Blackjak Music is a music production group based in Los Angeles. The group is focused primarily on music for artists in the Top 40 and house genres, but they have also developed a sub-catalog of tracks designed for sync-licensing applications. The Blackjak sound can be described briefly, but not comprehensively, as a unique cocktail of groove-locking percussion, soulful acoustic melodies, funky bass lines, and cutting edge sound design. With this wide range of sonic palettes, Blackjak Music provides a versatile aural therapy that just might be the future of pop music.
Though the Blackjak team has only come together in the last year, they have already caught the ears of some major players in the mainstream market – most recently LA-based Baby G Music and the UK’s rising star Alexa Goddard. Baby G Music, the songwriting company behind hits for Justin Bieber, Flo-Rida, and Madonna, has expressed interest in selected Blackjak productions for some of its projects. Blackjak has also been invited to the Baby G studios to collaborate with their in-house production team. Overseas, UK up-and-comer Alexa Goddard collaborated with Blackjak and frequent Blackjak collaborator Jarell Perry (songwriter) on several tracks for her forthcoming debut.
The group also has a house-focused artist project slated for launch later this year entitled Jükbokx. In a collaboration facilitated by the UrbanAsian team, Jükbokx and Sonna Rele will release a remix of her single “Bring on the Rain” next month!
The team consists of three talented musicians. Keith Hetrick turned down the classical music route for a career in pop music. He hungers for avant-garde, aggressive textures, and ensures that the Blackjak sound always has unexpected twists and turns. Jason Jones is a self-taught pianist and guitarist with a keen ear for pop. His strong sense of resonating melodies gives a touch of familiarity to each Blackjak track. Finally, DJ for 8 years, a pianist for 12, and a producer for 9, Sameer Agrawal is both a musical force and “The Suit” in the Blackjak team. His hand constantly on the pulse of musical trends, Sameer is able to provide the Blackjak sound with an innovative and forward-thinking edge with his sound design and production experience. Together, the Blackjak team has a diverse and unique skillset that creates their cutting edge sound.
From left to right: Jason, Sameer, Keith
A tastemaker since his childhood, Sameer K. Agrawal, AKA DJ Ska, began producing music well before he had any knowledge of composition. As he started to learn classical piano at the age of six, he often wandered away from the notes in front of him and began to create melodies of his own. Approaching the DJ booth with the discerning ear of a trained musician, Ska had become an innovative force in LA’s trendsetting scene by the time he was 20…all the while undertaking a grueling course load in Economics and Accounting at UCLA.
After graduating, Sameer accepted an offer from a top-tier consulting firm, spending his free time deejaying and producing for local acts he had met at the Grammy Foundation’s Grammy Camp. After 6 months working in finance, it was clear to him that he had to make a sincere attempt at becoming a full time producer, or it would be something he would regret for the rest of his life. Leaving the path of certainty, Sameer attended the Keyboard Institute of Technology at Hollywood’s Musician’s Institute for a year.
During this time he built his production chops and emerged with a small team of like-minded, driven young musicians. Sameer launched the production group Blackjak Music in March 2010 with the intention of building a skilled team that would one day create hits for today’s hottest pop, R&B, and hip-hop artists. With a pair of side projects focused on house (Jükbokx) and hip-hop (NSUO), as well as the Blackjak online portal which launched in fall of 2010, the future looks bright for Blackjak Music.
Sameer Agrawal graciously allowed UrbanAsian to interview him regarding Blackjak Music, and this is what he has to tell us!
Q: Hi Sameer! Why don’t you go ahead and tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
A: Sameer: I grew up in the Los Angeles area, in a little city called Diamond Bar. I played classical piano growing up, then eventually got into deejaying in high school and ended up dabbling in production as well. I started to get serious about production sometime during college. After finishing my degree at UCLA, I went to Musician’s Institute in Hollywood for a year. Before I started at MI, I had actually committed to an offer from a well-known consulting firm once I was done. They allowed me to delay the start date 1 year for music school. When I graduated from MI, I rejected the offer and started Blackjak. They were pissed.
Keith: Basically, I’ve been doing music since i was around 7 years old. I was HEAVILY involved with the classical music scene up until high school; plus my dad was a preacher, so not only did i get intense scholastic and classical training, but also got experience in the more untraditional, weird, and weirdly free-form mentality that is gospel and jazz. Having to deal with both sides of the creative spectrum at such a young age really prepared me for the world of production, songwriting and performing.
