Christian Rich are prolific hip-hop producers, plain and simple. 33-year-old twin brothers Taiwo and Kehinde Hassan came up under the tutelage of Pharrell and Shae Haley of The Neptunes, and have produced tracks for big name rappers like Drake, Earl Sweatshirt, Childish Gambino, J. Cole and Vince Staples.
Earl Sweatshirt’s “Chum”? That was them. The Grammy nominated beat on Gambino’s “I. Crawl”? Check. The first single on Vince Staples’ new LP, “Señorita”? Yup, that was Christian Rich too. In fact, they produced four total tracks off of Earl’s Doris and the intro to Drake’s “Poundcake.” To put it bluntly, these dudes are seasoned. And they have the business acumen to have recently served as Creative Directors and A&Rs for Red Bull Sound Select.
Now, after over a decade in the game, the Chicago-born, Nigerian-American brothers are dropping their debut album, FW14, but it doesn’t fit the structure you’d expect. Taiwo and Kehinde have honed their beat-conducting mastery down to an eclectic mix of tracks that have hip-hop at their core, but skew to electronic experimentation through complex drum loops, decadent keys, cascading effects and samples that’ll send you down exploratory wormholes of classic music (think Hudson Mohawke meets Frank Ocean). They’ve also brought along the likes of Vince Staples, JMSN, Sinead Hartnett, GoldLink, Jay Sean and more for FW14.
As for that album title? It has layers: FW14 is shorthand for the album’s production timeline (fall/winter 2014) and the futuristic Audi on the cover, which serves as a vessel for the album’s female narrator. We caught up with Taiwo on the phone, right after they had filmed the video for the album’s lead single “Compromise,” to talk about FW14, what they knew Vince Staples “needed” and why Earl Sweatshirt is the best rapper in the game.
Vince Staples just released his first full-length album, and now you’re about to drop your own. What was it like working with Vince on his new album?
We first worked with Vince on Earl’s album. We were pretty much his executive producers, and Vince was like his coach. He’d be encouraging Earl like, “We gotta get through these songs, you gotta finish this one up.” So us and Vince really helped Doris come together as a team. By the time he was about to do his new album, we expected a call because he knew us and we knew him and his manager really well.
When it came time for his album, we knew what he needed for it… something that was gonna separate him from kids who were just doing music and trying to be cool. Vince is a hood kid, he’s from Long Beach, but he’s also really intellectual. Not to say that people in the hood aren’t intellectual, but he has a deep intellect in his vocabulary and we peeped that right away… his vocabulary was crazy. When it came time to give him singles, we said, “You need a song that’s gonna change the market, that’s gonna be more than just ‘this is a cool record.’” “Señorita” came about and we hoped they picked this record cause this one could be a game changer.” It was as simple as that in working with Vince.
Do you think it’s harder for producers to become well-known than for rappers?
I have an interesting thought on that because our story is a little different. We started off producing in college when we were 19 and we had a song with Lil Kim, then Foxy Brown. We weren’t called Christian Rich back then. We moved to New York, graduated college, and became bankers. We started doing Christian Rich as singers and rappers first, because we noticed that if you were just a producer, no one was going to pay attention. So I learned how to write songs and sing. This was pre-Auto-Tune… I didn’t use Auto-Tune when I first sang, because that was just to correct my vocals. Then I brought a new instrument to my voice because I liked the way it sounded. That led to our track “Famous Girl,” and we met Pharrell and Shae through that.
We started off producing in college when we were 19 and we had a song with Lil Kim, then Foxy Brown.
But as Christian Rich the artist and singers, it was stagnant. Labels hit us up and conversations would go on and it would fizzle out. But for us, we were always entrepreneurs first and decided that this wasn’t going at the pace we wanted it to go. We were like, “Let’s do beats and then go back to the artistry.”
And now we’re known as producers, and we got this debut album and people think we’ve been trying for a long time, but we really haven’t. We’ve just been living our lives for a while. Music has always been a part of the bigger equation. So I know as producers it can be harder, but we got known as artists first, so we don’t look at ourselves as just producers. Some people want to feel like they did everything themselves, but no one in this world does anything without collaboration. I work with my brother and even if i did it by myself, I got inspiration from a sample, like an idea from Astrud Gilberto.
Something you said earlier was interesting… “We knew what Vince needed.” What is it about you and your brother? How did you know what he needed? Is it experience, or extreme confidence in the scene?
Experience, but I truly believe it’s something God gave us. He gave us intuition. Every human being has intuition, but for us, we definitely got into it since we were kids. We were taught about God and praying and being one, so we studied as kids how to understand intuition and trust it. When I decided to keep being a banker, I trusted my intuition in that and it’s no different in music. Take someone like Vince—what a guy like YG is saying is intellectual as well, but it’s very cut and dry. What Vince is saying, you gotta dig through it and decipher it. It’s the same message, but he’s coming at it from a different angle. So when you have something that’s going over people’s heads, you need a sound that’s current to go with it, so people can relate.
No one in this world does anything without collaboration.
