Meet the next generation masterminds of Stankonia Studios, who are Grammy-nominated producers with an ear for detail in the Dungeon Family.
The stakes are high for Royal Flush. As the production duo behind Big Boi’s Grammy-nominated record “Royal Flush,” Rick Wallkk (Big Boi’s cousin) and Jeron Ward have transitioned from inspired hobbyists to working with some of Rap’s biggest names, all the while expanding the reach of their company Royal Flush Entertainment which hosts shows and parties around Atlanta. Still, their committed to their craft as artists, and with skilled precision and timing, they expect their following to grow.
Speaking with DXnext, they explain their expectations post-Grammy’s, delve into studio work with Big Boi and Janelle Monae on “Be Still,” as well as discuss their revamped debut album The Interview. Needless to say, don’t bet against Royal Flush.
Influences: Dungeon Family, Organized Noize, Quincy Jones, Barry White.
Starting In The Church: “My father started playing the keys when I was about eight, and he actually started teaching me from there,” stated Jeron Ward. “I also played keys in church, and that is one of the biggest factors of Rick [Wallkk] and I linking was the fact that we had that background in church. But I played everything from the keys to saxophone, guitar etc. I’m a musician so instruments is what I enjoyed learning.”
Rick echoed, “[Church] is what brought me and Jeron together as a team. My mother had me in church. I started on the drums then moved to the trumpet. Other than that, most definitely my cousin [Big Boi]. I tried the rapping thing and that didn’t go. Around that time Big Boi was like, ‘You got the right idea it’s just not coming out, why don’t you try producing?’ So I got a MPC 2000 XL and started being a little drummer boy myself. After that me and Jeron just had a chance of fate that brought us together, and that’s history.”
Studio Time: “For us, music is genuine,” explained Jeron. “It’s part of who we are, it’s part of our soul. So when we go in the lab it’s really just taking in whatever is going on at the time and translating that into the music. If it comes out sounding all the way up hill we run with it, if it comes out right we run with it. As long as it’s true, you know what I’m saying. That’s the biggest thing, to put that truth into the music so when people hear it, they can grab that and connect with that.”
The Grammy’s: “When me and Jeron was at the Grammy’s and after the Grammy’s was over with I was feeling kind of down like, ‘Damn man, we didn’t even win.’ Then Big Boi looked at both of us and was like, ‘do you realize that on your first placement ya’ll got nominated for a Grammy!’”
Jeron added, “What the Grammy thing did for us was that it allowed us to put our bar up so high. It’s not really the pressure, it’s more the expectations. Now we compete with ourselves. It’s like if [Michael] Jordan came into the league and his first time out he won a championship. It’s to keep winning, to keep going and raising that bar further. It’s time to get passed being nominated, it’s time to go and bring one trophy home, or two or three. [Laughs] It was fortunate that the first time out the box we come out and we at the championship. And for us to start our career like that really gives us the insight of where we can finish our careers.”
Working With Big Boi: Jeron stated, “Our process with Big is so organic man. It’s a little different, like we never do something for Big Boi, we never do something for a particular artist. It’s pretty much whatever is jumping in our spheres right now. As producers, I feel our biggest role is finding that perfect track for that perfect artist and make that connection so that it happens. I can’t say that “Be Still” was made with Big Boi in mind or “Royal Flush” was made with Big Boi in mind but somewhere in the universe it was. He found it at the right time and the right place and it just connected.”
Working with Janelle Monae: “It wasn’t too much outside of working with Big and [Andre 3000],” explained Rick. “When you have someone with that much creativity, to be around someone with a positive energy it feels like its home, it feels like somebody that is working just as hard as you. It’s like, damn, this is somebody that loves music and loves what they do in their desired craft.”
