Photography: Anna Fowler
This month sees DJ Rap release her first D&B tune in a very very long time: Run Dis Ting with Erb N Dub. It goes a bit like this…
A tightly-coiled percussive stepper primed with spitfire bars from Scruffizer, anchored by toxic bass grunts and delivered by The Prototypes on Get Hype.
Run Dis Ting is a powerful meeting of two minds; the seemingly non-stop, hyper-versatile Erb N Dub and Rap, a certified scene OG whose first release goes back to 1989 (Ambience – The Adored) and has given D&B some of its most seminal tracks such as Spiritual Aura, Ruffest Gun Ark (with Top Cat), Intelligent Woman, the perennial reloader Hardstep and stacks more beyond.
Rap, real name Charissa Saverio, was also one of the earliest jungle protagonists to diverge into more commercial pastures, apply song-writing and composition to her work and decamp to LA and lay D&B roots in a much wider industry playing field. As a result her CV lists everything from Billboard chart hits to movie scores, acting work and collaborations with everyone from Erick Morillo to Hans Zimmer.
But her life hasn’t always been easy. As told in her forthcoming book Intelligent Woman (out Dec 7), her upbringing was challenging, she had to fight to establish herself among a male dominated culture and experienced a backlash to her mainstream manoeuvres in the early 2000s (even though they effectively foretold the commercial chapter of D&B that would kick in 10 years later)
Then in 2011 she lost everything and spent the years that followed on a long but vital road of what she describes as ‘self recovery and discovery’ and gradually easing herself back into music, by way of a successful line of tutoring and her own production school Music Tech Collective. Through regular trips back to her UK spiritual stomping ground purely to rave and re-engage with the music, Charissa is happier, healthier and more grounded that she feels she’s ever been. She also feels she’s sharper on the dials than she’s ever been and has a whole slew of records ready to drop including collaborations with Roni Size, Hamilton and more with Erb N Dub. It seems, just as their debut collaboration suggests, Rap is about run dis ting once again.
Time for a propa catch up…
You seem very busy right now. I don’t think you’ve ever stopped, though?
I’ll be honest, it feels like I’m resurrected! It’s interesting if you go back to the start. I’m very grateful for this situation, but if you look at a timeline it goes like this… It took off like a rocket in 1988 all the way up until 2000. Then I signed a multi-million dollar deal with Sony and from then until 2011 it takes on a whole new dynamic with global pop, tech house and everything else I’ve explored.
So you had these two very clear chapters…. Then 2011? Fucking tsunami. I lost everything and the world came crashing down. My biggest agent embezzled the agency, I lost my life savings, I lost my house, I had a breakdown. Everything. That was it. Everything I tried seemed to fail and I have to admit I had a lot of responsibility towards that. When your whole life is based on your career you lose your persona and identity. Everything was tied up in DJ Rap, so it was a long way to fall.
Wow. Last time I spoke to you was six or seven years ago, that was all happening then?
It was. Other stuff was happening too; I paid someone to run the label who signed contracts with two different distributors so I was getting sued by them, my boyfriend was dumped me. But I have to look at what I was contributing to the mess. Firstly, I wasn’t sober. I am now. That’s not excuse but I hadn’t dealt with a lot of things from my past and I was fighting for my life and I was hard to work with. I have very high expectations of myself and everyone else. The difference between then and now is how I handle it. I didn’t give a fuck how people felt before but now I’ve taken much more of a step back.
You had to, I guess…
I did. It ended up being a beautiful situation because I worked out who the fuck I was! I was grieving. No one had wanted to touch me. I kept getting shittier and shittier gigs, it was like being Elvis playing Elvis covers. It broke my heart. I thought ‘okay I’m done, I get it’. I started the long process of self discovery and self recovery. I slept, I found God, I stopped fucking around with drugs, I started listening to people talk and going into therapy. It took me four or five years to work out who Charissa was.
And no music at all during this time?
No music at all. Then Dubspot gave me a call and asked if I’d be up for teaching production and I fell in love! It was amazing. I felt ‘this is what I’m meant to be doing.’ What better way to leave the industry but by passing on what I’d learnt? Before I wouldn’t have given a toss about that, but it’s taken me a long time to wake up. So I dived back in and it started the fire again. I started doing bits as a hobby and felt like it had gone full circle. That’s why I did it in the first place. It was never about money. Kids ask me how they can make money and I think ‘wow! I never thought about the money when I first started, it wasn’t about that’
No one knew there’d be a long game to play back then
Oh some people did! Look at Paul Oakenfold. There were some very smart people back then and Paul was one of them. He had his shit together so much. I remember signing a publishing deal on his car bonnet! But yeah you’re right, a lot of us didn’t think about that at the time. Drum & bass doesn’t owe me a living. It owes no one a living. We’re all fortunate. One percent of musicians get to make a living out of it. My only day job was teaching.
