Music’s Secret Superstars

By: Brennan Carley, Taylor Cavallo and Dan Siering

T-Bone Burnett

You can’t talk music production without mentioning the name T-Bone Burnett. Having his name attached to an onslaught of hits from the last 40 years, Burnett is one of the most acclaimed producers and writers that the music world has ever known.

Despite writing songs right out of high school, Burnett’s fist significant contribution came as a musician, as he caught his big break when he began touring with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in 1976. When the tour ended, Burnett formed The Alpha Band, which released three semi-successful albums. The guitarist then embarked on a brief solo career but eventually found his footing as a record producer.

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Burnett produced albums for such acts as Elvis Costello, The Bodeans, and The Wallflowers. In the past decade, Burnett has gained fame for his production of notable film soundtracks, highlighted by his collaboration with the Coen Brothers in The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou, the latter which won him a Grammy Award. Burnett today continues to be a big contributor to both the music and film industry. With his patented dark rimmed sunglasses, T-Bone Burnett seems to be perfectly comfortable producing hits from afar.


While his name might sound like that of a back-alley superhero, the producer (whose real name is Chauncey Hollis) has been quietly racking up the hits over the past several years. Though Hollis is only 24, he is responsible for such smash songs as the Throne’s “N-s in Paris,” Rihanna’s “Watch n’ Learn” and Kelly Rowland’s “Lay It On Me.”

Hit-Boy might not be the most talked-about producer in the game right now (Dr. Luke and Darkchild steal that throne), but he’s about to blow up with tracks on Nicki Minaj’s new album (like the not so subtly titled “Come On A Cone”) and, most importantly, Kanye West’s stunning new song “Theraflu.” Hollis claims to have first sent the track, minus vocals, to DJ Khaled for use on his new album, who turned around and delivered “Theraflu” right to Kanye’s mailbox. In turn, Kanye went into the studio and released the song a scant seven days later. The New York-based radio station premiered the track last Wednesday to impressive fanfare, and in the days since Hit-Boy was picked up by MTV for a prominent interview. His tracks epitomize simplicity and allow the artists to steal the spotlight as they rightfully should, but his beats are stars in their own right.

Jessica Gomes

Her voice makes up perhaps the most recognizable drop in all of rap music. I’m not talking about Nicki, or even the once-popular Lil Kim. You’ve certainly heard her at the beginning of every Rick Ross or MMG track, but you just had no idea who this unknown female was. She is a staple of the Maybach label-the infamous, one and only, Maybach Music girl. Simply stated, she is the girl who says “Maybach Music” at the start of each MMG song.

The Maybach girl is Australian model of Singaporean-Chinese descent, Jessica Gomes. Maybe male readers wouldn’t attach her face to her subtle MMG proclamation at the start of every Rozay track, but they might recognize her face. Gomes has appeared in each Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue since 2008, and graced the cover of Maxim in November 2011. She is a minor celebrity of sorts in Korea, having appeared on the Korean Dancing with the Stars and various commercials. No wonder the Teflon Don chose this girl to be his Maybach main squeeze. Gomez only recently identified herself as the Maybach girl, after realizing just how much Maybach was using the clip, which was first heard on the Ross song “Maybach Music” featuring Jay-Z. In this song, her Australian accent can truly be heard. Ironically, Gomes claims she and Ross are not friends, stating that she “doesn’t even know him.”

James Cameron

Canadian director James Cameron is famous for many of his endeavors within the world of film: Spider-Man, The Terminator, Rambo, Aliens, Avatar, losing the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture to his ex-wife, and of course, Titanic. Even so, Cameron has a secret passion in which he is a pioneer: underwater research on the wreck site of the Titanic. The Titanic disaster has been an interest of Cameron’s for a while, as he made clear with the critically acclaimed and crowd favorite film. His interest goes beyond Hollywood, however. On Mar. 7, 2012, Cameron submarined down to the bottom of the New Britain Trench in a solo dive, making him the first person to accomplish this on his own. His recent discoveries and new information gathered from the Titanic wreck site have led him to reanimate the wreck scene in the film, making it more accurate in terms of the ways in which the ship broke and the angle at which it sunk. While he will not re-release the film, despite his new knowledge and computer animation, he discussed his findings on a National Geographic Sunday special titled, “Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron,” which aired on Sunday, April 8, 2012.

Ester Dean

It would be hard to make a case that there’s any harder-working person in the industry right now than Ester Dean, who is singlehandedly responsible for writing Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight,” Beyonce’s “Countdown,” and countless Rihanna (“S&M,” “Rude Boy,” “Talk That Talk,” among others) and Katy Perry (“Firework” and “Peacock”) tracks. She sang the chorus of Minaj’s “Super Bass” and even wrote the victory anthem for last year’s American Idol champion, Scotty McCreery. Last month, The New Yorker did a fascinating article about Dean’s process when she hits the studio-clearly something is working for her to have written so many Top-40 hits. She had her own hit (“Drop It Low”) and has enough connections to craft her own album if she so chooses, a career path that looks as if she plans to follow after leaking the song “Gimme Money” featuring her pal Minaj. If possible, seek out the smoky-voiced demos that have found their way to YouTube, especially her unfinished pre-Rihanna version of “What’s My Name.” If she does decide to drop a solo disc, she’ll have all the resources in the industry at her disposal, but needs to step out from her more famous friends’ shadows, which shouldn’t be hard considering Rihanna’s recent nasty behavior. Now is Dean’s moment to shine.


Tom Pentz, better known by his stage name Diplo, has been working steadily behind the scenes in the electro music industry for more than a decade. Originally gaining fame at Temple University with his infamous DJ house parties, Diplo began releasing mixtapes in the early 2000s. He became a major player in the industry with his 2003 release titled Never Scared, which was named one of top ten albums of the year by The New York Times.

Gaining worldwide attention, the DJ began touring across the globe. It was during this circuit that he met performer M.I.A., who had heard and enjoyed Diplo’s unique sound. Thus, the two came together to collaborate on a variety of tracks with the highlight of their partnership being the mega dance hit, “Paper Planes.”

With the success of his work with M.I.A., Diplo got gigs producing tracks for some of the music industry’s big hitters, including Snoop Dogg, Kid Cudi, and Bruno Mars. The Florida DJ has also gained a large following in recent years due to his collaboration with fellow house DJ Switch, who named their pairing Major Lazer. While he’s been lurking in the industry shadows for years, look for Diplo’s name to emerge as a major player in forthcoming years.


April 12, 2012