A dark piano, like from Halloween, is gonna make people think cinematically. So for us to know what Vince needs, is to pay attention to what’s going on musically and what he’s trying to accomplish. You gotta believe in your intuition and know what you’re doing; know it can work and what emotion to bring with the chords. It’s like we knew that Childish needed “Crawl.” I had made that beat for someone else, but I didn’t want them to have it. I told ‘Bino to fuck with it instead and boom.
Working on FW14, the focus is on Christian Rich now, but you really made your name as hip-hop producers. Talk about gravitating away from making a straight hip-hop record and making something more eclectic.
Well, because of “Famous Girl,” we’ve always kinda been in this electronic space. The super hip-hop record crossed our minds, coming off of Earl’s album, Childish, J.Cole and a Drake intro. Logically it would’ve made sense for us to do a hip-hop album, but hip-hop doesn’t really have a space for that. Only if it was a compilation. And we didn’t want to get written off from a compilation.
Considering ourselves as electronic was a more strategic move. We studied the game, we studied hip-hop. The guys who opened a lane for themselves like Hudson Mohawke, Diplo—those guys still do hip-hop beats, but we were trying to create a broader audience to be accepted and understood in. So we can have our own tour and have the potential to make full albums. Hip-hop is more narrow-minded in that sense, because we’re hip-hop producers, but we like everything.
Did you feel any expectations to make a hip-hop album? Did you ever question it?
We don’t keep anyone around us to say anything like that. We keep our circle really tight. It’s me and my brother. We’re leaders in what we do. We introduce new artists and break new artists. When Earl first came home, we broke Earl with the stuff he did on the album. We broke Vince Staples with “Señorita.” We broke Childish with “Crawl” and people were like, “This dude is a mature artist, he’s not just some comedian that became an artist.” So for us to give artists a sound or a definition, we set the standard. We’re strong-minded dudes and everyone who knows us, knows that.
Talk more about nuances of specific tracks on the album. The Jay Sean track, “Disappear,” is super melodic, it opens up into this new wave R&B dance track. Are those the kind of tracks you want to be focusing on?
The Jay Sean song is what we felt at the moment, going there with those chords, that heavy bottom, and that Chicago house feel with the new sense of house now. I wouldn’t say we’re trying to move forward with that style in particular, but it’s something that when we first saw it, we just liked that kind of feel, even though it’s more of a one off. Our next project will be different as it changes season by season.
Everything seems to comes together on “Compromise,” the single. I remember Sinead Hartnett from the old Disclosure stuff and GoldLink is on it too. How did that track come together?
That was the first official beat that we made for the album. I did a demo when we were in London for a Twin Shadow tour. We finished writing it in L.A. with Secaina Hudson and we reached out to Sinead. She was into it, but wanted to rewrite some of the verses. We had the GoldLink verse before Sinead’s and she was the last piece of the puzzle that brought it home. We left Secaina’s vocals in there as background because it really gave it that warm feeling. All of us on that one record, it’s like we created a new genre. “Compromise” is one of those songs that just had to be the lead single cause it feels like some new shit.
You’ve said before that “Earl is the best rapper of his generation.” Do you still stand by that statement now Kendrick’s new album has dropped?
Of course… of course I stand by that. Kendrick is incredible, but I relate more to what Earl is saying. Yes, the world has a lot of racially motivated things going on. I think about this every day and I’ve said it in interviews—being black in this world, not just America, is really hard. But the way Earl talks about things in general, I can relate to that. And its weird because I’m 33 and he’s 21 but everyone can relate to his music, all age groups. He’s the best rapper to me.
I think about this every day… being black in this world—not just America—is really hard.
You explained how Vince helped Earl, and you said that no one does anything alone. So as a producer, what can you say about the Meek Mill/Drake situation and the nature of someone who’s a contributing writer in the studio like Quentin Miller?
Well, Meek Mill was misinformed, but people were taking what he said as fact. It’s not true. If that’s the case, then Meek would have had to make his own beats, because he had other people doing his beats. So you know, whatever reputation Drake has for doing stuff is whatever, but as far as writing songs, he has countless verses, incredible verses. Up there with some of the all-time best.
Drake did what Drake did and Quentin did what Quentin did. But the simple answer is, if you could do what you’re doing as a writer as a rapper, then you would be as big as Drake is. When it comes to writing a good song, you gotta do whatever it takes to write a good song, because at the end of the day, the audience ain’t gonna care if you were having a bad day, they don’t care that your voice went out, they want to hear a good song. So in the studio, you gotta be selfless and just write.
You guys have been instrumental in furthering a lot of other careers. How does it feel now that your album is about to drop? Is this the album you’ve always wanted to make or just at this point in time?
It’s more of an expression of how we felt in the moment of FW14. It’s a time-stamped piece for that moment. We just wanted to get it off our chest.
It feels good, but it’s also bittersweet, because we’re still having to put in a lot of work on our own. Even though we’ve done a lot of work with different people, we still gotta go out there and hustle. We put it out on our own label, and then on Lucky Number in the rest of the world. So the kind of work we’ve done for these artists and these labels, you’d think it’d be coming out on Columbia or Warner in America/Canada, but it’s not, so it’s bittersweet. But it’s our celebration at the same time. We just wanna have fun and do our thing and take it as it comes.
FW14 is out tomorrow, August 21. Order it here.