The Man Behind Hits By Beyonce, Missy Elliot, and more
Written by SongHero on September 12, 2021
Errol E. Poppi McCalla Jr shares his journey to the top
How did you come to write your first song? What was it about? How old were you?
The first song I can remember writing was a kid’s melody. It was kind of like a nursery rhyme. I think I wrote it when I was eleven or twelve years old.
It seems like your first big break was writing for Destiny’s Child–or did you have any major cuts before that? If so, with who?
Many things happened before I joined the Destiny’s Child journey. Several opportunities came and went. Anyone who knows about the industry knows that there can be lots of politics when it comes to song placements, etc. I met a few of Sean P. Diddy Combs’ associates, Mel S., Jessica R. when I was in high school, and they helped me get remix work for several songs. One of these was Biggie Smalls’ Hypnotize Remix, which they gave to Deejays to play as an alternative mix for white-labeled CDs (CDs that are not sold at stores).
There were so many in between that it would fill this interview, but the small buzz I received created interest from execs that eventually considered me as an in-house producer at Mariah Carey’s short-lived Crave Records, 1997-1998. There, I crafted remixes for releases and wrote new songs to be released for signed talent Allure, Keisha, 7-Miles, and others.
While associated with Sony Music Ent. I met super producer Rodney Jerkins and began exploring opportunities with him for a while. Fast forward, a big break came later in 1998 when I met the sensational and mysteriously talented Missy Elliot, who helped groom my writing and production skills as we worked and collaborated on countless songs together, the count may very well exceed 40+ songs of which some were recorded by greats like Whitney Houston, Aaliyah and so many. Not everything makes the cut for various reasons, however in 2000 I was able to place songs, “Can’t No Man” and “Long Distant Love” on Tamia’s sophomore album A Nu Day! And I’m also a producer on Missy Elliot’s 4th studio album, Under Construction.
How did you first get the opportunity to write for (or with) Destiny’s child? Did you pitch them a song you had written or did you sit down and write with them?
For starters, it’s interesting that we’re from the same town, but we have never met before. I saw Mr. M.Knowles around Houston and tried to give him CDs, but he always refused. Later I found out he did this for a good reason because it is safe and professional not to accept anything unsolicited. When Destiny’s Child came to New York to work with Missy, I had left New York to work in Atlanta then to Houston. Missy played some of my music for them when they became excited about meeting me!
As soon as they got back to Houston, I received a call from their A&R on a 3-way call with Mr. M.Knowles while en route from the airport. They wanted to meet me that evening and we made arrangements, met that evening, then started working together in the studio within days!
Fun fact: During our first session, I created a beat for us to write to. My associate writer had original ideas that I did not like. However, we tried them anyway and they worked! The song was called Hands-Off. It was slated to become the first single on their album, The Writings On The Wall. But as mentioned earlier, POLITICS PLAY HEAVY IN THE INDUSTRY, so let’s just keep that there…
We did a lot of songs. One of them was “Emotions”. Another was “Independent Women”, which I made before other greats reproduced and rewrote it and made it so much better, so it counts as derivative work for me. “8 Days of Christmas”, “DOT”, which featured on soundtracks for motion pictures like “Charlie’s Angels” and “Lake View Terrace”. And there is so much more… I also have a great percentage of work on Beyonce’s 1st acting debut, Carmen Hip Hopera. Thinking back, I don’t even have all my credits corrected to date for so much work that I’ve done in the music industry, it’s insane. This is still happening to date in 2021 and is incredibly disrespectful to creators as they are depending on this to secure future work. I’ve really never been the type to care too much about it, just pay me correctly, and I’ll shut up, lol.
How did you end up co-writing and producing Beyonce’s ‘Dangerously in Love 2.’?
We would have to get through the original Dangerously in Love that was on the album Survivor. But Dangerously in Love 2 was a decision of Beyonce and her label, they had me make subtle changes to the song, creating a new master recording. I also made some “drops,” or musical and vocal excerpts, that were supposed to be placed throughout the album but later were decided to not be used.
The opportunity for that was very interesting, I made the track with Usher Raymond in mind and submitted it to the late Shakir Stewart, who was head of L.A. Reid’s Hitco Music Publishing at the time, who also signed Beyonce to a publishing agreement. Shakir felt it was a better fit for “B” and that decision was a good one. Shakir and Mr. Knowles put us together for that creation, and the rest is history! I also helped change the trajectory of that album when I went in early with B and did a dub play remix of 50 Cent “In Da Club”, as told to me through praise from the label. “That opened her up to a whole new world”, said the head of A&R, and the VP of Columbia concurred!
That song was obviously a huge smash–how did the success change your career? What opportunities did it create?
Many people respected me more which made it easier to get opportunities in the industry like becoming the Vice President of the Recording Academy’s Texas Chapter Producer and Engineer Wing, which I served for 8 years. But, this industry can be difficult sometimes because you need to constantly make your own opportunities. The blessing and the curse is people wanted me to do what I did before, but it’s not what I want or think should happen next… It is hard for people to see you as somebody other than the style of music that you succeeded with, and they want you to keep making that same style of music. They want you to stay in a box, so I didn’t take many opportunities where people wanted me only to do one type of music over and over again because I didn’t respect or want that for me. If you were able to be in the studio with me, then you would know that I have a very diverse song library. It spans many genres and styles of music.
You also worked with Yolanda Adams, co-producing her “Becoming” album, which earned nominations from Dove Awards, NAACP Awards, and the Stellar Awards.
Yes, our team was blessed to be part of her historical moment and produce over 80% of the Becoming album, this was Yolanda’s first release as an independent artist, not released through a major label. So we were excited to be with her as she gained her independence!
You have also worked with Dallas Austin, Timbaland, Dr. Dre, Rick Nowles, and Ron Fair–have any of the songs you wrote with them been released and if so by who?
Some have, some have not… When you work under the direction of producers that big, one must humble themselves. Examples of a few that made it are songs like “Addictive”; “This Feeling” for Truth Hurts under Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records. Then there’s Keyshia Cole “We Could Be”, “Never Too Much” which was approved by Luther Vandross himself before he passed. I was excited to learn that I was the 1st producer to be cleared to use the sample as Ron Fair informed me. Plus more…
Are there any charities or non-profits you are involved with or that you actively support?
Yes, I’ve started a Private Family Foundation, we are creating programs that help build self-motivation and personal growth. We became inactive and are considering reactivating our programs very soon.
I also have teamed up with other companies, one like Mizz Goodie 2 Shoez, a company that was created to help people affected by autism, bullying, cancer, violence in the home, literacy problems, and mental health issues.
I was also a volunteer to a community program put together by a constable in Texas that is geared to bridge the gap between the community and the police. And perform service acts through another organization that does outreach within the community.
If you had any advice to give to any other songwriters that strive to use their music and words for positive change to become a SongHero like yourself what would it be?
Let your music be a reflection of you. Your music should be a unique expression of who you are or how you creatively project your thoughts, but it should also speak to other people. Whether that is 1 person or 10 million, let your words and melody reflect your heart.