Producers Christian Rich talk Earl Sweatshirt, Beyonce, RZA, more

Production team Christian Rich: Tai "Christian" Hassan, right, and Kehinde "Rich" Hassan.
Production team Christian Rich: Tai “Christian” Hassan, right, and Kehinde “Rich” Hassan.
(Christian Rich)
Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

When Earl Sweatshirt’s new album, “Doris,” is released Tuesday, fans will note the presence of the L.A.-based production team Christian Rich on four tracks. In addition to the first single, “Chum,” the pair -- twin brothers Tai and Kehinde Hassan -- played key roles in the production of the strange and magnetic tracks “Centurion” and “Knight,” as well as the RZA-co-produced “Molasses.”

The brothers have been on a roll of late, having produced “Sparks Will Fly” for J. Cole’s breakout album “Born Sinner,” and two others for Chris Brown’s forthcoming full length release. The team recently signed a label deal with Sony/RED for their new singles imprint Good Luck Chuck. As well, four different Christian Rich jams are in the running for placement on Beyoncé’s new record.

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Born in Chicago but raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Christian Rich hooked up with Earl as “Doris” was barely more than an idea, connected by Sony A&R executive J.R. Lindsey. Immediately, said Tai Hassan during a recent conversation, they felt a kinship with Earl (who was born Thebe Kgositsile).


When Lindsey met with the pair to gauge interest in working on Earl’s s album, they immediately agreed. “We were like, ‘Of course. We love him,’ said Tai. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

How much did you know about Earl before you met him?

We’d heard Earl Sweatshirt right when he first came out in 2009-ish. And actually, when we’d heard him we were in New York at Jimmy Fallon with [singer/producer] Pharrell Williams, and we were like, “Hey, have you heard of these Odd Future kids?” We had a long conversation about them. We were just going on and on about how Thebe was our favorite one -- and about to be the Next One.

Fast forward to now, when J.R. was like, “I think you guys would be dope for him. I want to link you up.” We linked up at the Warner Chappell studio that we use, played him some beats. Most of the beats that we played him to begin with is what ended up on the album. We played them and he was like … “I need you on the album.”


When we got in, we were setting up to just do a day or two, and the vibe was so crazy we instantly became like big brother figures and it turned into three months. We invited [Neptunes’] Chad Hugo to do a session with us -- that’s why he did the outro with us on “Chum.” He played this little arpeggio thing on “Knight,” this little twinkle sound.

I’ve been obsessed with “Molasses” from the first time I heard it. Can you tell me about working with [Wu-Tang Clan producer] RZA on that?

It’s a funny story. So we get in the studio. J.R. -- by that point, we were in every session with Earl. He recorded every session with us. Whether we produced the song or not we would be in the session with him, just helping him out. J.R. was like, “I need you guys for this RZA session. RZA’s there, and we’re playing him all the new Earl stuff we’ve done for the album so far.”

RZA was like, “You guys don’t need music from me.” “No, no, no, we need a song from you!” Me and my brother, we’re 31, so we grew up on Raekwon, RZA, GZA and all that stuff. We know their sound very well -- the mathematics and all that. And RZA just figured, you know, we got it together. He started playing us some beats that sounded like some Bobby Digital stuff, and we were like, “Nah.” I’m thinking, “That’s not what we need.”


You’re the first person that knows this, but RZA walks out of the room, and leaves his beat machine sitting there. I go to it, and there are all these different samples -- not beats, just samples -- on each pad. I was like, "[Screw] this.” Earl’s in there, and I’m like, “Look I gotta find a loop so we can [play] with it.” I had Julian the engineer start recording, and I started going through all these different pads until we found this one crazy loop. We were like, “Yo, we’re gonna use this.” We found what ended up being “Molasses,” but then as I’m working with the loop and the beat machine, RZA walks into the room and looks at me like, “What the … are you doing touching my machine?” But we all got a real good vibe at that point, so he’s like, “It’s all good. Whatever.”

