When a musician knows deep in his soul that his moment has arrived, there's an unmistakable buzz in and around his music. On the forthcoming debut Atlantic album from Rupee, that buzz is deafening.
Acclaimed in the competitive and fertile cultural hothouse of the yearly Caribbean carnivals, Rupee's readiness for the world spotlight has been building ever since he won his first Barbados talent competition as a young teenager. His first hit records, with the band Coalishun, followed by a string of smashes from three self-released solo albums, have made Rupee one of the foremost names in soca (soul + calypso) – the supercharged party music of the Caribbean. He has won over masses of jubilant fans through his high-energy soca performances at festivals and concerts throughout the Caribbean, North America, and Europe.
Now, Rupee is poised to capture the global mainstream audience with his storming stage show and his brilliantly creative and eclectic new album, scheduled for U.S. release in October 2004. At once rhythmically complex, yet instantly catchy, it is a tuneful, non-stop concoction of the flavorful, the intoxicating, and the irresistibly danceable. Spearheaded by "Tempted To Touch," the lead-off single, Rupee joins the eruption of innovative urban-influenced Caribbean artists who are changing the face of music worldwide.
"I wanted to accomplish a diversity in this album, and expose different sides of soca music," says Rupee. "I didn't want to tread a fixed line. We used a lot of acoustic guitar and percussion, and a lot of universal sounds: you can hear rock, R&B, and hardcore reggae in it, as well as pure soca. I think it's possible to bring various elements of music to the soca art form, and that can bring it to a wider audience. A lot of younger artists feel that way as well, and I see it as a benefit to the music. It creates a bridge."
Born Rupert Charles, Rupee is the son of a Barbadian father and a German mother. His father, a member of the British army, was stationed in Germany, where Rupee was born, and in London, before being relocated to Barbados when Rupee was nine. "My two older brothers were performing rap in Germany and England, and they would always take me out with them," Rupee recalls. "I'd scribble down my little verse or two! It was coming to Barbados that totally immersed me in my own culture. Reggae became a part of me; dancehall was the dominant form at that time. A lot of young people were not really much into soca music in the mid-Eighties and early Nineties, and calypso was identified with an older generation."
Without formal musical education, but with an adventurous and well-tuned ear for hooks and vocal arrangements, Rupee proved himself able to innovate at every critical career opportunity. As a result, he stoked the progress of soca music – especially in expanding its reach to the young, by helping to fuse it with hip-hop and dancehall. "In the band Coalishun, my role was to chant [rap]," he says. "When one of the vocalists was unavailable for a session, I ended up singing a calypso song, even though dancehall was really my thing. 'Ragga-soca,' which was a blend of dancehall with slower-tempo soca, was starting to bubble right at that point."
Coalishun's version of a song called "Thundah," written by another talented local artist, Edwin Yearwood, was a tremendous hit all over the Caribbean in 1995. Rupee found his musical comfort zone within the soca genre, and he started composing in earnest. The following year, he wrote "Ice Cream." "Performing that song onstage, seeing it touch the audience at our Crop Over festival, and in Trinidad, England, Canada, and New York, made me realize the power of my own pen," he says.
"I was blessed that my household was very diverse, musically," Rupee continues. "My mom loved Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles, and at my dad's house, I heard Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Sparrow, Red Plastic Bag. I absorbed all those forms of music and they became a part of me. So when I began writing soca full time, I called on all these influences."
Rupee's college education in graphic design, advertising, and marketing has also been key to this self-starting artist. All his visuals – posters, advertising, CD packaging, and website design (located at http://www.thisisrupee.com) – have been under his creative direction. "I worked as a graphic artist for two major ad agencies in Barbados, but I really needed to make a decision about working in advertising or music. So in 2000, I became a solo artist."
Rupee immediately won repeated Road March titles at carnivals in Barbados, New York, Miami, Boston, and Toronto with the scorching uptempo "Jump," from the first of his self-released albums. "Tempted to Touch," from his second album, enjoyed two years of international club play, spreading to urban and pop radio in Toronto and Miami, and proving to be the catalyst for Rupee's worldwide deal with Atlantic.
Rupee's Atlantic debut celebrates both his sense of his heritage and his brimming, forward-looking confidence in his music. He enthusiastically credits such Caribbean-based producers as Chris Altman, Peter Coppin, and Darron Grant, as well as his recent work with New York-based hip-hop fusion hitmaker Salaam Remi, for their important contributions to his musical growth and the progressive direction of the album. "Salaam has a fabulous collection of instruments, and we just played around with them and were bowled over by the way they sounded," Rupee notes. "We were all having fun in the studio, and calling the spirits." At the same time, Rupee has been greatly inspired and energized by the formation of his own seven-member pan-Caribbean touring band.
Despite the bravado inherent in his music's hip-hop element, Rupee hesitates to crown himself the best vocalist on the scene, "but I've been told on many occasions that my sound is unique – and that's allowed me to create my own niche. I try to have as much fun as possible, but I always also inject positivity. There are sensual moments, but it's never overdone. I try to be responsible and create a vibe that's about love and uplift. While I tell the audience to jump and wave and get all crazy, we also have to give thanks, and acknowledge the Almighty."
"Caribbean music as a whole has had a marvelous resurgence in the last two years," Rupee reflects. "The likes of Sean Paul, Shaggy, Elephant Man have opened doors for soca to walk through. It's a beautiful thing. With the background I have, it's natural for me to experiment, and I think it's necessary and good for the music. Music is all about evolution and progression."
--- from the official Rupee website