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Kuk Harrell
Harrell in 2009
Harrell in 2009
Background information
Birth nameThaddis Laphonia Harrell
Years active1992–present

Thaddis Laphonia "Kuk" Harrell[1] (/ˈkk həˈrɛl/ KOOK hə-REL[2]) is an American songwriter, vocal producer, arranger and engineer. He was a member of a songwriting–production team composed of himself, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart and Terius "The-Dream" Nash. In 2011, Kuk Harrell and partner Tricky Stewart joined the ranks of Fox's American Idol along with music mogul Jimmy Iovine, producing many of the songs performed on television by the contestants and released via iTunes. 2011 marked the highly anticipated return of Jennifer Lopez and her album LOVE? in which Kuk served as Album Vocal Producer. Earning his fourth Grammy for the vocal production of Rihanna's No. 1 Billboard Single "Only Girl (In the World)", Harrell is also the vocal producer and co-writer of Rihanna's Grammy-winning single "Umbrella". A composer and engineer on Beyoncé's chart topping "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" from the album I Am... Sasha Fierce, he is also vocal producer and engineer of the Diane Warren-penned "I Was Here" from Beyoncé's 2011 album 4. He also produced the majority of the vocals on Mary J. Blige's Platinum album Growing Pains, which won the 2008 Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album. The first single from Growing Pains, "Just Fine", earned a Grammy nomination for best R&B vocal performance in 2007.

Kuk Harrell is currently signed to publishing deal with Kobalt Music, and is one of the most sought after vocal producers in the industry.[3]

Early years

Harrell's music career began in his native Chicago, where he performed as a drummer and a vocalist before becoming a session musician.[4] He soon became a commercial writer and producer, working for Joy Art Music, contributing to major ad campaigns for McDonald's, Kraft, Coca-Cola and many others. After relocating to Los Angeles with his writing and production partner, Laney Stewart in 1992, Harrell then added worship leader to his repertoire, and became a touring vocalist and choir director for Promise Keepers as well. During this time, he sang on tracks written and produced by Diane Warren and David Foster.[4]


RedZone Entertainment

2004 brought Harrell to Atlanta, where he joined his cousins Tricky Stewart and Mark Stewart at RedZone Entertainment as a writer, producer, and engineer. RedZone Entertainment is an Atlanta-based, music-production entity, whose discography includes collaborations with many artists, producers, and composers of note, and is responsible for over 25 million records sold.[5]

In a recent Billboard interview, Mark Stewart describes Kuk Harrell as "...the secret weapon."

He produces all the vocals as well as writes and produces. He's the silent partner and a major part of what we do on a creative basis.[6]

2007 was a pivotal year for Harrell. Rihanna's "Good Girl Gone Bad" and Mary J. Blige's "Growing Pains" were released this year, both featuring his composition and vocal production skills. The single "Umbrella" off of "Good Girl Gone Bad" and "Just Fine" off of "Growing Pains" were both nominated for Grammys in 2007. This was also the year that Harrell established his own music production company, Suga Wuga Entertainment, an imprint of Interscope.[7]

Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad / "Umbrella"

Rihanna performing in Brisbane, 2008

On March 29, 2007, the first single from Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad, "Umbrella", was released. Harrell co-wrote and produced the vocals on the track, which subsequently had one of the highest digital debuts in the United States since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking downloads in 2003.[8] The song, which featured an introductory rap verse from rapper Jay-Z, won Harrell a Grammy for Best Rap/Song Collaboration,[9] a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year,[10] and a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.[11]

The song won ASCAP's Pop Music Award which honored "Umbrella" as one of the most performed pop songs of 2007, and was also nominated at the Teen Choice Awards for Choice Music: Single.[12] Time magazine named "Umbrella" one of The 10 Best Songs of 2007, ranking it at No. 3.[13] Writer for Time magazine, Josh Tyrandiel, cited Rihanna's vocal performance and special talent for vocal innuendo as the reason he declared it "The Sexiest Song of 2007."[14] Umbrella was set at No. 2 at the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart, behind Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable".[15]

In the United Kingdom, "Umbrella" broke a record on the UK Singles Chart by debuting at number one on the chart based on digital sales alone,[16] becoming Rihanna's first chart-topper in the country.[17] During the single's fourth week on the chart, both the single and album topped the UK Singles Chart and UK Albums Chart.[18] "Umbrella" eventually reached a total of ten weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart, becoming the country's longest-running number-one single of the 21st century since 1994.[19] Rihanna has become the seventh artist in the history of the UK Singles Chart to top the chart for ten straight weeks.[20] By the end of 2007, "Umbrella" had sold 512,730 units, making it her biggest-selling single to date and the second biggest-selling single of 2007 in the United Kingdom.[21] It has since been certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry on July 20, 2007.[22]

"Umbrella" had a similar success throughout Europe, reaching number one in Ireland, Poland, Sweden, Belgium, Austria, Norway, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Germany and Spain.

