ATLANTA - "Yeah," you know the track - but you almost didn't get the chance to hear it.
Usher's hit featuring Atlanta rap stars Ludacris and Lil Jon saturated airwaves for most of 2004, which is why it's nominated for three Grammys, including the coveted Record of the Year.
But without songwriter Sean Garrett's persistence - and his insistence that it would be a smash despite the odd collaboration - the world may never have learned that Ludacris and Usher "want a lady in the street, but a freak in the bed."
Garrett, 26, who has written tunes for Destiny's Child, Janet Jackson and Jennifer Lopez, wrote "Yeah" at Hitco Music Publishing in Atlanta, and even his peers there gave him funny looks when they heard it.
"I had this burning feeling to do something different, and I said I was going to write a smash. The other writers were like, 'Whatever,'" Garrett told The Associated Press. "They thought I was trippin'."
When music mogul L.A. Reid, then head of Arista Records, heard the demo, he dug the melodies and most of the verses. But he felt some of the lyrics could be revamped. And since Garrett envisioned Lil Jon singing the chorus, Reid didn't want his star Usher to be upstaged.
"I did at one point wonder if this was the right song for Usher," Reid admitted in an interview.
Garrett also had problems getting Lil Jon to bite. At first, Garrett remembers, Lil Jon's representatives said, "Lil Jon doesn't do Usher tracks. Jon don't get down like that."
Once they got into the studio, Lil Jon and Garrett clashed as Garrett tried to coach the rapper on how to bark his trademark exclamations. "Lil Jon was like, 'How the... you gonna tell me how to do me?' And I said, 'Because I already know how the song's gonna go.'"
After the track was completed, radio stations mysteriously got a copy of it, and soon it was getting up to 3,000 spins per week on stations nationwide.
"Well, I guess it's no secret. Lil Jon and I leaked the record," Reid said.
DJs ignored the typically toothless cease-and-desist letters from Arista telling them to quit playing the unreleased song; now "Yeah" has received Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best R&B Song.
So does Reid - who has three Grammys himself, including a 1992 Producer of the Year - think Usher & Co. are a lock for a Grammy?
"I don't know how to make Grammy predictions. I'm never right," said Reid, now chairman of Island Def Jam Music Group. But "it's definitely one of the top two or three songs I've ever been involved with."
A grinning Garrett holds no grudges against those who made it so tough to get his track on wax. He has only respect for Usher, Lil Jon, Ludacris and Reid: "If it weren't for those four entities, this would not be the biggest record of 2004."
Other nominees for Record of the Year are "Let's Get it Started" by the Black Eyed Peas, "Here We Go Again" by Ray Charles and Norah Jones, "American Idiot" by Green Day and "Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys.
The Grammys are Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
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