We delve deep with: DJ Rap
DJ Rap is a Jungle/drum & bass pioneer who has been in the game since its inception. Now based back in the UK after twenty years living in America, Rap is firmly focused on producing new music and focusing on her Propa Talent label. With the release of Back To The Future Part 1 that sees her revisit and reimagine her classic Spiritual Aura track with help from old and new DJs alike, we had the privilege of an extensive and informative chat with DJ Rap about her latest release and what music she has planned for the future, her recent autobiography, rocking festival stages, her move back to the UK, highlights from her career and exactly what drum & bass means to her.
Have you got any new music coming out soon?
Well, I just had a release on the 7th Of November which is the Back To The Future Part 1 series: Spiritual Aura remixes, the 2019 mix that I produced and have been playing on the festival circuit for a year now. Then, there’s a bunch of new remixes as well. I’m bringing out the originals, so there’s the Engineers without fears mix which we all know and love, and the Ray Keith mix. It’s a mix of up and coming producers who I think are really good like Tom Lavery and established producers. This is part one and we’re going to do a series of these classics.
Will you have any more new music coming out before the end of the year or will it be into the new year when you unleash more new music?
I don’t know about before the end of the year as I just moved back to Britain but I’ll probably have one more release out. I’m working on next year’s releases mainly, I tend to work a year in advance, I’m working with some really big collaborations and that’s more my focus, for next year. I’ll be putting out the Back To The Future series and there’ll probably be one more release.
You worked with vocalist Deanna and your recent track Supernova, how did you link up with her and will you work together again in the future?
She’s lovely and she’s really cool but she’s in LA so I’m not sure at the moment. I met Deanna in LA at the boxing gym, she was working there and she told me she could sing, so we got together to do a session and just to see what happens and I was just blown away. She’s like this Ariana Grande type of singer and she’s got an amazing range. She’s really, really good so if she sent me a vocal idea, that’s great, but because my studio was there before and it was a lyrical collaboration, it really depends on what happens, I’m looking to collaborate with all kinds of artists and I tend to work with different people all the time so we’ll see what happens.
Will you be working with people from home on new music?
Absolutely, I’ve already got that in the works, there’s two collaborations but they are top secret, sorry, you’ll have to wait and see! I’m also reunited with people who I worked with back in the day and we’re working on stuff too. Yeah, it’s all going to be about working with English and English artists. it’s a part of the reason why I moved back here. I loved the scene in America but drum & bass there is pretty limited and really, in order to be in it, you’ve got to be here. I’m looking forward to it.
Will there be releases by other artists on your Propa Talent label in the new year?
I don’t know about that to be honest with you. I’m just concentrating on my music at the moment. There’s no reason why we can’t expand the label later, it’s just that back in the day when I had all these amazing artists, we didn’t have the technology and with record sales for accounting and it was a nightmare, all that paperwork. My music is the driving force of the label at the moment. It’s more about touring and gigs, it’s the same as it’s always been, bums on seats. So I don’t know when that expansion will happen, I think first get the label really rocking into a place where I’m happy and then see what happens after that. It’s a lot of work having other artists, and when you’re artistic yourself and you’re putting out the music, what I see a lot of is a lot of labels putting out music where the actual head of the label probably doesn’t really make the music. It’s a little different in my situation because I’m actually doing the music and running the label and doing all the promotion. It’s a lot of work for one person to do and normally these labels, they have a team of people doing everything for them and working it out so I’ve got to get to that place. Right now. It’s just me, a one-man army. I’m still doing the same job as everybody else and getting press and doing all of that. It would be nice to get to a point where I have a team as well to build the label and to build it so that it’s better than it was. That’s partly why I’m here as well to build that whole thing. I’m working really hard, especially the last six months on that, the releases have been released every month, they’re super strong but it all takes work right!
With your move back to the UK after many years living in the US, was it just the music that brought you back home?