The music video premiered on April 26, 2007, at, and was officially released on the iTunes Store on May 11, 2007, peaking at number one for a period eight weeks. On May 1, 2007, it received five nominations at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, including "Female Artist of the Year", "Video of the Year" and "Monster Single of the Year", going on to win the latter two.[23]

Just recently, "Good Girl Gone Bad Live" was nominated for a 2008 Grammy for "Best Long Form Music Video"[24]

Mary J. Blige, Growing Pains / "Just Fine"

Mary J. Blige

The single "Just Fine" off of Mary J. Blige's Growing Pains was released in the U.S. on October 19, 2007. Harrell produced Blige's vocals on the track, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.[25] Harrell produced the majority of the vocals on the album, and co-wrote the song "Come To Me (Peace)".

Growing Pains has been certified 2× Platinum by RIAA and Gold by the BPI.

This single "Just Fine", was No. 41 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007.[26] "Just Fine" received another Grammy nomination in 2008 for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical.

It was a successful chart single, peaking at No. 22 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and No. 13 on the UK Singles Chart, while also topping the American Hot Dance Club Play chart. This single sold over 500,000 in the United States alone and over 700,000 worldwide making it eligible for Gold in the United States.

Growing Pains won the Grammy on Feb 8, 2009 for "Best Contemporary R&B Album".[25]

In a recent interview, Harrell described working with Blige thusly:

"With Mary it's the same tedious grind work but it's always a pleasure because of how she approaches a project. She's always an open canvas ready to let you take her to the next level."[27]

Chris Brown, Exclusive

Harrell produced Chris Brown's vocals and engineered on the song "You" from the 2007 release "Exclusive". The album was commercially successful, reaching number 4 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart on its debut. It sold 295,000 units within a week of release. The album yielded three Billboard Hot 100 top five singles, and was successful in music markets, entering the top twenty of many charts worldwide. The album has earned platinum certification in the United States from the Recording Industry Association of America and has sold more than three million copies worldwide.

This album was No. 34 on Rolling Stone's list of the Top 50 Albums of 2007.[28]

Celine Dion, Taking Chances

Celine Dion

Harrell is also a vocal producer and engineer on Celine Dion's release of November 7, 2007, "Taking Chances", and co-wrote the ballad "Skies of LA". According to IFPI, the album had shipped 3.1 million copies by the end of 2007, becoming the 19th best selling album that year with a November release.[29] To date, it has sold 3,500,000 copies worldwide. It is certified gold in many countries, and platinum or multi-platinum in many others. Particularly successful in Canada, it reached number 1 on the chart with the biggest first week sales of 2007 (79,354). It also became the best-selling album in Canada that year (340,000 copies sold) and to date, has shipped 400,000 copies and is certified 4× platinum.

Taking Chances reached top 10 in many countries and is performing relatively well on the charts. In the United Kingdom, it sold about 365,000 copies and is certified platinum. In Japan, the album became Dion's biggest success since A New Day Has Come with 125,000 copies sold. In the United States it debuted at number 3 with sales of 214,556 copies and has sold over 1,000,000 copies to date and has been certified platinum.

The Dream, Love Hate / "I Luv Your Girl"

Harrell lent his engineering expertise to his production and writing partner "The-Dream" on the single "I Luv Your Girl" in 2007. Love Hate was the premiere project of RedZone's newly formed label Radio Killa/RedZone. It was released through Island/Def Jam, and "I Luv Your Girl" was the third single released off of the album.

The single, released on September 23, 2008, peaked at number 20 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100,[30] number 3, on U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs,[31] number 40 on the U.S. Billboard Rhythmic Top 40, and number 58 on the U.S. Billboard Pop 100.[32]

The album itself peaked on the U.S. Billboard 200 at number 30,[33] and number 5 on the U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[34]

Jesse McCartney, Departure / "Leavin'"

Harrell produced the vocals on Jesse McCartney's "Leavin'", which was released on March 10, 2008. The song debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 making it McCartney's highest debut on the chart ever. In its second week, it rose to No. 10 becoming McCartney's biggest chart hit in the United States to date.[35] It stayed at No. 10 for 3 non-consecutive weeks. The single peaked No. 1 on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 chart.[36] and the Billboard Pop 100 Airplay. "Leavin'" stayed in the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 20 weeks. The single was certified Platinum in the U.S., and was the most successful single from the album and of McCartney's career.

