Behind every great artist, there is a producer or songwriter helping to bring their vision to life. And LaShawn Daniels not only assisted in creating said vision, he elevated the face of a genre.
The Grammy-winning songwriter has worked with top R&B artists to craft now-iconic hits such as Jennifer Lopez’s “If You Had My Love,” Brandy’s “What About Us?” and Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s “Telephone.” The New Jersey native raked in various accolades throughout his career, winning a Grammy in 2001 for co-writing Destiny’s Child signature smash “Say My Name” and earning two Grammy nominations in 1998 for Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine.”
Daniels sadly passed away on Tuesday (Sept. 3) at age 41 from injuries following a car crash. But he will long be remembered for the impressive amount of game-changing classics that he left behind.
To commemorate his work and honor his legacy, Billboard ranked 12 of his finest co-writes — many of which feature production by frequent collaborator Darkchild — from Michael Jackson’s “You Rock My World” to Spice Girls’ “Holler.”
12. Spice Girls, “Holler” (2000)
Spice Girls shaped their brand with bubblegum pop in the mid-‘90s, but the ladies decided to turn the sex factor up a few notches at the turn of the new millenium. The Darkchild-produced “Holler,” lifted from the girl group’s third album Forever, is a slinky jam that’s meant for late-night bedroom romps with a significant other, instead of the girly sleepovers that their past music had soundtracked.
11. Brandy, “Top of the World” (1998)
Brandy could always belt on mega-ballads with little effort, but the singer also had a knack for riding on bouncy rap-adjacent beats. Daniels, a close collaborator of hers, helped bring out Brandy’s nonchalant side, which matched Mase’s steady flow on this beloved Never Say Never single.
10. Lady Gaga and Beyoncé, “Telephone” (2010)
It’s a good thing that Lady Gaga saved this song for herself rather than giving it to Britney Spears, as it’s become one of her signature tunes — and also one of the definitive music and video moments of the early ’10s. The lyrics’ sassy nature served as perfect matches for both Gaga and featured artist Beyoncé, a pairing few saw coming but which totally worked.
9. Tamar Braxton, “Love and War” (2012)
Daniels co-wrote a handful of tunes on Tamar Braxton’s 2013 sophomore album Love and War, but the title track immediately became the standout. The impassioned lyrical themes of trying to fight for a lasting romance felt even more like a gut-punch once Braxton’s vocals took hold of them. The ballad earned two deserved Grammy nominations, for best R&B song and best R&B performance.
8. Janet Jackson, “LUV” (2007)
“Luv,” the third single from Janet Jackson’s tenth album Discipline, was yet another example of the magic that ignited whenever Daniels and Darkchild connected. The fizzy electronic-inspired production amplified the “butterflies in stomach” feeling that the lyrics portrayed. It’s a shame this tune didn’t get, well, enough love when it dropped over a decade ago, as the song failed to reach the Billboard Hot 100.
7. Whitney Houston, “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” (1999)
Who knew a simple math equation would become this iconic? Whitney Houston breaking down precisely how she realized her man was cheating on her was brilliant, and showed the power of how a song could tell a story. She didn’t even have to toss in much of her legendary belting on this track — the lyrical bite stung sharply enough.
6. Michael Jackson, “You Rock My World” (2001)
After a brief career lull in the late ‘90s, Michael Jackson was in need of a comeback. And “You Rock My World” helped usher him into the 21st century with a fresh and modern sound. Teaming with Daniels and Darkchild, the lead single from his final album Invincible proved that he still had his magical touch.
5. Jennifer Lopez, “If You Had My Love” (1999)
When a singer comes swinging through the gates with a debut single as commanding as this one, you know they’re here to stay! Jennifer Lopez’s “If You Had My Love” catapulted her as an actress best known for playing a music icon (in 1997’s Selena) to an artist who had her eyes set on dominating the Top 40 world herself. The combination of Daniels’ conversational lyricism with Darkchild’s moody production helped turn Lopez into a pop star.
4. Toni Braxton, “He Wasn’t Man Enough” (2000)
The new millennium found many classic R&B singers trading in their heartbroken ballads for more club-friendly uptempo tracks, and Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough” helped jumpstart that movement. The Grammy-winning single showed the iconic singer could master a mainstream sound while still staying true to her R&B core.
3. Brandy, “Angel in Disguise” (1999)
Ask any Brandy fan about their favorite deep cut, and “Angel in Disguise” is usually on the top of the list. The brooding mid-tempo Never Say Never cut highlighted the singer’s huskiness, which could shift from warm to frosty with the right production and lyrics. It’s the type of song that continues to haunt well after it ends.
2. Brandy and Monica, “The Boy Is Mine” (1998)
Both Brandy and Monica were R&B’s young darlings during the ‘90s, so them coming together for this saucy duet was pure genius. Playing up rumors of their rivalry, the ladies got themselves caught in a lyrical love triangle. The song became each singer’s first Hot 100 topper, and earned them a Grammy for best R&B performance by a duo or group. And to this day, friends still argue about which singer they want to channel at karaoke night.
1. Destiny’s Child, “Say My Name” (1999)
We all get insecure in a relationship at some point; it’s a natural human emotion. But I’m sure you wouldn’t expect that feeling to later become the inspiration for an R&B song. Yet this is not just any R&B song; it’s one that completely challenged the genre’s rigid formula. Daniels revealed “Say My Name” — Destiny’s Child momentous The Writing’s on the Wall single — was birthed from his then-girlfriend’s gripes. “I would be places, I would be at work, and if [my girlfriend] would call or hear anyone laughing, or speaking, or doing anything in the background, she’d be like, ‘Who is that?'” he told the Recording Academy in June. “Then she’d be like, ‘Well, say my name then, and tell me that you love me.’”
The lyrics soon transformed into a definitive statement for women everywhere who were hesitant to believe their partner’s lies so quickly. Even after winning two Grammys and topping the Billboard Hot 100, the song remains an anthem because of its lyrical resonance. There will always be shady men, and women right behind them questioning their sudden change.