Jeron added, “I was actually interning at Purple Ribbon [Records] so there were times when I put together Janelle [Monae’s] CD’s before she really boomed. I remember arranging interviews for Janelle when she was on the cusp of becoming who she is. To see her transition and to actually see Rick and I doing music with her too, it’s mind blowing. We’re all excited and happy with her growth and her progression, and we know she’s just getting started. Ya’ll haven’t heard what she’s got in store.”
Come Correct In The Booth: “For a lack of a better term, we ain’t dick riders when it comes to artists,” asserted Jeron. “We look for artists that make good music off the top and if that means you’re Aleon Craft, who’s just dope, then let’s do it. If you’re ‘Joe Blow’ from down the street and you’re good at what you do and we can make a record that’s gonna be classic then let’s do it. We’re all about the quality of the music regardless of what the artist’s name is.”
The Interview: “Expect eargasms. It’s so much that we’re doing on [The Interview], like we’re definitely pushing the envelope beyond its limit but at the same time we keeping it within reach so you can grasp what we’re actually doing,” said Rick.
Jeron continued, “Our ultimate goal with The Interview is again reach our expectations for ourselves and our influences. Like Rick was saying earlier, Quincy Jones and Barry White. Internally, we’re competing with them. The Interview, we want that to be an album where when Quincy Jones hears it, we want him to be like, ‘What was y'all doing when you made that?’ Since they inspired us so much we want to take all our influences we got and then make an album that our influences and people that we looked up to, they can respect it too. And hopefully the fans will get a classic album out of that.”
Starting Over On The Interview: “We were real close to the end, and we ending up scrapping it and started all over again,” said Rick. “Right now it’s back at like 40-50%. We definitely have 200% of quality music, but it’s hard for us to decide what to put on there. We’ve been doing songs for the last year and a half, we just need some new artists that we wanna work with.”
He continued, “The thing about this album, it’s gonna be something that no one has done before. That’s what we were striving from the get-go, and we got a little off track because we were like, ‘what if people perceive it this way’ or ‘what if people don’t like it as much?’ After thinking about it, if we like it, that’s all that matters. We created it for our liking, and everyone else will like it because there has been nothing that we have done where no one hasn’t liked it. Not sounding cocky, just stating the facts for what they are.”
Jeron added, “It’s all about timing. I had a conversation with Ray Murray [of Organized Noize] a couple weeks back and he gave me some good insight. He was like, being a producer, the most important thing is to live in the future and really focus on what’s coming, not necessarily what’s here but what’s coming. Like Rick said [The Interview] is about 40% as far as the artists go, but we wanna stay ahead of the curve and we wanna be involved with artists who we think are on their way to being the future. There’s gonna be a mix of artists you hear as far as lyricists, but we’re also bringing in musicians, drummers, instrumentalists and so on. It’s a good enough mix of everything to be considered something that hasn’t been done before, so it’ll need a little more time before we start dropping names cause we’re still in the process of getting it to where we want it to be.”
Producer Insight: Jeron explained, “As a producer your job is to create the platform for the artist to elevate themselves. You really gotta be even more ahead of the curve than the artist is because a lot of times you’re giving the artist the direction to go. If you’re behind the artist it kind of gives off a weird dichotomy. Focus on not doing what’s already been done, and find a way to make what people will want to do in the future.”
“Own your craft, don’t let your craft own you,” stated Rick. “With that being said just shape the person that you are before you get into it. And going off what Jeron said, know the business.”
All In: Jeron stated, “The biggest legacy that we wanna leave is that anything can be done. From where we came, and where we’re going, we’ve in a sense always been considered the underdogs so to speak; a lot of people didn’t believe that we could make it to the Grammy’s. The biggest thing is to believe in yourself, put trust in God, and from that point on don’t look back and never ever quit. Never give up cause you can do anything you put yourself to do and I think that’s what we’re gonna prove as we continue to grow in our careers.”
Follow Royal Flush on Twitter: @JeronWard and @RickWallkk
Also Stankonia Studios has an open registration for artists who might want to perform there this month for Royal Flush's "Inside The Music" event: www.sonicbids.com/insidethemusic