By Jeremy Essig
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By Nathan Smith
StarStrukk Productions took a big step toward breakout stardom when the local duo created the tracks that became "Like a Boss" and "Shy Ronnie," both of which wound up on Saturday Night Live as digital shorts. The team consists of north St. Louis' Aleric "Rick tha Rular" Banks and Monique "Foxx StarStrukk" Hines from University City, a percussionist and a classically trained pianist, respectively. The two currently lend their production talent to several local hip-hop and R&B artists and are working on a deal with Universal Republic. We sat down with both members of StarStrukk as well as their manager, Sam Heat, to uncover how they wound up on the national stage and where they're headed next.
Calvin Cox: How long has StarStrukk Productions been around?
Rick tha Rular: Officially, since 2008. I had Reel-2-Real Records before that, but I wound up selling it to my manager, Sam Heat. So I started StarStrukk, and later I signed Foxx in '09.
And how did the two of you link up?
Foxx StarStrukk: Through the magic of Macy's — we were both employees there. We clearly had a different focus, though. While we were supposed to be on the phone taking calls, we'd be talking about music, or I'd be listening to beats he'd done. Eventually he heard about my skills on the keyboard, and we just planned on getting together.
I take it Sam Heat is a producer as well?
Sam Heat: Yeah, I've got a long history in the game. It makes me an asset in a sense; it helps me understand where they're coming from. A lot of managers just handle the business stuff and get in the way of creativity, whereas I know what it's like to be a producer, so I stay out of their way. I still make beats, but now I'm looking at the bigger picture. The more people I'm able to help, the easier it will be for all of us. The pot is big enough for everybody's hands.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
RR: Back in the day, Jermaine Dupri was somebody I always looked to as far as new sounds and new trends in making music. I liked what [Dr.] Dre and Just Blaze were doing, but as far as my personal style, JD and Timbaland were my top picks. Now that I'm in the game, I don't really look at it the same way. I'm looking more at what goes on behind the scenes.
FS: I would have to say my father. He's a jazz musician, so listening to him play and practice for eight to ten hours a day, it seeped through like osmosis. As far as chord progressions and chord changes, I'd say Charles [Chuck] Harmony was a big influence. We were both piano majors at Clark Atlanta University, and I'd sit next to him during jazz orchestra practice and just watch how he would play. He taught me a lot, musically.
As a producer, do you feel that your education puts you at an advantage?
FS: I wouldn't say so, because you can express yourself musically in different ways. Someone with no training might not know the technical terms and chord names, but they can still find a way to work out the music they have in their head. I wouldn't necessarily say I have an advantage, but my musicianship definitely comes in handy.
Rick, do you have a similar background in music?
RR: I used to be in band up until I started making beats around my junior year of high school. I started out with the clarinet, then went on to the flute and then the trumpet — my favorite was always the horn. From there I switched over to the bass drum and ended up playing the snare. I still practice every now and then, but now I'm learning guitar.
Is there a "signature sound" associated with StarStrukk?
FS: We're pretty versatile. Our knowledge of music enables us to do whatever style of music. We tend to like doing tracks that create a picture or a scene — tracks that are big and full of grandeur, like a Superman score. But when the situation calls for it, we can do jazz, we can do country.
RR: Our music is universal. We don't have a set style, but we do have a unique sound. It's a futuristic kind of sound that nobody's really hit on the way we have. Once we have a completed project out, you'll be able to see what StarStrukk really means.
How did you land the placement with Andy Samberg on SNL?
RR: Through a connection out in Cali. Back in '08 I submitted some tracks to them, and they chose the record that turned into "Like a Boss" on the first [the Lonely Island] album. After we established that relationship, when the time came back around again, they reached out to us to do "Shy Ronnie."
Are you still working with the Lonely Island?
RR: We're still negotiating placement on their new album, Turtleneck & Chain, which is supposed to drop on my birthday, May 10. We produced a new "Shy Ronnie" track for the project that hasn't been released yet.
What other artists are you working with?
FS: We just did a track for Tef Poe and Rockwell Knuckles, so I'm looking forward to hearing that. The song's called "Impossible" off their upcoming project, and everybody's been telling me how good it sounds. Theresa Payne sings the hook, I think.
RR: We've been working a lot with Ms. Kriss; we produced most of her new project. We transitioned into the new sound I was telling you about while we were working with her, so it's still a work in progress, and we haven't come up with a name for it yet. But she's put out "Keep It Moving" as a single. Our home artist Jayryde has the No. 1 mixtape in Missouri on ReverbNation.com. We produced his mixtape The Phenom from beginning to end. We also work with Bradd Young and Aloha. [Foxx] is actually in Aloha's band.
So you opened for John Legend at Fair St. Louis last year?
FS: Yeah, I was up there. We almost burned to death, but it was worth it. I'd do it all over again — It was a lot of fun.
Where do you get most of your work done?
RR: We've got the home setup, of course, but our main spot would have to be Annex Studios over in Brentwood. That's where Foxx would be practicing with Aloha, and I'd be working the board for Ms. Kriss. We'd like to spend a little more time over at Shock City, though — that studio is off the chain!
What's your take on the local scene right now, and whom would you like to work with?
FS: I think we have an overabundance of talent. I don't want to say it's oversaturated, but there are a lot of people that want to rap or produce right now. As far as people I'd like to work with specifically, there's Teresajenee and Katrina Reece. But I'd really like to work with everybody.
RR: I agree that there's a lot of talent here, but I think sometimes that talent comes with arrogance. The arrogance leads to crabs-in-a-barrel syndrome. With that said, we support the local scene, from out in St. Charles to little hole-in-the-wall clubs on Grand. I'd like to work with anyone and everyone who's doing something, because there's always something you can learn.
Is there anything else currently in the works?
RR: Well, I haven't really put this out there yet, but we were recently offered a production deal with Universal Republic. That's the most exciting thing we've been working on. It's not a done deal yet, but we were approached by the CEO Monte Lipman about signing with them, and now we're just trying to get the numbers right. Once the papers are signed, the door should be wide open for us.