Yeah, it was, so what happened was about two years ago now, I was having a conversation with Jumpin Jack Frost and Fabio, they were just talking to me about what the scenes like now, and they said you should really come over, this is your time because everyone’s kind of making the music that we made back in the day, but with a modern twist, and old schools really big it’s not all this huge, giant technical thing anymore in the sense of just technical music for the sake of being technical, people are making vibey tunes again, and it’s really good. I started coming over and I just spent time hanging out at people’s houses and writing and going to Hospital Records events and all these different events everywhere incognito as a normal raver. I just spent a year coming out really and spending longer and longer and longer, like first I did two weeks, then three weeks, and I did a month, then I did six weeks, then, by the end of that year, I’ve done, you know, six months in England. And so then the next year, I started coming here and working with people. I worked with Erb N Dub, I worked with Scruffizer, and I put the record down on The Prototypes label which did really, really well. That kind of put me back in everybody’s focus. They were like, Oh, she’s back again so that was cool. Then I was doing all these radio stations and all of that stuff, then I went back and then I just started really focusing on the production and I started thinking about how much time I’m spending over here, and what I see for the label and what I see for myself. Chris at UAA, he’s such an amazing agent and he’s helped so much. He works smarter not harder so we’re doing the right gigs, I don’t want to be playing every gig in the world. I’m not interested in burning myself out again because then I’m just repeating history and that’s one of the reasons why I left in the first place. This time, I want to work the right shows, the best shows and have a life, and have that balance. I want to have time in the studio to put out those four major singles a year and to work with the right people. I don’t want to lose my passion for the thing I love the most, it’s happened to me before and I was musically impotent for years. It feels so good to be on fire again, but this time saying ‘no’ to all that’s offered is the most advantageous thing I can do for myself in order to stay focused on saying ‘yes’ to the right things.
With the way that music is consumed nowadays, would you ever make a full-length album again?
It seems like in the U.K, people do albums and I’ve got like five or six albums that are in my pocket that I’ve never done anything with and I’ve got loads of music that’s unreleased. Right now my goal is to find the right place to settle in, build the studio, and then just get to work. There’s so much material that I’m sitting on it’s just ridiculous so I don’t know if I’ll break it up into albums or EPs. I have to first get settled and then think about how I want to do that because it’s just too much music and it’s crazy. I’d say maybe, but an album is so much work, it takes a year of your life and then you put it on iTunes and people just buy the single. I’m much more interested in EPs I think than a full album, but we’ll see, you never say never right?
How does it feel to be back in the UK?
Amazing. Like, I hit the ground running when I got back, literally we had some amazing gigs and stuff like that and but what I’m really excited about is that this isn’t just rinse and repeat, like last time where I was just always working, I never had time off. I’m not complaining about the work, I think it’s great to be busy but for me most productive, I just need to have some weekends off, I need to have a regiment in the studio. I work in the studio but I just need to have a life outside of that as well. These were hard lessons that I had to learn before. What I’m excited about being back in the U.K. is that it’s not the same as it was before. I live in the countryside, away from it all and it’s just nice, knowing that there are these specific gigs that are really lovely shows to play, and that I’m not being sent to, you know, destroy your soul where it’s just like playing to 50 people. It’s a whole different thing now, I’ve got an amazing agent, I’ve got amazing people around me that come to the show with me and I’m not alone in this anymore where I felt very much before, it was a very lonely and isolated experience of just being farmed out to make money. I just can’t go through that again this time around. I’m excited because it’s a different thing. There is a lot that’s changed though. I think you have to work harder than you ever worked before in a way. The money is different from what it used to be back in the day. The whole structure is different for ways to do that today, and I’ve had to relearn everything, just like I’ve had to relearn plugins and equipment and stuff like that, I’m all caught up now but the point is, when I got back into this two years ago, I used to work in a fully analog studio, it’s completely different now so while I’ve kept certain aspects of that because I think it adds warmth to the tune, I’ve had to relearn everything and how it works. It’s been a long road just to get to this point again, just before I can commit, and completely move back and just put my head in the game and really be serious and just work hard. I had to make sure that’s what I want to do, so the biggest question I asked myself was, am I in love with it like I was before and when I came back for those two years and I was raving. I remember there was one set Metrik was playing at a Hospital event and I was dancing on the stage, dancing my arse off and I was in love with it, literally tears in my eyes I thought I cannot believe I’m feeling like this, after all this time this music still does this to me, isn’t that incredible?!
So was that a renewed fire for you to make the music as well?
A massive renewed passion for me and that’s the thing, I wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t. I’ll be honest, for a long time, I lost that passion because I felt that, I’m a singer-songwriter, and I felt that the music goes through all kinds of things. It goes in dark phase, it goes through a phase to me where it was just a lot of vibe missing but now it seems like the vibe is back, obviously there’s always bad music and good music, but I feel that there are so many great producers out there now and the bar is really high and its just great again.
Going back to your time in LA, you played Respect as your last gig before you returned to England. Was that an emotional gig for you?
That was the only show I really wanted to try and do in America and that was it and it was just because I wanted something small and intimate, so yeah, it was emotional because I got to say goodbye to all my friends. It was a happy time but it was emotional you know, I’d been there 20 years. It was tough but I’m doing the right thing and I’m excited about that. Who gets to do that you know, I’m a huge believer in moving forward and changing things. I don’t want to be stuck as I want to keep moving.
What were some of your musical highlights from your time in America?
