ST. LOUIS — The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree for Billboard platinum charting songwriter Gee Universe, raised in a musically-inclined and entertainment-filled family.
He said his grandfather played the harmonica with the late iconic Blues singer Howlin’ Wolf, his mother was a Broadway actress, and his stepfather was a gospel singer. He said his family’s musicalities sparked his interest and love for music.
“When we had family functions, we’d have talent shows. I was about six years old singing in front of them,” he said. “Songwriting comes from my love of writing. I began taking it seriously at age 13.”
During Grammy Award-winning rapper Drake’s Degrassi and Young Money eras, Universe said he remembers Drake having a Blackberry cellphone, which he said was the hottest phone out at the time, and wrote songs in it. He wanted the same phone so he could write songs like Drake. He purchased the phone, and that’s when he formed a rap group in high school with one of his cousins.
Him always being the fastest to write verses or different parts of songs led different family members to ask him to write songs for special occasions, including birthdays.
“One time, my auntie said we were gonna make a song to perform for this girl’s birthday party,” he said. “Everybody else said they didn’t know how to do that. I instantly got on it. Ever since I’ve been the guy to come up with the concept, the record and write everyone’s verses.”
Everything he was already doing on his own set the tone for what was next to come for him and his budding career.
Already pretty fine-tuned with songwriting, at 18, he started attending a free back-to-school hip-hop mentoring program powered by the National of Islam. It offered free studio time, management and the opportunity to learn more about the music industry.
He said he did that for about a year and was never the guy anyone had to train. It was the other way around, he said he was helping train other guys due to his advanced skill set.
His involvement with the program motivated him to scout and seek people on the streets interested in pursuing music. One day the program had a guest speaker, and it happened to be Shamar “Sham” Daugherty, one half of the Grammy Award-winning production duo with Alonzo “Zo” Lee of The Trak Starz.
“I had a half song on my phone at the time that I had to email him, but I played it on my phone while we were walking to our cars,” he said. “He heard probably seconds and was pleased with it. He was like, ‘Wow you don’t sound like them in there, you sound like you’ve been doing this before.’”
After that day, Universe said Sham invited him to his studio, which launched a professional relationship and brotherhood between them. With Sham’s help, Universe was introduced to some of the biggest names in music and wrote songs for them, while Sham supplied the beats.
Some of the artists he’s written for are Nelly, Chingy, J-Kwon, Jason Derulo, Kehlani, Kesha, Usher, Madonna, Chris Brown, Chris Brown, Miguel, Kanye West, Britney Spears, and many more.
“My writing isn’t only phenomenal for other people,” he said. “I also have the talent of the artist or probably more than the artist I’m writing for cause I can sing, rap, do every genre of music and not sound like I’m a visitor to it.”
His collaboration with Sham caused more eyes to be on him, and he became more sought after. One of the people who began taking notice of his artistry was City Spud from the St. Lunatics.
“City invited me to the studio thinking I was just a writer and wanted to give opportunities to writers and start a writing team,” he said.
Universe said Spud was in for a surprise after he finished recording ideas from a track live. He said Spud was so impressed by his musicianship, he asked if they could work together more.
“City and I locked in, and I started running into new circles where now I’m this poppin’ writer,” he said. “I gained a newfound respect because City introduced me to new people.”
Universe has always remained independent throughout his career, even with his connections to Nelly, City Spud, Derrty ENT, and The Trak Starz.
He continued to cultivate relationships in the music industry, including with European record label and media house Broderskab. He said that's when his songwriting became more in demand.
“They were asking who is this dude that can give you Chris Brown, Drake, Post Malone type records,” he said. “This puts me on the global scene, which became bigger than just doing records for friends.”
Universe said he’s not a one-hit-wonder and has the sauce to make multiple hit records, especially for St. Louis superstars.
“If anybody puts Chingy back on the top 40 Billboard charts, it's gonna be me because I know how to get him there,” he said. “The same thing with Nelly; I know how to give Nelly another E.I. or Country Grammar.”
While songwriters aren’t always in the forefront of the music, Universe said he wants to debunk the myth and controversy around artists having writing assistance. He also enjoys the mystique of people not always knowing who he is.
“I live a popstar lifestyle and portray myself as one,” he said. “I’m a songwriter. It’s no secret I’m writing for these people cause I’m upfront the whole time telling you I wrote this record.”
He also said he is simply a songwriter and not a ghostwriter at all.
“I get credit and 100% publishing for everything I do,” he said.
He said the key component he wants people to know about his story is he’s the most sought-after songwriter because he makes big records.
“The melodies I’ve given are not so much about the writing and making words make sense or making catchy records. It’s about melodies standing apart with songwriting,” he said. “I can make a larger-than-life record for any artist whether they have two followers, 59 or a million followers. I’m the biggest songwriter in the midwest right now.”