Your favorite rappers would probably sound pretty boring without a beat behind them, but time and time again, we neglect to shine the same spotlight on those in the booth as we do on those on the mic. Production duo Christian Rich are actively trying to change that. On Jaden Smith’s latest single “GHOST,” twin brothers Taiwo and Kehinde Hassan received a “featuring” credit, puzzling YouTube commenters. “Wait, did this dude have a feature who didn’t say a word? DOPE ✌” commented LyricalGenes, sparking a back-and-forth between mostly confused fans, many of whom couldn’t understand why a producer should be credited with a “feature.”
Pop producers will occasionally receive a feature credit on a song and no one bats an eye, but it’s an entirely different story in the world of hip-hop. “When you do music, and try to do some of the things they do in pop music, people question you,” Taiwo explains. “So instead of trying to make it all about that negative stuff, we’re just like, ‘Nope. This is the new standard we’re gonna do.’ And I predict that a lot of producers, especially in hip-hop, are going to start to take that stance and say, ‘I’m an artist. You’ve got to feature me on it.’ Otherwise, you’re just gonna be hearing a bunch of rappers with a capellas.”
Taiwo and Kehinde have backed up their fair share of rappers’ a capellas with stone-cold productions. Working professionally as producers for 18 years and counting, they’ve collaborated with the likes of Childish Gambino, Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples, J. Cole, Teyana Taylor, Mac Miller, and more, and have released solo projects such as their 2015 album FW14, with another due out later this year.
Like many artists doing there thing out here in 2018, Christian Rich operate in the world of what 032c have called the Big Flat Now. Take a quick peep at their Instagram feed and you’ll find traces of their collaboration with Italian eyewear brand LGR, a bicycle they designed for Tokyo Bike, a recent Paris Fashion Week appearance, and their latest Jaden Smith feature – their universe is flat, borderless, and limitless.
While music is a key part of what they do, it’s far from the only thing, or the most important thing to them. Although the Big Flat Now is a newly-named paradigm, the Hassan brothers have operated in this reality for decades. Born in Chicago and spending four years in their native Nigeria, Christian Rich have never felt physically attached to a certain place. “We see the world as our oyster. We can go anywhere we want,” Kehinde asserts. Years of working as bankers in New York instilled them with a sense of organization, discipline, and investment savvy that has permitted them to make the most of already-existing resources and infrastructure while still maintaining creative and financial control over their work. Whether it’s a pair of sunglasses or a Jaden Smith single, they’re concerned with bringing their full energy to a project, and aim to be appreciated accordingly.
“The best producers are getting paid, I don’t know, four percent, six percent on the back end [of a song]. That’s like six pennies. So the record goes and sells a million – yeah, you get a few thousand, but you’re not getting nowhere near the lion’s share,” Taiwo explains, while Kehinde adds, “You’re not getting that half a million you should be getting.”
While doing their best to get producers the recognition and compensation they deserve, working with artists and other musicians is as much about being on the same wavelength as it is getting the same kind of credit. Taiwo and Kehinde recalled a recent song they worked on for a major EDM artist which featured a legendary rapper, and how they were jarred by its hasty release.
“The way records are successful is out of love. When everyone involved is on the same frequency, records do well,” Taiwo begins, “I don’t care what it sounds like. You ever heard a record and you’re like, ‘Why is that record big?’ It’s because the people that made it all went in with this frequency of love like, ‘We are all happy and treating each other well.’”
“Solidarity,” Kehinde adds.
Although the cult of the individual artist relies on the myth of creative isolation to survive, the knowledge that solitary figures like rappers rely on dozens of people to do what they do is common, but mostly unsung. The nature of working together as a production duo calls attention to this myth, and the retelling of their journey interweaves so many different personalities it’s hard to keep track. Two key supporting characters in the Christian Rich saga are Pharrell Williams and Shay Hayley of N.E.R.D.
And so the story goes – Hayley first discovered Christian Rich through their 2009 single “Famous Girl,” through a creative collaborator of A$AP Rocky’s. At the time, Christian Rich sang and rapped, and soon enough they were invited to meet Hayley in his hometown of Virginia Beach. According to Taiwo, Hayley said something like, “Yo, I really like what you’re doing. We thought you guys were some white dudes. We didn’t even know you were in the video.”
Shay Hayley, who eventually ended up managing the brothers’ music career, would play Christian Rich’s music in his car, impressing N.E.R.D. member Pharrell Williams. Shortly after, also in 2009, Taiwo and Kehinde met Willlams at the Four Seasons hotel in New York since the band was performing at Governor’s Ball. What went down seems like the stuff of fiction, so it seems appropriate to let the brothers explain it in their own words.
Taiwo: “We linked with Pharrell and then I played some song that I did a hook on. And he was like, ‘Yo, that’s crazy.’ He called Puff. He called Puff, was like, ‘Yo, you gotta get with these dudes, Christian Rich.’ We go to the Governor’s Ball show. That night we were going home and then his manager at the time was like, ‘Yo, y’all gotta get back. Pharrell wants y’all to go meet Puff, Diddy.’ And then we go to the studio with a bunch of beats. Diddy was like, ‘I want them to work on my new album.’ And then we started working on Puff’s album.
