Rupee: Bring It On

Just a few summers ago, it seemed as though Americans had traded in their red, white and blue for green, yellow and black. Dancehall music was quickly storming up the charts with the likes of Sean Paul leading the charge in the mainstream. Naturally, it wouldn’t take long for America and the rest of the […]

Just a few summers ago, it seemed as though Americans had traded in their red, white and blue for green, yellow and black. Dancehall music was quickly storming up the charts with the likes of Sean Paul leading the charge in the mainstream. Naturally, it wouldn’t take long for America and the rest of the world to start exploring the other musical styles that the Caribbean had to offer. In 2004, Kevin Lyttle was bringing Soca music to the masses with his single “Turn Me On”, and around the same time, Raga-Soca artist Rupee was preparing his debut album on Atlantic Records.

Though the native Barbadian is new to listeners at large, Rupert Clarke is definitely no stranger to the music business. He had his first international hit single back in 1995, and already has several albums under his belt. His first single in the U.S., “Tempted to Touch”, has steadily been on the rise in radio and clubs across the country, but why would he have the urge to sign with Atlantic if he already had a successful career? He recently took the time to speak to Alternatives about his decision. Alternatives: Let’s talk about the success of your latest single, “Tempted to Touch”.

Rupee: [It’s] unbelievable when I really think about it. It’s doing amazing things across the globe, and it still continues to be doing amazing things. And it all started here on this small little island of Barbados, and now we’re on the Billboard charts and it crossed over to the Billboard Top 100. We’ve gone as high as 34, I believe. It’s still fluctuating, but it’s still in the Top 100. On the top R&B single charts, we went as high as 24.

AHHA: Congratulations. That’s a good way to start off the New Year, right?

Rupee: Definitely. The commercial single was just recently released, and it actually was the greatest gainer in sales on the Top 100 R&B chart.

AHHA: Do you think that the success of Dancehall here in the U.S. opened the door for Soca music to step in?

Rupee: Yeah man, definitely. That resurgence of dancehall music via Sean Paul, specifically, and subsequently Elephant Man and Wayne Wonder, definitely opened the doors to Kevin Lyttle because the eyes of the industry overseas were really focused on the Caribbean around that time. Lyttle’s “Turn Me On,” opened the doors for Soca music and Raga-Soca. I know that chain of events definitely allowed me to benefit.

AHHA: Explain to us the difference between Soca and Raga-Soca.

Rupee: Well, if you basically were just to say the word Soca, that definitely would send out a vibe of faster paced music. With Soca music, the BPM’s go well over 150 to 170 beats per minute. Soca is definitely a lot faster. The subject matter is generally centered around carnivals. Ya know, flags in the air, waving, jumping [and] costumes. But Raga-Soca now, it’s considered to be a blend of Dancehall and Soca music. It’s a lot slower. The BPM’s are maybe like 85 beats per minute or up to 100 or maybe as high as 115. It has a very heavy Dancehall influence, in terms of vocal stylings and melodies. Soca is… that’s my forte; that’s my strength.

AHHA: You’ve been doing your thing across the West Indies for a long time. How did you finally get the attention of Atlantic?

Rupee: I’m definitely not new to this. That’s the unfortunate thing with a major [label]. Well, it’s not unfortunate, because I like a challenge. But now with a major label release, a lot of people are seeing me for the first time and they think I’m a new artist, but I’ve been in the game since I was a wee lad. [I’ve had] three independent albums, the last of which actually sold just over 50,000 copies. In the Caribbean, if you sell 1,000 cds, that’s considered to be a tremendous feat. So the sale of those albums definitely put us on the radar and certainly the song “Tempted to Touch” gained its own steam, through our own work in selling the albums through the mom-&-pop stores and the trunk of our car. When “Turn Me On” blew up, [major labels] were definitely looking toward the Caribbean again for more of this Raga-Soca sound and who else was creating a buzz in that market. A few labels were interested in us, but we chose Atlantic because they definitely knew a lot about our music, about the Caribbean, and I knew they would definitely help market and promote it.

