Hip-Hop

Beyonce's Folky 'Lemonade' Track 'Daddy Lessons': Co-Writer Kevin Cossom Shares the Story Behind the 'Tough' Song

Beyonce in a still from the Lemonade visual album.
Courtesy Photo

Beyonce in a still from the Lemonade visual album.

R&B singer-songwriter Kevin Cossom could be considered the go-to guy for hooks. Penning the choruses for the likes of Jeezy's 2006 anthem "Go Getta" featuring R. Kelly and Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill's 2015 duet "All Eyez On You" with Chris Brown, he also earned a Grammy nom for co-writing the 2009 Keri Hilson jam "Knock You Down" with Kanye West and Ne-Yo.

The Miami-by-way-of-Philly native, who first wrote and produced his own songs after his mom gifted him a keyboard for his high school graduation, continues to be on his solo grind. He's pumped out the two-part, 2010 project Hook Vs. Bridge (which features an intro from Snapchat connoisseur DJ Khaled, bigging up his Jive Record/ N.A.R.S. signing) and its 2012 sequel. Cossom also catered to the ladies for the Valentine's Day release Grey Area earlier this year. He also plans to release a forthcoming project called M.A.B.A.D. (an acronym for Music, Alcohol. Bad Ass Decision). 

His biggest look, though, is landing credit on Beyonce's recently released visual Lemonade. Alongside singer-songwriter Wynter Gordon and producer-songwriter Alex Delicata, Cossom also helped lay down Bey's country jam "Daddy Lessons." Here, he recalls the creative session at his Miami condo that birthed the track that channels Bey's Texas roots.

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How did you get your start in songwriting?

Honestly, I’ve been doing it for a while. My first placement was for a record called “Go Getta” for Young Jeezy back in the day. In Florida, in the South in general, hip-hop is very prevalent so I kind of got my start through hip-hop and writing choruses. I was always a songwriter but it wasn't until “Go Getta” was I considered a professional. I actually linked up with these producers from my area, called The Runners and we did music together and they had the opportunity to get a project on Def Jam. Honestly, ["Go Getta"] was a Jay Z vibe at first but then someone in the studio started rapping like Jeezy, like ‘This would be perfect.’ We switched it up and we went [with Jeezy]. And then it went after that so as they say, you get one then they want another one. We did “Speedin’” for Rick Ross then “Cash Flow” for Ace Hood then another one called “My Time” for Fabolous and Jeremih. Then I had a chip on my shoulder because I was only writing choruses and I was starting to think people only thought I was the hook guy. Not till I got my first major placement on Keri Hilson for “Knock You Down” that I wrote did I feel like I had arrived. It’s my first No. 1, nominated for a Grammy and from then on, I just kept going.

In terms of writing R&B songs versus hip-hop, do you feel like your creative process changes?

Now, more than ever, I’m more influenced by hip-hop than R&B. Nowadays, it’s the candy, icing on top that you’re singing. Even all the rappers are singing [nowadays]. It just depends on who I’m writing for but most of the time, people want that hip-hop element. With the Bey record, specifically, it wasn’t hip-hop at all. And I’m very eclectic. Working with ["Daddy Lessons" co-writer] Wynter Gordon was awesome and she’s probably one of my favorite writers to work with ‘cause she’s just so free and everything’s so organic. We’re not trying to do something that already sounds like something else.

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On that record “Daddy Lessons,” we were in my condo in Miami. Wynter just wanted to do something from scratch. I called over a good friend of mine, Alex Delicata, who is also co-producer and writer. He played the guitar, wrote it and we pretty much pressed record on the laptop and sang it down -- harmonies, stomping and clapping, and that was the vibe. We probably did it a few times till we got it right. We knew that we had something. Wynter wanted to take it to Bey. She wanted to keep it just as organic, as simple as possible. That situation was an awesome session as far as us being free, open and organic and not being contrived to what we think radio is looking for.

Did you know the song was going to be for Beyonce as you were writing?

