While Real Housewives of Atlanta star and Grammy winner Kandi Burruss was in the Celebrity Big Brother house, two singles from her catalog as a songwriter were back in the news. Both Weezer and Ariana Grande recently produced fresh spins on a pair of classics that have Burruss’ name in the credits: the rock band amped up the TLC mega-hit “No Scrubs” for their covers-only Teal Album, while the pop superstar re-worked ‘NSync deep cut “It Makes Me Ill” for her latest hit, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.”
“I feel like I’ve been locked away in a cell forever,” Burruss tells Rolling Stone, who had only been out of the reality competition’s secluded location for a few days. When she left, she was welcomed by Grande’s single heading for the Number Two spot on the Hot 100. Though still shell-shocked by the song’s success, Burruss had known about the Thank U, Next credit since December when Grande’s manager Scooter Braun called her about publishing rights for the sample.
“I was super excited! They sent me a copy of the record, and I loved the song and thought it was dope how they flipped it because it wasn’t expected,” the Xscape member says of her initial reaction. She was a fan of Grande’s already. “I was just really happy to be a part of the song.”
When Burruss wrote “It Makes Me Ill” for ‘NSync’s monstrously popular 2000 album No Strings Attached, she was deep in the height of her songwriting career, with hits for TLC and Destiny’s Child under her belt. Still, she felt she had something to prove.
“It was really cool because at the time I had been writing for a lot of female artists,” she says, noting that she had been quickly pegged as someone who writes “female anthems.” To work with one of the biggest boy bands in the world meant showing that she wasn’t just a one-perspective writer. “It gave me a chance to show that I can write dope records for men as well. It doesn’t have to be just women.” As an added bonus, Burruss remarks that the group was quick in the vocal booth and an immensely hilarious time in the studio.
Though she felt the need to break it at the time, Burruss’ role as an excellent purveyor of “female anthems” was well-earned. Her hit “No Scrubs” with TLC changed the language around “wack dudes” and entered a term she used for fun with her girlfriends into the cultural lexicon. Twenty years later, it’s the “gift that keeps on giving,” she says.
“We got a Grammy for writing ‘No Scrubs.’ It contributed to me getting Songwriter of the Year. I was the first woman to get Songwriter of the Year from ASCAP and ‘No Scrubs’ was part of the reason for me getting it. Then it turned into ‘No Pigeons‘ which was a big song that turned into the Ed Sheeran record which obviously was huge. [Editor’s Note: Sheeran’s Number One hit did not initially credit the writers of “No Scrubs” until fans noted the similarities] Now, it’s turned into another hit with Weezer. It’s like, wow! I couldn’t have asked for a better blessing of a song to have had in my catalog.”
With her songs being revisited by so many different artists, Burruss is starting to get the itch to write songs professionally again. Back in the day, as she recalls, much of her time was spent in the studio or shopping around her tracks. She writes at home for fun, but she’s now feeling the urge to get back into the studio with collaborators to pen tracks for favorites like Rihanna.
“You know how you have that one thing you would do even if you’re not getting paid to do it?” she poses. “That’s what writing music is for me.”