And that didn’t feel like a job, right?
Exactly. But then Dubspot went bankrupt so I went to London to rave and just have a good time. I’d missed that. Frost and Fabio were encouraging me to get back into the music but I hadn’t been feeling it. It had gone into a very techy space and I’m much more inspired by melodies.
If you’re a real artist, and I know this sounds contrite, it has to call you. That’s why I’ve been so schizophrenic musically. You need to make something because it’s burning you inside out. You have to feel that fire.
When did you feel that fire?
Hospitality. Metrik was playing and I was balling happy tears dancing. Sober as you can be. I was like ‘I cannot believe, at my age, I’m still feeling like this from the music’. And not as a DJ or producer but as a fan. That’s what it’s all about. And from there it’s been a long road to getting back to a stage where I’m happy to release music and here I am. I feel at the best of my abilities in he studio. I’ve got more knowledge, I’ve spent time with amazing producers like Pete Erb N Dub, Hamilton, Roni Size and I pick their brains all day long. Most of all, I’m loving the music.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence you’ve come back into the music at a time when it’s back at the melting pot vibe
Fabio said a similar thing to me. He said everyone is trying to make what we made back in the day. He’s right and there are some amazing producers doing it, guys like Voltage and Serum. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from those guys. I was never into the technical wanking. If there’s a vibe there, I’ll catch it. Don’t get me wrong; the technical side amazing and drum & bass had to go through that process to get to this melting pot but now it does feel like you can do anything; you can put out a bassline roller, you can put out a beautiful hooky top melody track. Which, don’t forget, I got murdered for when I did Learning Curve.
I was going to ask… How did you feel when the big commercial D&B gold rush happened, having been down that route years before?
A bit smug haha. Maybe a bit justified? I knew drum & bass was going to go to that way. Things go through salt and sugar cycles. Look at pop; one era you have boybands, the next you have bands like Nirvana. A lot of it’s tied into what else is going on in the planet; when there’s a recession people don’t want to hear about their troubles so you have songs like ‘throw your panties in the air’ and shit dumb stuff. When people are in a good space they’re more likely to listen to something more complex. When we were in the rave scene in fields and everything was happy, when it went underground and no one was allowed to rave in fields any more it got a lot darker. Music reflects what’s going on in society at the time but right now if you look at consciousness everything is happening all at once: equality on everything, #metoo, environmental, mental illness, health. It’s a supernova of consciousness; everything is boiling right now, so the music is boiling. But yeah it was difficult back then, getting so much shit. I got death threats…
A lot of people didn’t like records I made and played commercially. People on forums saying they’d throw acid in my face for putting vocals on drum & bass tracks. I’ve sold out, I’m a cuntwhore, I’m this, I’m that. Poison. But on the same hand, I got it. I got the protectiveness of it. We’ve got something so special here and we had to fight for it.
Like drum & bass is the parent who had all these bastard children. All kinds of waifs and stays. You had to have fire to be in this scene. I don’t know anyone in D&B who’s tepid. We’ve come from very different backgrounds and when I think about some of the backgrounds some people had, no wonder we fought. We all had to fight to get drum & bass heard. We were outcasts, we were shit on people’s shoe, we brought it up kicking and screaming and everyone wanted to protect it. That’s what the forums were doing. They didn’t want to see it get diluted like every other genre has from rock to punk to house. They didn’t want to see it on adverts and there I was doing Calvin Kline billboards and Twix commercials in the middle of the Superbowl and taking it so far in he direction they didn’t want see it go. But I was more of the perspective that if you have something that’s great, it should be shared…
You just mentioned backgrounds which makes me think about your book… Was writing that the end of your recovery?
There’s a lot of tough things in there. It wasn’t easy. Especially what’s going on right now with the women’s movement and mental illness, overcoming everything is what the book is about. At the same time of overcoming these things I was there and played a role in the inception of something that changed and saved a lot of our lives. But yes it was fucking hard. I kept diaries since I was kid. The real bodies are buried there!. My editor would call me twice a week and at one point it fucking hit me. I wanted to tell him to stop poking around in my head. I was talking about things that are really hard to talk about.
No spoilers I’m guessing?
