Stacy Barthe is well-versed in struggle. From making her mark at Jive as an intern to nearly missing the opportunity to write for Rihanna, the smiley singer/ songwriter transformed her shortcomings into platforms for success.
Barthe swung by VIBE HQ, delivering an interview chock full of quotables and experiences that came full-circle. Here, she discusses her points-of-entry into the business, her biggest co-sign and forthcoming album due in September.
VIBE: Briefly discuss your come up for anybody who isn’t too familiar with your story.
Stacy Barthe: People don’t know this, but my journey began as an intern. My first internship was at Geffen. I had just finished my freshman year at St. John’s University. My second internship was at Jive , where I stayed for about a year and a half. I started out in the Pop Department then ended up in the Urban Marketing department, working on projects like Ciara, Chris Brown and OutKast. Years later, everything came full circle. Barry Weiss, who was the former president at Jive, is now the chairman of Homeschool/Motown, the label I am currently signed to. I remember dropping marketing reports to his assistants cubicle. Shortly after my internship, I knew it was time to take a leap on faith. I met HitBoy on MySpace while I was there and he thought I was an A&R based on my profile info stating i “worked” at Jive. I was working, I just wasn’t getting paid. One day he posted a track and asked if anyone wanted to write to it. I asked him to email it to me and I was blown away. He sent me another batch and again, I was super impressed and that’s how it all began. He would send me tracks and I would get songs written to them. In 2006, he met Polow da Don on MySpace as well, then the next thing you know, he was moving to [Atlanta]. He invited me to come and work with him and through that situation, I met a woman by the name of Ethiopia Habtemariam who was going to play a big role in my life. She ended up signing me to Universal Music Publishing after a trivial period of trying to figure out the best thing for me. She’s has always been a believer. Fast forward to now, she is also the person behind giving me a chance to become an artist as well.
Which do you prefer: songwriting or singing?
I would like to be considered an artist who has the ability to write songs. Often times, it’s hard to break out of that mold especially if you have had great success in songwriting. I can honestly say, that thus far, I have had mild success as a songwriter. Although I have placed songs on a plethora of artists, my only single was “Cheers” for Rihanna. There is so many politics that go into the whole songwriting thing. We are in the singles game. If it is not on the radio, then it is going to be some time before you cash in off of an album cut. And as you know, unless you’ve had songs on the radio, no one wants to pay a songwriter a fee. The producers generally get a fee for their production, but the songwriters don’t. That part is hard, because you are expected to show up and there are no guarantees when it comes to placing a song.
How did the song “Cheers” come about?
I recall the time I was called in to write for Rihanna. I was going through a very rough patch. I didn’t even have gas to get to the studio. Two days before “Cheers” even happened, I was losing my voice and I needed medicine that was only available at this particular rite aide. I just finished a session and it was 6am. I was in the car waiting for the store to open and while I was sitting there, I wrote myself a letter. I was feeling so low to the ground and I wanted to be able to look back on the letter. I said i never want to forget how I am feeling at this very moment. It starts off with me saying where I was in life and how I didn’t want to be here. I was semi-suicidal, but the silver lining came at the end of the letter. “Today is the first day of the Rihanna writing camp, I have a funny feeling I’m gonna get on this one.” Two days later, “Cheers” was created and the rest is history. When I heard it on the radio for the fist time, I cried. I remember where I was when it happened.
Working with Diddy, what was something you learned from him in terms of his work ethic?
Diddy is one of the most hard working men in the industry . There is a reason why he has been able to be this successful. He is relentless. It was so inspiring to work with someone like that who I admired so much as a child. I brought him a small candle set for all the years he lit up my life. I learned a lot working with him. He was so much fun to be around!
Do you remember the first line you ever wrote when you were younger?
Oh god! I was about 7 years old, I believe and it was a rap song! The first line was “Something about a master of disaster, I am Stacy B”…just wackness!
What has been the most emotionally trying song to write?
