Sean Garrett wants more! Your favorite artist’s favorite songwriter-producer–behind #1 hits such as Beyoncé’s “Check On It,” Fergie’s “London Bridge,” Nelly’s “Grillz,” Chris Brown’s “Run It!,” Ciara’s “Goodies,” and Usher’s “Yeah!”–takes center stage with his debut album, Turbo 919 (Bet I Penned It/Interscope Records).
“I love when people hear a hit and know I wrote and produced it but I love being on stage too,” says Garrett. “Performing my songs, what’s in my heart, that’s been my dream since I was a kid. Creating that excitement in people with music is a remarkable high, and nothing replaces it, not drugs or sex. I’ve been planning for this my entire life.”
Led by the first single, the sexy, hook-filled “Grippin’” featuring Ludacris, the electrifying and groundbreaking Turbo 919 also boasts contributions from Pharrell, Akon, Lil Wayne, Stargate, Rodney Jerkins, Bloodshy, and others. But it is the four-time Grammy Award nominated Garrett, nicknamed “The Pen” by Jay-Z, who is the star.
From the ‘laid-back-summer-vibe of “Girlfriend Ringtone,” to the romantically-inspired “Lay Up Under Me,” Garrett manages to capture a wide range of emotions and eclectic pop and R&B sounds from track to track. Whether it’s the electronic fuzz of “What You Doin’” or the dance-driven “Pretty Girls,” Garrett’s Turbo 919 is a fast and smooth, old school, yet cool ride that crosses musical genres that many artists dare to intertwine.
The can’t-get-the-chorus-out-of-my-head “Why Am I In Love With You,” and the techno-influenced title track, “Turbo 919” are both supercharged with heart-thumping baselines and synthesized harmonies that listeners across the globe can jam to. Turbo 919 is definitely an album for the world; with songs like the heart-felt ballad “People,” a modern-day “We Are The World,” the message captured is one that the all walks of life can relate to. Throughout Turbo 919, Garrett consistently delivers music that resonates the soul while shaking up the dance floor.
“I don’t sound like anyone else,” says the soulful, velvet-voiced artist. “These songs feel and sound like me. I don’t hold onto the past; keeping songs meant for other artists. I don’t fit their molds, and I don’t want to redo what’s already been done. I love what’s new and fresh and exciting. I’m a trendsetter, not a follower. I want people to say, ‘That shit is crazy!’ I like to lead and I lead by being me.”
Who Garrett is explains why he has become that rare songwriter who has changed the music scene, garnered both commercial and critical acclaim, and earned the respect of a Who’s Who list of music artists. He epitomizes bringing together the urban and pop worlds, the edgy and the smooth.
Born in Atlanta, South Side, Garrett moved with his family to Europe when he was four years old. His father was in the U.S. military and they never stayed long in one place, transferring between Army bases across Germany and England. “American urban life flows in my veins,” he says, “but living in Europe gave me an opportunity to see things from a different point of view, including when it comes to pop and dance music.”
Performing in talent shows (“I thought I was Michael Jackson,” he says with a smile) led to a recording contract with Ariola/BMG at age 17. A few years later, having returned to the States, he was about to sign with Warner Bros. but its black music department was axed, killing the deal. Frustrated, Garrett stepped off the roller coaster, graduated from college (an A.A. degree in business from the University of Maryland’s program in Germany), and took a lucrative job as a mortgage broker in South Carolina.
He soon realized, however, that the uncreative environment wasn’t for him. He began writing songs again, recorded a few, and friendly radio program directors played them. Impressed, music industry folks said he should write for other performers. But Garrett insisted he was an artist, not a songwriter.
After moving back to Atlanta, his mother Rita, who had encouraged his music career, passed away. “Deep inside, I found the strength that I always knew I had but never used. I had a choice: I could give up, or keep moving and make something of myself.” He started shopping for a publishing deal.
In 2003, L.A. Reid signed him as a songwriter and Garrett’s ballad “I Don’t Want To Hurt You” was placed with Motown crooner Latif. Then came “Yeah!” from Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris. “Yeah!” hit #1 R&B/Hip-Hop, remained at the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 12 consecutive weeks, and was named BMI’s 2005 Urban Song Of The Year.
