Grammy winner Makeba Riddick-Woods is making a name for herself in the music industry. After writing hits for a slew of artists such as Beyoncé, Rihanna and Tamar Braxton, the singer-songwriter now serves as a music producer on Lee Daniels’ “Star” and “Empire.” But she doesn’t just want to be a songwriter. Her gig on the Fox musical dramas is the start to something bigger.
Riddick-Woods’ career spans 16 years, and in that time she’s written songs like “All I Have,” Jennifer Lopez’s No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 single with LL Cool J, and lent vocal production to Rihanna’s “Unfaithful,” but it was her work on Beyoncé’s 2006 album “B’Day” that kicked things into overdrive.
“I’d been in the studio writing with her for the past month,” the songwriter recalls exclusively to Atlanta Black Star on Friday, Nov. 9. “She was gearing up to release the album, and it was so much going on at that time. I had co-written seven songs, I was working on a new publishing deal … it was just a lot going on, so when the record hit the radio, I didn’t realize it was coming out so soon. I was driving down the West Side Highway [in New York] and DJ Clue premiered the record, and literally, I almost crashed into the car in front of me because I was like, ‘Oh my God! It’s out!’ … That was really a defining moment in my career.”
While Queen Bey broke down the door for other opportunities, that doesn’t mean Riddick-Woods just wants to remain the go-to star for top-charting R&B and pop tunes. She’s already stepped out of that box recently by writing the hit gospel tune “Won’t He Do It” for “The Voice” breakout star Koryn Hawthorne, which made it to the top spot of the Hot Gospel Songs chart, where it sat for a record 26 weeks at No. 1.
“What I’ve done with ‘Won’t He Do It’ is attract a younger demographic for gospel music,” the hitmaker said. “Gospel music has, to me, gotten to a place where people just weren’t excited about it anymore. … It was more for mature audiences.”
Riddick-Woods said it was Hawthorne’s label RCA Inspiration that allowed her to “put a new face” on gospel and “give it an overhaul so that we can be played on the same stations that they play Drake and they play secular artists.” She also penned Hawthorne’s song “Unstoppable,” which holds special meaning for the songwriter.
“I think about myself and where I came from — I’m from West Baltimore, which is like, the jungle — and it’s so many young girls that just did not realize their potential and realize everything that they were capable of doing,” she said. “I just felt like that was the song that would speak to women and girls and people who need to know that we are unstoppable, we can do anything.”
The smash has lit a fire in Riddick-Woods, making her want to tackle even more new musical styles.
“I really, really wanna work with SZA,” she said. “I’ve been putting some stuff together for her to get out to her. I really wanna work with Ariana Grande. I really wanna work with Yolanda Adams. … I wanna dominate different genres. I’ve had a No. 1 record on the dance charts with Kelis, I’ve had a No.1 record with a hip-hop artist — T.I. — I’ve had pop No. 1 records, I’ve had R&B No. 1 records, I’ve had soul No. 1 records. So for me, it’s not about getting out of any one genre, it’s just focusing on another.”
Yet the hitmaker doesn’t want to stop there. Riddick-Woods also wants to expand her footprint and do more writing for film and TV, including more work on OWN’s “Greenleaf.” She’s also looking to begin executive producing projects and collaborating with artists.
While Riddick-Woods has seen her share of success, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had some rough lessons as she came up young in the music business.
“I’ve learned that it’s all business,” she said. “I had to take my emotions out of a lot of things and realize that, ‘Hey, this has nothing to do with me, the person.’ This is business, this is, is this song right for this artist? … It has nothing to do with Makeba. … That’s one of the greatest lessons coming up in the industry.”
As for anyone hoping to follow in her footsteps as a lyricist, Riddick-Woods says to always keep the end goal in mind.
“Develop very thick skin,” she advised. “Keep your eyes on the prize. Keep your eyes on the fact that you have a destiny that’s been written for you and some things are out of our control but a lot of things are in our control. … A lot of people, in general, lack the dedication and lack the sacrifice.”
Recalling her own grind of staying with her cousin in Queens, N.Y., interning during the day, working a temp job in the evening and pounding the pavement in the studio by night, she acknowledged her mom always told her she could always come home and be a teacher.
But she knew songwriting was her destiny.
“You gotta have long-suffering and patience to really, really hang in there regardless of how bad the circumstances might get at that time.”