“Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here,” in short, wasn’t supposed to be here. But not only did it defy the odds, it helped change both the landscape of R&B and preconceptions about dance music, thanks to an iconic Hex Hector remix that’s especially beloved in the LGBTQ community. (The song was recently immortalized in an epic RuPaul’s Drag Race lip-sync face-off -- perhaps the highest honor in the canon of contemporary gay anthems.)
As a part of our week-long celebration of all things 1998, Billboard spoke to Cox -- along with the song’s writers, which include '90s R&B star Montell Jordan, as well as former A&R executives and others involved in the song's story -- about how it came together, the rocky road to its release, and why it still endures two decades later.
"THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE OUT THERE LIKE IT"
Anthony “Shep” Crawford, co-writer and producer: I wrote the song for Patti LaBelle. I saw her perform at the Soul Train Awards and said to myself, “I need to write a really big song for Patti.” I've always been the person that women come to for advice. If a single person says, “Shep, how come I don't have a man?” I tell them, "When you stop looking, that's when he'll find you.” But I didn't want to just have a happy song. I wanted to make sure it addressed the pain. You can listen to it whether you’re in love or whether you’re sitting at home with the shades down.
Montell Jordan, co-writer: Shep and I grew up playing in church together. He was on the organ, I was on the piano. When he came to me, he just had a piece of the chorus.
Crawford: I sung the hook to Montell: “My heart says, ‘Nuh-uh’/ Nobody's supposed to be here." And I remember Montell saying, “Patti is not going to say ‘Nuh-uh.’ You have to change that to change that to ‘No, no.’” A couple weeks after that, Montell was supposed to go into the studio [to finish the song with me], but he had to fly out. The studio time was booked, so I went in by myself and recorded all of the music with a band before the verses were even written. Montell came back the next day.
Jordan: I was writing from the perspective of, "If Patti LaBelle was going to be singing this song, what would she say?" So for the line “This time, I swear I’m through, but if only you knew,” we wrote that because of Patti LaBelle’s song “If Only You Knew.”
Crawford: It didn’t go to Patti, of course. It was difficult for us, because we had success with [Montell's 1998 album Let's Ride] but no success with any other artists. So we started shopping the song.