One day in 2007, Tim Sommers was fooling around on his keyboard when he came up with a poignant, dramatic chord progression.
Sommers and his friend, rapper Jeremy Dussolliet, sat in Sommers' college dorm room and worked through a melody and a few lyrics for the tune: "Can we pretend that airplanes / in the night sky / are like shooting stars? / I could really use a wish right now."
The song, "Airplanes," has since gone on to dominate pop radio this summer, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Released in late April as the second single from Atlanta rapper B.o.B's debut, it features Paramore singer Hayley Williams, and one version even has a verse from Eminem. Saturday, B.o.B will perform at Merriweather Post Pavilion as part of the Summer Spirit Festival.
"We knew it was going to go somewhere, but we had no idea the scale of how big it was going to be," said Sommers, 22. "We hit the jackpot with B.o.B."
Sommers grew up in Rockville, went to Magruder High School and studied economics and music at Cornell University. In college, he met Dussolliet, and the two started collaborating. They called their project Kinetics & One Love, and released an album in January 2009. A friend of a friend passed the song "Airplanes" onto an intern at Atlantic Records, who ran it up the chain, all the way to the CEO, who liked it. The label bought "Airplanes" in June 2009, and tried to find the right artist for it.
The label wanted rapper Lupe Fiasco to record "Airplanes," and a country artist named Shanna Crooks recorded a version of it, but ultimately, the song went to a then-unknown rapper, B.o.B. Sommers and Dussolliet were just happy the song would be released in one form or another. B.o.B's first song, "Nothin' on You," was an out-of-the-gate hit, and "Airplanes" followed. Months after it was released, "Airplanes" is still all over the radio.
"People are telling me they're sick of it," Sommers said. "I'm like, 'How do you think I feel? I've been listening to it for years.' We're extremely grateful for how well it's been doing."
Sommers and Dussolliet signed a songwriting deal with Warner Music Group, and Sommers moved to New York City, where he DJs and writes music. Sommers thinks "Airplanes" resonated with audiences because it stands apart from the rest of pop radio, which is full of party anthems, he said.
"It's a deeper, more hopeful song," he said. "It hits people on a more emotional level than some of the other music that's out there. Everyone could use a wish."
The Summer Spirit Festival, featuring Erykah Badu, the Roots, Common, B.o.B and Chuck Brown, is Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $44-$100. Call 877-435-9849 or go to merriweathermusic.com.