Nigerian electro hip-pop group Christian Rich gets its shine on
By Mawuse Ziegbe
Chicago-via-Nigeria twins Kehinde and Taiwo Hassan began as a production team that has crafted records for artists like Lil’ Kim, Fabolous, The Clipse and Raekwon. Taking their name from famed French designer Christian Dior, the brothers are stepping out from behind the boards and assailing the music scene with their cheeky, genre-averse jams. Their collaboration with dance music demigod Armand Van Helden, “Ski Hard,” burned up MTV UK. Their mixtapes with streetwear kings Lemar and Dauley, I Found My Favorite Beats and Rhymed to Them While Watching Coming to America and Jeezy Eats at Lola’s are stacked with rowdy lyrics, synth-infused hip hop and artful mash-ups of Baltimore and Chicago house. With their album The Decadence set to drop in Spring 2009, AfriPop sat down with Kehinde, also known as Rich of Christian Rich, to find out how to really make it in America.
AfriPop: Is there a reason you’re Rich and he’s Christian?
Kehinde: He’s the artist so he’s Christian. He’s gonna be the first name just to make that distinction that he’s the spokesman. I’m the business end of it that’s why I’m Rich, ironically.
AP: Do you do the beats?
K: We do the beats together. We do the vocals together [and] marketing. I thought it was better just from a performance standpoint as well as an image standpoint that [there] was just one person to focus on. I took those cues from the people I look up to like…Pharrell and Kanye [West]. I noticed when there is one person to focus on, people’s attention span is longer and they assimilate to that better. Whenever there’s a duo, one of them goes solo anyway.
AP: But you guys are twins and you both perform…
K: This is why we didn’t perform for a while. The way we were doing our shows before it was both of us performing and I always told my brother you should just perform by yourself and let me take care of the band and everything.
From a marketing standpoint it would look good if we were twins. I don’t think music has to be a gimmick, like “there are these twins that do music, it should be dope.” It should just be the sound in general. I assumed more of a business management role between us. I just eliminated both of us performing thing.
I figured the audience wants to be intimate with whoever the performer is. They want to be able to relate to him when he’s speaking and say, “Hey, I went through that too.” If there’s two people on stage trying to tell a story you’re not going to know who to pay attention to.
AP: Tell me about the Coming to America mixtape…
K: We were chilling with Lemar and Dauley one day and we were like, “We’re gonna come up with the mixtape and we’re gonna do it in four days and you guys should just drop it,” and they were like, “Yeah.” [My brother and I] were watching Coming to America and my brother was like we should make a mixtape called “I Found My Favorite Beats and I Rhymed to Them While Watching Coming to America.” We were laughing and then were like, “Oh shit, that’s the title.” We recorded it in four days and we gave it to Lemar and Dauley, they did the cover and then they put it out.
AP: Why the Jeezy mixtape?
K: The Jeezy mixtape came from the attempt to show that as artists we’re not concentrated on one style of music. We attempted to blend all these different personalities of ourselves. We grew up in the hood [and] we grew up in Nigeria [and] we have affiliations in London and we try to be classy at times. We were trying to mix those two sounds so we put this gritty hip hop vocalist [with] this Chicago/Baltimore/London trance sound house sound. It’s an attempt to try different sounds and mix different genres. It was just one of those spur of the moment ideas. Like let’s take Jeezy and put him on house beats.
AP: Why Jeezy?
K: He’s my favorite artist. There’s not too many artists that I would say I like, especially when it comes to rap. I like Kanye and Jay-Z sometimes but other than that he’s probably the only artist [who] I would listen to his albums and pay attention to raps on that style of music.
AP: Tell me about growing up in Nigeria. How long were you there for?
K: About seven, eight years. We spent a good chunk of our childhood there; enough to remember the hardships. That experience made us who we are right now. We saw so many negative, as well as positive things, that when we came to the States it was a joke to us. It wasn’t an option to not do what we wanted to do. We came from the bottom, from the gutter. There were literally gutters in our streets. Out here the sewers are underneath the ground; it’s not like that in Nigeria. There’s gutters in your house. We came from the slum area only to come to America. We wanted to live the American dream and we’ve been pursuing it ever since we got here.
AP: Was there something specific that happened in Nigeria that doesn’t happen
in the States that sticks out to you?