No spoilers. But think of the worst thing you can think of and multiply by it ten. But I’m talking about it like it’s normal. I’m listening to myself and I’m thinking ‘this is horrible! How can you be so calm about it?’ Like ‘fuck you have been through this insane stuff!’ Then it became cathartic. It’s going to be weird knowing everyone knows everything about my life. But I want it to be a positive message to everyone who has gone through or is going through similar shit. I want them to know they can overcome it. All the bad things happen provide that fire. That’s why when I got into the scene I was a fucking tornado. I had all this pent-up shit and I was the dog that bit first. D&B actually calmed me down. It gave me a focal point and something to put my energy in. When you find something you love it saves your life. What are your other options? I left home at 14 and was doing drugs and living in squats.
In the blurb it says you said ‘no’ to Madonna. I have to say I’m intrigued by that story…
I can’t actually talk about that. But I can tell you a little story. Once upon a time there was a rich billionaire who was very supportive to a musician and he thought he could get them to sleep with him if he ‘donated’ $500,000 to Madonna’s tour and got that musician to tour with her.
Yeah and that musician hit the roof when they found out about that donation because she thought she’d been requested by Madonna. Turns out Madonna didn’t know who that musician was at all. That was a very expensive non date for that billionaire.
Even that’s pretty dark….
Nah that’s a fun story! Compared to the other stuff I went through that is light.
Let’s talk about your release. Run Dis Ting. How did that come about?
That all goes back to my relearning process. When I came back over to the UK I had an ambition to find an agent, to find people to write with and learn how this all works again. I did my homework and that’s how I met Pete (Erb n’dub) and Hamilton and Hype got me my agent, Chris .I didn’t think anyone would be interested and that’s how low my confidence had been. I didn’t think any agent would want me. So I made a bunch of demos, took them to Pete and we produce together. He’s an amazing producer. He actually gave me the Scrufizzer vocal and brought it to life. I don’t think Pete gets enough credit. His attention to detail is incredible. So anyway, we made the record, he played it to Nick (Prototypes), the next day he said he wanted to sign it. That was such a successful trip. I came over, got an agent, found people to write with and finished tracks and got them signed.
It sounds like there’s a lot more locked for the future?
Yeah I’m working six months ahead of myself. So I’ve got stuff lined up with Roni, with Hamilton, more stuff with Pete, some remixes and some more shows. I’m really inspired by the shows I can do again now. It’s fun to do those old jungle sets but I don’ want to play the same old records all the time. I love doing things differently, trying things out, playing new stuff
Yeah you don’t just want to be booked as an old school act
Totally. Imagine being my agent. I’m like ‘okay I don’t want to tour all the time and I want to play different music to what everyone wants to book me for and I haven’t had a record out for fucking years!’ Well, until now anyway. But he said ‘okay you go and make some fucking records, work your arse off and I’ll find you the right shows’. I know that’s hard because younger fans don’t know who I am and don’t give a fuck. The old people want to book me but they’re like ‘eh? You’re not playing the classics!’
It’s a fine line
It really is. Keeping them happy and playing old school gigs but also opening yourself up and showing you’re not dead and sitting on your arse. But that’s inspiring. I’m constantly developing my discipline and attention to detail. It’s worth it. I’m in love with music and will continue to prove that I can’t be put in a box. That’s my duty. I, along with many others who came through in that first generation, set the foundation and that benchmark for experimentation and free thought. If you look back to any of the acts who stand the test of time, they pushing boundaries and welcomed everyone and every idea. That’s always motivated me and inspired me. And it’s sad when I go onto Beatport for tunes and every fucking record sound the same as everyone else’s records. Listen to everything in the jump up chart and it’s like they’re all using the same preset and sample pack. But listen to guys like The Prototypes and Voltage and Serum and they’re killing it. Why? Because they’re doing something different. It’s okay to be different because everyone else is taken. Be unique. Celebrate that uniqueness.
I think people worry they might lose fans when they take too many risks…
Trust me; most ‘fans’ all fuck off when you’re on your knees. But there is a hardcore fanbase who are super supportive. They’re a very small amount but they’re the most important. They’re the ones who matter and support you mentally, send nice messages and are there for you. They’re not faceless masses. Take care of the people who care about you…
Amen! Nice positive note to finish on….
I think so. Anyone in an elevated status’s job is to elevate other people. There’ll be times I get messages from fans who’re in bad places and know they can talk to me because I’ve talked about those issues publicly myself. I take the time for them because that can have a positive influence and change their day. For all it’s ups and downs I’ve had an amazing life and continue to have an amazing life. If there is any way I can repay that balance, I will. I guess the positive note for me is to say thanks for everyone who’s been with me or supported me over the years and I really feel the best is yet to come…