Behind every hit is a talented songwriter. For Ester Dean, her catalog may be bigger than her name. The Grammy nominated songwriter has penned hits for some of today’s top artists such as Nicki Minaj (“Super Bass”), Katy Perry (“Firework”), Rihanna (“S&M”) and Beyoncé (“Countdown”) to name a few.
Out of all the songs penned by Dean, Katy Perry’s “Firework” is one that she is most proud of. “I feel like it was such a positive song and one of those songs that I can be very proud of (laughs),” she says. Dean believes Perry did more than just sing the song but also breathed life and positivity into the song, which she says is “beautiful.”
We can talk about Dean’s songwriting resume all day. However, the Oklahoma native is more than a songwriter. She is also a solo artist who hit the scene in 2009 with her club banger “Drop It Low” featuring Chris Brown. The dance track was featured on the “More Than A Game” movie soundtrack. “Drop It Low” became a success. It peaked at No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Although “Drop It Low” made a lot of buzz, Dean says it did not accurately reflect of her sound as an artist. “ ‘Drop It Low’ is something I would’ve [written] for somebody else because I’m more dudish and the song was very girly.”
While Dean made her debut as an artist five years ago, she is still discovering her sound. “I’ve always spent time developing sounds for other people that I had to realize who I was,” she says admittingly. Dean classifies herself as a “rap-singer” who expresses herself in a masculine way. “I’m an androgynous person,” says Dean. “When I express myself, I talk about girls in a way a guy would talk about them. I talk about guys how a girl would talk about a guy but in a bolder sense. I’ve always been a vulgar person.”
When Dean was signed to Interscope Records, she experienced roadblocks that prevented her from achieving success as an artist. She believed her label was holding her back. “I never seen so much be pushed back,” says Dean. Although Interscope allegedly didn’t show her much support as an artist, execs knew she was a valuable asset as a songwriter. “They wouldn’t let me go because they thought [I] was the hit writer,” Dean claims. “I missed out on a lot of opportunity being signed,” says Dean.
After being fed up with label politics, Dean went to John Janick, former president of Interscope Records, and asked to be released. “I cried and just begged John Janick to let me go,” Dean reveals. “That’s the first time I ever cried in the music industry for something. I was crying because I felt like I was locked in a situation that I didn’t even put myself into. Polow [Da Don] kind of pushed me into being an artist. ”
Shortly after leaving Interscope, Dean started her own independent label called E.K.A.S. Records. Earlier this year she dropped a song called “Get My Dough.” Most recently, she released her club anthem “Twerkin 4 Birkin” featuring Juicy J. The concept of the song was inspired by Dean’s visit to a boutique in New Zealand. “I go into this all-American, white girl store and I’m looking at all of the t-shirts and they all say hood sh*t,” she says. “It was different stuff and different brand names. All of a sudden I said ‘twerkin for a Birkin.’”
Since Dean is now an independent artist, she wants to be mindful of what songs she invests money in. “I’m an independent artist and when I go through trying to put a song out, you come up and meet the snakes who try to get you to give them thousands of dollars to do so. I can put the money in, yeah, but I got to make sure that I’m not [spending money] in a way that is going to hurt me for real.”
For those who are awaiting a project from Dean, she is not rushing to release anything soon. However, the singer-songwriter has put aside some songs on her computer. But her main priority is Jasmine V, a new artist signed to her record label. “I got to make sure that I’m not like all these other artist producers who don’t support their own artist. I got to make sure that I do right by her. I got to make sure I give her songs.”
As Dean continues to achieve success in the music industry, she hopes to do the same in the film industry. The outspoken artist made her acting debut in the 2012 film “Pitch Perfect” as Cynthia Rose, a lesbian in an all-female singing group called The Bellas. Dean will return to the big screen in “Pitch Perfect 2.” Unlike her first role, Dean took a hiatus from songwriting to really focus on her reprised role. “I went in there with a straight head — no songs, no thinking about songs and not caring about songs,” she says. “I was like ‘I’m an actress. This is real. Know your parts. Bring your real true self to it and be present.’”
“Pitch Perfect 2” is expected to premiere in spring 2015.
Follow Ester Dean on Twitter @EsterDean.