Charissa Saverio, also known as DJ Rap, has for the last eight years been the undisputed queen of the hardcore and drum'n'bass turntables. She's become a prime mover, the prime female mover in fact, on the hardcore, jungle and drum'n'bass scenes that have shaped the last ten years of her and countless other lives.
Simultaneously a label owner, producer, recording artist and world-renowned DJ, East London's Charissa Saverio, aka DJ Rap stands alongside the likes of DJs Hype, Grooverider and LTJ Bukem as one of the few, and only female, pioneers of drum and bass. This year she celebrates the first ten years of her career, and the re launch of her imprint Proper Talent, with the release of the mix compilation 'Propa Classics - Vol 1'. The album features two exclusive new tracks and thirteen of the best and rarest dance-floor anthems that forged her reputation as the 'first lady of jungle'.
Born to an Italian father and an Irish-Malaysian mother in Singapore, Rap spent her childhood traveling the world - Indonesia, Malta and Africa were all home for a while. Her stepfather managed luxury hotels and she grew up living in the palatial surroundings of Raffles in Shangri La. As a child her two loves were playing piano and horse-riding. She'd practice the piano six hours a day and spend the rest of her time in the stables dreaming of being a pianist. When the family moved to Southampton, England in her early teens, she discovered pop music for the first time and after leaving school took time out to travel the world, backpacking through Greece, Turkey and Europe. She eventually returned to London and joined a legal firm, first as a secretary, then training to be a solicitor. Her life, for the first time in years, seemed to be following a normal, everyday course. It was from this bliss that Charissa METAmorphosized into DJ Rap. "She jacked in her job, kicked out her difficult boyfriend and discovered raves."
Rap was first drawn to the turntables after seeing Dem 2 spin at a party at the tail end of the eighties. "Watching Dean rock the crowd really put the idea into my head," she remembers. "Breakbeats were just coming in back then and the power he had over the crowd was awesome." Pulling favors to learn the technical ropes and cashing in on her childhood musical education, Charissa put together her debut single with producer Jeff B entitled 'Ambience: The Adored' in 1990. The combination of a guerilla campaign at pirate radio and the support of legendary DJ Paul Oakenfold in Ibiza helped the record break the national chart in the UK with sales exceeding 40,000 copies. Two more successful singles followed in the form of 'Coda Coma' as Raw Bass for Jumpin and Pumpin (1990) and 'Divine Rhythm' for Stealth (1991).
Around the same time her urge to DJ began to take shape. A good friend, and Rave FM resident, Cool Hand Flex gave Charissa her first lessons and an 'in' at the station. Not long after, having been helped through the door by an introduction from DJ Hype, she graduated from her own show at Rave to a regular slot at Fantasy - widely regarded as London's leading house and techno pirate station at the time. "Through that daily afternoon show for Fantasy I really fell for DJ'ing hook, line and sinker," she explains. The gigs became increasingly high profile (including the opportunity to stand in for Fabio at the Astoria) and production took a back seat for a while as she built a reputation as the queen of the turntables.
Charissa got back into the producers chair in early 1993 after hooking up with Aston Harvey, now half of the infamous Freestylers. The collaboration (known as Engineers Without Fears) spawned the singles 'Spiritual Aura' for the influential Deejay Recordings and 'Vertigo' and 'Jeopardy' for Suburban Base. All notched up impressive sales, leading the charge in the burgeoning Artcore movement which saw rich synth orchestration fused with a rattling club backend. "The success of those early releases were the catalyst behind my decision to produce, engineer and release my own material," Charissa remembers.
Following the release of 'Spiritual Aura,' Charissa approached Vinyl Distribution for a loan to establish her own label. Proper Talent launched in 1994 with its debut, the 25,000 selling 'Digable Bass,' followed by over twenty singles in the next five years. "It was born out of love and wanting to express myself musically. I wanted to have the power to put great tunes out there and to work with a lot of different artists like Buju Banton, Top Cat, Outlaw Candy and MC Hooligan."
As Proper Talent's reputation gathered pace, an outing for the respected 'Journeys By DJ' series and the release of her 'Intelligence' album secured her status as one to watch. 'Intelligence' was one of the first long players to be released by a drum & bass artist and saw Rap set the jungle roughage, which characterized much of the music of the time, adrift amongst the down tempo breakbeat that had initially drawn her into the dance movement.
The breadth of this project paved the way for a major deal and, after some speculation, Charissa eventually signed with Sony's Higher Ground imprint in 1997, also home to Leftfield and Grooverider. "When that deal came along I felt empowered to do something that would fulfill all my creative impulses. I'd fallen in love with making songs in the previous couple of years and working on that album was pure joy. No cliquey scene - just me in a studio making what I wanted."
'Learning Curve', her self-penned and produced debut for Sony, was released to widespread critical acclaim in 1998, fusing pop sensibilities with an underground production ethic. Maintaining the exhaustive touring, publicity and DJ schedules to promote 'Learning Curve' took over most of Rap's creative energies at the time, and Proper Talent took a back seat while she focused on developing as a songwriter and mainstream artist. Charissa explains, "There were times where I felt really disenchanted by drum & bass. Before it had been all about the music and the label had seen solid sales, there was a period where the scene seemed more orientated towards technology and I wasn't feeling any heart or soul in the new records I was hearing"
Continuing she says, "There are a few other people who felt the same way who gave up or went on to do different things, but there were others who felt passionate enough to make a change. Producers like Jamie Majik and Roni have re-injected the vibrancy and soul that first touched me, and have moved away from that constant 'bang-bang' sound. It was seeing those people come back with something different which really inspired me to pick it back up and make the music which I felt was missing from the scene."
"Proper Talent is hugely important to me and rather than bitching about the music I don't like I'm just going to do my bit to make things better again. My relationship with drum & bass has always been like the one you have with your childhood friends; there are occasional crap periods but something will always happen to bring you back together and make the friendship even stronger. I'd started going out to clubs again over the last couple of years and it reinforced my belief that drum & bass was still at the very cutting edge and remains one of the most exciting styles of music out there."
This renewed enthusiasm led to the release of the 'Brave New World' album (with Kenny Ken) in 1999. To follow up Rap will officially re-launch Proper Talent in 2001 with the release of 'Propa Classics' (Proper Talent / Intuit Solar) and a world tour to promote the launch. The album will come out simultaneously as twelves of 'Digable Bass,' 'Spiritual Aura,' 'Divine Rhythm' and Rap's mix of 'I'm So In Love With You'.
"After the release of the Classics the intention is to open up the label again with a series of vinyl singles, each with a breakbeat track on one side and a drum & bass track on the other. I'm trying to retain the flavor of my more musical and vocal stuff and also capturing that original soul while keeping it contemporary." At the same time Rap is deep into the process of writing and producing a new album for Sony due for release in 2002.
"I can remember when my biggest dream was to be on a Raindance flyer," she closes. "Once I'd achieved that I found myself constantly on the look out for other things to stimulate and motivate me. From as far back as I can remember, my goal has been to sing songs to huge audiences but if someone would have asked me ten years ago that DJ-ing with drum & bass would open those doors for me - I wouldn't have believed it. Although I really enjoy touring and singing with the band, the best part of what I do is when I get up there and play great records - I'm a DJ at heart - I just want to get the crowd moving."