Bryan Michael Cox: Best Kept Secret

Ask the average music lover if they know Bryan Michael Cox, and you’ll too often get the same response: “Who?” But ask them if they’ve ever heard of Mariah’s “Don’t Forget About Us” or “Shake It Off,” Mary J’s “Be Without You,” Usher’s “U Got It Bad” or “Burn” and they can sing the songs […]

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Ask the average music lover if they know Bryan Michael Cox, and you’ll too often get the same response: “Who?” But ask them if they’ve ever heard of Mariah’s “Don’t Forget About Us” or “Shake It Off,” Mary J’s “Be Without You,” Usher’s “U Got It Bad” or “Burn” and they can sing the songs verbatim.

A Houston native by way of Miami, Cox relocated to Atlanta to attend Clark University as a music major. A campus flyer led him to an unpaid internship with production company, Noontime. The grind paid off and Bryan was soon writing and producing for Jagged Edge, Nivea, Monica, Da Brat and Lil’ Bow Wow.

Fast forward to today: Bryan is a two-time Grammy award winner, and the only producer to break the Beatles’ record for the most consecutive #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. You won’t see him in the videos, but he’s a real bad boy when it comes to making hits. Take that! Take that! Alternatives: What is your first memory of music?

Bryan Michael Cox: My first memory of music – I remember I had been no more than maybe three years old – my mom was listening to the radio and this record called “Let Me Be Your Angel” by Stacey Lattisaw. I think that was my first memory of music. That was my first memory, period. A lot of times you don’t remember things before you’re five years old? My first memory is that!

AHHA: Can you recall that moment in time when you decided to make music your career?

Bryan: For some reason it’s always been consistent in my life. I come from a musical family and it’s just something that’s always been consistent. It’s something I always wanted to do. I cannot ever remember not wanting to do music – like never.

AHHA: Who would you say are some of your musical influences that maybe inspired you as a singer, songwriter, composer and musician?

Bryan: The range is so ridiculous. My mother listened to Earth, Wind & Fire, The Isley Brothers, Kashif, O’Bryan; things like the early ‘80s like The Deele, Babyface, and then Run DMC; all the stuff from Cold Chillin’ Records like Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie. Teddy Riley was like the pivotal point in my life [when I realized] I wanted to be a producer. Teddy Riley’s music – like in maybe ’88 – Guy’s first album, and just being like totally taken away. And that sound. Never hearing nothing like that ever, sonically.

Then I remember going away for camp like in fifth grade, there was another record that was out by this group called, Today, called “Him or Me”. My mom was really into music, so every week she would go to the record store and buy a record. So for camp I would go away for a week, week and a half and came back, she had all these new records, and one of the records was the Today record, and I distinctly remember saying, “Okay, I want to be like Teddy Riley.” From that standpoint, Puff, Dr. Dre, Chucky Thompson, Herb Middleton…all of these people were like the foundation of where I first started getting my love for music and my love for producing. I always read credits. I am the credit king. I read credits before I did my homework. All my friends were into music, me and my best friend was in the same group…there was never another option for me.

AHHA: You attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Were you born and raised in Houston as well?

Bryan: No, actually I was born in Miami and I was raised in Houston. I went to kindergarten and first grade in Miami, then the rest of the time I was in Houston, back and forth every summer going to Miami to visit my grandparents and my other family, and then being in Houston for the school year.

AHHA: Now how would you say your experience at the Performing Arts High School prepared you for your career thus far?

Bryan: First of all, I was surrounded by future stars. I went to school with future jazz legends like Jason Moran, who is now a jazz monster; my best friend Robert Glasper, who is a monster in jazz and one of the most credible jazz pianists now; Chris Dave, who is one of the illest drummers in the nation right now. I went to school with a bunch of people who would end up being trendsetters in their respective realms. Of course a lot of singers – Beyoncé and LeToya [Luckett] were freshmen at my school.

It was such a small school, 600 students, and we were really close-knit and it created an environment for me where it just let me grow [being] around those talented people all the time. There’s this girl that Prince just signed. Her name is Tamar. I went to school with her. She’s like a real perfomer. When you’re around people like that, around talent like that, Beyoncé, Tamar, LeToya, you’re just bound to get good at something. Going to that school was just like…it messed me up, because I went to college and college took me back; it was like me going backwards.

AHHA: What would you say was the turning point in your career – the point when you realized that your dream of making it in this business could possibly be a reality?

