Producers Alonzo "Zo" Lee and Shamar "Sham" Daugherty go by the name the TrakStarz, so it's fitting the duo are rapidly racing to stardom.
Just a few years after helping make a star out of Chingy, the hitmakers are dividing their studio time between the likes of Ludacris, Britney Spears and 50 Cent.
And in the coming months the TrakStarz are launching a TrakStarz Records imprint through Blackground Records (JoJo, Aaliyah), recording their own star-studded album and working with Christina Aguilera on her next release.
Lee and Daugherty will also be traveling from their TrakMeet studio in St. Louis to Los Angeles next month for the Grammys, where Usher's "Yeah!," which they engineered, is up for several awards (see "Kanye Scores 10 Grammy Nominations; Usher And Alicia Keys Land Eight ").
"We're kind of excited," Lee said. "We had no idea it would be one of the biggest songs of the year."
Lil Jon, who produced the Usher smash, is among the many guests lined up for the TrakStarz's still-untitled debut, due in the summer. Twista, Juvenile, David Banner, Jon B., Nate Dogg and of course Chingy are also on board for the record, which will blend hip-hop, R&B and dancehall.
"It'll be kind of like [The Neptunes Present:] Clones, but we're gonna be more involved as artists," Daugherty said. "The point we want to get across is that we're artists as well as producers."
Both Lee and Daugherty rap and play numerous instruments. The two met when one of the various reggae and funk bands Lee played in crossed paths with Daugherty's group, Out of Order.
"We saw eye to eye on creativity and found a bond and formed the TrakStarz from that," said Lee. Like Lil Jon with crunk or Dr. Dre with G-funk, the TrakStarz have developed a signature sound, albeit one without a name and that's not easily described.
"Being in St. Louis, we're in the middle of everything, so we get influences from everywhere and create our own sound," Daugherty explained. "We blend everything together."
Their style is best recognized by the slang that accompanies the music, but the duo, who also produced Houston's "I Like That," insist that's not intentional. " 'Herre' and 'therre' is actually how we speak for real," Lee said.
The duo are proud of their St. Louis heritage and hope to put the city on the map the way Lil Jon and others did with Atlanta. "We're definitely trying to create a movement as well as a strong clique," Daugherty said.
TrakStarz Records will feature mostly St. Louis artists, although not entirely. "We're repping St. Louis to the fullest and want to brand St. Louis, that's kind of our mission, but we want to look at other cities that aren't being tapped," Daugherty explained. "The whole Midwest is a hotbed of talent."
"Other areas are becoming saturated," Lee said. "There's only so many rappers that can come from New York that offer something fresh. That's why we can offer something different, because we're not as exposed."
The first release from TrakStarz Records will likely be teen rapper Louis V.
"He's an amazing talent, definitely what we feel is the new wave in rap in that he's fluent in production and understands marketing and all of that," Daugherty said.
The label is also touting a female R&B trio called STL.
"We like to call them the first 'crunk & B' female group," Lee said. "They're very visual, club-oriented. And with all our artists, we like them to be informed on the business side and not just good at their craft."
The TrakStarz, who produced a track for Saliva, are also looking at rock acts and marketing themselves as film composers. The duo did scoring work for "Shark Tale" and "Coach Carter."