Rihanna. Britney Spears. Justin Bieber. Beyoncé. These are just a few of the musicians that Christopher “Tricky” Stewart has collaborated with over the course of his 20-plus-year career as a songwriter and producer. If you’ve listened to pop music over the last two decades, you’ve heard his work.
Happier now than he’s ever been, he’s taking stock of his success, reveling in his role as a husband and father, and using his experience to help new artists. With an eye on the past, he’s looking ahead at what’s next.
Music was all around
Family has always been at the center for Stewart, and at the center of the family was music.
“My earliest musical memory takes place in my mom’s bedroom. I am 2 or 3 years old. I’ve got her eight-track player. I’m wearing headphones and I’m listening to Earth, Wind & Fire; Bootsy Collins; Gino Vannelli; and KISS,” Stewart says.
Stewart grew up in the late ’70s in Dolton, Illinois, a suburb just south of Chicago. Both of his parents participated in choir competitions.
“They were both born with the gift of music inside them,” Stewart says.
He didn’t have to look far to find another way. His cousins were landing voice acting gigs on Disney films. His older brother Laney was a musical prodigy and producer. “He was eight years older than me,” says Stewart, “and he had a piano in his room. It wasn’t far away; I just needed to take a little trip down the hall.
“From the very first moment I decided to touch music, I was hooked.”
Stewart began writing songs with his cousins, aunts, and friends. “Every writer or producer has to write a song that makes people go, ‘Who is that?!’” says Stewart. When he was just 15 years old, Stewart wrote that song—called “Be My Girl,” which made it onto the debut album of the up-and-coming R&B group Immature.
He was offered his first production fee and a trip to Los Angeles. “I would have gone for $300 and some Skittles,” he says jokingly. Perhaps he could have gotten more money for the song, but it was an experience that would set the stage for Stewart’s entire career.
Stewart relocated to Los Angeles, where he found success. But after a few years, he developed relationships with several Atlanta-based music moguls and soon felt the pull to relocate his business to Atlanta, a place unlike any other in the industry.
Home is your foundation
It’s been more than two decades since Stewart wrote his first hit. And he says he’s happier now than he’s ever been. As he sits in his home office surrounded by his wife and young daughters, he says, “Ultimately, your home is your foundation.
Getting that part right just allows you to have a better outlook on life; it allows you to do your best work. Where you are and where you dwell is a light that sends you out into the world every day to accomplish your goals. Those things that make me really happy are developing right in front of my eyes.”
In 2020, Stewart’s record label, RZ3 Recordings, signed a new label deal with Sony Epic. Stewart is also creating a 10,000-square-foot studio/office space that will be the new home for his next venture. It will include a photography studio, rehearsal spaces, green screens, and spaces for listening parties. “It will be a complete musical film lot in Atlanta,” he says.
Ultimately, Stewart finds the greatest joy and excitement not from looking back but from finding and developing new talent. “I was there at the beginning of many creative careers—Frank Ocean, Ester Dean, Pink, Justin Bieber. I love the challenge of starting with nothing and having to create something—the relationships, the conversations that come along with making music and being in entertainment are things that still motivate me to this day.
“Now I want to make content for new artists by creating a mechanism and platform for streaming, physical sales, and touring. That is the next big challenge for me.”