- On the third floor of London's gilded Grosvenor Hotel,
in a stately Victorian-period suite, on a king-sized bed designed
to accommodate such length, Grooverider stretches his elongated
frame, turns on his side and rests his shaved skull on his
hand. A few feet away, on the far corner of the bed, a couple
of Sony Music publicists exchange back-massages. Directly
next to Grooverider, in the middle of the bed, resting supine
on her elbows, DJ Rap engages him in some crisp repartee.
The sound of laughter echoes off the walls. Grooverider howls;
DJ Rap giggles.
the first time since college, I feel trapped inside an episode
of MTV's The Real World _ with a few subtle differences,
of course. Most everyone in the room here drives expensive
cars, not a mustard-brown Ford Pinto; they also receive phone
calls from the likes of Goldie, not creditors.
the room here the nexus of the U.K. drum-n-bass scene is kicking
back, and I'm about to interview Grooverider. As he extricates
himself from his leisurely repose with the dutiful comportment
of a man being led to a colonoscopy,
he suddenly brightens up, points to Rap, turns to me, smiles
and says, "I'm telling you, watch for her."
earns his keep by staying ahead of the curve, sure, but it's
difficult not to watch for DJ Rap. As one of the few
females in the men's locker-room of drum-n-bass jocks, Rap
would stand out even if she didn't possess Glamour-girl looks
and a winning smile. Accordingly, for years now the U.K. music
press has been sniffing after this former Page Three model,
elevating her to media-darling status and, in some cases,
shoveling sexual innuendo that defies taste. Acutely aware
of her attributes, DJ Rap plays along, instilling a much-needed
sense of Ying in the Yang-heavy world of drum-n-bass.
the decks, however, DJ Rap is known for aggressive jump-up
jungle sets; she claims to be the first to import it Stateside.
Behind the production board, her drum-n-bass contributions
have shattered any hint of a glass ceiling. And behind her
Low Key label, she owns a pipeline to the U.K. underground's
most influential club and radio jocks.
is, the U.K. drum-n-bass scene may be too provincial for Rap's
mass appeal. That is, it's too "underground" for
her more wide-eyed, bubbly and global ambitions and too constricting,
musically, for her talents _ which include classical piano
training and a voice built for radio, as in, pop radio.
paid her dues in drum-n-bass, to use a worn-out cliché,"
says Mick Clark, London-based managing director and A&R
chief, who signed Rap to Higher Ground Records, alongside
Grooverider and Leftfield. "She's released records for
years in England. But, in England, it's a small market. You're
not going to be a pop star making drum-n-bass. She's done
that and she wants to move on and develop. Unfortunately,
a lot of people in this community don't like people who are
ambitious and want to move on. But that's not our problem;
that's their problem. It's a brave move, I think."
course, Clark is waxing enthusiastic about Learning Curve
(Higher Ground/Columbia), DJ Rap's quantum leap out of
the drum-n-bass sandbox and into the pop music playing field.
The lead single, the big beat "Bad Girl," has already
generated significant airplay among DJ Times' Crossover
50 Chart reporters. And, with her own straight-up drum-n-bass
remix _ looping the effects-laden vocal hook _ and a radically
darker one courtesy of DJ Krust, Rap's underground club credibility
should remain intact.
for the rest of the album, there are few drum-n-bass moments
to speak of. Instead, Rap opts for vocals with chemical beats
("F**k With Your Head"), common acid lines ("Bad
Behaviour"), an acoustic interpretation of Derrick May's
"Strings of Life" ("Ordinary Day"), flirtations
with rock ("Live it For Today" and "Go"),
and the Madonna-meets-big-beat of "Everyday Girl."
short, Learning Curve is The Prodigy infused with estrogen,
a song-based album where funneled snares, big, lazy breaks,
ripping drum kicks and morphing bass lines trace a path to
'90s U.K. dance music, the 30-year-old Rap's musical incubator,
surrogate family and lyrical source.
personally don't fancy the fact that a 40-year-old and a 54-year-old
woman are the leading figures in dance music," says Clark,
referring to hitmakers Madonna and Cher. "At the moment,
I find that slightly off-putting. There are plenty of good-looking
girls who dance and sing a vocal for a DJ for a track. But
name me five strong female artists who represent the genre.
