LOS ANGELES • What do Drake, The Weeknd, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, Halsey and Camila Cabello have in frequent?
The reply – melodies written by Starrah, who additionally occurs to be utterly obscure.
An A-list studio presence for simply two years, the 27-year-old has tallied greater than six billion streams on Spotify and YouTube alone – to say nothing of her innumerable radio performs – bridging genres as a songwriter on Fake Love by Drake, Needed Me by Rihanna and Havana, Cabello’s breakout single.
Yet, anybody could be forgiven for not recognising her title, not to mention her face, which, in pictures and movies, is ceaselessly animated and at all times obfuscated by a rigorously positioned hand or a Ok-pop-inspired panda masks.
“I like my privacy,” Starrah stated. “I still live my regular life.”
Raised in a Delaware seashore city, the youngest of 9 siblings lower her path by city radio, crafting rap-sung hooks for strivers comparable to Kid Ink and Dej Loaf (Be Real) and Travis Scott and Young Thug (Pick Up The Phone) earlier than making the all-but-unheard-of crossover to the overwhelmingly white echelons of Top 40.
“She’s brought urban music into pop,” stated producer Cirkut, identified for his work with The Weeknd and Miley Cyrus.
Somebody needed to do it. With streaming now the highest mode of listener consumption by far – up almost 60 per cent this yr – and hip-hop/R&B simply outpacing some other style, the Katy Perrys and Maroon 5s wanted a serving to hand.
For Starrah, code-switching whereas remaining genuine to herself has at all times come simply. “I grew up in the ghetto,” she stated. “But around me, it was like a gilded curtain – everyone else was wealthy.”
She attended Delaware State University and have become the primary in her household to graduate. But on one early monitor, she sings of a police staff kicking down the door. “I’ve seen both sides of the coin,” she stated.
Initially impressed by road literature comparable to Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever and feminine rappers comparable to Eve and Minaj, Starrah additionally developed the omnivorous style of the playlist technology.
For a few of her earliest compositions, she discovered acoustic covers of songs comparable to Yellow by Coldplay and improvised on prime of them.
It was one such monitor, titled Drank Up, which sampled the digital track, About You by XXYYXX, that caught the ear of Mr Nick Jarjour, who is now her supervisor.
“I didn’t know if she was a girl or a boy, 11 years old or 27 years old,” he stated. “She was the most ambiguous person I’d ever heard.”
Starrah had moved to Los Angeles after school and was working at Urban Outfitters and Public Storage whereas pursuing music, posting songs to SoundCloud and promoting hook demos for US$150 (S$200) on Instagram.
Gregarious and relentlessly optimistic, Mr Jarjour, 31, was additionally a complement for Starrah’s humility, and shortly turned her protector and champion.
Although her reticence in direction of fame has lent her profession a marketable mystique, “it’s not a gimmick”, he stated. “She’s not thirsty.”
While social nervousness could maintain her from award exhibits and conferences with executives, her modesty has made her a favorite of superstars.
Starrah stated she now seems at lots of the artists she writes for “like they’re my family”, however she can also be a pupil of their sounds and personas. “As a fan, I know where I want their music to go,” she added.
She recalled Rihanna gushing over the steely break-up jam Needed Me, which peaked at No. 7 final yr and went on to develop into the singer’s longest-charting hit.
This yr, having confirmed her Billboard viability, Starrah targeted on enlargement.
Although she had beforehand specialised within the cross-section of membership and important favourites that turned unexpectedly sturdy hits (Pass Dat by Jeremih, Body by Dreezy), her work on tracks comparable to Perry’s Swish Swish, Halsey’s Now Or Never and Harris’ Feels have been extra bare appeals to pop dominance.
And whereas not fairly critically adored smashes, such songs could show efficient in Starrah’s effort to remain unpredictable.
“She doesn’t want to be pigeonholed,” stated Ms Ashley Calhoun of Pulse Music Group, who signed Starrah to a publishing contract as a songwriter in 2015.
“If she wants to write a country hit, I have no doubt she can do that.”