Twenty-two-year-old singer-songwriter Jon Bellion had just gotten into a taxi cab in New York City and plugged in his phone after a long flight from London, when all hell broke loose. “I had, like, 115 text messages, my Twitter had exploded and all this madness,” he said in a phone call with XXL today (October 29). ”I turned on the radio, and the first song, Flex is dropping bombs on the record that I wrote. It was crazy.”
The record was “The Monster,” the fourth track released off Eminem’s upcoming Marshall Mathers LP 2, which features Rihanna singing the hook. Bellion, who grew up in New York and, like many his age, idolized Em growing up, didn’t know what to do.”I nearly shit myself,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t know what life meant. I didn’t really know what to say. The driver next to me is like 80 years old, homeboy has no idea who Eminem or Rihanna is, and I’m screaming, ‘DO YOU HEAR THAT? I WROTE THAT SHIT!’ [Laughs] That was a crazy, crazy experience. You know, you grow up listening to Eminem; your parents don’t let you listen to it, you gotta sneak into a car to listen to this guy rap. He changed my whole life, my whole perspective on music, so to more or less co-sign something that I’ve done is the ultimate childhood goal.”
Bellion was in the studio with singer Bebe Rexha and producer Frequency nearly a year ago when the track first came to be. “Originally, ‘The Monster’ started out as this indie, Florence And The Machine, tribal-y, almost Spanish-esque dance record,” he said. “I wrote the hook—I was just sort of mumbling over some chords, and somehow, ‘I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed’ just kind of popped out of my mouth.” Rexha, he says, added the yodel-type vocal to the hook, and the track—with verses and all—was wrapped up. But Frequency had other ideas.
“[He] was like, I might take off the verses and send the hook over to Riggs [Morales] over at Shady [Records],” remembered Bellion. “And then, like, four days later, I come back to the studio and both of them were like, ‘Atlantic wants it! Shady wants it!’ So we kind of took the risk and were like, you know what? Let’s give it to him, because that would be like winning the lottery.”
Nine months passed with no word from the label, until a tweet from Rihanna in September gave them a hint. And when the tracklist dropped earlier this month, Bellion and Rexha’s dreams were confirmed—their track had made the album, and Rih Rih had laced the hook. When the track dropped yesterday, Bellion heard it for the first time alongside the cabbie leaving the airport.
— Rihanna (@rihanna) September 11, 2013
Bellion is a songwriter, of course, as well—he’s dropping his second mixtape this November, titled The Separation, and he’s already dropped three videos off the tape, including lead single “Ungrateful Eyes.” “I grew up on Dilla, Timbaland, Pharrell, all these drums that are super pocketed, so all those influences come out on a song like ‘Ungrateful Eyes,’ with all the crazy drum swings,” he said. “I was nervous for people to not accept the sound, because it’s like, a Death Cab For Cutie-esque lyric approach, Timbaland-backed drums, it’s from so many different things. So the fact that the general public fucks with it, it’s so great.” The video grabbed 100,000 views on YouTube in one day and is over 220,000 in little more than a month.
“I’m not afraid to have my music digestible by different ages,” he said of his pop-leaning original music. “I’m not really concerned about the people on the surface who say, ‘He’s a White pop dude, so I don’t like his music.’ I’m blessed to even make music, man. I’m just appreciative and humbled that somebody I looked up to my whole life appreciated something I did.”
And with another big song coming out—he’s written the next Jason Derulo single, which is set to drop some time in the next few weeks—there could be a battle, both at the top of the charts and for his songwriting services in the near future. “Hopefully that’ll go No. 1,” he says, laughing again, “and they can share the top spot or something.” —Dan Rys (@danrys)