And yet, if you go to the clubs, there are as many women as
there are men. Women love club culture like men, so I think
Rap's a role model, really, a spokeswoman for her generation."
not a spokeswoman for her generation, DJ Rap is at least well
equipped for a dip in the pop culture pantheon. For starters,
"Good To Be Alive" will be included on the Go
soundtrack _ a film depicting events at a Los Angeles rave.
Then select DJ gigs and live-band dates are planned,
as well as a full-court solicitation of fashion designers.
Times recently caught up with DJ Rap on her whirlwind
press jaunt to the U.S., where she held court and spoke about
DJing, drum-n-bass, and life in a man's world.
Times: You had an atypical upbringing.
Rap: Yeah, I was born in Singapore, and we moved
around quite a lot. My stepfather ran hotels and my mother
ran a travel agency. So I spent a lot of time in Catholic
Times: How did that affect you?
Rap: I think it makes you rebel against authority. And
I feel guilty about everything I do. So I'm very conscientious
about doing the right thing _ so maybe that's a good thing.
But honestly, I do believe, and I'm not sure if that's the
convent [upbringing], but I do believe that if I was to go
out and kill someone I would be badly affected by the karma
af ter, so therefore, I don't go out and kill someone (laughs).
Times: That's good. So you had a bunch of nuns running
after you with a yardstick, or meter stick, or whatever?
Rap: Oh yeah, that's the thing that makes me not believe
.the whole church thing, but I do believe in my
own thing. But [the convent education] did provide me with
a classical piano education.
Times: Traveling around as child sounds like a different
sort of upbringing.
Rap: I hated it. I hated it, just hated it. I could never
get settled in one place. But that's why I am the way I am.
I tend to keep the same friends for a long time. If I like
something, I stick to it. I left home at 14, as soon as I
could, and the moment I left home I started to enjoy myself.
Times: When you left home, your folks were in England?
Rap: Yeah, but now most of my family is in America.
Times: When you left, what idea did you have in mind,
in terms of what you wanted to do for a living?
Rap: I've always known that I wanted to do music. But
I did all sorts of things, went off backpacking abroad, tended
Times: What other kinds of jobs did you have?
Rap: You know what? I've done everything. I'm one of those
people who believes in doing what you really love, otherwise
it's not worth doing and you're wasting your time and your
life. So I've tried and been sacked from many, many jobs.
But the only serious job I had was I was going to be a lawyer
for awhile, but then I discovered the rave scene and that
Times: What was the worst job?
Rap: Easy. I was putting Christmas tree bulbs into Christmas
trees in a factory, and that lasted a week. I left because
it was a job for people with no brain.
Times: At what point did you first get involved with
Rap: It was 1988 when I got into it. I always knew that
I was going to be in music, but I had no idea how. It was
a dream, really, and that was it. So I started to go raving,
and I basically dedicated my whole life to being a raver.
And that was it. I lived for the party and that's all I did.
I didn't have any digs. I lived in a squat. I didn't have
a job and I didn't care. I was happy _ very, very happy. I
was just totally having fun with my girlfriends for four years
_ I didn't even have a boyfriend for four years, I was so
busy raving. It was just brilliant. And in those days, the
raves were amazing. It was a really special thing and I'm
really glad I was a part of it. And then I just decided I
would start spinning, I saw DJs doing it and at the time I
realized there weren't any other females DJs, really. It just
happened like that.
Times: Any DJs in particular that inspired you?
Rap: Dem 2, they were the DJs inspired me that night and
made me think, "Oh I've just got to do this."
Times: What were they spinning? DJ Rap: They were
spinning the first breakbeats that I'd ever heard, so it was
just when people were starting to use breaks, and it just
blew me away.
Times: Did you go out and buy some decks?
Rap: I had a tape recorder and I had one crappy deck,
and I tried to mix the deck into the tape recorder _ I didn't
have any money. What I did was I got into a pirate radio station,
Rave FM, so I didn't need any decks for ages because I had
a show every day, so I had decks there.
Times: Spinning what?
Rap: Any breaks I could get my hands on. I would play
anything with a beat in it. At the time it was rare to find
stuff with beats. So my main thing was I would play everything
with a beat. So I'd spin hip hop records and mix it under
deep house to inject some beats into my sets.
Times: You produce your own records, too. When did you
first get in the studio?
Rap: I actually produced a track before I started DJing.
I hooked up with this guy and made a record _ basically made
the tune on piano and transferred it to keyboards and did
the vocals as well. And it did really well _ it went into
the national charts, but I got totally ripped off. So, I wanted
to promote the record and I thought it would be a good way
to get onto pirate radio, and that's when I fell into DJing.
