Written by Terzel Ron
Posted on November 25, 2022 at 4:18 pm
He won’t tell you himself, but Poo Bear is one of the greatest songwriters and producers of all time. You may know him as the guru behind hits like Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?,” Usher’s “Caught Up,” DJ Khaled’s “I’m The One,” FKA Twigs’ “Holy Terrain” and so much more.
If those songs don’t ring a bell, let’s give a further glimpse into Mr. Bear’s achievements. Known for blockbuster smashes such as Dan + Shay’s “10,000 Hours,” Chris Brown’s “I Can Transform Ya” (feat. Lil Wayne & Swizz Beatz) as well as the 13-times platinum “Despacito (Remix)” (feat. Justin Bieber) for Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, Poo Bear’s catalog has registered sales of over 350 million records worldwide, dozens of multi-platinum certifications, and 100 billion streams and counting.
The multi-hyphenate sat down with Terzel Ron to discuss his new solo album, ‘The Book of Nabeel,’ out now.
Happy birthday. Why is saying that to people significant to you?
If you were strange or unique like me, you felt comfortable to be yourself, knowing that I don’t care what anybody thinks about me, when really I really did. But it was like this reverse psychology protection mechanism for myself. And then in terms of the lifestyle, it’s like, you know what? Every day should be a birthday. Why should we wait a whole year to feel special?We don’t know how long our lives are promised, so let’s just celebrate it every day. And then our real birthday, we just celebrate extra hard. You know what I’m saying? But every day we wake up, it’s a birthday. So it’s a lifestyle. It’s great energy, a great ice breaker. I want the whole world to say it.
I personally love that message. It definitely puts a smile on everyone’s face. Another thing that puts a smile on everyone’s face is the name Poo Bear. I mean, that’s the most friendly name you could ever think of. What made you think about that name?
That’s nice. You know what my mum used to call me? Poo Bear. And my friends were, like, messing with me, like, Poo Bear. And then when I got a little older, I went to school and girls were like, You’re Poo Bear? And I’m like, yeah. And they were like, oh, that’s so cute. And then I really embraced it. I was like, ‘I am Poo Bear.’
It fits well because it fills people with good energy, and that reflects in “Favorite Human.” Tell me what the process of creating that record was like and why you chose it as a single.
“Favorite Human” is out everywhere. The process behind “Favorite Human” was I hooked up with an amazing poet named Nabil. And, you know, I never actually worked with a poet. We did “Favorite Human” in Los Angeles, and it was a special record. Ultimately, that poem that he wrote was about his kids. And then I put melodies to it, flip put a hook to it, and then I looked at it like, you know, this represents my kids now. Not just my kids, but it’s the people that are closest to me.
Was this the first time that you worked with Nabil?
We had already written a lot of records in Paris. We started working with each other maybe, like, two years ago. So all these new records that are coming out that have come out, these are just records that me and Nabil have done that or poems that have been turned into songs.
So really, really fresh.
“Favorite Human,” first of all, had an amazing video. The colors really stood out for me. But also, it seemed like there was some Caribbean influence – is that on base?
Absolutely. And that’s the thing. I can’t really even say it’s, like, specific Caribbean because it still has a little baby Afrobeat feel to it. More Caribbean than Afro. Like the little twirl sound, the main melody sound. It’s extremely Caribbean. When we worked on it, I was thinking, like, man, I wish I could think of a really dope reggae collab for it. That was my first initial gut feeling. Like, who could get on there from Kingston? You know what I’m saying? But we just ended up just putting it out, doing it by myself.
Why Did You Connect So Deeply With “Favorite Human?”
Unanimously, this was one of the most special songs on the album. I also liked the whole concept of having a favorite human. We just feel like so many people can relate to having favorite humans in their lives. Conceptually, melodically, sonically, we just felt like this was a great record to actually push at radio and push not just put out digitally, but literally put a cool marketing campaign behind it. I really value the people, the non musicians and the non creative opinions which also allowed us to choose this record because a lot of people just gravitated to this song in general.
You started off with very humble beginnings. You were homeless at one point. When you were in high school, you wrote “Anywhere” for the R&B group 112. Now you write for the biggest artists in the world. Have you ever been able to sit and really think about that journey?
