BOSTON (CBS) — He will tell you he’s not a piano player, but Swagg R’Celious can come up with a catchy tune off the top of his head while waiting for Berklee students to show up for his classes.
“I really don’t have a set way of how I start an idea,” he said, gently moving his fingers across the keys.
As a song writer, ideas are his business, and this year, business is good. Swagg is part of the song writing team for the artist known as “H.E.R.,” and they are nominated for three Grammy Awards: album of the year for “I Used to Know Her,” song of the year for “Hard Place” and Best R&B song for “Could’ve Been.”
“It’s exciting. It encourages you to keep doing it,” he said. “It’s inspiring to give people a voice who can’t articulate what they are feeling about a certain situation.”
When he’s not writing, he’s teaching his craft at Berklee College of Music. He teaches a class on R&B writing.
During a recent class, he shared how a conversation with H.E.R. about a tough time she was going through turned into a Grammy-nominated song.
“I’m like ‘Are you familiar with the phrase stuck between a rock and a hard place?’ And she said, ‘Yeah,'” he recalled. “We were able to flip that, caught between your love and a hard place,” he told the students.
The son of two preachers and the seventh of eight kids, David (his real name) spent his teens singing in church with his family.
“At first they didn’t know if I had any talent,” he laughed, recalling his early days where he just danced out in front of the band.
Soon, he became a drummer and developed a voice of his own. But when he went to college, he was determined to be a fashion designer.
That all changed when he started taking music classes, and a couple of professors saw something in him.
“My college professors said, ‘you are really good at this,’ and encouraged me to write and produce with every kid on campus,” he remembered.
In those days, he dreamed of winning a Grammy one day. Last year, that dream came true when his work on H.E.R’s first album earned them best R&B album.
Swagg knows the competition for song of the year will be tough. He’s up against hits like Lizzo’s ‘Truth Hurts’, ‘Bad Guy,’ written for Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift’s ‘Lover’ and “Always Remember Us This Way,” which was written by Massachusetts native Lorie McKenna for Lady Gaga.
“It’s just amazing company to be in,” he said. “To be acknowledged on that stage with that talent, I mean, this is the stuff you pray for.”