Times: What was the name of that track?
Rap: It was "Ambient _ The Adored" and people
like Paul Oakenfold were breaking it at Ibiza and stuff, so
people picked up on it.
Times: So at some point in time, everybody gets ripped
off in this business?
Rap: Oh yeah, totally. Which is all good, because all
that stuff makes you open up your own label. The first label
I opened was in 1992. I was fed up with being ripped off.
I've made other people rich. I'd had a lot of hit records
_ that sold 80,000 copies. And it was all my time. I wanted
to make my own money and having your own label is the way
to do that.
Times: Is it a bedroom label?
Rap: I have an office in the flat where I live.
Times: How many records have you released on that label?
Rap: I've got about 20 records on that one, and about
15 on Low Key. Drum-n-bass, stuff, basically, and it goes
to whoever needs it, so I've developed a mailing list and
I send it out to whoever I want to send it to. It's a small
thing, but it's mine. It's my little baby.
Times: Pressing up
Rap: About 5,000 pieces for each release.
Times: When did you first get in volved with drum-n-bass?
Rap: It wasn't quite like that, you see. From the moment
I started DJing, even though it wasn't drum-n-bass in those
days, I've been involved with that expression. It was house,
acid house, then it went Euro, breaks and then jungle. So
it didn't just happen, it was just a style of music that was
happening at that time, and we all followed it until we find
ourselves where we are today.
Times: What has been the reaction in the U.K. to the first
single, "Bad Girl"?
Rap: Really good, everyone seems really supportive of
it. All the DJs knew what I was doing anyway. We're all friends,
and everyone's happy that I'm doing what I want to do. The
main thing is, I'm not selling out and doing another thing
still DJing every week, still producing drum-n-bass, running
my label, keeping it real. But at the same time, this is something
else I'm doing. I need new challenges and this is what I've
always wanted to do.
Times: Straight to Top of the Pops?
Rap: Yeah. That's the whole point. The point is to bring
this to a bigger audience, and I don't really care if people
say, "Oh, it's pop" or whatever
I know it's
not cheese and it's good stuff. That's all I care about. So
I'm just taking all the influences I've had over the last
10 years and mixing them together and threading it with a
vocal. I'm cool with that.
Times: Songs you've been writing for years?
Rap: It's taken me four years to get to this point with
the album, so it's taken many stages for these songs to get
to this stage. There may be some songs that are four years
old, but they've been constantly updated and worked on. I
tend to continue working on songs, to update them all the
Times: You engineered the record as well as produced it.
Rap: Yeah, engineered, produced and all that stuff. On
this album I had extra production from Aidan Love, he helped
with some programming with me. To be honest, I like to work
with other people. I had a vocal producer who I worked with
who gets the best vocals out of me, using different effects
and stuff. It's more fun that way. I know I can engineer and
produce, but sometimes you need to work with other people
to get good stuff.
Times: On "Fuck With Your Head," there are some
real crunchy breaks and loops, almost Prodigy-like
Rap: Yeah. I would just get an idea for a tune, and go
to my studio and get it to a level where it's really good,
and then I'll take it to my programmer and he'll help me mix
it, really. Like, I might have a snare for it, but he's got
a better snare, but the main thing is already done. My deal
with my publisher is I have to write 80-percent of my music
myself and program it and do it _ which is the way I like
Times: That's the contract?
Rap: Yeah, and not only that, but I couldn't sleep at
night knowing that someone else has done all the work. I like
the fact that I'm getting my hands dirty all the way. And
that's very important for me to do that. I'm not that impressed
with people who can just sing. What impresses me is a DJ that
can produce, engineer, mix and make their own sound. And that's
what I wanted to do.
Times: Your beats, where do you get them?
Rap: It sounds obvious, but I think the best beat is the
beat that's in your head, the one that's sexy, the one that's
powerful and sexy. I'm not into lame beats. I'm into beats
that want to make me dance. When I make a tune, I have these
things: I have the beats for my feet, I have the strings for
my head, I have the vocals for my heart and I have the bass
for my groin. And if I've got all those things in the tune,
then I think I've got a good tune.
Times: Any samplers you're fond of?
Rap: I use an Akai, and occasionally the E-Mu 64, but
the Akai is my favorite, mainly because I've been using it
so long. But to me, it's not about the most or the best, it's
really just about getting the most out of what you have. You
don't need much, but if you know what you have inside out,
then you can do so much with it. It depends what filters I
want, but the E-Mu is good for certain frequencies.