Honestly, I don’t, man. It’s like randomly once every six months, I’ll be at home, and I’ll look around. I’ll be like, ‘wow, can’t believe, like, I’m here.’ But then it’s like a four second moment.
I live in the future, man. I don’t know how to live in the present. I don’t know how to stand still without going crazy, because I’m constantly really creating new songs. I’m constantly doing what’s next and trying to push everything in my life forward. I do have very small moments of reflection, but I’m so far deep in my life that I’m just nowhere near where I want to be.
So it’s like, I think maybe when I get a bit older or when I obtain some more of my goals, I might be able to do that.
Your dreams are just so big.
Yeah. I do look back sometimes and think, ‘I can’t believe I’m driving a Ferrari right now. I’m living!’ Then, when I wake up, I snap out of the dream. I’m like, ‘whoa, I’m in a fairy tale right now.’ Every blue moon reality will set in and hit me. I’m in a constant state of gratitude.
I personally think you’re the best songwriter in music. I think your track record speaks for itself.
You just really said that really comfortably, like, real confidently. It’s really interesting that you say that out loud. Thank you, man.
“The proof is in the pudding,” as they say.
No, really? Thank you. I strive hard and work hard. I could never say that myself. I would never feel comfortable saying that. So to hear you say it really is inspiring.
That’s the thing I think about you, is that you are humble. But you do need to talk your shit sometimes!
I know. It’s a healthy balance, right? I don’t toot my own horn. I don’t drink my own Kool Aid. It’s cool to be appreciated, and it’s cool to hear people appreciate me and mine, but it’s so awkward for me to say it or like, I don’t even like taking compliments. I get what you’re saying, and I just really like my music to do that, man. I really like my music, my businesses, my water. I want everything to speak to do that part that’s, you know I understand. But at the same time, I like my music and my success and all that to speak really loudly for me.
The Book of Nabeel is out now, but I remember when you released Poo Bear Presents Birthday Music. How has the album making process differed over the course of time?
The baby is born. The baby is born. To go back to Poo Bear Presents: Birthday Music was 2017, and it actually came out in 2018. It was more so my celebrity friends that I worked with, and we had a lot of great songs that were just sitting in the music of business, like, I call like to it. We just do these records and then they’re like, ‘only for you.’ So I’m like, ‘yo, why don’t we put out?’ I didn’t really know if I was actually able to pull it off, but I have a lot of great artists there.
What is “The Wolf Hour?”
It’s like, in the middle of the night. It’s around like 04:00 a.m.. It’s the threshold. So either you’re going to call it a night or you keep going all night. That’s the Wolf Hour starting point on whether, man, I’m going to call it a night and get some rest or we go it’s one or the other.
So I don’t even know what that was. So I was educated just working with Nabil, just because he’s a scholar. I didn’t graduate from high school. I went to the last day, but I didn’t listen that much, you know what I’m saying? It’s just for me, it elevated my vocabulary and just being able to sing words I would never use. I’m just tired of hearing the same words being said like, “I need you by my side.” We hope to raise the bar for the people that it does reach, for the musicians. We hope it inspires them to just push music forward and not settle for the same cliche songs.
When you were going through that time and you were experiencing homelessness, did you ever foresee yourself getting to this point?
No. When I was homeless, it was me and my mom and my brother, and I just used to hear a voice that would say, you’re going to be okay. And I heard it enough to where I actually believed it, but I didn’t know what okay meant. And then as the years went on, I would hear that voice again, say, this is nothing. You’re going to have way more than this. Like things that are outrageous. I’ll be somewhere in like, a big mansion and be like, all these things and I’ll just hear this voice and you’re going to have way more than this. And then to really look up and be like, at that point in my life where really everything that little voice said manifested. So. I didn’t foresee myself being here where I am now. I just used to hear this voice that I think was I honestly think it was my higher self. Because there is no such thing as time. I’m not going to get too deep, but all of our lives are written. I agree that I do know the future because it’s written. But it’s up to us to pass the school for here on a school on Earth on a mission. So it’s up to us to have a clean slate. But I do know there’s a higher self that can see and be like, look, if you only knew what I knew. I know it’s rep right now. You’re struggling. You’re hungry right now, but you’re going to be good. That voice is what kept me going.
