Twin brothers Kehinde and Taiwo Hassan, a.k.a. hip-hop/electronic duo Christian Rich, have made a lot of waves behind the scenes in the music industry, having produced and/or co-written hits for the likes of Vince Staples, Drake, Jaden, and many others over the past decade. After scoring a Grammy nod for their work on Childish Gambino’s “Crawl” off Because the Internet (nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammy) and debuting their first full-length artist project in 2015, “FW14,” the Hassan brothers are stepping back into the limelight as their own artists with Christian Rich again. In describing themselves, Taiwo states, “Christian Rich is a multidisciplinary group, starting off with music, then film and design overall.”
What separates Christian Rich apart from the rest is their unique sound, a blend of electronic, hip-hop and R&B music that most couldn’t duplicate if they tried. Plus, they had a standout appearance on Jaden’s “GHOST,” whose music video has accumulated over 34 million views and counting.
Fast forward to today, Christian Rich are excited as ever to be releasing their own project titled ALBUM TITLE. Serving as their first album in over 6 years, the 13-track body of work is spearheaded by the lead single “FUEGO/FAMLAY,” featuring Philly rapper Tunji Ige. The record pays homage to Fam-Lay of Pharrell’s Star Trak collective, whom both brothers knew from their days being managed by Shae from N.E.R.D.
Flaunt caught up with Christian Rich via Zoom to discuss how they got their name, their sound, roots in Nigeria, biggest influences, the first big placements, meeting Pharrell and the team, collaborating within Tunji Ige, working on ALBUM TITLE, how they ended up working with Snoh Aalegra, studio essentials, selling out their NFT, and more!
What’s the inspiration behind your name?
Taiwo: In 2003, Kehinde was studying some fashion brands when we were younger. Christian Dior came up and I said, “Well, why don’t we do something called Christian Rich?” I don’t know why. It was the name of a clothing brand we were trying to start up at first. In 2005, I said, “Why don’t we name everything Christian Rich so it’d be easier, the brand recognition?” Back then, you didn’t even think of brand recognition. I guess I had some type of intuition.
How would you describe your sound?
Kehinde: Melodic, heavy. Everybody would say melodic. Given we’re from Nigeria, we have very heavily drum-influenced rhythms in our music. From a track perspective, the tracks are always melodic with some kind of rhythm as far as drums. It’s hard, our sound can be hip-hop and jazzy but it also can be pop. It depends on what we’re talking about. It’s so hard to describe, basically melodic smooth jazz with hard drums.
You’re from Nigeria, how does that play into your life and career?
Kehinde: Growing up in Nigeria, we created the whole foundation for the brand. Kehinde and Taiwo, Christian Rich, there’s no access to any of these things in America. If you want to be a musician, you have to daydream. That’s the closest you get to being a musician, so we daydreamed a lot as kids. We daydreamed about keyboards and what it’d feel like to do interviews. We used to look in the mirror and pretend we’re doing interviews, interview ourselves. We didn’t know what manifestation was, how important it is. We were doing it because you had to pretend in Nigeria.
That pushed us to when we finally came back to America. As soon as we came back at 8 years old, it sounds crazy but we hit the ground running. We started learning music production, a friend introduced us to it. We started to learn design, we both know how to draw really well so we started to apply those skills we couldn’t do. Something as simple as walking to Walgreens, getting an ink pen and a pad to draw. There’s no funds or access to that necessarily, Nigeria influenced us heavily in that aspect. Musically, we have a very keen ear to drums. I wouldn’t say we get our drums right 100% of the time, but it’s probably 85% rate we get drums really precise. Because we grew up playing congas, banjos, drum sets, and so forth. Nigeria gave us that melody and that swing, that rhythm. What everyone’s calling Afrobeat or whatever, that’s a Nigerian swing and rhythm. It’s the way we think.
Biggest influences coming up? I know you were born in Nigeria.