K: One of the things was seeing our real mother sick. We really had to grow up at like, six, seven years old. We really had to take care of our mother; like cook and clean and really take care of her. When you have an adult that you look up to being ill like that and can’t really function well it makes you grow up quick. It also makes you view life differently. You don’t take things for granted you realize that every moment counts. Her being sick was definitely pivotal to who we are right now.
AP: You mentioned you had ties in London. Did you live there for some time?
K: Never lived there, just passed through. We have a lot of cousins there. I just have a big fascination with European culture; the way they dress, their appreciation for instrumentals, live music and performances. When you’re dealing with Nigerians you do two things: your parents either move you to London or they move you to America. We
were probably a decision away from being moved to London.
AP: When you were younger, you designed a shoe for Nike. How did that happen?
K: When I was younger I was bold. I drew and designed real well. I didn’t know what Nike was when I was younger. I just came from Africa and I saw an AirMax [advertisement] on the back of Time magazine. I was 10 years old and I was like, “Yo, these are pretty ill what are these?” I was like, “What if I designed those shoes but designed it my way.” That’s exactly what I did. I looked at them, I designed them, gave it to Nike, they sent me back some letters and they made them. And then I made another pair. It was really just the American dream. Just doing what you want to do and put it out there.
AP: How did you get into music?
K: My father’s a pastor so he sings all the time. If you know anything about church, most pastors own all their equipment and always sing and I just learned music from my father. My sister taught us what hip hop was. She introduced us to Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest. When I heard it, instantly I thought I want to make something like that too.
Me and brother, we would listen to the jazz stations at night and we record instrumentals and try to find a way to rap on top of it. We realized it was fun so we wanted to create our own instrumentals. We just pretty much went through trial and error until we got good at it. It was encouragement from our family. They knew we were good at what we did and they were like “You should really learn how to do music.”
AP: You make electronic music but you perform with a live band. How do you
interpret your music through live instrumentation?
K: Electronic music in general is live music that’s recorded at a set time so you can hear it over and over. The band reinterprets it so it sounds better than what it sounds like on the recording. “Famous Girl” sounds better live because the strings are live, I’m playing the synthesizer, we have bass on there and drums. It’s taking the recordings we have and amplifying it for the audience. It really makes the music live for the audience because we don’t want them to come and listen to a two-track or a DJ because everybody does that. We want them to feel the vibrations from the bass, we want them to feel the improvisation from the guitar player and the violinist and say, “You know what? I’m inspired by that.”
AP: How often do you go back to Africa?
K: We don’t. I have been back since the ’90s. We want to plan a trip out there real soon for family reasons but I also want to connect with a few artists. There’s an artist named 2Face. He’s one of the biggest artists in Nigeria. I gonna connect with him and do a song just so we can keep that connect with Nigeria.
My nephew is being shipped over there this year. He’s so bad he has to go there in May. We might end up going this year just to make sure he’s fine and to check up on him.
AP: Who are some other African artists you’d like to work with?
K: Femi Kuti, Fela Kuti’s son. Fela is probably the illest Nigerian artist ever. Some of the old school cats I would love to work with but I don’t know how that would sound. Like Sunny Ade’s pretty big but I don’t know how he would feel working with us. He’s an O.G. He’s like Isaac Hayes, if not bigger. Maybe Wale even though he’s here but he’s Nigerian.
AP: What’s your favorite African food?
K: Of course, Jollof rice. We got this thing called Eba. Eba is crazy, I love it.
AP: Do you have a favorite African proverb?
K: One that my father would say all the time is “Never let people know what you’re doing, let them see it.” It’s kind of that moving in silence thing. Me and my brother we’re very private so we don’t tell people what we’re doing. We just do it and let them see for themselves. It’s definitely one of the biggest proverbs that I live my life by everyday.
AP: What do you think makes someone African?
K: If you really want to take it back to an historic type of view, everyone is African. Africa is the original motherland for everyone including Latins and Europeans. But in a geographical sense, what makes you African is knowing where you’re from in Africa or attempting to find out where you’re from.
If you want to mean it in a spiritual sense, what can make you African is your attributes: your hustle, how you view life, how you approach adversity. Africans move a little bit differently than Americans. They know that their expiration date in Africa is probably very short so they move like everyday is their last day. Americans, we’re a little bit lazy. We know we’re here and we’re citizens, so we kind of chill. Africans, Jamaicans, Haitians, whatever, they’re a little bit more on their hustle. That probably defines them as [African] people here in the states.
AP: The hustle.
K: Yeah, definitely.