Well, it’s interesting because 1998 and prior, it was all drum & bass, hardcore and house, (My first record was a house track in 1988) and I signed my record deal in 1999 with Columbia and label boss Tommy Mottola said would you move here because we can do something huge with you and it made sense to go there. It wasn’t just drum & bass though after, I played house for ten years, I played at Crobar, I played at Pacha in Ibiza for years, I played at Avalon and that was playing tech-house. I also played drum & bass alongside that as well and I had my band with Learning Curve Records so I was doing two different genres simultaneously and it was so much fun. I played Coachella and shows like that and went all over the world, literally. Sony sent me everywhere and to see the world again and play a different genre of music, and then go do it again and play another style and then play drum & bass, to me it was just continuously inspiring so I felt that I think that’s why I’ve had such a long career. The universe never let me get bored or still. I’ve always kept pushing and doing new things working with the industry. I mean, I’ve collaborated with so many amazing musicians. I’ve been blessed to work with and do shows with people like Bowie and Green Day and Seal and all these people and then I’ve collaborated with people like BT, Erick Morello to name a few, and all different genres. I think it keeps it fresh and I think that the main reason is why I’ve been in the game so long, even though a lot of people are like well she disappeared. I didn’t disappear from music, I just took a break from what wasn’t calling me at that time. You have to be inspired If you’re going to make good music, it’s just that simple and sometimes you have nothing to say.
Your book Intelligent Woman came out at the end of last year. What’s the reaction been to it so far?
That’s been really amazing. I didn’t ever want to do this, because it’s obviously a very personal book and it’s a difficult journey to write about. I have to think about the people I’d effect when I wrote it, and how they would feel and it took a long time to get to a place where I was like, right, I’m ready to do this. When you write a book, it’s not for money, you’re writing a book because you’re trying to hopefully inspire other people who are going through the things that you’ve gone through so that they don’t give up. You are also hopefully, writing something that is cathartic to yourself so that you can put closure for one, and two, to make way for the future. Then there’s the other part of it where it’s like, Look, I just think people are interested in what is happening and what that journey was like because I was there from a conception of it all. There are all those factors that you think about. I hope that one person reads it and feels good about what they went through that they can survive anything. You know, as a survivor, I think that’s worth it. So many people just have come up to me and said what I went through, has really helped them, helped them get a little bit more confidence and strength and realize that you don’t have to be a victim. If those things happen to you, you can actually use it and turn it around and turn it inward, and then turn it outward into a very positive tool and use that fire. Instead of engulfing you, it can enlighten things and set things alight, so I think that was the best part about writing this book is that it touched quite a lot of people in that sense, which is great and it definitely gave me closure. Winning!
How did it feel recounting moments and stories from your life for the book, especially, the more difficult ones?
I worked with Andrew Woods on the book, who is incredible and a very patient, kind and compassionate man. How it works is that we would have Skype sessions twice a week and it was really like having therapy! I’m pretty organized, I’ve kept diaries my whole life, so we looked at the diary and came up with a timeline and we said, these are the things we want to talk about. These are the things that we think are important, and then we sat down and had those sessions based on those diary sessions. So I would read that part of the diary and talk about it and it was weird because it was very easy at first. It was like just constantly troubleshooting and we would just talk about these things and most of the time, it was easy but then something started to happen towards the end it started to get really painful and then it was just I don’t even want this guy poking around in my head anymore. Once he started to unpeel layers, it started to get really, really hard because I would read back some of the stuff that I’d written and go, I can’t believe I’ve just pushed all of this down and not even fully processed, that happened to me, and this happened to me, and this happened to me. Fucking hell. How the hell am I okay? I realized I just put so much into music to deal with all this trauma that I’ve had my whole life. It’s probably why I’ve been pretty successful on one front, because I didn’t stop to process things but when I went to America, that’s when all that happened. You know, when you stop working, then you’ve got nothing to do to deal with yourself. Yeah, the sessions were intense some of the time but most of the time they were okay.
Did you feel a sense of closure after the book was finished?
I absolutely did, yeah, I did have therapy, so it’s not like I didn’t deal with it but I think it really did help. It made me realize that I’m a stronger person, I’ve dealt with it, I stopped working roughly in 2011 and got into different things, I got into acting, I got into teaching. I just felt that I’d had enough of music. I felt that I had done everything and achieved everything I kind of wanted to in a way not musically, but definitely, in the sense of, please God don’t put me touring anymore. I can’t handle it. You can’t get on another plane. I just can’t do this, I was burnt out completely. It was just time to find out who Charissa was and who DJ Rapwas because DJ Raphad stolen Charissa’s life for 30 years so it was really nice to just do normal things like go to work as a teacher and do things like that, build/create Ableton courses with my online school MTC (Music Tech Collective) and get find out who I was. I spent a lot of time acting which is amazing therapy, trust me, you really find out who you are through that. It was interesting so I feel like a more peaceful now than I’ve ever been in my life.
