Shy Carter is the man behind pop and country hits by Charlie Puth (“One Call Away”), Meghan Trainor (“Mr. Almost”), Kane Brown (“Heaven”) and Sugarland (“Stuck Like Glue”). After more than a decade behind the scenes, the songwriter is introducing himself as an artist with his uplifting debut single “Good Love.”
Carter’s musical upbringing started as a child in Memphis where he played saxophone in church and eventually on Beale Street. He grew up listening to gospel, jazz, R&B and soul, and all these influences can be heard within his music. Carter’s earliest compositions came in the fourth grade when he’d frequently rap his school presentations. He wrote and recorded his first song at 16 and another one of his original songs received airplay in Grand Rapids, Michigan, shortly after his family relocated during his senior year of high school.
Carter soon found himself in Los Angeles shopping for label deals. Thanks to mutual connections, he was introduced to industry executive and talent manager Courtney Benson who in turn connected him to Nelly. It was his first big break in music and after leaving Nelly a voicemail, it took a year for the pair to connect in person. “Nelly was like, ‘I’ll sign you, but I’m going to sign you as a producer. I’m an artist myself. I want you to produce me and write the hooks,’” Carter tells me. “I was like, ‘Hey man, whatever I can do to make some money doing music. I just want to be in the game.’”
While it was always Carter’s dream to be an artist, he spent several years working with Nelly and countless other artists. Before he signed with Warner Music Nashville, Carter was making beats for Nelly and writing hits with Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas (“Someday”). He slowly segued into the country world after penning Sugarland’s infectious, beat-driven 2010 No. 1 hit “Stuck Like Glue” with Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin.
For Carter, writing country music wasn’t a complete departure. He says he’d often play songs he penned for his dad and his father would often say how much his music resembled the country genre. It wasn’t until Nelly’s 2004 collaboration with Tim McGraw on “Over and Over” that Carter realized the similarities between hip-hop and country music and wanted to try his hand at country.
Carter began collaborating with acts like McGraw and Faith Hill (“Speak to a Girl”), Billy Currington (“It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To”), Keith Urban (“Never Coming Down,” “God Whispered Your Name”) and Kane Brown (“Heaven,” “Good As You”). Both biracial, Carter and Brown instantly related to each other’s upbringing and their difficulties in fitting into the country community and abroad.
“Kane, it was his third session in Nashville when we hooked up. I found him early and I noticed he had a little something different so I hunted him down,” Carter says. “The first time we wrote a song called ‘Learning’ about his childhood being hard. We connected on that and have been buddies ever since.”
Carter’s mother is white and his father is black and he says he “grew up in the middle.” He explains that it was important for him to bridge the gap and introduce country listeners to both cultures. While he says the Nashville community has “embraced me tremendously,” it hasn’t always been an easy road. “It’s been a really hard journey doing music in America and trying to be authentic with the black culture doing pop music and country music.
“The experience in America is hard … I’m bringing this soul. Country music is soulful. There hasn’t been somebody like me coming from the influence I’ve come from, so I had to keep pursuing it because it was such a perfect fit,” he continues. “To be perfectly frank with you, in America they want a little bit of the soul, but not the whole thing. They don’t want to scare people. Some parts of the black culture is a lot for people to deal with, so I had to find a balancing act on what people were wanting to accept.”
“Good Love” is Carter’s introduction to the country genre as an artist and he says the song itself comes from the various turmoil he and his co-writers have gone through in their lives. Instead of dwelling on the things they can’t change — like a loved one’s death — they tried to share a positive message with listeners.
“We wanted to say something powerful, but we also wanted to make it simple and easily digestible,” he says. “The bed of music with the guitar, piano, beat, it had this uplifted, hopeful feel to it. We got to talking and James [Slater] said something about being on the street and I was like, ‘That’d be a crazy first line — If I was on the street with no love/ I know you’d put some change in my cup.’”
Carter says “Good Love” has changed in meaning for him since penning the song. On the bridge he sings, “I can’t thank you enough/ For bringing me back to life.” Here, he shares his gratitude to those in his life who were there for him during a difficult time. He hopes that the track’s uplifting message will help others get through their own struggles and the current pandemic.
The singer-songwriter continues to share his optimistic outlook with listeners as his sultry new song “All Night” will be released Oct. 9. Meanwhile, another powerful co-write includes Brown’s latest release “Worldwide Beautiful” which has the singer advocating for racial equality. While the latter was penned a while ago by Brown, Carter, Ryan Hurd and Jordan Schmidt, “Worldwide Beautiful” holds a timely message as America continues to struggle with racial injustice.
“The climate of the world has changed. Whatever’s going on in the world, a songwriter is going to be tapped into it. I want to tap into that because I feel like that’s what’s going to connect with people,” Carter says. “There’s no greater feeling than [my music] to be used in a positive way in somebody’s life. It’s so much more rewarding that people can be touched, especially when they need it.”