“And then he picked the song. People don’t know this, but Puff picked the song for his album, but at the time, Lupe had picked the song, too. And Lupe already committed to it and everything. So we were just kinda like, ‘Okay, it’s for Lupe.’ And then Puff really wanted the song. And he was really adamant. So we were back in Chicago and he called my phone, was like, ‘Yo, what up? This is Puff. Yo, I need that song.’ I was like, ‘I can’t tell you who we sold it to, but somebody else already got it.’ Because between my brother and I and Shay, we were like, ‘It’s already Lupe’s. We don’t wanna start ruffling feathers.’ And I’m just laughing on the phone because I’m thinking he’s playing around. He’s like, ‘Nah, you know who I am?’ ‘Dawg, I love you, but it’s like I just met all you people out on the hunt, just like wherever the beat is with.’ It is what it is. But that’s how dope Christian Rich beats are. People fight over beats.”
Kehinde: “It’s not the first time. J. Cole and Ludacris fought over our beats.”
Taiwo: “The song “Sparks Will Fly.” That was, whoa… Obviously J. Cole got it in the end. But it shows that, our records make statements, right? They can change someone’s moment.”
Vince Staples’ “Big Fish,” the lead single from his 2017 album Big Fish Theory, masterminded by Christian Rich, was undoubtedly a statement-making record. The duo previously linked up with the Long Beach rapper on his Summertime ’06 track “Señorita.” When Staples called on the Hassan brothers for a song for the album, it was mostly finished. Taiwo said when he heard an early version of Big Fish Theory, he said, “I gotta make you something opposite of this.”
The duo decided to whip up a classic West Coast-type beat with a twist, which they felt was lacking from the other tracks, despite the fact that the production was forward-thinking, with contributions from electronic masterinds SOPHIE, Flume, Zack Sekoff, Jimmy Edgar, and more.
“If you really go back into the credits, we’re the only black producers on the album. You don’t think about it like that, it’s like, “It’s just music,” Taiwo continued. “It [“Big Fish”] was meant to be a single. It was supposed to bring you to the album. If you put “Rain Come Down” out first, I think it would’ve done okay. But the problem is, it would have been obvious – ‘Oh, he just wants it to be a radio record.’ I don’t know how that would’ve been perceived. But “Big Fish” kinda snuck up on people. They didn’t even know it was Juicy J. They were like, ‘Is that Juicy J?’ So it worked out.”
With all the demand behind their beats, you’d expect Christian Rich to be located in Los Angeles, arguably the music business capital of the world. While they did spend eight years there, they decided to make Berlin, Germany their new home base after falling in love with the city during a DJ tour a few years back. They reached a point of saturation in L.A., becoming frustrated with feeling inadequate for frivolous reasons.
As Taiwo explains, “After a while, somebody has something better than you. So you’re always feeling inadequate at some point and you’re always trying to get more and more and more and more and more, and it’s never enough. So we needed to go somewhere where what we had was enough, which is us. More than any money. Just being ourselves is enough. And that was Berlin for us.”
Although they’re regulars at Berghain, the city’s electronic music mecca famous for its strict door policies and weekend-long parties, the duo say the easy access to unrestrained hedonism has conversely, made them able to relax more.
“Now that you have access to it, you’re like, ‘Hey, it’s there. I don’t need to do it.’” Kehinde says. “It forces you to discipline yourself more than you would even think of because if you wanna be a drug addict and party seven days a week, for sure, you can do that. But if you wanna have a purpose in life and you wanna get focused, then you really got to do that.”
The easy access to other major cities in Europe and beyond is another major draw for Taiwo: “Here, I can go to London, I can go to Paris, I can go to Milan, I can go to Spain, I can go to South Africa. Everything’s right here. That freedom allows you to create more than just music. You just start to create shit like design, architecture, you start coming up with housing ideas. You might wanna get a place in the islands by Spain – I can do it because I’m in this part of the world.”
Sitting on the Soho House Berlin’s rooftop, the Big Flat Now is alive and well. Spanish islands are truly just an EasyJet flight away. Weaving through the sprawling dining room to find the Hassan brothers, every angle overflowing with clusters of multi-hyphenate creatives typing away at laptops and influencing the IRL ether around them, it’s easy to see how Taiwo and Kehinde would have ran into Childish Gambino at Soho House’s L.A. outpost a few years back, leading them to first work together over five years ago. While so much emphasis is thrown onto what you can offer to the timeline, and what having thousands of social media followers can offer you, Christian Rich is proof that at the end of the day, the energy exchanged when no one’s watching is what matters.
Christian Rich will be DJing the Highsnobiety by Day stage at Melt Festival in Ferropolis, Germany on Friday, July 13.
For more of our features, check out our profile on rising Nigerian-born, London rapper Obongjayar right here.