You’re playing Chase & Status Return II Jungle event at the end of this month. Are you looking forward to playing that?
Oh my god, yeah, it’s gonna be amazing that and Moondance New Year’s Eve. I’m really looking forward to that. Like I said, I don’t want to play a lot of gigs. I I just want to play the right ones. I feel very, very blessed to be on that show. I’m a huge fan of them and it’s great.
You played at Boomtown and Outlook over the summer. How were those experiences?
Really interesting, because can you imagine I haven’t done these kinds of shows for a long time and then come back and hit all these huge festivals. It was an amazing tour. It was like all these amazing shows and then also legendary venues like Fabric. I’d actually never played there and it was always on my wish list. I never got to play it so that was a huge moment. Boomtown, just to get up there and play to that many people it’s a behemoth, right? It’s an experience, you feel that pinch-me moment. If somebody said to me, you’re going to be back, and you’re not only going to be back, but you are going to be playing some of the biggest gigs in the world. If someone said that a few years ago, I’d have said you’re having a laugh! I’ve gone through ups and downs in my career as an artist, that’s what happens. You go through feast or famine, I’m not gonna pretend it’s always been great. There’s been times where it has not been great. You don’t have enough money to pay rent and then there’s times where you’re just doing great. This is one of those moments where you’re just like, fucking hell, I feel I’m in a Hollywood E story, talk about the comeback kid! It was just one of those moments where you’ve got to enjoy it. I was incredibly nervous as well as excited but it was just great. Outlook was incredible too, so was Transmission, every time I get up there I just have this passion like it’s the first time I’ve played. Nerves are your friend, but I still want to throw up before I go on, my mind saying, do I have the right music, am I going to smash it and of course you get out there and trust all the work you did prior practicing and then let go, and you know you’re going to do your best I’m loving it, loving it, loving it!
You’ve already got gigs lined up for next year. A few Jungle Mania events and Bangface amongst others. Are those gigs you wanted to do?
Jungle Mania are my favorites, I love them, Those gigs are always such good vibes, so many great promoters out there and I love them and I’m lucky to play for them. I think I’ve got gigs up until next July already so that’s pretty cool. It’s a blessing to be in demand, I do not take that for granted.
You still get the same buzz from playing out?
Every Time! The thing I have to be careful about is not to just play old school gigs or not to just play new gigs. It’s walking a line of being a modern DJ and not be seen as archaic, and producing music that captures that old school vibe that at the same time has that modern production. To me, it’s a nice combination. The way I want my music to sound, that old school vibe, but it’s got that modern production, . I can’t just be playing old school music and then not playing anything new, I need to make sure I stay current and relevant and do that so when I came back and did that track with Erb N Dub and Scruffizer, it shows that if I want to make something modern I can do but at the same time, I’m really feeling this old school vibe, that’s what I do. That’s the history in that music and when you make that music, you just know what will work.
What’s been some of the highlights for you in 2019?
Well, all the gigs were amazing. I’m really proud of the Ableton course I created, I’ve been doing work with Education & Bass. They’re a great company for education and music. They’re promoting the courses and I’m enjoying the teaching aspect of things. The music Tech Collective was founded as a way to create courses that are super affordable and I’ve always wanted to collaborate with the right company and Education & Bass is this great company. I build these courses and I’m looking to collaborate with people in the world of music, and I’d love to end up lecturing, or teaching music or doing something like that because that is is a really joyful thing. I think some of the highlights are not just music based in the sense of DJing, there were other things as well, like just how I feel about my life. I’ve managed to get to a place where I’m pretty content and moving has definitely been a highlight, I’m in a constant state of excitement and expectation of what my life is going to be like. There’s been a lot of highlights, too many to mention but obviously, the tour’s been great.
Are you looking forward to next year as well, in a musical sense?
I’m looking forward to everything! I just want to get going. I came here and I have a ridiculous amount of energy, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I hit the gym all the time, I eat clean and I just want to get going! I read this book called Tools Of Titans by Tim Ferriss. There’s this thing I keep reading every day to help motivate me, the pursuit of excellence, and how if it was easy, everyone would do it and it’s not. The secret is to show up, do the work and go home. and then it’s a blue-collar work ethic married to an interminable will. It’s literally that simple. Nothing can sway you from your purpose, once the decision is made, refuse to budge, refuse to compromise. I love that. That’s the kind of thing that I’m trying to stay focused on and stay positive, that kind of mental space. Things were getting a bit stale in LA and I just thought I need to be back, I’ve had a good rest and now I’m ready to go!
Back To The Future Part 1 series: Spiritual Aura remixes available here:
I’m a music journalist based in the U.K. with a love for bass music in many forms from drum & bass and dubstep to hip hop and grime. Always looking to check out new music as well as digging back for the classics and attending as many events as possible.