Taiwo: We were born in the States, they moved us there when we were 4 so we brought the American music with us. My mom would play “Thriller,” Phil Collins, Kenny Rogers, Sade, we were listening to that. Growing up there, we’d hear fuji music which is a Nigerian, Arabic music. These high-pitched men singing. If you ever heard a dude singing in a mosque, it sounds like that. Very beautiful but with very fast 150/160bpm. Young Thug is the closest artist to fuji. His sound, texture, and tone, that’s fuji music. When he does those high-pitched tones, when you’re like “yo, what is he saying?” To us, that sounds like foji. We were listening to that. There was this dude called Shina Peters, which I don’t even remember any of his music but I remember back in the ’80s, he used to go around and say he was the Nigerian or African Michael Jackson.
Kehinde: Sunny Adé too.
Taiwo: He’s still around. Sunny Adé’s sound is very eclectic and guitar-heavy with drum breakdowns, congo, talking drum if you know what that is.
Kehinde: He was big in the States in the 70’s.
Taiwo: A lot of bassline, Sunny Adé was a big event. We never heard of Fela Kuti until we came to America. He’s banned in Nigeria.
Kehinde: At least back then, you couldn’t even listen to his music. No one would have it, you had to sneak and listen to it. There was a dude named Obey, we learned later he was a gospel artist but he’s the first artist we saw perform. He’d come do Christmas parties, he’d leave after 3 songs and his band would continue playing for an hour. We’ve never seen nothing like that, like wow that’s interesting.
At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
Taiwo: Good question. When do you ever feel like you can do music for a living? Well in high school, there was this guy. He came to the basement one day, we’re making beats. He said “yo, your beats sound good. You know you can sell those beats? My brother sells beats.” We said, “you can sell these?” We’re just doing it for exercise.
In school, this guy wanted to buy some beats. We did a deal where we’re about to sell him some beats for $25. It wasn’t a lot of money to us back then, we saw the transactional part of it. “Oh okay, I think we can make a living from this.” We started doing one-offs, worked with certain local people. Some folks in college. We started to realize step by step this is something we could do, but we didn’t have the balls to do it until 2009. I quit my job at Chase, he got let go at Washington Mutual.
Kehinde: I got fired twice for being a banker. Before you go to 2009, our first placement in the music industry was 2003 with Lil Kim on her album La Bella Mafia. We co-produced a session, we produced the entire song called “Get In Touch With Us.” That went Platinum, right? The second song was “I’m Serious” by The Clipse from the Cradle 2 The Grave soundtrack, the movie with DMX and Jet Li. We produced that song in its entirety, that went Gold.
We produced for Raekwon, the song never made it because we couldn’t clear the sample but it’s online now. The song’s called “Big Spender.” Can you imagine that? It was an interesting beat. We sampled “Big Spender,” we were 17 then. We did a song for Foxy Brown, that’s supposed to be on her last Def Jam album, but she got dropped from the label or whatever happened. In either of those moments, we weren’t trying to do it full-time.
Taiwo: We were in college so we weren’t trying to do it full-time. We went back to banking. In 2009, my brother made this song called “Famous Girl” that blew us up in New York and overseas, but we didn’t understand how to tour so we hung out in New York for a year or so. Because of that song we met Pharrell, Shae, Chad Hugo. It’s so crazy we’re having this conversation because Shae just called us, we’ve known each other for 13 years now. He randomly called us as we’re going through songs from the year we met them today. So crazy, it reminded us of 2009, we went back into it. A month or two later, we meet Pharrell, Chad, and Shae. That changed our lives for sure.
What was that moment? How did it change your lives?
Kehinde: So many moments. [laughs]
Taiwo: The main moment was when Shae asked us to come to the Four Seasons in New York, she said “Pharrell wants to meet y’all.” We get over there, it’s a few people in the room. He’s like “yo I’m Pharrell…” Johnny Cupcakes was cutting his hair, he used to cut Jay Z’s hair and these people. I remember I wrote this song, it sounded like something Missy would use. Something told me “you should play this for Pharrell to see.” He’s sitting in the barber chair in the bathroom, I said “I want you to hear this song I wrote and produced, tell me what you think.” I didn’t even know him but look, we’re here. He’s listening to it, gets on the phone: “yo I got the guy who’s going to help you on the album.” He’s calling Puff Daddy like “I got the guys who’s going to help you finish the album.”
