Last week, LunchMoney Lewis cracked Billboard's Top 40 with "Bills," his jubilant, fluttery pop-soul single about the unavoidable expenses that we all have and none of us want. He's a new name to most; just last year the 27-year-old was scrapping around Miami, writing hooks for a spread of rappers and singers. Soon, he found himself in L.A. under the tutelage of super-producer Dr. Luke, and a chance session with Nicki Minaj would make for one of the raunchiest hooks the rapper's ever gotten away with, which is saying a lot. LunchMoney stopped by the FADER office to play his debut album, stuffed with everyman anthems as infectious as "Bills," and talked about dancehall, high school nicknames, and his first visits to the songwriter factory.
How'd you come up with the "Trini Dem Girls" hook? Everybody will give Nicki these big pop songs, or a "Did It On Em"-type rap hook—I'm going to give her some dancehall shit she can mess with. When Caribbean girls dance, they pat they pum, they wind up. I didn't think she would dig it, but I played it for her and she moved in the chair and started to pat her pum. We worked on it and wrote a pre-chorus—I didn't know she was going to keep me on, but then she called like, "Who's that on the hook?" Then [Dr. Luke] hit me and was like, "She's gonna keep it." I'm Jamaican, so I got to put that in the world, and she was dope for keeping me on it.
Meek Mill's "Off the Corner" was one of my favorite joints from last year. It was crazy to find out you wrote the chorus. I call [writing hooks for rappers] "collaborations," I don't like saying "writing for them." It's their energy, with an idea we present. Meek was looking for stuff, and he hit us back like, "This shit is fire, let's knock it out." I laid a reference over the beat, and he changed a few little things—[rappers] will change little things to make it more them. I was like "Doing Donald Trump numbers, whip!" This adlib, like whip! I did "Bill Gates numbers" on the second one, and he kept Donald Trump on the whole thing.
Lots of people touch a song before it comes out. It goes through a cycle, man. ["Trini Dem Girls"] was a cycle—another artist wanted it and circled back, but Nicki still loved it. Sometimes songs happen quick, and sometimes you write parts over and over, fixing them. I compare it to working in a factory—everybody has a little piece of what they do. The producer might turn the keys up here and do a little work there, and then you lay another harmony. It's little things that bring out the song to the average ear. People'll hear these simple songs and think it took a day, but it literally takes two weeks of prepping.
As a writer, you have to be a chameleon. LunchMoney Lewis the artist would never make a song like "Off The Corner." That's partly my growing up in Miami. I wasn't a street dude, but I had friends. It's a rough city—no matter where you are, you gon' see some crazy. I dig in that basket. I know what Meek wanna talk about, or Ross, or Yo Gotti, or Puff, like "Big Homie." My stuff is more me. I didn't graduate from the streets, no diploma [laughter]. I didn't graduate from high school, but I was still not no street. It's energy and it's hip-hop, and I'm into that.
"Even though 'Trini Dem Girls' is ignorant, I feel like it's culturally stable. I'm a culture guy, that's my shit."
How'd you get the name "LunchMoney"? I worked under [producer Salaam Remi] through my brother, who knew a lot of people in the music industry from managing a studio. I would come around [to my brother's studio] to rap, and people were like, "Make your brother kick something, we wanna hear a 16." Salaam took a liking to me, he always let me around when he was in the studio—he was working on [Nas'] God's Son around this time. He was getting a haircut one day, and he was like, "Yo, if I was a little chubby dude like you, I would name myself LunchMoney."
You come from a musical family. Yeah, my dad played bass and guitar in a reggae band, Inner Circle.
They did the C.O.P.S theme song. Yeah, he wasn't really a frontman, he was more writing and producing. I was like, "I gotta do this." My mom was an Uptown Jamaican girl—she's artistic in her own way with fashion and cosmetics and listening to music. It was a creative household all around.
It's interesting how, coming from a reggae and rap background, you've essentially stumbled into pop through Dr. Luke. Honestly, meeting Luke was a big part of everything. Getting a chance to work with him and Max [Martin] on these great, perfect pop songs, I was like, "How is he doing this? I want to learn." I learned so much musically, and my songs went places I never got them to go before. Sitting in Miami, I wasn't going to get to "Burning Up" with Jessie J, or Fifth Harmony, so [working with Luke and Max] opened up some doors for me.
Your single "Bills" almost has a gospel vibe. You've described it as a "clusterfuck" of sounds. What's your musical core? Reggae was the first music I ever heard in my life because of my dad. The funny thing about reggae is that it's like soul music. When you listen to someone singing Preachin, teachin the kids, they're talking about gospel in the club. You don't notice it in reggae, 'cause you don't understand what they're saying. My dad listened to a lot of Motown, and they always sang about truth in a fun way—When a maaan loves a woman. I was always drawn to soul and reggae.
We're having this moment now where guys like yourself, Bruno Mars, Cee-Lo, are making smash pop singles built on traditional Black funk and soul. That musical tension is obviously working. Hip-hop and black music was super pop. If you look at early '80s and '90s artists, and Prince, they were primary pop superstars. We gotta make stuff that penetrates. I love the turn up, but there's artists that are getting back into integrity. There's certain things that affect everybody, and that's pop music—a lyric that affects you no matter where you're from. It's going back to caring more about the music—we're not trying to be fad-y or trendy.
That's a priority of yours. Definitely. Even [writing] for other people, that comes first—I don't wanna do nothing fair-weather. Even though "Trini Dem Girls" is ignorant, I feel like it's culturally stable. I'm a culture guy, that's my shit.