Usher, Here I Stand

Usher in 2007

Harrell was heavily involved in Usher's 2008 release Here I Stand. He produced Usher's vocals on four of the tracks, and co-wrote "Moving Mountains". Here I Stand is Usher's fifth studio album, released on May 27, 2008, in the United States.[37] Currently worldwide sales stand at almost 1.9 million copies.[38]

According to building chart data, the album topped the Billboard 200, and achieved first week sales of 443,000. This made it the ninth largest album debut of the year 2008.[39]

The second single from the album "Moving Mountains", was written and produced by Tricky Stewart, Kuk Harrell, and The-Dream. The song has since reached number 6 in New Zealand and the top 30 in Ireland, Sweden and on the UK Singles Chart. In the United States, "Moving Mountains" reached number 67 on the Billboard Hot 100.[40]

The third single released on September 9, 2008, "Trading Places" has been even more successful on the U.S. Billboard charts than the previous single. It reached No. 5 on Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100. Kuk Harrell produced Usher's vocals.

Beyoncé, I am... Sasha Fierce / "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"

I Am… Sasha Fierce is the third solo studio album by American R&B singer Beyoncé Knowles, released on November 18, 2008, in the United States.[41][42]

The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, making it Knowles' third consecutive number-one album. I Am… Sasha Fierce is ranked number two on Entertainment Weekly magazine's list of the 10 Best Albums of 2008.[43] It was also the tenth best-selling album in 2008 in the United States.[44] The album was certified 2x Multi-Platinum by the RIAA after only being released in the U.S. for 10 weeks.

One of the first singles, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" was written by Christopher Stewart, Terius Nash, Kuk Harrell and Knowles.

Alongside "If I Were a Boy", the song was released to U.S. radio stations on October 8, 2008. The single peaked at the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was ranked number one on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the Best 100 Singles of 2008,[45] and is included in the top ten on lists produced by MTV and Time magazine. It has also been named Song of the Year by Fuse TV.[46] "Single Ladies" is certified quadruple platinum.

Jamie Foxx, Intuition

The first single from Jamie Foxx's recent release Intuition, "Just Like Me", featuring the vocal production of Kuk Harrell, was released on November 11, 2008. It debuted at number 48 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and peaked at number 19.[47] It also peaked at No. 49 on the Billboard 100.

Harrell produced the vocals on five of the album's tracks. The album itself was released on Dec 16, 2008, debuting at number three on the U.S. Billboard 200, and selling 265,000 copies in its first week.[48] As of May 27, 2009, it was certified Platinum.

Alesha Dixon, The Alesha Show / "Let's Get Excited"

The Alesha Show is the second album from Alesha Dixon, ex-member of UK garage girl group Mis-Teeq. The album was released on 24 November 2008 in the UK.[49] The Alesha Show debuted on the UK Albums Chart at No. 26 and peaked at No. 11. Kuk Harrell produced, vocal produced, and co-wrote the third single "Let's Get Excited", which peaked at No. 13 in May 2009. Harrell is scheduled to produce with Dixon again for her forthcoming 2010 album.[50]

Justin Bieber, My World 2.0

Bieber's My World 2.0 complete album is the result of Kuk Harrell's vocal production. Sales of My World 2.0 have topped the two million mark in the US ahead of the upcoming Justin Bieber tour. The album is the second part of Bieber's two-part debut record and was released in March 2010. According to the latest figures from the Recording Industry Association of America, the album is Justin's first ever multi-platinum record having surpassed the two million milestone.

Avatar (Theme Song & Soundtrack), I See You

"I See You (Theme from Avatar)" is a pop ballad performed by British singer Leona Lewis. It was written and produced by composer James Horner, Simon Franglen and Kuk Harrell for the soundtrack album to the highest-grossing film of all time by James Cameron, Avatar. It was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song at the 67th Golden Globe Awards in 2010, and Grammy Awards for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media at the 53rd Grammy Awards in 2011. It was also nominated for the 2011 Grammys.

Rihanna, Loud

Loud is the fifth studio album by Barbadian recording artist Rihanna, released November 12, 2010, on Def Jam Recordings. Harrell recorded the album partially during Rihanna's Last Girl on Earth Tour. The album debuted at number one on the Canadian and Swiss Albums Chart. Loud entered at number three on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 207,000 copies in its first week in the United States. It produced four singles, including the international hits "Only Girl (In the World)", "What's My Name?", and "S&M". It has also earned Harrell a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording for the lead single "Only Girl (In the World)".