Later that night, they had a show at Governor’s Island in New York, in the city by the water. The show was cool, we’re getting ready to leave because we don’t like to be entourage-ing. Pharrell’s manager at the time Lee called us like “yo, man why y’all always trying to leave? Pete wants y’all to go meet Puff at his studio.” From there, we worked on that Last Train to Paris album for 2 or 3 months. We’re listening to the first track we made over there, it was dated 9/26/09. That‘s the moment everything started to change, we quit our jobs. This is the first thing that happened about a month or two in so we said “Okay, this could be a full-time thing.” That’s a defining moment right there.
“FUEGO/FAMLAY” featuring Tunji Ige out now, how’d this record come about?
Kehinde: That’s our guy, you know we’re all Nigerian. That was done in Germany. We were in Germany for about 4 and a half years, we just moved to the States 5 months ago. We’ve known Tunji since we were signed to Warner Chappell.
Taiwo: At least 6 to 7 years, we have a lot of Tunji records. We send him beats, he sends us lyrics. We go back and forth. That song started out as one song. The last song you hear in the end which is “FAMLAY,” that was the first song. We wanted him because of the vocals, then my brother put a beat at the end. He likes to put beats at the ends of every track we make. When he sent the song to Tunji to recut, he recut the vocals but in his mind, he thought we wanted two records. He rapped “FUEGO,” we said “this should be the first song,” so we put that first, then “FAMLAY” second. It took in entirety a day or two to finish that.
When did you know you wanted Tunji on the record?
Kehinde: I was sequencing the album. If you heard the album, it’s a bit more melodic and instrumental. More than our last LP. I said “man, I need something hard on there. I need an 808,” coming off of what we did with “GHOST” (by Jaden Smith). When I made the tracks, those loops had been sitting on my computer for a year or two. We said “Man, I need someone we’ve worked with before, that I know if we give them a track they’re going to go crazy.” I had Tunji’s vocals from some other cut we did so I put them as a placeholder like “Let me hear what this sounds like with a rapper on it.”
I’m putting it together like “Oh wow, this sounds dope.” We sent it to Tunji thinking “We did this, are you cool if we put it on the album?” He’s like “Nah, I wanna recut it.” I said, “Oh okay,” so he recut the whole thing. That’s how it happened. For the last LP we didn’t have Tunji on there so before, we definitely knew we wanted Tunji on the next LP. We wanted him even on more songs but that’s the way we wanted to do the album: to have a track vibe 2 or 3 times on the album. We’re going to try to do a whole project with him because we’ve done enough records to see there’s great synergy there.
Is there a music video coming?
Kehinde: Maybe. We get a bit too intricate with the videos where these budgets get a bit bigger. We’re still an indie label. I sent several treatments out to different directors and they all got intimidated like “Yo, this is too big. You need to get…” Whatever, we’ll see. What I feel our fans or whoever’s new listening to the album should get is this time around with our LP, we want to focus a lot more on instrumentals. Before, almost every song had a vocalist on there, which is incredible but it almost comes off as a compilation. If you like us, if you like what we do, if you want to get to know who we are, you gotta listen to us, which is beats. We write songs and all that but what we primarily like to do first is make beats, then we write the songs. I wanted this LP to be more instrumental driven with some songs that poke out and doesn’t sound like anything that’s happening now, that feels fun and not too dark. The next thing we do, we’re going to make it very very dark. I wanted to make something that’s a little more fun and lighthearted.
Why the name ALBUM TITLE?
Kehinde: We had a series of albums some years ago called Ss14, FW14, where it was a play on fashion [collections]. People would always say Christian Rich sounds like a fashion label, so we played with that. We thought about doing FW21 or 22. I was doing the album listing, and I said ALBUM TITLE because I didn’t have a title yet. Let me put this as a playlist, put the sequencing together. I said “That looks dope, ALBUM TITLE. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone call it that. Sure.” It’s like a meta thing: “ALBUM TITLE here.” There’s no big significance behind it, it’s like Kanye having a Black album or Drake putting the things with the pregnant girls. Don’t overthink it. Put it out and it’ll speak for itself. If people fuck with it, they fuck with it. Don’t even overthink it.
What’re you guys most excited for with this second album?
Kehinde: This is our second album, the last one was 2015.