Times: Do you shop around for samples?
Rap: I tend not to. There is not one on this album. I'm
a believer in not using them. I tend to make up everything
Times: Yeah, I read somewhere that you create samples
with your mouth.
Rap: Totally. You can make bass sounds; you can make any
kind of sound. All the vocal samples are me. I'm just into
doing that and it's real easy to do. And it's quicker. On
all my drum-n-bass tunes, all the little hip-hop samples,
all the little things, that's me, and I just play them on
the keyboard slower so it sounds like a guy. It's really simple.
Times: How many songs did you record?
Rap: About 200 songs.
Times: How did the whittling down process go about?
Rap: You make a tune, you live with it for a few months,
you back to it after a few months, you think it's shit, or
you think it's good. And if it's good, it goes on the album.
Times: Do you work tunes out on the piano first?
Rap: I tend to do the melody first and the song afterwards.
Sometimes I'll just get on the keyboard and see what happens.
Sometimes I'll have a vocal in my head first and I'll do it
that way around. But normally I'll start with a string something
or a beat and that will give me an idea.
Times: String sections?
Rap: Yeah, I hired an orchestra to come in and do a couple
of parts. And that was wonderful to do, they're called Instrumental,
about nine or 10 people. And they've done a lot of things
for 4 Hero and Goldie, and they were brilliant. And it was
so much fun, much more fun than working with computers.
Times: You're DJing still? DJ Rap: Oh, absolutely.
Times: Nowadays, what is a DJ Rap set like?
Rap: Hard, furious and really good. You can't not dance.
Right now I have an amazing box full of exclusive stuff from
Grooverider, Roni [Size], from Krust, some wonderful juicy
dub plates. And Kenny Ken, right now, on Mixed Blend, he's
got some really dope shit.
Times: As far as DJing goes, how do you approach the floor?
Rap: You walk in, you read the crowd, you see what it
needs and you say, "OK," and that's it. I tend to
start with a record that's going to make ev erybody stand
up and notice.
Times: What's your DJing nightmare?
Rap: Oh, shit not working, you know, crap system, needles
jumping. I'm famous for my tantrums when the needles aren't
working. Last week I played somewhere and the needle was jumping
and I had just spent 400 pounds on dub plates, and I just
refused to play until they fixed the decks. You just can't
do your job if it sounds like shit.
Times: On "Bad Girl," you say you've learned
your lessons well by following someone's moves. Whose moves?
Rap: Wouldn't you like to know (laughs).
Times: For the record, yes.
Rap: Well, let's put it this way. That kind of means that
I've learned what I've learned by hanging out with guys. So
the DJs, who are my best friends and my family, have kept
me rooted and showed me everything about attitude, dressing,
the job, running a business, and also how to conduct your
private life and not to let it screw with your business. So,
I've learned my lessons well, and it's been cool.
Times: Do you have to be a bad girl in this world?
Rap: Well, it's certainly more fun than being a goody-two-shoes.
I don't think you have to be horrible, but you have to be
strong, and a lot of people take that strength as being a
bitch. And it's not that. It's just that you have to be strong.
If it means you have to be a rude girl or a bad girl to get
what you want, then that's it. But it certainly doesn't mean
you have to hurt anyone or be horrible.
Times: Did you ever get the sense you had to be that much
better than the average guy DJ?
Rap: Well, I'm very competitive anyway. Part of the fun
of being with these DJs is that they're of such a high standard
that when you DJ with them you have to come correct. But I
certainly don't think I'm better than them. Each person has
their own great thing to offer, and that's what I like about
the scene _ the standard is incredible. It's a great feeling
playing with the best and being considered one of them. But
I don't think anyone's better than any one else.
Times: What about English drum-n-bass, where do you think
Rap: Well, the music right now is very good. It's very
healthy at the moment. But who knows where it's going? I really
have no idea. I just play the music that comes out and I make
what comes out. There is the feeling, though, that there's
jungle, yeah, but what-else-can-we-do sort of thing going
on right now.
Times: What's your ultimate hope for Learning Curve?
Rap: Just that people like it. I just want people to be
open minded, and not expect me to just do drum-n-bass all
my life. I love drum-n-bass and I would die for it, but I'm
a musician first and a drum-n-bass artist second. I don't
really expect too much, although I'm in it for a long time.