Producer Kuk Harrell On How Britney Spears Almost Sang Rihanna’s “Umbrella”
Grammy-winning vocal producer, songwriter, and producer Kuk Harrell has worked with many of the biggest names in music today. Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Usher, Mariah Carey, Chris Brown, and more have worked with him on some of their most successful tracks.
But Harrell’s has not yet to collaborate with Britney Spears. Which is too bad, because the talented producer told CBS Local that the much-lauded single “Umbrella,” which would push Rihanna’s career into the stratosphere, was originally offered to Spears.
Harrell started working with his cousin, Tricky Stewart, creating an assembly line process for writing and producing tracks in the style of the legendary production team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Harrell said, once the two had perfected their working relationship, they thought, “[L]et’s go for it. Let’s write some stuff and start sending it out. We knew that we were writing for, we were actually writing with Britney Spears in mind.”
The single came together really quickly for the duo, with an assist from The-Dream. “I went to the studio…and just kind of putzing around. [I] found this loop which is the basic foundation of ‘Umbrella.’…Tricky had the same idea, he wanted to go to the studio…he was like, ‘That’s pretty hot. Open up all the gear, let me try to put something on it…’ About 45 minutes later The-Dream showed up to the studio…and that’s when he started writing the chorus to ‘Umbrella.’”
Harrell recalls, “After we got done we realized that it was special. We said well let’s just send this to Britney Spears. We sent it to her camp, they didn’t like it.”
The guys finished the song at the beginning of 2005, but it took until 2007 for it to find a the right artist. It wasn’t rejected because of worries about Britney’s infamous umbrella rampage against a paparazzo’s car, which happened in Feburary 2007. The hit was released in the aftermath, near the end of March 2007.
The songwriting team got a reprieve when the track reached a new pair of ears. “Then Karen Kwak, who is vice president at Def Jam, she heard it,” Harrell said. “I think our management sent it to her. She…played it for LA Reid. [He] said immediately, ‘That’s for Rihanna.’ About two weeks later we were in L.A. cutting it [with] Rihanna and two weeks [after that] it was out.”
Harrell has worked closely with Rihanna since, serving as her vocal producer on Talk That Talk and Good Girl Gone Bad. He confirmed that he has recently started working on Rihanna’s next album.
-Courtney E. Smith, CBS Local