Jason: I was born and raised in Seattle, WA in a town called Edmonds. I started playing guitar at age 11 but it was purely recreational until college hit. When i turned 20 I started picking up piano due to my interests in bands such as: Something Corporate, Counting Crows, Augustana, Fray, etc. Once I finished college at Western Washington University I figured it was time to take my passion more seriously and enrolled at Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles.
Q: How did you, Keith, and Jason come up with the idea of forming your own music group?
A: I met Jason and Keith at Musician’s Institute. Jason and I hit it off early on. He heard a drum track I had programmed in class and asked me if he could drop some keys on it. I was blown away by how soulful his playing was, especially for a guy who had only been playing 2 years. After that we started working together. It took us a few tracks to find our chemistry, but then things started to pick up. A couple of the teachers started giving us great feedback and even asking us about possible collaborations – at that point we knew we were on to something.
Keith was a later addition to the group. He had gotten my name from a couple other guys at school who had heard my stuff. We met up and played some tracks for each other. At this point, Keith had only been producing for a few months and he already had this one electro track that was absolutely BONKERS. No joke, even after producing for 8 years I was asking Keith about some his production techniques that first day. What I started to realize is that Keith’s musical experience outside of production was comprehensive. He had played a ridiculous number of instruments growing up in classical and contemporary settings and had in fact turned down a conservatory scholarship to come to MI. These thousands of hours of practice translated right over into the production realm. The guy was already a beast. After that the three of us starting working together on all kinds of stuff.
From left to right: Jason Jones, Keith Hetrick
Q: What’s the story behind the name of the group? How did you come up with the name “Blackjak”?
A: Naming the group was a struggle. We went through a couple duds, even got some logo designs done for other names and then realized they were wack. Eventually the name came from the stylistic aesthetic that I envisioned for the group. In my head I saw a black suit, white shirt, and a splash of red. That image, coupled with Jason’s passion for monthly trips to Vegas, gave us the name Blackjak. It works on many levels, because we were all sort of rolling the dice by leaving the established paths that we had available to us.
Q: How did it feel to leave the path of certainty for your passion?
A: It was a tough decision at first, but after a while, it wasn’t a choice at all. There are certain things that people do to enrich their spirit and certain things people do to enrich their wallets. There are a select few that are able to find the intersection of the two. Who knows if I’ll be one of them, but if I didn’t give it a shot, I would have regrets.
Q: What about Jükbokx and NSUO? What can you tell us about these projects?
A: At the beginning of 2009, I started really getting into electro and house. Sonic wizards like Miles Dyson and Wolfgang Gartner really caught my attention with the ways they would manipulate sound. Keith went to a rave on NYE 2009 and caught the bug as well. Jason got the house fever a little later, but his sense of melody fit right in. Jükbokx was formed to channel this collective passion of ours. It also gives us a more personal voice, because we are able to deliver content directly to listeners rather than through other artists. We’ll be releasing the first few tracks from this project later this year. NSUO is a hip-hop project that Keith started with this other very talented producer/rapper named Albert Lutz-Paap. These are two of the most creative dudes I have ever met. I am not personally involved in the day-to-day work of NSUO but I do work with them from time to time. They are dropping their debut mixtape very soon.
Q: Are you planning on starting any new projects like Jükbokx and NSUO for other genres of music?
A: Not at the moment. We have our hands full.
Q: Where do you hope to see Blackjak Music 10 years from now?
A: I see the Blackjak brand eventually becoming more than just a music production outfit, I see it as a music/lifestyle brand with production as the entry point. We currently have our core producers and songwriters, but eventually I would like to add management as well. We are also approaching multiple markets. While the US and UK mainstreams are our main focus, I have chanced into meetings with some Bollywood producers and we are looking for opportunities in that market as well.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to say to your fans and our readers before we go?
A: The Blackjak team is always looking for talented people to work with. If you are a musician, PR manager, web designer, videographer, etc who would like to get involved, give us a shout:
Watch this space for our exclusive songwriting contest later this year!
Finally, a big thank you to the whole UrbanAsian team!
So ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, Blackjak Music clearly has a bright future ahead. Although the group is relatively new, with the impressive talent that the team consists of, there is no doubt that we will be hearing about them in the near future! A special thanks to Sameer for giving UrbanAsian this exclusive interview!
Fans and readers, be sure to keep it locked with UrbanAsian for updates on Blackjak Music and their upcoming songwriting contest!