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The average radio listener met Rico Love last fall. The introduction was abrupt, the honeymoon came quickly, and soon he and that average listener were inseparable. The reason: a little Beyoncé ditty called "Sweet Dreams," which Rico penned in less than 15 minutes.
Recorded almost as fast in a nondescript Design District studio, it was a crackling slice of robotic funk that would have made the King of Pop proud. And within weeks of its official single release, "Sweet Dreams" shot into the Top 10. Nearly every five minutes, the track blared from mall stores, South Beach clubs, and pimped-out whips.
It wasn't exactly the beginning of Rico's rise, but it was the moment when his buzz reached critical mass. And if the 27-year-old could work melody magic for an already reigning diva, he soon proved he could do the same for sagging stars.
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Could Usher regain his heartthrob hit-maker status? Would Diddy's promised album ever come out? Was Nelly still around? Thanks to Rico's touch, the answer to all three questions was yes.
"There's no trick to coming back. It's just a good song," Rico says. "When the masses know who you are, all you need is a hit."
Over the past 12 months, those good songs racked up. For Usher, Rico begot "Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home)," the singer's first Hot 100 single in years. For Diddy's Dirty Money supergroup, there was "Hello, Good Morning," an electro-tinged cut that charted from here to Switzerland. For Nelly, even, there was "Just a Dream," the rapper's best-selling single since 2005's "Grillz."
Owing to this unbelievable hot streak, record label megalith Universal Motown has dropped some money on Mr. Love. Less than three weeks ago, he announced the creation of Division 1, a 50/50 joint venture with Universal Motown that created his own stable and label. It's a big risk considering the chaotic state of the record industry. But Rico couldn't be less concerned.
"I believe in the old saying 'Scared money don't make no money,'" he says. "If I lived my life according to what people told me was impossible, I wouldn't be anywhere. I believe I'm the exception to the rule because I'm willing to put in the work."
And sometimes it seems that all Rico does is work. But while upcoming projects for other labels see him writing for stars such as Pleasure P and Jamie Foxx, he remains most focused on the development of Division 1.
His immediate priority is Young Chris, a 20-something, Philadelphia-based rapper who once scored a Top 20 hit as part of a duo called the Young Gunz. The pair was a casualty of the Roc-a-Fella label splitup, and Rico thinks Chris's fans simply need a little wake-up call.
"He puts me in the mind of a Nas, of a Jay-Z, in the sense that he's giving us that true hip-hop but not going so far away from mainstream," Rico says. "It's still fun, something for the kids and women. But at the same time, he's saying something that has purpose and meaning."
A forthcoming mixtape, The Reintroduction of Chris, is due out November 20, and a lead single, "Break a Bitch Down," is already available for free on the Internet. Featuring guest raps by Rico himself, it's a warning to protect your girl, lest he and Chris steal her. Most exciting, though, is the production. Full of sirens, squeals, and snare snaps, the track bangs like a massive club explosion.
Meanwhile, Rico and his staff plot this Friday's official label launch, Young Chris's proper studio album, and a total Division 1 takeover. "Everybody's working. Everybody's in the gym," he says. "It's prep! It's like war! You gotta prepare for combat!"