We really didn’t know [if the song would make the album] but we knew it was Bey. Of course, as songwriter, we still want to do something that we love regardless of [whether the artist] says they don’t love it or this artist turns it down. We have to love it so I think that’s what we were kind of chasing more than anything. [We were just thinking], "Who could this be for? Who could deliver this? Who could really take this to another level?" This is a big record so that’s kind of what it was. Wynter is very much a genius in her creative energy. She is one-of-one.

What inspired the actual narrative behind “Daddy Lessons”?

When I did it with Wynter, I just honestly let her vibe out. It was obviously a female record. When it comes to that, I like to listen as far as the perspective of a woman or how they’re feeling. I don’t want to take the lead as a man so we were going off on how she was vibing and what her feelings were. It’s pretty much daddy lessons. A girl that grew up tough. Her father was hard on her, didn’t want nobody to take advantage of her. Definitely one of those situations. It painted a country picture in our minds. It sounded tough. “So my daddy said shoot.” You see the whiskey on the table. You see the rifle. It just had that feel to it. It didn’t take the hip-hop element to make it tough, which I think is very cool especially for Beyonce. And it goes with her being from Texas. Her vibe to it just makes sense for how it all came together.

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Was the country-sounding influence part of the original formula?

I don’t know if it was Alex playing the guitar [that inspired the sound]. Like I said, Wynter’s very organic and even me. We get along very well. We’re very eclectic, we love all styles and genres of music. We just like to have fun as well when we’re writing. It felt more folk than country but I think people naturally interpreted it for country. I think folk is a sister of soul as well. It’s not too far from what we already feel or do. It’s just changing the music format, making it more organic naturally.

Did you get to work with Beyonce in-person?

No, that’s the thing. Me and Wynter Gordon wrote this record with Alex Delicata. [Wynter] took it in to Bey and she loved it. It took two years for me to know she liked it. [Laughs] I even did a record called "All Eyes On You" by Nicki Minaj, Meek Mill and Chris Brown. I wrote the chorus for it and even that was a two-year-old record. Sometimes, it’s timing. It’s bigger than us. All we can do is to continue to record and be as good as we can be. Everything will fall into place when it’s supposed to.

What was your reaction when you saw “Daddy Lessons” play out for the first time?

I was actually at the house, shooting a music video. My producer called me and he was like, "Yo, do you know?" With situations like that, I’ve had records that I had done years before and then it finally gets placed. After two years, you know it’s a great record but you’re not like waking up everyday, thinking, "Is this the day?" You move forward, keep working, do other records so when it happened, it was just like, "Wow." I had worked with Wynter after that time too for other Bey records. Those were the records I was thinking might be more of a possibility [to make the album]. Not the ones from two years ago but that shows when something’s timeless, it’s timeless. It’s classic.

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Did those other collaborations appear on the album?

No, but Wynter actually got three [songs] on there. I’m very proud of her for that. “Daddy Lessons” was two years ago and it wasn’t on my mind. I kinda didn’t know. Beyonce is a big deal. I write for a lot of people but Bey is cream of the crop. It’s like a moment where you’re excited but you’re like ‘Really? Is this really happening?’ And I try not to be too excited but I was at the house and had a mini-celebration at the house after [Lemonade dropped]. It’s pretty exciting. I got on the phone with a few different people. Just a really, really cool moment. I don’t think it’s soaked in yet.

Other Beyonce collaborators say writing for her is intense. Did you feel the pressure?

Sometimes when you’re writing, you want to get on these projects because you know how big it is. Beyonce, one of the biggest artists of all time -- who wouldn’t want to be a part of that project? It’s like going to the Super Bowl. You get the opportunity to actually be there but you want to win too. I feel like if [the artist and songwriter] don’t connect [with the audience], we’re not gonna convey it right. Lemonade is very worldly in comparison to the last project, which was way more urban. This project is worldly and the record “Daddy Lessons” just happened to work. Once a formula works, people want to use that formula again until it doesn’t work anymore but what’s awesome about Beyonce is she doesn’t have to play by the rules -- she creates them.