Hip Hop Heaven
Jacqueline O' Sullivan talks to one half of Grand Central's Rae & Christian.
Life is full of ups and downs, but some people face pressures that others couldn't comprehend. Mark Rae, one half of production/musician team Rae & Christian, has been up since the crack of dawn trying to find a home for some American rappers he's just collected from the airport. A bit bizarre, but he doesn't live a run-of-the-mill life, so why should his problems be mundane ?
Fame has always been on the cards for this character, whose first foray into the world of the DJ was prompted by love. "I've started playing with samplers in 89, to impress the girlfriend," he admits. The hip-hop world certainly has something to thank that girl for.
Since then, Mark and his other half, Steve Christian, have set the music world alight with their production work. So much so that they decided to take the plunge and produce their own material, with the help of some famous friends. After they laid their magical touch on Texas's White On Blonde album, the band were propelled from being an obscure Scottish sound from the Eighties to one of the coolest acts around.
"It was great working with Texas, they're great people," says Mark. "Sharleen can really sing ! With me coming from the north, being a Geordie, we got on really well, talking about football and music."
So when names of potential album contributors for Rae & Christian's album Northern Sulphuric Soul were being bandied about, Texas was naturally up for inclusion. They are the only artists billed equally with Rae & Christian on the album credits "Well done for spotting that !" says Mark. "Texas had a lot of input into the actual music. They did the different bass lines and were involved in co-producing it, as well as doing the vocals."
Texas are a talking point for those with no hip-hop knowledge - was this a cunning addition to appeal to a more mainstream audience ?
"We just wanted to make the best possible album, with loyal people. We haven't tried to reach out and cross over. In fact, I think it's maybe too dark to cross over, but then Massive Attack and Portishead did it. It's our best effort."
However, many bands were looking for this duo to work their production magic on new projects. Managing to escape from the pressures of this part of their life, when they're in such constant demand, wasn't easy. Decisions had to be made.
"We completely dropped all production work for a year. We moved out of that scene and hid because it was all-consuming. It was then an organic process of knowing people that would do a good job. Essentially we've done this with people we've worked with."
And what a roll call it is ! The track listing reads as a who's who on the hip-hop wish list. Hip-hop heads will be beside themselves with glee seeing names like Jeru The Damaja, the Jungle Brothers and JVC Force - some of most influential contributors to both the old skool and the nu skool styles. That's not to say they spent the best part of a year traipsing over the world to jam with the cream of hip-hop, while giving their record company executives a coronary over the expense accounts.
"We rounded all the work with the artists off within two months. We talked to them about six months before, but there was no point firming things till we were happy with the beats. "With the Jungle Brothers it was nothing other than phone calls. They did their rap in America and sent them over. We'd already sent them the beats. Though we did play with them in Cork, Ireland, which is a bit of a stronghold for us. We've played there three or four times."
However it isn't only the luck of the Irish to get to witness the Rae & Christian live experience. A band of Irish minstrels would feel outnumbered in the company of the travelling pack of musicians who accompany Rae & Christian to provide a genuine taste of what the album's really about - a mix of British street soul, hip-hop, rare groove and inner-city sound. They travel with their own percussionist; double bass player; female vocalist; scratch DJ, sax, flute and rhodes players, to compliment the skills of Mark behind the deck and Steve on the guitar.
They've taken to the road to promote their album, but don't worry if you've missed them this time around. Mark says: "We regularly plan to play places in the UK and abroad. There's plenty of other people we want to work with !"
Interview by Jacqueline O' Sullivan.
Taken from "Vibes", a Scotland On Line Production.