The Gateway Arch dominates the skyline of St. Louis, Missouri, but the beat bumping from the passing cars really defines the city. Warm and acidic: heavy bass drums and analog synths move the air. It’s the sound of the city, omniscient and inescapable. With Nelly’s success, it seems like everyone ‘round here wants to make a hit record, and many of them have gathered at an industry showcase at the Plush, downtown, in hopes of making an impression. And Alonzo “Zo” Lee and Shamar Daugherty – a.k.a The TrakStarz — are impressed. Just not in a good way.
“Man, some of these groups? They’re really talented,” says Sham. “But I couldn’t get with ‘em. No way. They don’t bring nuthin’ fresh to the mix.” You see, he and Alonzo know something about bringing something fresh to the mix.
They produced Chingy’s “Right Thurr” hoping that it would go gold. Maybe. It went 4-times platinum, and made them hit-list producers overnight, fielding requests from Britney Spears and Janet Jackson for? A hit. You see “Right Thurr,” played on the Dirty South’s predisposition toward analog synth grooves by making the tracks clean, heavy, and laden with a kind of personality that can’t really be bought.
In an exclusive suburb outside of St. Louis, with a customized H2, a Range Rover, and a Baby Benz in the driveway, Zo jokes that this is the house that Chingy built. And on the way past his screening room to his fully outfitted basement studio, he smiles and says, “It only takes one hit.”
“[Sham and I] had done some things on our own, and decided to get together to start developing artists. So we sat down with Howard Bailey, Jr., a.k.a Chingy, did a few songs with him, and we tried different things. It got to the point where he moved in with us. So there were three of us living in a two-bedroom apartment, with one room we used as the studio and vocal booth. I was sleeping in one room, Sham was sleeping in the studio under the Wurlitzer, and Chingy slept in the front room on a futon.
“I worked at Mars Music, so I was able to get a lot of gear at a discount, and we had a lot of crap crammed up in that room. We were running a Pro Tools Digi001 rack mount, an ART MP preamp, a couple of DBX compressors, and a Shure SM58 microphone with pop-stopper. We used Alesis M1 monitors, an MPC 2000XL, the Triton Keyboard, a Roland XP50, Proteus 2000, Roland VP 9000, Roland SH32, and we were running everything through a TC Finalizer and dumping to a TASCAM CDRW 700. All this running with a first-generation Apple G4 with the guts of a G3, so it ran kinda slow.
“It was a beautiful thing because the minute anything came to us we could get right to it, and that’s kinda how “Right Thurr” was born. We would sit around and vibe on concepts. Chingy came to us with the concept and a verse already written. So me and Sham had just been jamming, and he came to us out of nowhere with this idea.
“The synth we used on “Right Thurr” was an E-mu PK6. E-mu had a bunch of boards based off their popular modules, and this was one of them. That’s where the bass line came from. It’s an unlikely board — not a lot of people use it. It doesn’t have the dopest sounds but it definitely has the most different sounds. It has an incredible bass sound that feels like a real electric bass. We used it pretty straight on the track, just adding a lot of compressor to make it hit like a real, live bass we wanted. To make it nice and punchy for the dancefloor.
So Sham was working a drum loop — the snare in particular — that really made the track move. He was using the MPC, just stacking and stacking snares, really making the snare smack off of the track. We added a lot of low mids in the mix, because when snares hit, it’s in a different frequency range. But the low mids in the mix gives it a real hard clap feel. We wanted our drums to hit big, so we played a lot with the mids to get that distinctive sound.
“We used an AM Radio filter on Chingy’s voice. Chingy has a high-pitched, tinny, almost kinda irritating voice. And we almost didn’t wanna work with him because of his voice. So the challenge was to deal with his voice and make it less irritating. But the VIPRE Pre Amp allows you to play with the impedance, and gives it some depth and bottom. We also used a real basic Pro Tools reverb — I mean, it’s hip-hop so we keep the vocal real dry, beyond the occasional doubling.
“We initially played with the mix on a Mackie 1604 out to Pro Tools, to try to keep that fat analog feel: it gave a kind of dirty hum, so we were trying to keep it hip-hop to a certain degree. But when we got Chingy signed and had some money to get the mix right, we worked it out on an SSL. Wassim Zreik, who does a lot of pop and boy-band stuff, brought his game to it and it was a good marriage. Hip-hop with a pop feel. We work with him to this day.
“You know at one point there was another version, but we lost all the data. We actually had to go in and spend 24 hours straight dissecting the demo and re-creating the track, dialing up the sounds, re-programming the song. The funny thing about “Right Thurr”? When we were shopping the demo, we really didn’t think that would be The One.
“But it’s been our biggest hit so far. It changed my life in a major way. Not just monetarily — it was artistic confirmation of what we had going. Every aspiring producer always second-guesses his sound. Are the kicks hard enough? Will it bump in the clubs?”
He pulls at the grape-sized diamond in his ear and smiles.“ We don’t have to wonder anymore.”