird. It’s pretty incredible. They tapped me to do the production on it and it’s wild. We also have a Tim McGraw song that’ll roll out in the next month or two. So just a lot of strange stuff!

Has “Talk Dirty” opened a lot of doors for you? So many! My experience has always been that you have to claw for every opportunity, kick down every door and beg for every show that you get on. So when people said with “Talk Dirty” that opportunities would be coming to me, I still really didn’t get it. I was thinking that I’ll still be scrambling to get more songs cut and to make ends meet.

It would be easy to sit down and make a bunch of cheap sax replicas of “Talk Dirty” and to make a small amount of money in a short period of time, and then be wack and irrelevant in a couple months. It’s a matter of trying to be a few steps ahead of myself.

What does all this mean for your own music as Wallpaper? I do think all of these things are part of one process and in order to figure out what my next move was, I had to get a lot of this stuff out of my system. It’s not like I would ever release a song like “Wiggle” for myself. I would sound silly if I was trying to deliver that hook. And I’m okay with that. All of this has helped me figure out what sound works well for me and not being all over the place. That’s a good feeling.

Are you working on new music? Yeah, I have been. For me, that’s a bit of a deeper, more meditative and slightly slower process.

Who else would you like to produce for? Some of my favorites are people that really push boundaries and leave a cultural footprint. Beyonce has always been somebody who’d I really love to work with. People like Adele, Sam Smith. I had a meeting with Nico & Vinz, they’re the fucking best. I think they’re incredible. The things they are working on now is unbelievable. It’s somewhere between Graceland-era Paul Simon and kind of ’80’s Peter Gabriel. It’s so fucking good!

Finally, do you have a production ideology of sorts? Pop music needs to be challenged. There’s standards and rules in place, and we just need to blow that up and start over.

Is Ricky Reed one of your favorite producers right now? Let us know in the comments below.

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