Sometimes the most impressive songs end up sounding the simplest, and Baby E’s “Finessin” is an audacious example of plain construction. The track contains a few notes on a synthesizer, a slightly more active bass and a busily programmed but not overly fussy beat, to which E adds a springy, slightly nasal vocal. The result mixes modern swagger and up-to-date production with the economy and naive charm of an early-Sixties single.
For the moment, the song also represents a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Baby E (Virginia Beach, Virginia, singer-songwriter Ethan Lowery) released it earlier this year, and the track is about climbing toward “bigger, better things/Bigger television screens.” It’s currently rising on Spotify’s U.S. Viral 50 chart, and last month, the singer finessed his way into a room with Drake. E posted a photo of himself with the star on Instagram; the caption read, “Proud stoked & grateful to be part of the Young Money family!! Time to make some history.”
Baby E’s story differs from other potential Young Money signees. He’s been working behind the scenes learning the rules of today’s pop landscape with the help of songwriting savant Dr. Luke, who signed E to a publishing deal several years ago. And if E’s artist deal is made official — over the phone, Luke says, “we’re actually finalizing that deal right now” — he will be signed by both Young Money and Luke. (Representatives of Young Money did not respond to requests for comment.)
Rolling Stone spoke with E about his musical background, his smart decision to keep “Finessin” for himself and his connection with Young Money.
Where did you grow up?
Pensacola, Florida, that whole area. I went to a new school every single year; I was always moving. I just found music at a young age. It was always my thing. I would talk my aunt or grandma or somebody into buying me a drum set or a guitar.
When did you start putting out music as Baby E?
Probably like four or five years ago? I always fucked around with a MacBook and GarageBand. One day on a whim, I sent one of the songs to one of my homies, a song called “Where’s the Party At.” And he heard it and immediately called me. He was like, “This is you? You gotta do this — this is real.” He has a studio at his crib, and he was like, “Move here. You can record all day, every day. We’ll build this shit from the ground.”
He also lives in Florida?
He’s in Virginia Beach. I grew up in Florida, but when I was 13, I started moving back and forth between Florida and Virginia.
You self-produce your music?
I produce a lot of my stuff, and almost 99.9 percent of what I do is melody-based. I always attack the songs from a songwriting prospective — I’m looking for the right verse melody that goes into the pre- that goes into the hook. I learned from Dr. Luke; I have a publishing deal with him.
“I always attack the songs from a songwriting prospective — I’m looking for the right verse melody that goes into the pre- that goes into the hook. I learned from Dr. Luke.”
How did you connect with Dr. Luke?
I’ve always studied producers the same way I do artists and writers. Luke has been killing shit for years. I got flown out by Chris Anokute, an A&R from Island Def Jam, to Cali one time. He was courting me to sign to the label, and he was like, “If you can work with any producer, big or small, who would it be?” I was like, “Dr. fucking Luke!” Chris happened to be the guy who signed Katy Perry, so he had a plug with Luke, and he said, “Alright, I’m going to see what I can do.” He calls me back and he’s like, “Get dressed — we’ve got a meeting with Luke.” So I went and met with him, and he asked me to sing a couple songs. I didn’t think Luke was really that impressed. The next day he was like, “I want to sign you.” That was probably four years ago.
What did you learn from working with him?
The biggest thing is not being afraid to live with the music and go back and change it. Before I met [Luke], I was like, “The song’s the song, and it’s as good as it’s going to be.” He showed me, “No — if you have a killer hook and shitty verses, go back and kill the verse.” Putting in that tedious, monotonous time to take [songs] from good to great.
So when did “Finessin” come together?
I went through a whole lot of shit in the past year. I went to rehab twice [for heroin]. A lot of people were like, “I love you, E, but you have to go get your life together.” When I made that song, I was kind of down and out. And it was a great feeling to put it out and get a great response. Show people that I’m focused again and ready to come back strong.
What’s funny about “Finessin” is that I had a few labels who were trying to buy the song from me. I just didn’t like the price. So I ended up just saying, “Fuck the labels; I’ll put this shit out myself,” which was probably the best decision I ever made.
How much were they offering you?
20, 30 grand.
And now you’ve connected with Young Money?
Yeah, we’re getting ready to make a bunch of shit happen. Everyone’s stoked. [Lil] Wayne’s a hero. I used to make a joke and say, “I ain’t signing shit until Wayne calls me.” To put that out in the universe and see it actually happen — with Luke and Wayne! What’s crazy is Luke and Wayne are doing the deal together. I’ll be signed to Wayne and Luke both as an artist.
What was it like to meet Drake?
Drake’s really cool, man. I haven’t hung out with him too much, but we met and shook hands and exchanged words. Mack [Maine] told him the deal and he was like, “Yeah, man, awesome. I’m stoked.”
What was it like to talk to Wayne?
He’s a lot like you’d think he is — he’s Little fucking Wayne.