The first one that comes to mind is “Drink My Pain Away,” on Sincerely Yours. The verse said “Lying here still like a corpse on an autopsy bed/ Cause of death, she confessed in a letter/ That she wrote and left it on the dresser/ It was wine, it was a fine line/ Idle time, silent nights they took over my mind.” When I wrote the lyrics, that’s exactly how I was feeling, I still have the page with the tear drops on it. I did not know what to say after that verse. I ran into my girl Joi Starr at a party right before I went back to the studio and invited her to the studio. When she heard the song, she completely related. That is who joined me on the second verse.
On your latest project P.S. I Love You, I read that “Flawed Beautiful Creatures” was about the Trayvon Martin case. How did that affect you?
It was a tragedy because the kid was innocent and wasn’t looking for trouble. And here, you have Zimmerman who may not be a horrible person but made a mistake. I don’t know if he has priors or if he is known for being a violent person. He may have been acting upon what his perception of a black man with a hoodie is and did it out of fear, not realizing that it was an unarmed child who was harmless. It’s like in the movie Crash when the police officer who saved Terrence Howard at the end was giving that black kid a ride home and he thought that the black kid had a gun and killed him. He was persecuted by perception.
What makes your songwriting unique?
I think what makes me unique is the fact that I am speaking from everyone’s point of view.
I know you, Elle Varner, Miguel and Luke James have a little collective called the “Nouveau Noir.” What does that mean?
Well, it’s a feeling, it’s a revolution, its a movement. It all started with Elle Varner and I talking about it and us coming up with a name. To me, we’re re-creating the Black Renaissance. Our music has no bounds. We are into art, fashion, and making solution music.
You’ve worked with such huge names already like T.I., Andre 3000 and Rick Ross. Who have you been most starstruck by and who is your dream collaboration?
All of them really! Andre 3000 is one of the best rappers and lyricists. The way he thinks, the way he writes, how he flows, everything is amazing. T.I. is like one of my favorite rappers from the South. He is one of the most well versed and diverse rappers in the game. The artist I’m most excited about [one day working with] is Jay-Z. Ive been a Jay-Z fan since Reasonable Doubt! I was in the sixth grade when I first got a dose and have been hooked since then. I love who he was, and who he became. As far as the new rappers go, I am totally in love with Kendrick Lamar as is the rest of the world. I love what A$AP Rocky is doing. Odd Future is pretty amazing too!
You’re also a huge Beyoncé fan. Can you recall the time you played her music?
Marcella Araica, who is producer Danja’s right hand, was the one who mentioned me to Beyoncé and recommended I come and write. Beyoncé was not familiar with me, but she was open to giving me a shot. So when I got to work for her, we got to talk for a couple of hours. During that time, she played me a couple of records off of the album to share what the direction was. Of course, when she was done, I was like, “Can I play you some songs?” I got to play her a couple of songs from Sincerely Yours. She told me she thought it was great and that I had a beautiful spirit. I was on day 100 on the weight loss battle and I shared that with her. She encouraged me to keep pushing. Two years later, I bumped into Beyoncé again at Alicia Keys’ listening party in NYC and I didn’t know if she would remember me. I was trying to talk to Julian, her security guard and she reached over and was like, “Stacy? You look amazing.” She hadn’t seen me since I was in my 3’s. She was so warm and I couldn’t believe she recognized me. I also got to meet King Hov that night. It was pretty much one of the best nights of my life.
Was losing weight something you did for yourself or the industry?
I wanted to loose weight so I can live. I spent a quarter of my life existing. Being overweight is not easy. It’s funny how a majority of America is overweight and we have such limited options. For the first time in my life, I am shopping in a regular store. I went from wearing a size 26 and now I am wearing a 10-12 in pants. I want to live without any restrictions or limitations. I recall not being able to get on a ride with friends because the levee would not come down and close over my thighs. That was one of the most mortifying experiences in my life. I said to myself, I never want to feel like this again. Losing the weight has helped me find the true me. Sometimes, you gotta lose it to find it.