Features I by I 25.05.15

On the verge of breaking out, Christian Rich share lessons from a decade in the music industry

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After producing tracks for some of the biggest names in R&B and hip-hop, the duo set out on their own.

Christian Rich is comprised of twin brothers Taiwo Hassan and Kehinde Hassan. The pair first emerged back in 2003, placing tracks for Clipse, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown. Since then, they’ve built up quite the production discography, working with Drake, N.E.R.D., Chris Brown, J Cole and Earl Sweatshirt, to name a few. In the the last few weeks, they’ve shown their range, producing for Vince Staples (the Future-sampling ‘Señorita’) and collaborating with synth-poppers Puro Instinct.

That “genre-less” approach is on display on their debut album, FW14, due this summer. “When you hear the album, you’re not going to be able to put us in a box,” says Kehinde, who we caught up with over Skype. The record bounds from “avant-garde trap” with Staples to string-swept soul with JMSN to a track that “could easily be a #1 in the UK” with GoldLink. “We just make dope records,” he boasts, adding with a laugh, “We want people to see how ill we are.”

With their album release imminent, we spoke with Kehinde about some of the lessons the brothers have learned while producing tracks for The Clipse, J. Cole, Earl Sweatshirt, Childish Gambino and Vic Mensa.

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How did your first production credit come about?

That record was such a long time ago, it was college, 2002 or 2003. It was the very first placement we got in the music industry. A production company got the record placed, so we didn’t get to meet anyone — Pusha T just picked it.

It was crazy when we made that track: we were juniors in college, we didn’t know anything about placing beats. It was humbling. We heard the track on a CD and then went to class the next moment. I’m sure some of our classmates heard that song and didn’t realize the guy next to them produced it. No one on campus knew we made that record.

When we work with artists directly in the studio, it’s different. When we work in the studio, we feed off each others energy, and get a better sense of where to take the album or the track. If an artist plays me their album, I can instantly listen and know what kind of record to make to make my record the single. You get an idea of their vision, which is always better. But if you have to send a track out, you do what you gotta do.

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This song really shows your instrumental range; what do you guys play?

We both play piano, well enough to find chords. My brother is better at piano. I play drums, and I’ve been taking piano lessons, really understanding the chords — until this year, I didn’t know A minor, B minor, any of the keys. I can play guitar well enough to get the sound I need. I want to learn violin or viola; I wouldn’t mind the flute.

With J Cole, we sent a few tracks out. They picked that one and recorded the basics. A few weeks later we added more, listened to the track and gave feedback. With that song, we had put a hook on that track, so we had to make sure that Jhené Aiko’s hook matched the demo. There are still a lot of things I wish had happened with that track, mix-wise, but sometimes a label will put a mix out — that happens whether you’re in the studio or not.

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How is the process different when working with a rapper that also produces?

When we were younger, we definitely didn’t like co-producing with anyone; we thought we had enough ideas between the two of us. As we got older, we realized that this generation, most of them produce, that’s how they get on — they have to make their own beats to share their ideas. Guys like Childish Gambino — and Earl Sweatshirt, for that matter — are artists like that.

With ‘Crawl’, that track was done already. We were at the house they rented — Bosh’s house — they liked that one the most. Donald [Glover] was like, “Can we strip it? Can we add this part?” So we all just started adding stuff. Normally, we wouldn’t do something like that, but we knew what that record could be, so we let it organically flow. That song set the tone for that album, and all of his future stuff to be honest — it was a new beginning.

It’s all about growth, not just in your craft, but growth in your mentality; opening your mind to bigger possibilities. Those who are closed minded only accomplish so much. We keep our minds open to everything, but we’re not those corny guys who say “come to us, we’ll make any record you want.” There are only 12 scales, and at the end of the day, the only reason this is hip-hop and this is electronic and this is dance is because those genres were put there for people to profit. If you listen to hip-hop, house or rock, and you take the drums out, it’s all the same. Opening your mind to all types of music gets you further.

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You guys and Earl Sweatshirt have worked with Pharrell, someone you all admire; what’s it like following in his footsteps?

If we’re going to the concept of lineage and not copying your mentor’s sound, but developing your own, that’s kinda tricky. Everyone copies each other, nothing is original. You’re really just making music for a new generation that hasn’t heard what you’ve been listening to for a long time.

For example, Timbaland is amazing, and he has copied Indian beats. We grew up in Nigeria, watching Indian movies, and we loved the music and the string arrangements. If we didn’t happen to grow up in Nigeria in the 80s, we’d have thought Timbaland had a 70-piece orchestra. But he was turning up the drums on those Indian records. Like’ Big Pimpin’, it was originally this really huge Indian record [Hossam Ramzy’s ‘Khosara Khosara’].

And that’s not a bad thing: in order to listen to your mentors and pass that information down — that’s all we’re doing — you have to be able to add to it. What we learned from Pharrell, Shay and Chad was how to do drums and chord progressions. That’s why we liked them: we heard their beats — and I know people will think it’s crazy — but we were making beats like that, with these bossa nova chords. When we met them, we learned how to take those chords and make them sound big for pop and hip-hop.

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What do you think of the Chicago music scene right now?

We live in Los Angeles, but we’re from Chicago, born and raised. It’s funny: this generation from Chicago, they don’t represent Chicago for how it used to be — which is a good thing. When we were growing up, Chicago had some dope artists — Common, Do or Die, Twista, Crucial Confict — but we didn’t have the greatest scene; it was very one dimensional. Growing up, listening to conscious rap wasn’t cool. I wasn’t into the whole backpacking thing, but I was into jazz — that’s why I loved what Tribe, Pharcyde and later Dilla were doing. Chicago didn’t have a Dilla, we didn’t have a Dr. Dre. You had to look for outside influences.

Obviously, the one person who showed that Chicago can have a sound was Kanye. It’s been amazing to see where’s he been, but I remember being in college and people telling us about him. We had produced a track for Lil Kim’s La Bella Mafia, and Kanye produced the last song on the album. I was 18 or 19, and I thought I was gonna be the illest producer, like Bryan-Michael Cox, or Rodney Jerkins, who had $23 million by 23. I’m sure Kanye was thinking the same thing too. But no one in Chicago was working at that level until Kanye took that throne.

Now you have all these kids like Chance, Mick Jenkins and Vic making their own way, and it’s great. But you can tell that it took the blood, sweat and tears of the 90s and early 2000s to get our city to this point. I’m very proud of our city.

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