Songwriter Ester Dean, best known for her work with Rihanna and Stargate, has tried to launch her solo career for years; it's gone through seemingly endless rounds of shelved singles and promo singles and and who knows how many tracks shunted off to established artists. The last part's inevitable when you're largely responsible for other, bigger artists' hits, and in a long and not always flattering profile in The New Yorker, Dean herself said as much: "To [some collaborators], I’m a check. So their attitude is ‘Why you want to take away my check?’"
There's been some headway recently in Dean's own career, though. She's teamed with Roc Nation manager Jay Brown (also Rihanna's manager), who knows something about literally tireless promotion, and a couple solo tracks have either leaked or been released online since then. The one we reviewed was "Gimme Money," but though it was competent--Ester Dean's too professional for it not to be--the track wasn't interesting. It could've been a demo for anyone; it likely was. If you read that New Yorker article as an indictment of assembly-line pop, Dean's music as represented by "Gimme Money" wouldn't change your mind. But her latest track, "Bam Bam Bam," might; if this is the state of assembly-line pop, then assembly-line pop is about to get really good. The track premiered on Jay-Z's Life + Times site, and you can listen below.
Here's "Bam Bam Bam" in five words: Ester Dean's "Ring the Alarm."
It takes a while to get that good. The first few seconds are the same vague fronting, the same synth claps, rhythms a-clatter and a siren effect, that everyone else does on their confrontational tracks (say, like "Ring the Alarm.") But when it gets good, it really does. The best thing about "Gimme Money," we said, was when Dean sounded just a bit too raspy for her surroundings; now, she's got surroundings to match. The hook ("bam bam bam, make the booty go bam") is simple enough, and since it's an Ester Dean track, it naturally sounds like Rihanna's doing, as does the lyrics' fuck-off flaunting and "if you get offended, then oh well, it's like that" disclaimers. But the track itself's harder than anything Rihanna's done since Rated R or, arguably, ever; it's an onslaught of wall-to-wall percussion and bass menace (of two kinds: the low "Rack City" sort and, later on, a 16-bit swell). The track's relentless, and the hook will probably prove itself true by minute one.
The best thing about "Bam Bam Bam," though, is that it's got an equally good companion track: "Baby Makin' Love," which is a synthpop throwback that somehow still finds a way to be fresh. But perhaps "companion track" is the wrong phrase. After all, "Baby Makin' Love" has been out on SoundCloud for one month with almost no fanfare. If someone more established as a solo artist had released it--it wouldn't be implausible on 4, for instance--people would love it. But then, that's always been Dean's problem; consider this post our tiny gesture toward solving it. We first clicked play being lukewarm about her solo career; we clicked play ten more times being excited. Maybe you'll feel the same.