Taiwo: My favorite song on there would really be “CACTUS FLOWERS,” which is a song from the EP. People liked it so much, we said “okay, let’s put it on the LP.” People really like that record, it has Reo Cragun on there. Reo Cragun’s also on another song called “FIELD OF DREAMS,” one of my favorite songs. We’ve had that loop — when we say loop, we mean the instrumentation outside the drums. The instrumentation and the syntax chord progressions, that loop had been sitting there since 2011.
We originally made that track for Yuna, she was signed to Fader. We were talking to [Fader co-founders] Jon [Cohen and Rob [Stone], they loved that track. They gave it to us, she loved it, but it never made the album. We always liked the track though, she liked it too. She recorded to it, just never used the track. It was always in our minds to do something with the track. This album made us think “Oh, we should take this moment to make this track and put it on the album.” “FIELD OF DREAMS” is what has that loop in it. I like it because it’s a continuation of us working with Reo Cragun, which a lot of people seem to like us working together. We might do an album with him. We have a lot of tracks with him, we didn’t put them out. There’s a lot going on right now, I want people to hear music…
Kehinde: Just easy listening.
Taiwo: My brother shaped a lot of the instrumental sounds on there. The concept is Architectural Digest, like when you’re watching the series they have on YouTube.
Kehinde: When I was in Berlin, in my flat I’d watch a lot of Architectural Digest on YouTube. Different people’s homes. I pointed it out to my brother: “Do you ever notice they have this super hip-hop beat playing? For .2 seconds…” Let’s say they’re showing someone’s home like “Okay, this is my living room,” then the beat would come in. [boom boom] That’s funny, that’s a dope quick beat.
My thought was I want to do at least 4 to 5 of those beats where I could send it to Architectural Digest like “Oh, put some of these in your YouTube episodes. I want to see how that syncs together, might be an idea for a video too.” That’s where the vibe came from, just to make it easy listening. I was aware there’s going to be a shitload of bangers coming out this year: Drake, ‘Ye, Westside Gunn, a lot of people coming out with some shit. Not trying to compete with that. It’s easy listening, grow on you kind of thing. That’s the whole thinking for the album with the vibes.
How was it working with Snoh Aalegra?
Taiwo: Snoh, we’ve been collaborating with her for a minute.
Kehinde: Snoh’s interesting. It’s crazy, No I.D. is from Chicago. Snoh’s cousin is his wife, we met Snoh before we ever worked with her at the BMI Awards 8 years ago. We had no idea who she was, then we kept seeing this woman online who looked like Eva Mendes. That was her thing, everyone said “There’s this singer that looks like Eva Mendes.” I don’t see it now, now that I know her personally she looks nothing like her to me. Back then, that was the talk in L.A. When we saw her, we said, “Whoa she can sing.”
Vince Staples’ manager Corey Smith was the one who encouraged us to go in the studio with her. He said, “you should go in the studio with Snoh and help her with her sound.” The first time we went to sit with her was the album Don’t Explain, which we produced with “In Your River.” That song came about by mistake, that track was for somebody else. My brother wasn’t trying to go to the studio, he’s trying to take a break that day. I told him “hey this girl, she can really sing. You should come by and hear what she’s doing.” He comes by the studio, he hears her demos. He said “yo, we got this track for you.” He plays the “In Your River” beat, she loved it. We started writing to it, it took 20 mins to write the song. That came out, that did pretty well. The next track we did with her and Vince was “Nothing Burns Like The Cold,” which is to date one of her biggest singing songs.
Taiwo: “JUST LIKE THAT” was the newest one we did on her album.
3 things you need in the studio at all times?
Kehinde: I need a TV.
Taiwo: Some champagne for sure. Dom Perignon, TV, and a pillow blanket combination. The studio’s always cold as fuck.
Kehinde: For me, I definitely need vintage keyboards.
How’s it feel to sell out your NFT?
Kehinde: That was cool, that was interesting.
Taiwo: Ironically, we reached out to this artist from Berlin and we collaborated. He wants to do more series, we have 2 or 3 other ones we did but we wanted to chill on them. We realized you have to promote NFTs like you do music. It’s a whole thing. It’s an album release, you have to get press and all that. We didn’t have the bandwidth for that but it was fun to see the process. We got in early before it became what it is now, which is still dope now but we got in really early on it. It was cool to go through the process.
Anything else you want to let us know?
Go stream ALBUM TITLE now.