Bryan: When I was in high school I had a mentor, Greg Curtis, who fast forward now he has a hit record with Keyshia Cole – he produced and wrote “Love.” But back then, he was a producer, did a lot of gospel stuff, and he was a music director for Blackstreet, Keith Sweat, Tony, Toni, Toné. I met him when I was in the eleventh grade through another friend of mine and when we met, we clicked. From there he just showed me the ropes. He had a studio in Houston and showed me how to use the studio. I knew that I wanted to produce, but then to have somebody show me and mentor me; I’ve had three sets of mentors – this was my first one. He showed me how to produce, how to use equipment, how to record myself, how to structure songs, writing, producing, all that. He gave me the basic foundation; there’s a formula to that.

It’s crazy, because Beyoncé was a good friend of mine when we were kids, and she used to tell her father all the time there’s this dude named Bryan, he goes to my school, he’s talented; she really used to big me up to her dad. So Mr. Knowles came to see me and meet me and my team – it was me, Greg and my best friend who passed, Scooby. We were like a little writing team. [He] came to meet us, we played our songs, he loved them, he sent the girls in. So this is my first real recording session. At the time they were called Destiny. We did three songs and that’s when I knew; I said you know what? This is what I want to do.

AHHA: What has been the brightest moment of your career to date?

Bryan: I’ve had a lot of success for the past eight years but I would say this Mary J. Blige record is definitely the shining moment right now for me. Of course I haven’t even reached my peak level. We’re just beginning. So that’s the most exciting part of it.

AHHA: You’ve produced numerous songs for so many of music’s crème de la crème so I think it’s safe to assume that you’ve gotten to know them just a little bit. Give me one word to describe the following artists: Usher?

Bryan: Incredible.

AHHA: Mariah?

Bryan: Undeniable.

AHHA: Alicia Keys?

Bryan: Phenomenal.

AHHA: Mary J?

Bryan: The Queen.

AHHA: Toni Braxton?

Bryan: R&B Diva.

AHHA: So with all of these different personalities, how do you tackle the process of composing songs that are personal to each artist?

Bryan: Well, because I’m able to build with each artist. I’ve been able to build with Toni, build with Mariah, build with Usher. We kind of just vibe…and thank God I haven’t had a bad experience. Every experience I’ve had with [each] artist has been a great, positive experience.

AHHA: These days producers are almost as famous as the artists they produce. Yet you’re still very much the phantom producer – you kind of just lay in the cut. Is this by choice? What exactly is your take on the whole concept of fame?

Bryan: It’s by choice – thoroughly. I look at it this way. I think that the most important thing to me is making the money. Even by me not even being in the forefront it’s still a hassle sometimes because people know you produce certain records. I don’t ever want to feel the full effect of stardom, but I have step out there and start embracing it a little bit. I’m still not gonna get caught up in the whole balloon effect of it, the hype of it, the gassing of it. It’s a job, I’m gonna do what I gotta do, I’m gonna do these interviews [laughs], I’m gonna do what I have to do to make it happen, but it’s definitely something I’m looking at more like a job instead of a lifestyle.

AHHA: Tell me a little bit about the Dirty Rose project.

Bryan: I have a label now called Beatfactory, and under Beatfactory is LeToya Luckett; I have a girl group, Bella; I have a male artist named Q. Amey; then I have Dirty Rose. I’m stepping into executive mode – I don’t have to produce everything on everybody’s album. I produced three songs on LeToya’s album, I’m producing half of Bella’s album, I produced half of Q’s album and I’ve been in the studio with Dirty Rose for a while so I have the majority of their album done. But I’ve really been stepping into executive mode, help them pick records, letting my A&R’s do their job, and just put albums together.

AHHA: Any chance that you’ll ever come from behind the console, pick up a mic and drop a solo project of your own?

Bryan: That’s a possibility. I’ll probably do something because I have someone in my heart right now to talk about; got some things on my mind that I wanna talk about. Writing for other artists, it’s been therapy for me – writing. I feel like writing a couple of songs I’ve been holding to myself a little bit. Right now it’s slow motion; my priority is producing records. But if I look up in a few months and I got eleven records, you might hear a B. Cox album.

AHHA: I’ll be looking forward to that. Last question – who’s got next?

Bryan: Well, I’m putting this Bella thing on blast. We got the first single with Rick Ross, produced by Keyz, 1500. The record is crazy. Of course you know LeToya’s record is on fire right now, so those are my two big heavyweight things that I’m looking to break. Then of course there’s Joe; Nicole from The Pussycat Dolls; I’m doing Making The Band with Puff; Kenny Latimore and Chante Moore; I’m executive producing Brandy’s album; [producer] Johnta – he’s doing a solo record; his project is gonna be crazy; hopefully Usher real soon; I’m [working on] Whitney’s album, and possibly, hopefully, we’re talking about Beyoncé, hopefully that could happen. Me, Rich Harrison and Rodney Jerkins are trying to put something together big for Beyoncé.

AHHA: Now that would be kind of like full circle for you because you started there [with Beyoncé] and you would be back again.

Bryan: Yeah. Full circle. Definitely.