AHHA: Now that the song is blowing up, how has your schedule changed?

Rupee: Man, this weekend happens to be my first weekend off in about five months. Even prior to signing the deal, I was literally performing every single weekend. I’m constantly on tour, all over the U.S., in clubs and arenas across the globe. We just recently did the Office Depot Center in Fort Lauderdale. Alicia Keys headlined with Black Eyed Peas and Maroon 5 – many huge artists that I’ve always dreamed of just being in the same room with… and I got to share the stage with them. The response we got was unbelievable. We’ve done Madison Square Garden – Fat Joe was headlining. We killed it. Every single person in that audience knew our music. They were singing “Tempted to Touch” word for word, and it was a non-West Indian audience. So that just shows you that music is penetrating. We’re big in Japan too. A Gold record over there is 100,000 and we’re just about to reach that.

AHHA: How does it feel knowing that you are able to break out of the boundaries of just the West Indian community?

Rupee: It’s definitely really uplifting, because the truth of the matter is, we were very comfortable in the zone we were in, prior to signing. As I mentioned before, we were performing every single weekend. We had a huge following throughout the Caribbean. Financially, it was very satisfying. But we recognized that we had an opportunity to take this music to the rest of the world and subsequently open doors for other artists and put the genre on the global scale. We’d be able to have the world as our platform as opposed to just the Caribbean. Soca music and West Indian music in general is just that kind of music that removes you from your stress, your worries and your problems and uplifts you. The world needs it, ya know? I think it needed it for quite sometime.

AHHA: You’re one of the trailblazers of this change. Do you feel like you’re opening doors or do you feel like you’re just doing Rupee?

Rupee: I definitely feel that we’re breaking down boundaries. Just to think about Japan alone, that’s an unbelievable feat. If you look at the Billboard Dance charts, “Tempted to Touch” was number one for weeks. I think if we would’ve had the commercial single out at the same time it was number 20 on the Hot 100 chart, we easily could’ve had a top ten tune or even a top five. But you know, things unfold this way for a reason. The tune is still doing an amazing thing. I definitely think I’m doing a lot for the music and opening doors.

AHHA: What type of music influenced you as a child growing up?

Rupee: I’m from mixed parentage. My father is black Barbadian—may he rest in peace—and my mother is white German—may she rest in peace also. I was actually born in the U.K. because my father was in the army and we would move every few years to different places across the world, so it was more of a matter of time and place. My household was predominantly English and West Indian. My father would be playing Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Red Plastic Bag and all these Caribbean, Reggae and Soca greats. Whereas, my mom would be playing Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. My brothers now, they were heavily into Hip-Hop, R&B and Reggae also, like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Fat Boys, Public Enemy and BDP. Then, I had my own influences growing up, like Beenie Man, Luciano, Snoop and Notorious B.I.G. So I had a wide spectrum of musical influences.

AHHA: Do you think that your multi-cultural background has affected you and the type of music that you put out?

Rupee: Definitely. Having such a diverse musical interests allows me to be very creative in my music. I blend Soca with those influences. I blend Soca with Dancehall, R&B, even with Rock music. It’s a formula that’s definitely working for me because I recognize the world can’t accept Soca in its purest form yet. The bridge needs to be built and a transition has to be made. I recognize that I’m a part of that transition.

AHHA: Your last album was originally released about two years ago. Will the songs on this album be the same or will there be new material added?

Rupee: we definitely have a perfect mix of the two because with this deal, I’m now able to penetrate markets that I could only dream of penetrating before. As an independent artist in the Caribbean, you’re producing your albums, your resources are limited and distribution is limited. Now with Atlantic behind me, we can now hit these markets and everyone listening to them. We put about five songs from the previous three albums on this album. The rest of them are going to be brand new songs. I think we must’ve put on about seven tunes, even the Caribbean hasn’t heard these yet. I think it’ll be a perfect blend.