Ten years ago today was a big day in the music industry. No not just because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Rihanna and Jonathan Hay did get a little luck of the Irish, though!
On March 17, 2005, Rihanna, then 16 years old, began her rise to fame after her debut single, Pon de Replay along with her affiliation with Jay-Z’s Def Jam record label.
The catalyst for this took place when a two sentence blurb scrolled across television screens on MTV News. The blurb made mention of Ri-Ri’s moving and shaking, her hit single and her announced tour dates. That news was provided via a press release that Hay wrote and posted on rapmusic.com’s public message board. A portion of it stated:
Rihanna’s first single is called, “Pon de Replay,” produced by Nobles which will be released to radio stations in upcoming weeks, prior to which Rihanna will be embarking on a promotional tour all across the United States. Paralleling the massive demand for the future star Rihanna, Vada Nobles’ production is being heavily sought out. He is esteemed to have single-handedly changed the sound of modern music as we know it.
To see that news appear on a TV screen was a big deal. To quote U.S. Vice President Joe Biden: “That’s a big freaking deal!”
None of this would have taken place, however, had Hay not laid the groundwork back in early 2005.
Rewind to early 2005, according to the veteran music mover and shaker, Hay recounts playing Rihanna’s Pon de Replay for Bruce Swedien, a five-time Grammy Award-winning audio engineer and music producer, while working on projects in Orlando, Florida. “I remember taking a demo of Pon de Replay that I got from Vada Nobles and playing it for Bruce in his studio in Ocala, Florida after he had just gotten home from recording with Jennifer Lopez,” Hay tells The Source.
Getting a seal of approval from Swedien is a big deal! After all, Swedien is hugely known for his work with Michael Jackson. That work spans over 25 years and includes Thriller, the best selling album of all time. “Swedien said that Pon de Replay could be a hit record.” said Hay.
Forwardly moving, according to Hay, his first Rihanna pitch to media was turned down by virtually every media representative he reached out to, including Roger Friedman, an esteemed entertainment news journalist.
Of everyone Hay reached out to, the only entity interested in Pon de Replay was Jennifer Vineyard, then employed by MTV News. Now a staff writer at New York Magazine, Vineyard has also written for Rolling Stone and CNN and was an integral part to making the key start the engine into the whole process. Hay indicated that he had come in contact with Vineyard through his earlier work with John Houston Entertainment; Whitney Houston’s late father’s company.
Picking up steam, Hay credits Vineyard for getting that mention on MTV News and giving Ri-Ri instant credibility.
As a result, Hay used the phrase “As Seen on MTV” to leverage more press. He then created the controversial publicity stunt that has since been ranked in PopDust’s “Ten Greatest False Rumors in Pop History” and covered by such media as TheYBF, Necole Bitchie and Jawn Murray.
Over the past decade, Rihanna has sold over 150 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling artists of all time. “There have been mentions that I was the one who broke Rihanna’s career, but that is completely overstating the facts.” Hay said.
“It took a lot of people [to break Rihanna’s career], but most importantly, Rihanna is a natural star and the truth is that she just out worked everybody else. She deserves the credit for where she is today.”
Around the same time that Hay was working and building, he indicates that he was in some sessions with Vada when he was working on Pon de Replay and the official remix with Elephant Man. Those memories are priceless to him. “Pon de Replay is timeless,” he said.
“Rihanna has grown a lot as an artist since then. Her first verse on 4our 5ive Seconds with Kanye West and Paul McCartney – that’s the best I’ve heard her sing. It’s raw and emotional. It connects.”
It’s been a decade since. Now what? “Right now, being ten years later, I want to produce a song for Rihanna,” said Hay. “Ten years from now, I want to be writing about the song that I produced for Rihanna ten years earlier.”