“Oh, by the way I’m Future.” “I’m C.”
In the video for Ciara’s 2013 single “Body Party,” the R&B singer and her then-boyfriend Future offer a version of their origin story. He spots her across the room at an Atlanta house (well, mansion) party filled with mutual friends like Ludacris and Trinidad James, introduces himself, and insists that he knows they’ll wind up together because “they don’t call him the future for no reason.” They both fantasize about the titular body party, and proceed to dance the night away.
That origin story might be closer to fact than myth, at least as far as the central placement of the song. Five years after “Body Party” premiered right here at Billboard, Ciara and Future’s collaborators and friends are opening up about the song’s genesis which, as it turns out, parallels that of their relationship. The single, the first from Ciara’s self-titled fifth album, reached No. 22 on the Hot 100 and No. 6 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, but its aesthetic success explains its continued relevance: sultry but not overly serious, contemporary but grounded in classic R&B. Ciara is breathy and assertive at once, over a beat that spins one perfect sample into a delicate web of synths. A song exclusively about sex has rarely sounded so romantic.
“Body Party” began in two Atlanta basements: one was the setting for the lyrics, and one for the beat. The former came via Ciara and Atlanta songwriter Jasper Cameron (Christina Aguilera, Nelly), who’s worked with Ciara since she was 14 and recording demos with a girl group. “She had that ‘it’ thing from the first time I saw her,” he says now. “People don't know -- she really can write.” That day, the first thing that came out of her mouth was, “Your body is my party.” “I was immediately like, ‘Oh, that’s hard,’” Cameron recalls. They fleshed out the verses, but still didn’t think there was enough there to make a whole song.
Not long after, Pierre Ramon Slaughter (a.k.a. P-Nasty, a producer in Mike Will Made-It’s Ear Drummers collective) was working on a beat in his basement. Specifically, it was a flip of the Ghost Town DJs’ 1996 classic “My Boo” -- a song he has fond memories of from when it was initially released. “I remember the first time I heard it,” he says. “I was visiting North Carolina and there was this chick that was really, really vibing to it! I was only there for a few days, but we just had a good time. It always made me feel that same way.”
“That style, to me, is Atlanta style,” says Jermaine Dupri, whose label So So Def released “My Boo.” “King Edward J and DJ Smurf would take these ballad a cappellas and mix them with fast records -- like, a BBD record over the top of 'Planet Rock.' It just sounded good.” The Ghost Town DJs captured that aesthetic, even if it was initially a battle to get people to buy in. “It wasn't like an instant, runaway hit -- people at Sony were fighting us about putting this record out,” he adds. Dupri recalls that Lil Jon, one of the song’s producers, was also its fiercest advocate on the label side: “He was going apeshit. I remember it like it was yesterday: Lil Jon got so pissed off in the marketing meeting, he leaked the record. DJs played it, and it reacted.”
Slaughter patched in the opening synths on “My Boo” directly, and rebuilt the rest -- which he admits was a challenge. “I don't really play the keys fluently, so it was hard,” he says. After a few weeks of tinkering (and developing different versions of the beat), he sent the finished product to Mike Will. “This is a hit,” he remembers the super-producer saying. “We're gonna make this shit jump.” Not long after they’d gone back and forth about it, Mike Will share the beat to one of his closest colleagues, Future.
By late 2012, Ciara was floating singles to try and build anticipation for the to-be-announced album -- none, including “Sorry” (another Cameron co-write) were getting significant traction. Looking to boost the song with a rap remix, they recruited Future: a buzzy fellow Atlantan who Ciara didn’t know well.
“Ciara was supposed to head out of town, but I convinced her to stay to go get the verse from Future,” Cameron says. She drove to Triangle Studios, the North Atlanta facility owned by Tricky Stewart and The-Dream, where Future was working with the late audio engineer Seth Ferkins. “That was the first day they were actually around each other,” says Cameron, who wasn’t at the studio. It was just Ciara, Future and Seth. After Future did the “Sorry” verse (and probably invited Ciara to add a verse to his own “Turn On The Lights”), he played Ciara Slaughter’s “My Boo” flip. She immediately called up Cameron: “Remember that song we started? I think I'm going to put it on this new beat, and we've got something.”