What sparked the ambition in you to come to the forefront and put out your own music?
I used to write down my different goals, and one was to be a songwriter, a producer, have my own label, be an artist and act and be a teacher. All these things I used to write down on, like, these are the things I want to be always saying. I just couldn’t sing when I was younger, but I figured it out a little bit. And I’ve always put out music. I put out mixtapes to break up, too. It’s just working with Nabil and doing these new records, he made me feel confident that it doesn’t matter. Your age or whatever is any bit of insecurity that I had in the Bill kind of, like, really assured that it doesn’t matter. He really pushed me to do it because. We’re doing it together.
And then, of course, you’ve got Justin Bieber.
Justin’s always like, you should say, you should put music out. So Justin always believed in me as well. So it was like hearing that and then putting out music. And he’s like, ‘I believe in you more than anybody.’ And for me, it just made me that confident. Let’s put it out, and whoever is meant to reach it will reach them. Hopefully people can hear it and they could be influenced by other music I’ve done. And we can raise the bar, raise the standards of songwriting, so people can actually put out songs that have complete thoughts and complete ideas and not a hack of a thought. I feel like all that is important, me being an artist and me pushing music.
It’s just important. I feel like it organically happens, and I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life physically.
I was going to say, you look good, physically, man. You’re in great shape!
I really evolved myself. I was obese. I got to a place now where I feel like I’m just really comfortable in my skin, and it’s cool. I would love for this music to reach the people that it’s written to reach, and it was meant to happen. I’m here for the ride. I love putting out music.
I would be remiss to not ask you what your experience is like working with Justin Bieber and how that all came about.
Yeah, I met Justin at a birthday gathering. Lil Twist had a really small birthday gathering in Vegas in 2013. Justin flew in and we hung out, stayed, you know, at the compound that I was I was staying at in the studio. We didn’t even work. We just hung out and had a bar for 24 hours. Then, you know, a couple of days later, I get a call from a random person like, “this is Justin.”
He’s like, “can you take the chords from this record and flip them and write a whole new song to it?” I was like, yeah, a challenge. It wasn’t really a challenge, but I did it in, like, 30 minutes with the audibles and sent it to him. He was like, “Would you come to Boston? Like right now?” I was like, cool. And when he flew into Boston, we cut recovery. And then he kept me on the road with him for 14 months. And we just went everywhere in the world, different continents. And it was just amazing just working with him. I never foresaw myself working with Justin. I just felt like he was a superstar. I didn’t need anybody or anything. But he definitely changed my life. He’s the first artist to give me credit verbally, like, interviews and people, places where I’ve never heard anybody say my name. Nobody’s ever. Everybody usually just takes the credit like they did it on their own, which is totally fine because I just want to take care of my family. I don’t care about the extra stuff. But he was the first person to say my name out, really, in public. And for me, it’s like it’s changed my life forever. So I’m super always indebted to Justin.
The people around you will talk your shit for you on your behalf.
Absolutely. He inspired me even in times where I didn’t believe in myself. I never had anybody believe in me more than him before. And it was, like, mind blowing that it gave me so much more confidence. And it happened to be, like, the biggest artist in the world out of all the people who I would want to say my name, it just ended up being like it made perfect sense that Justin Bieber will be the first person to give me my credits to the world.
Let’s play a quick game I call “song versuz,” where you put your own hits against one another. So, Justin Bieber’s “What do you mean” versus Usher’s “Caught Up?”
“Caught up” for sure.
Chris Brown’s “I Can Transform You” versus the “Despacito Remix.”
“Despacito Remix.” Super special!
What are you most proud of in your career?
Wow. I’m most proud of my longevity in my career. I think that the statistics say that I saw rider producers. The average lifespan is two years. So I had my first hit record when I was 17, 1997, and it’s now 2022. And I can say, like, my last big hit record was “Intentions” by Justin. And I think that just that right there for me. Just to be able to be a part of four decades of music and, like, to have success in the then have success in the 2020s, for me, is like, it’s just a blessing, and it allows me to stay focused and not do anything different, stay working hard. But I would definitely please say that’s, like, my biggest accomplishment in music is just still being my longevity and allowing my frequencies to stay relevant.