Justin Bieber, Never Say Never

"Never Say Never" by recording artist Justin Bieber serves as the theme song for The Karate Kid (2010), and features rap interludes from the film's star, Jaden Smith. Kuk Harrell also served as Music Supervisor for Bieber's 3D concert film of the same name. Written by The Messengers, Rambert, Smith, Bieber, and Harrell, the song was released for digital download in the United States on June 8, 2010. The song was later included as a track on the remix album My Worlds Acoustic (2010). The song was released as the lead single from Bieber's second remix album, Never Say Never – The Remixes.

Harrell's vocal production philosophy

Harrell is a rarity in that he is a vocal producer who engineers all his own sessions. He is quoted as saying "...I engineer all of my own stuff. I create the pace that the artist wants. To have someone in the middle – another engineer – would slow down my process."[51]

Regarding vocal processors, Harrell says "it's the sound of today in pop music. But I use it as an enhancement and not to create the sound. My role is to capture the artist's personality. To trick them out with Auto-Tune would defeat that purpose, but consumers are used to hearing things pitch perfect so I use pitch correction to ensure that I have a flawless performance."[51]

Kuk cites the three most important things he has learned in his career as
1. "Always be professional."
2. "Be patient at all times."
3. "It's not about you. A producer has the opportunity to put his image onto a project before getting the best sound from the artist. Remember that the artist is what it's all about."[51]


