In conversation with Poo Bear, the hitmaking songwriter who helped redefine Justin Bieber

A hit-maker since his early teens, Jason Boyd – better known as Poo Bear – has proved to be an essential ingredient for countless chart-toppers across generations. Largely anchored in, but not confined to, the world of hip hop and R&B, Boyd worked with the likes of 112 (“Anywhere”, “Peaches & Cream”, “Dance With Me”), Usher (“Caught Up”), and Kelly Rowland (“Work”) throughout the late 90s and 2000s, cementing him as a highly adaptable and thoughtful writer who would often help these artists put out some of their most unique records of their career.

Not convinced? He played a big part in the reinvention of one of the biggest pop stars of our time, Justin Bieber, with credits attached to monster hits “Where Are Ü Now?” and “What Do You Mean?” (which Boyd wrote in 15 minutes), the two singles which helped take the child star to a whole new level. There’s little surprise as to why Boyd is in such high-demand within the music industry, which when paired with his upbringing and insightful perspectives positions him as a perfect subject for a documentary on hitmakers and producers.

That’s exactly where he’s found himself as of late, as the main star in a new documentary birthed from a collaboration between Red Bull TV and Australia’s Macario De Souza (also known as Kid Mac). The documentary, Poo Bear: Afraid of Forever, is being digitally released to the public this weekend, and looks to be necessary viewing for anyone who wants a deeper insight into the pressures of the music industry and how someone so young and driven deals with the demand placed upon him.

Ahead of the release, we had a brief chat with Boyd about the documentary, how he keeps his head in a game, working with the likes of 112 and Lupe Fiasco, what he did to help reinvent Justin Bieber’s image, and more.

Let’s talk about the documentary first. How did you first meet Macario and how this all develop from there?

I had the honour of meeting Macario vicariously through another associate who asked me if I would be interested in doing a documentary on hitmakers and producers, and they mentioned the names of the producers, I was like, “Woah they really want to talk to me?”. There were real legends on that list! I guessed it’d be pretty cool so it turned into me doing an interview, and that interview sparked the interest at Red Bull to the point where they wanted to make it a documentary on my life. I definitely didn’t expect that.

I wasn’t against it at first. I was like, “I’m just beginning, I’ve done a lot but I feel like those props come a little bit later on in life.” They were like, “We can always do a part two!” So once they said that I wasn’t afraid to do it…once I figured that my career wasn’t over and they just wanted to document my career up to this point.

What does having a platform like Red Bull TV behind this project mean to you and what do you hope people take away from this documentary?

Firstly it’s definitely an honour and a privilege to have any affiliation with Red Bull and for them to actually take the time to make a documentary on my life; it means everything. What I hope that people get from this documentary is that I’m a human and I’m regular [person], I came from nothing, I was homeless and it took me awhile to get to this point…I want to be an inspiration to other people and show them that anything is possible, you just have to believe in it with all your heart and put a lot of good energy into it no matter what, throughout all the obstacles. Stick with it and you can be successful and you can do something you love as a career.

It touches on how demanding the music industry can be once you’ve reached that certain level of success that you have. Have you developed ways of dealing with the stress over the years?

My way of dealing with it is reminding myself that it’s like, for me, I don’t feel like I’ve “made it”. As long as I have that genuine feeling where, I’m not just telling myself I haven’t “made it”, but I honestly and genuinely feel that I have so much more to do and so much more to prove to myself and to my peers and my family. I feel like I’m just in the beginning of my career and that allows me to handle the stress of people expecting me to deliver over and over again.

What’s next? What’s the next new song? Ya know, it allows me to not even think what I did yesterday, I’m able to write 700 songs a year because I’m not thinking about the other 699, I’m only thinking about what’s next and how I can prove that I’m worthy to be here. How can I prove that my music is supposed to be forever and not just for the moment?

So keeping yourself on your toes constantly?

Keeping myself on my toes and also being honest with myself. Like you know what, if you look at it in the grand scale I’ve done a lot but I’ve only really done a little bit, and I just want to keep proving to myself and others that I can continue to be great and grow, and get better, and be better than I was last year. The second you feel like you’re “it” and you’ve “made it”, that’s when you fall off. I know everything I create is not amazing, and as long as I’m honest with myself about that it allows me to be great and continue to grow.