An avalanche of other #1s has followed, among them “Goodies” from Ciara featuring Petey Pablo (#1 Pop and R&B/Hip-Hop), “Ring The Alarm” from Beyoncé (#1 Dance), “Like This” from Kelly Rowland featuring Eve (#1 Dance), “Buttons” from The Pussycat Dolls featuring Snoop Dogg (#1 Dance), “Dimelo” from Enrique Iglesias (#1 Latin), “London Bridge” from Fergie (#1 Pop), and the Dance #1s “Lose My Breath” and “Soldier” from Destiny’s Child.
In early 2006, Garrett notched a phenomenal feat when for two straight weeks his name was on each of the top three songs on the Billboard Hot 100: “Grillz” by Nelly featuring Paul Wall, Ali and Gipp (also #1 Rap); “Check On It” by Beyoncé featuring Slim Thug (also #1 Dance), and “Run It!” by Chris Brown featuring Juelz Santana (also #1 R&B/Hip-Hop), respectively. Not surprisingly, Garrett was ranked the #1 Pop and #2 R&B Songwriter Of The Year by Billboard, and honored as co-Songwriter Of The Year by BMI.
“I’m so fortunate and blessed, and I appreciate my success,” he says. “I had to earn my stripes. If you’re not legit, you don’t stay around for long. I still learn from people who were in this business before me, people like Lionel Richie. I don’t negate them because they’re Old School. I take notes, put them in my back pocket, and use them to understand what’s going on. The bottom line is that you can have the finest chicks and a billion dollars but what matters most is what’s in your heart.”
Garrett has had tracks recorded by artists as varied as Richie and Gwen Stefani, Janet Jackson and Santana, DMX and Jennifer Holliday, Britney Spears and Jay–Z, Puffy and The Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger, plus LL Cool J, Keyshia Cole, Joe, Monica, Fantasia, and many others. He has also collaborated on Top 10s for Mary J. Blige, Ricky Martin, Jamie Foxx, and 112. In 2008 alone, he has been linked to current or forthcoming projects from Whitney Houston, Raven-Symoné, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Ashlee Simpson, Michelle Williams, and Vanessa Hudgens.
Musically innovative and unpredictable, Garrett often is asked about any new record that hits, “Did you do that?” “That’s great even if I didn’t,” he says. “It means they know I’m liable to do anything. ‘Yeah!’ was out of the box for Usher, ‘Ring The Alarm’ was very risky for Beyoncé, and at the same time I did Nelly’s ‘Grillz.’ Now I’m doing for myself what I do for other artists. Turbo 919 is just as diverse: ‘Grippin’’ is street Atlanta but the title track is mainstream American pop. I want people to say, ‘I don’t know where he’s taking me but I want to get in that car.’”
Garrett is firmly at the wheel. Like any artist worth listening to, he has a definite point of view. “I love life and I love people; I don’t like dark spirits or negative vibes. I’m all positive, all love, all happiness, because that’s what is in my heart. When someone hears my songs, whether they’re in a club or getting up in the morning to go to work, I want them to feel good about life. To me, songs are messages; they are energy, feelings, and emotions.”
Unafraid of stretching the musical boundaries of pop and urban, Garrett is equally fearless of lyrical limits, as he proves on the album’s “Come On In.” “I can get away with saying almost anything because with my voice it still comes off sweet. The point is that you can be a real man and still be passionate and sensitive. You may look like an action figure but sometimes you should talk to a woman like she wants. My point is that a man can be romantic and emotional and still be tough as nails.”
With Turbo 919 as his vehicle, the famously prolific and hard-working Garrett is a man on the go.
“I have this saying: ‘While your guns are raising, my guns are blazing.’ Some people think I’m too focused, too serious. But I know that in the blink of an eye it can all be taken away. I don’t want to be 10 years down the road saying, ‘Damn, I should have done an album.’ You only go through life once; you might as well do it the best you can.”