DJ Rap: interview

She may be a model, actor, songwriter and label boss, but most importantly, DJ Rap is still the queen of drum ‘n‘ bass. Time Out heralds her return to our shores

  • DJ Rap: interview

    Born in Singapore, grew up in London, thriving in LA... and back on Friday

  • When DJ Rap plays a two-hour set of drum ’n’ bass classics at the hugely impressive Drum ’n’ Bass Arena rave at The Coronet on Friday, she’ll be regaining her crown as the undisputed queen of the ’90s drum ’n’ bass scene. It’s not that she’s especially regal (she’d laugh at the notion), but rather that she was a lot more than the glamourous poster girl of junglism. She launched her Proper (later Propa) Talent label in 1993 and rapidly enhanced her reputation with tracks like ‘Digable Bass’, ‘Spiritual Aura’ and ‘Intelligent Woman’. She produced dozens of tunes which collectively sold hundreds of thousands – this was the good old days when D&B records often sold 50,000 copies – and was the prime female mover in a scene which wasn’t an easy place for a girl to work, so it’s just as well that she has attitude to spare.

    It seems surprising then, that she hasn’t played in the UK for seven years. Her move to the States in 1999 was prompted by the success of her ‘Good To Be Alive’ single, which helped push US sales of her breakbeat-driven debut artist album, ‘Learning Curve', to more than a million. Around the same time, the UK drum ’n’ bass scene was selling fewer records as it turned inwards, and there was a self-appointed ‘committee’ of D&B overlords telling DJs which tracks could be played, which is about as futile as King Canute trying to boss the sea. By 1998 DJ Rap was mostly playing outside the UK. ‘Most of my gigs are abroad,’ she told Time Out that year. ‘People there are more open-minded. I like playing parties with DJs like Josh Wink and DJ Sneak. I’m into raves which have a whole cross-section of music.’

    DJ Rap is not a woman to be tied down, musically or creatively. Since she moved to LA she’s taken on a few new careers, as she is by turns a producer, actor, model, recording artist, songwriter and record label boss managing ten artists on her Propa Talent (D&B, breaks) and Impropa Talent (house) imprints. Phew, DJ Rap can multi-task even more than Martha Stewart.

    She clearly relishes the challenge. ‘Wake up, have coffee, make music, that’s the world I live in,’ she says. ‘I’ve done a whole new drum ’n’ bass album and we’ve got a series of ‘Propa Classics’ CDs coming out which cover our 198 releases to date.’ But she’s most excited by the release of her second artist album, ‘Synthesis’, which she’s been working on for years. ‘We’ve written all the songs and there’s a lot of live instrumentation that’s then been warped and done all kinds of crazy shit to in the studio, so it’s very raw and cutting-edge electronically.’

    When I phoned she’d had four hours’ sleep after being in the studio until 5am, and I was her third interview at 10am. Her return to the UK has generated a lot of interest, and she’s really excited. ‘I want to play the classic stuff for people who’ve never heard it, who don’t know what it was like,’ she says, recalling how she ‘first fell in love with drum ‘n’ bass because it was so fast and so inventive. Every week someone came out with a new trick, a different sound. It was such a special, fantastic time.’ She’ll mostly play tunes from 1990 to ’95, and refutes my suggestion that she might drop in tracks by her American Propa Talent artists, because their music is more mellow. ‘It’s more listening music than playing out, closer to LTJ Bukem than Dillinja,’ she explains. ‘They make beautiful, gorgeous drum ’n’ bass, and I’m into gorgeousness now.’ The American D&B scene is a lot smaller than here, but she keeps in touch with the UK sounds by listening to ‘my boys’ Fabio and Grooverider’s Radio 1 show. And while she still buys new tunes, she’s carved a niche playing those D&B classics.

    ‘But I’m cutting-edge when it comes to the house stuff,’ she says, comparing her DJing style to Nic Fanciulli or Audiofly. She’s actually gone back to her roots, as she made her first house record in 1988. ‘I love to play eight-hour sets where you can really build it up with proper, driving, druggy house music.’

    It isn’t all music though. Last year she played the lead (and wrote the score) for an edgy indie movie, ‘Isolation’, which is due out later in 2008. ‘My character is like a like a cross between Angelina Jolie in ‘Girl Interrupted’ and Uma Thurman in ‘Kill Bill’, so it’s a real action film. I already do martial arts and there was a lot of that, water-skiing stunts, driving a Firebird and doing 180-degree tail-whips and things like that. I absolutely loved it.’ DJ Rap is full of surprises, but the biggest one is that she’s been away so long.

    Drum ’n’ Bass Arena All Stars is at The Coronet on February 8

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