According to Cameron and Slaughter, Ciara and Future recorded “Body Party” that day, writing a new hook to marry the verses Ciara and Cameron had already written with the beat Slaughter and Mike Will had sent Future. Their new hook interpolated “My Boo” to match the sample, complete with a twist on the original’s opening line: “Boy you should know that/Your love is always on my mind." Future is responsible for the Auto-Tuned “ooo”s throughout the song. “I think a day or two later she pulled up and played it for me,” says Cameron. “It's crazy how it all came together, just to know how many little factors had to work for it to happen. The energy was so good, that's what made him play her that beat. I wasn't there, Mike Will wasn't there, it was just them in the studio working and creating. It wasn't planned -- that wasn't supposed to be going on.”
Slaughter and Mike Will started mixing the record immediately after. “To be honest with you, I didn't even really like it until it came out,” says Slaughter. “Mike and I were going back and forth really heavy about that record... the irony! I didn't really like the hook, the way that her voice was sounding at that point in time, and he was trying to tell me... the majority of the time, you just gotta trust Mike. I love it now, especially after them checks.”
By the time it was time to film the “Body Party” video, Ciara and Future were an item. Director X (most recently of “God’s Plan”) staked out a mansion in Buckhead, a posh Atlanta suburb (it belongs to a friend of veteran producer and label exec Jazze Pha’s), and Ciara recruited her new beau along with a slew of Atlanta hip-hop talent. “I wanted something warm -- there's something very house-party sexy about that song,” says X (a.k.a. Julien Christian Lutz). “With Future and Ciara actually dating… every now and then, reality and music videos merge together and create something dope.”
They shot the opening silhouettes, turning the mansion’s dining room into a studio with a silk backdrop and backlit frosted glass; the True Lies-citing striptease scene (which they would partially reenact on The Tonight Show); and then the party in the pool room, where the Ciroc was flowing and Ciara executed effortless choreography to catch Future’s eye. “Everybody in there is somebody, so it was one of those reunion things -- organized, though,” says Jazze Pha. “In between takes, you're having conversations, rekindling some flames, getting people's numbers, whatever.” Adds Stevie J, who attended with his Love & Hip-Hop co-star and ex Jocelyn, “[Ciara and Future] were comfortable letting everybody know that they were into each other.”
The last scene filmed was the most memorable -- Ciara and Future pretending to meet for the first time by the pool. “Their first meeting takes them to this fantasy [the striptease], and then back to where they are,” says Lutz. “It happens when they touch hands, and then it ends when they release hands. He's Future, so he's seeing the future.” The crew lightly wrote it out, and Ciara and Future worked on the lines to make them sound more realistic. “It seemed like they’d actually had a situation like that, after some awards show or fashion show,” Lutz adds. “Like he was imagining a future event that actually wound up happening.” According to Future, the “You know you’re going to be mine, right?” line, at least, was based in reality -- in a 2013 interview, he claimed he'd seen her from afar years before they met and told his brother they’d end up together.
The product of what, in retrospect, might have been the couple's first date ultimately became one of Ciara’s biggest and most critically acclaimed songs. “I think it took the label a minute to realize that was the hit, but all the creative people knew what it was,” says Cameron. “There wasn't much music like that on the radio at that point. It was a difficult time for R&B.” For many of the Atlanta artists who had a hand in “Body Party,” the song had sentimental value, despite the couple's eventual rocky breakup. “I worked her first records at Jive, I know her personally, but to this day, I don't know if she's put the two things together,” says Rodney Terry, one of the producers of “My Boo.” “It was an honor.” Same with Jazze Pha, who executive produced Ciara’s debut album: “She was my first artist, and when I heard the record I just knew that it would be a chart-topper for her.” (He was right: “Body Party” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart in July 2013.)
For Cameron, another one who’d been alongside Ciara since the beginning, the fight to make the song the single is worth it to this day: “From that opening line that Future does, a prelude to what the hook's going to be, you're like, this is special. And then CiCi comes in so sexual: ‘My body is your party’ -- come on, man. We're winning! When that beat drops?! Every girl wants to dance! I still get excited about it, I'm reliving it all over right now.
“I just want people to know it was magic,” Cameron concludes. “There were a whole bunch of things that made that record happen that the other people involved probably didn't even realize. You can't describe magic, and that was magic. Meant to be.”
Ciara, Future and Mike Will Made-It declined to comment for this article.