Instead of filling a beat around it, he was like, “Yo, let’s just rock to this.” We left the sample the way it was because it’s like a real classic Wu-Tang/RZA beat. And the sample abruptly ended, and Earl was like, “Yo, just leave it like that.” I asked RZA to give us a freestyle -- give us a verse so we can turn it into a hook, and that man got to eight minutes straight. I actually have video footage of it. It’s funny. Ironically, Earl and Tyler are really into people with freckles or something, so it’s ironic that he said, “I’ll … the freckles off your face.” It’s so incredible, and RZA was convinced that [Earl] really didn’t need a beat from him. But I’m glad it worked out that way.

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How long did the “Doris” sessions extend for you?


We were in the studio almost three months straight, just vibing out. Literally, it would be a 12-hour session and we’d be [playing] around. For example, “Centurion” was one of the first beats that we played him when we initially met when we were going over tracks. And that track originally was very raw. It was just a loop going over and over. So when he spits a verse, I would just go home and turn it into a movie. I let it build up and down and stuff. I’ve had that sample for like eight years just sitting around.

Which sample?

David Axelrod. He’s one of the best jazz musicians ever. The original version I made for Pusha T, but he passed on it. So that’s why when Thebe rapped to it, I made sure to make it even crazier than what I’d made before. That beat was done, but something like “Chum” was a jam session. The outro and the main song were from a jam session. Earl was playing piano. He came up with the bass because we were showing him how to produce better on Logic. Chad was there and we were all just [playing] around. Then [Earl] was like, “Yo, I got an idea,” and he just spit the verse. And if you listen, there’s a little voice that’s high-pitched and low-pitched in the background that goes through the beat. That’s my voice, because I was supposed to be doing a hook and I was telling the engineer to turn my headphone louder. Thebe was like, “Let’s put that through the beat.”

What about “Knight”?


“Knight” was a beat that we’d had for about three years before we met him. I was actually playing it for Beyoncé -- I was playing it for J.R. and saying, “She’ll love this,” and Thebe was like, “She’ll love what?? I played the beat and he said, “No, I want that.”

We did a bunch of songs for Beyoncé, for her new album. We did, like, four, but like Diplo was saying, “They always ask me for new records, so I don’t know if it’ll make it out.” But as soon as we sent them four, they asked for the files and everything. But I don’t know. I’m still sending them new music to this day.

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So on “Centurion,” you mentioned the David Axelrod sample. But isn’t there also a Can sample?


Yeah. I saw that you put that in the paper. A lot of people didn’t know that. The label didn’t know that. They’re like, “Who’s the group Can?” I was like, “Dude, I have all their albums.” Especially that sample, man. I’ve had that since 2006 -- had all their albums sitting around, got all these crazy ad libs. Those guys are nuts. The drums are so crazy. What also crazy is you could literally release that now, and it would blow people’s minds. A lot of people still haven’t heard of the music from digging in the crates. It’s like Gentle Giant, but on a whole other level.

What else are you working on?

We did two songs for Childish Gambino. I think one is making the album -- and his album is shaping up to be great too. Those guys put a great album together. Our song is really dope on there. We just finished a label deal with Sony/RED -- we’re doing a singles label deal. We’re putting out singles, and our first one is this song called “Oddity” featuring this group called Downtown.

We’re in the process of shooting the video and putting marketing stuff together. And the first song is like this new disco record. It’s nowhere near hip-hop. Being in Nigeria and listening to all types of music, we just have a different aesthetic on what we listen to. Everyone’s really going to enjoy it. It’s one of those records that -- it feels in the same vein as “Get Lucky,” but then there’s this breakbox [sound]. It has a pop edge to it because of the vocals, but man, it’s so … sweet. If I didn’t do the record I’d been really mad.


You’ve got two tracks on the new Chris Brown album, right?

Yeah. He actually leaked them a couple weeks ago. I didn’t even know. I was just talking to his people about it. To me, the album’s sounding great and everything, but we got the best songs. And I hate -- people always think I say that just because it’s us. But I’m like, “No, from what I’ve heard so far, we got the best songs because we go in and tailor-make our music a certain way, so it sounds great.” But the album’s really good from what I’ve heard so far.


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