Taking it back to your early days, back in 2001 you helped give 112 two of their biggest worldwide hits while you were still a teenager. What was it like being so young and working with a company like Bad Boy which by that point had such a massive profile?

112 were such great songwriters and it was just cool that they allowed me to collab with them and create these records with them. It opened me up and inspired me to feel like this is something I could really continue to do. They supported me, Puff supported me, my cousin who discovered 112 supported me. That was a surreal feeling and it was one of those things where it kind of seemed to good to be true, and it felt like it was a mistake. Like you have mistakes that are good and bad, this was a good one that turned into hits and I just had to figure out how to recreate those mistakes again!

It was like one of those things where it was just an honour to be amongst 112 and Bad Boy. Bad Boy was such a machine at that time; I felt so small, just blessed to be a part of it. It was a big turning point in my career.

I particularly love your work with Lupe, mainly “2 Ways” and “Bitch Bad”. They are two very different works, where one is highly emotional and one is highly cerebral. How important is it for you to keep that range going and how does working with different artists help this?

I think that it’s really important to be able to touch people emotionally and stimulate them mentally. With “2 Ways” with Lupe – brilliant songwriter, producer, artist – he was in a dark place in his life and that song was definitely about contemplating suicide, so just being a part of that and allowing us to do a record that touched other people in this position, it was such a powerful record.

“Bitch Bad” was another one of those moments where Lupe was like to me, “Man I wish we could really just change the angle of the word ‘bitch'”. He’s brilliant for even thinking of this; you have kids growing up hearing the word getting used in so many different ways and doing that record allows kids to really see that you know, “Women shouldn’t really strive to be a ‘bad bitch’ but more so to just be a great human, not put ‘bitch’ on a pedestal for kids so they don’t grow up with that.” It had a lot of meaning because of Lupe’s little sisters, he really made that for his sisters to show them like, “It’s not cool to be a ‘bad bitch’, no matter how cool some videos make it look, you don’t want to be that.”

I was really grateful to be a part of those records with Lupe, because they were profound and they said a lot. It wasn’t just another song to me.

Of course a big touchstone for your success is your work with Justin Bieber. You handled plenty of songs on both Journals and Purpose. But those songs on Purpose have especially been credited with kind of reinventing Justin’s image and highlighting his growth and maturity as an artist. As a writer on those songs and someone who collaborated with him closely, how did you change between those two projects to be able to help Bieber move his career to the next level?

I think working on Journals was like the beginning of the preparation for him to sing the music he loved and he wanted to do, as opposed to the music that his creative team would put him in…would force him to sing, which made perfectly good sense back then, being a teenager growing up and making sure it was ‘safe’ for kids, and for parents to be okay about letting their kids go to tour.

Journals was more dope music, songs like “All That Matters” and that. When we were creating these songs we weren’t thinking about kids or thinking about their parents, we just wanted to make music that we loved, that inspired us. That was the beginning of the maturing of Justin Bieber, and then “Where Are Ü Now?” was like the segue-way and the comeback, after the world and the media kind of tried to tear him down. “Where Are Ü Now?” was a record where we didn’t create it to be safe for kids or parents, we just wanted to make a great record. It allowed Justin to grow up and mature melodically and lyrically to where when Purpose came, it wasn’t a shock value. It wasn’t going from “Beauty and the Beat” to “What Do You Mean?”; if there wasn’t a Journals to segue-way I think it would have been shock value, not in a good or negative way though.

I don’t think I did anything different with Justin in creating these records other than not thinking or worrying about what’s safe for kids and parents, and that allowed for us to be creative and free to make music we love. It took him out of that ‘kid’ space; we never thought, “Parents aren’t going to allow their kids to listen to that.” It put us in a really great place where he could make really great, mature music for everybody and not just for kids, but at the same time not go lyrically too far, where kids could still feel good about it and parents still feel great about Purpose being this positive and motivational album. It was definitely for a more mature crowd but we didn’t leave the kids out. I think helping him mature and the style of music came from just being free.

Poo Bear: Afraid of Forever is released via Red Bull TV on Saturday 29th April. Head on over to the website for more information and to view the full film.

 

 

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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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