Year Album/Song Artist Credit
2019 Motivation Normani Vocal Producer
DNA/New Love Backstreet Boys Vocal Producer
DNA/Chances Vocal Producer
2017 Invasion of Privacy Cardi B Vocal Producer
Camila Camila Cabello Vocal Producer
Ultraviolet Justine Skye Vocal Producer
Melodrama Lorde Vocal Producer
Future Friends Superfruit Vocal Producer
Left Me Hangin' Jacob Sartorius Vocal Producer
SHINE Wale (rapper) Vocal Producer
R.O.S.E Jessie J Vocal Producer
HNDRXX Future (rapper) Vocal Producer
DAMN. Kendrick Lamar Vocal Producer
Grateful DJ Khaled Vocal Producer
2016 This Is What You Came For (song) Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna Producer
ANTI Rihanna Vocal Producer
Famous (song) Kanye West Vocal Producer
2015 Signs[52] Claudia Leitte Vocal Producer
Pentatonix Pentatonix Vocal Producer
2014 Sweet Talker Jessie J Vocal Producer
Bad Intentions Niykee Heaton Engineer, Vocal Engineer, Vocal Producer
2013 Closer to the Truth Cher Engineer, Vocal Engineer, Vocal Producer, Vocals (Background)
2012 Believe[53] Justin Bieber Album Producer, Vocal Producer, Engineer
2011 Louder Parade (band) Vocal Producer, Writer
Talk That Talk (album) Rihanna Vocal Producer, Engineer
Under The Mistletoe Justin Bieber Producer, Vocal Producer, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
LOVE? (album) Jennifer Lopez Vocal Producer, Engineer
Femme Fatale (album) Britney Spears Vocal Producer, Engineer
F.A.M.E. (album) Chris Brown Vocal Producer, Engineer
2010 Never Say Never: The Remixes (album) Justin Bieber Producer,Vocal Producer, Engineer
My Worlds Acoustic (album) Vocal Producer, Engineer
Loud (album) Rihanna Vocal Producer, Engineer
Teenage Dream (album) Katy Perry Vocal Producer, Engineer
2009 Avatar Soundtrack & Movie/"I See You" Leona Lewis Composer
My World 2.0 (album) Justin Bieber Vocal Producer, Engineer
D.N.A./"Starlight" Mario Vocal Producer, Engineer
D.N.A./"Don't Walk Away" Vocal Producer, Engineer
My World/"One Time" Justin Bieber Vocal Producer
This Is the One/"Automatic Pt. II"/"Dirty Desire" Utada Vocal Producer
Fantasy Ride/"High Price" Ciara feat. Ludacris Vocal Producer
Fantasy Ride/"Lover's Thing" Ciara feat. The-Dream Vocal Producer
Fantasy Ride/"Like a Surgeon" Ciara Vocal Producer
Fantasy Ride/"Keep Dancin' On Me" Vocal Producer
Just Go/"Somewhere in London" Lionel Richie Vocal Producer
Just Go/"Into You Deep" Vocal Producer
Just Go/"Good Morning" Vocal Producer
Just Go/"I'm Not Okay" Vocal Producer
Just Go/"Forever and a Day" Vocal Producer
Just Go Vocal Producer
2008 The Alesha Show/"Let's Get Excited" Alesha Dixon Producer, Vocal Producer, Composer
Colby O/"The Difference" Colby O'Donis Vocal Producer
Intuition Jamie Foxx Vocal Producer
Intuition/"Rainman" Vocal Producer
Intuition/"Slow" Vocal Producer
Intuition/"Why" Vocal Producer
Intuition/"Digital Girl" Jamie Foxx feat. Kanye West and The-Dream Vocal Producer
Intuition/"Just Like Me" Jamie Foxx Vocal Producer
I Am... Sasha Fierce/"Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" Beyoncé Composer, Engineer
Here I Stand Usher Composer, Vocal Producer, Engineer
Here I Stand/"Moving Mountains" Composer, Vocal Producer, Engineer
Here I Stand/"This Ain't Sex" Vocal Producer
Here I Stand/"What's Your Name?" Vocal Producer
Here I Stand/"Trading Places" Vocal Producer
Departure/Leavin' Jesse McCartney Vocal Producer
E=MC²/"Touch My Body" Mariah Carey Engineer
Discipline/"Greatest Ex Ever" Janet Jackson Engineer
2007 Love Hate/I Luv Your Girl The-Dream Engineer
Back of My Lac' J. Holiday Engineer
Back of my 'Lac/"Suffocate" J. Holiday Vocal Arranger, Engineer
Taking Chances/"Skies of L.A." Celine Dion Vocal Producer, Composer, Engineer,
Growing Pains Mary J. Blige Composer, Vocal Producer, Engineer, Background Vocals
Growing Pains/"Just Fine" Vocal Producer
Growing Pains/"Work That" Vocal Producer
Growing Pains/"Grown Woman" Vocal Producer
Growing Pains/"Feel Like a Woman" Vocal Producer
Growing Pains/"Shakedown" featuring Usher Vocal Producer
Growing Pains/"Roses" Vocal Producer
Growing Pains/"Come to Me (PEACE)" Composer, Vocal Producer
Growing Pains/(Japanese Bonus Track)"Mirror" Vocal Producer
Growing Pains/(Japanese Bonus Track) "Sleepwalkin'" Vocal Producer
Good Girl Gone Bad/"Umbrella" Rihanna feat. Jay-Z Composer, Vocal Producer, Engineer
Good Girl Gone Bad Rihanna Vocal Producer, Engineer
Good Girl Gone Bad/"Breakin' Dishes" Composer, Vocal Producer, Engineer
Exclusive/"You" Chris Brown Vocal Producer, Engineer
2006 Alter Ego Tyrese Engineer
2005 Back For More Shawn Desman Vocal Producer
2004 20th Century Masters-The Millennium Collection Chante More Producer
2002 Turn the Tide Various Artist Arranger, Background Vocals
Live Promise Keepers Vocals
Deeper Faith John Tesh Background Vocals
1999 Top 25 Praise Songs Various Artists Vocals
1996 Vybin' Young Soul Rebels Various Artists Vocals
From I Extreme II Another II D Extreme Engineer
1995 Toast to the Ladies The Whispers Producer, Programming, Engineer, Sequencing, Rhythm Arrangements
Love Supreme Chante Moore Producer, Vocal Arrangement, Engineer
Can We Talk? Shiro Producer
Bump And Grind Various Artists Programming, Producer, Engineer, Sequencing, Rhythm Arrangements
1994 Debelah Debelah Producer
1993 Aces and Kings – The Best of Go West Go West Producer
1992 White Men Can't Jump Original Soundtrack Various Artists Composer, Recorder, Producer, Engineer


Grammy Awards

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2008 "Umbrella" Record of the Year Nominated
Song of the Year Nominated
2009 Growing Pains Best Contemporary R&B Album Won
2010 "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" Best R&B Song Won
Song of the Year Won
I Am... Sasha Fierce Album of the Year Nominated
2011 "Only Girl (In the World)" Best Dance Recording Won
"I See You" Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media Nominated
Teenage Dream Album of the Year Nominated
2012 Loud Nominated
2014 Unapologetic Best Urban Contemporary Album Won
2017 "Work" Record of the Year Nominated
2019 "I Like It" Nominated

Other awards

Year Artist Album/Song Award
2007 Rihanna Good Girl Gone Bad/"Umbrella" Ascap Pop Award "One of the Most Played Songs of 2007"
Ascap Rhythm and Soul Award "One of the chart topping R&B/Hip Hop Songs of 2007"
1999 Various Artists Top 25 Praise Songs RIAA certified Gold Record


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