Chicago-bred songwriter turned artist/producer Freckles “The Writer” is ready for her close-up. Having worked as a writer with mentors R. Kelly and Babyface, Tanya “Freckles” White has been preparing for this moment most of her music career.
“I went from one musical genius to another genius working with R. Kelly then with Babyface; having been signed at one time with R. Kelly in Chicago and then Babyface moved me from Chicago to L.A. to work under him as a writer.” Her soon-to-be-released LP, The XPeriment — due out this summer through the Cherry Party, a division of Sony Music — is a multi-genre hodge-podge, with infusions of her love for jazz, R&B, hip-hop and a bit of bebop, all held together with melodies from the chaotic, lovesick mind that is Freckles.
“For this album, I wanted to fully embody what was in my mind. As opposed to having to write for someone else — 'bottles in the club' type of thing — this entire album except for one song was done off the cuff,” says Freckles. “When I went into the studio, I’d come up with a melody never knowing what would come out. I’ve just been blessed that way. It’s my superpower.”
Gifted songwriters who are able to cross genre boundaries can often be the least appreciated member of a hit song collaboration between an artist and their production team. Freckles is one such talent. Among those she's written or ghost-written for are big names like Jamie Foxx, Seal, DMX, Jazzy Pha and, most recently, Janet Jackson, with whom she's worked since 2004. “I’m just in love with music,” says Freckles. “Music has been my savior. For that I try to return what music has given to me.”
Tanya White grew up on Chicago's infamous Southside, living in foster homes since the age of seven, escaping into sports and music to survive. From an early age, she had a masculine way about her. At 5’10″ and as into women as her male peers, White could hang with the boys on the basketball court. She also preferred to imitate the male pop and R&B stars of the day. “I used to be a badass growing up. I rebelled against everything. I started mimicking Stevie Wonder, Michael, Prince, Luther [Vandross] and it started becoming a part of what I did.”
She got her first break being at the right place at the right time. “A mutual friend of R. [Kelly]’s invited me to play basketball with them. He had already told him about me, so I made some mix tapes. It didn’t happen right away, it took a couple months for R. Kelly to get back to me.”
Later, when she set out to Los Angeles, she left less to chance. “Me and another producer came out here and every tall building we saw in Hollywood, we went into telling people that we did music,” she remembers. “Right across the street from the Nissan building, there’s a red building next to the Vivid porn place. There was a producer/engineer getting on the elevator who was working in a music studio in the building. Lo and behold, I was in Puffy’s studio and Babyface’s brother-in-law was in the room. Going into that building changed my life out here.”
Working with Babyface allowed Freckles to contribute to the success of many artists while always remaining behind the scenes. “If someone asked me to write a song for Chris Brown, I’m going to study Chris Brown, his inflections and his style, so that I could create a song just for him.” Although she has sat in the room with some of R&B and hip-hop's greatest artists, she’s never really had her day in the limelight, and much of her work has come in the form of uncredited “ghost writes.” But all the while, she was developing a reputation as the “Lady Lover,” often writing about romancing women from a perspective that worked well for male artists.
“Even though I’m an androgynous gay woman, my music isn’t gay. It’s just good music,” says Freckles. After years of writing hits for others, she's thrilled to finally be stepping out as her own artist. “There’s somebody somewhere that’s like me that feels like they have to put on the lipstick and wear the heels when they really don’t want to, thinking, 'I can’t be myself.' Thank God Sony is allowing me to be who I am.”
Her solo recording contract was an unexpected career development. “I actually didn’t go to get a record deal,” she explains. “I was having a meeting with people that I’d worked with at Universal who had moved over to Sony and they had artists they were signing and they asked me to let them hear some of my songs. When I went in to play the records, I demo most of them [myself], so they started asking, ‘Who's singing that?' I said it was me. When you hear my music, you’ll see that my tones are different in every song. Depending who I’m writing with, I try to embody them.”
What the new Sony executives heard and immediately took a liking to were the first takes on songs like “Heartbeat” and “Pretty Girls,” which spoke of the love that one woman has for another. Many of Freckles' songs reflect her personal relationships, longings, passions and fun times, revealing the good, the bad and the ugly in hard-hitting singles like “Fuck Love” and “2 Wheels.”
“Lionel Richie said that [love songs] have been his biggest songs. If you can write music that someone can identify with — everybody can identify with falling in love and falling out of love.
“I am a Cancer. I am love,” Freckles continues. “It was the universe. I wasn’t looking for a record deal. The universe said it’s your time and it’s suppose to happen right now and that’s just how it happened.”
Now she’s posting Instagram pics with megastars backstage, juggling photo shoots, getting label approvals and planning an international record release. And she's looking forward to writing more hit songs for other artists, too.
“I not only got a record deal but I went came out with what I wanted, which was a song deal,” she explains, “which means that I can write songs for all of the artists now under the Sony label.” Including her old mentor, R. Kelly.